So I decided to go to Gunma and watch Hideki Nagasaka pitch. I said I would try to, and well, why not?
Isesaki is actually kinda halfway between Niigata and Tokyo -- I took the shinkansen to Takasaki, then the Ryomo line to Isesaki, and it turns out there IS a bus to the stadium, run for free by the team, so I took that. A bunch of the old folks on the bus talked to me in thick Gunma accents which were really hard to understand.
The stadium is apparently partially dedicated to Sataro Suzuki, the dude responsible for Babe Ruth coming to Japan in 1934. Who knew.
I got accosted by the Gunma Diamond Pegasus mascots. This is not out of the ordinary, really.
Inside the stadium. This photo was actually taken by Yuuki Imai's mom.
(No joke, I basically ended up sitting with a player's parents. Well, two rows ahead of them. But I had yakisoba and takoyaki for lunch, and I don't like takoyaki, so I gave it to Mrs. Imai, so a bit later she came by with some yakimanju and grapefruit juice and gave that to me. This is more normal than you'd think, though... Yuuki himself is injured and was just coaching first base again today, but his parents were blown away that I knew who he was at all, so that was kinda crazy.)
(Also funny: after I found out she was Yuuki's mom, and she had explained how "we live 20 minutes from here, so we rarely go to Niigata but we always come when he plays close to home..." she was like "So who on the team do YOU know?" and I'm like "...well... I came to see Hideki Nagasaka... he speaks really good English!")
Okay, so the game was a 4-4 tie in 11 innings. Nagasaka actually pitched pretty well, he went 7 innings and only gave up 1 run, so Niigata was actually winning 3-1 in the bottom of the 9th and then Hisanori Ohtani (who uses Johnny B Goode as his at-bat theme) went and hit a 2-run homer to tie it. Doh.
After the game, since this was the final home game of the first half of the season (the BCL does two season halves and then has a playoff between the two winners, or something like that) and the Gunma team clinched the first half champion title, they invited everyone in the stadium to come on the field to take a memorial photo with the team. I thought about going, but figured since I'm not really a fan it would be kinda weird.
Instead I waited outside for the Niigata players to come out. I got Yuzo Hino to sign my ticket and talked to him a bit like "Did you ever play at Jingu? I read that you went to Waseda and Soujitsu in the meikan... I watch Tokyo Big 6 all the time but I totally do not remember you!" He laughed like "Oh! Um, I got injured in college and never actually played in an official game, no, but I was in the baseball club at Waseda. Do you know Matsushita?" "Kenta? Now with Seibu?" "Yeah, him. We were the same year."
Then I chatted with Nagasaka for a while, told him it was a good game, shame about the result though. He said he pitched a pretty long outing, also said it was tough pitching to Caraballo. I was like "Did you hit him on purpose?" "No, I didn't... we go way back, I played against him in New Hampshire too." "You didn't tip your cap, I wondered..." "Hahaha, I'm too American now I guess, I don't tip my cap, but it wasn't on purpose, he knew that too."
And well... when the Gunma players came out I went and stalked them. I had bought a yearbook for 500 yen so I wanted to get a bunch of guys to sign it! So I did:
I got manager Hata, starter Kawano, catcher Seiya, weird first baseman Shirahata, random dude Okano, Yamakawa (who was wearing Kogure's uniform, he apparently JUST joined the team), and Naoya Fujioka.
Fujioka signed it "Nao", I was like "Eh?" and he said "My name is Naoya. Yoroshiku." Shirahata drew a pig and said "It's a play on my first name", but I don't get it, his first name 泰之 does not appear to have pigness in it.
Shinji Hata used to play for Yakult and was a coach for Chunichi and I think the Fighters too, and so on. He was asking me (in Japanese), "where are you from? ah, Seattle? do you like the Mariners? what brings you to Gunma?" etc etc, which was weird. Shrug, I really wanted his signature and a photo with him since I'd actually heard of him :) But I had my bag on my right shoulder so this photo came out at a weird angle.
Seiya Hirokami, catcher... I just thought he was really cute and wanted a photo with him after he signed my book.
Tomohiro Kawano, big lefty kid who started today's game for Gunma and woulda gotten the loss if Ohtani hadn't hit that big home run. He was so tall that I wanted a photo with him too.
I also took like 800 photos of the game itself, but I haven't had time to go through them either yet.
See, I left Niigata at 8:24am to go to Gunma, then went to that game, then got back to Isesaki station at 4:30pm or so, then it took another 2 hours to get home by train to Akabane. I did work on some photos, but there's just no time to get this all out right now.
Still, it was a very full weekend. Independent baseball is kinda neat in how accessible the players are -- only 1000 people or so came to each game, and so the players make a point of coming out and meeting the fans afterwards and chatting, so getting a photo with a guy or a signature is relatively easy, although to be fair I wanted Kawamura from Gunma's team since he's a Teikyo alum and I couldn't find him. Still, most of the fans of these teams have jerseys or caps or bags signed by all the players.
And oddly, this weekend I did not have a lot of people trying to talk English to me, or treating me all that funny just for being a white person. It probably did help that before the game I went to watch Nagasaka warm up, took photos of him, and he even waved hi at me first, so the other Niigata fans probably thought I actually was a friend of his. Shrug.
Anyway, tired. Also I have a ticket to the July 3rd game in Niigata, which I got when I bought a t-shirt and megaphone and the ticket (it was 3000 yen for the t-shirt itself, or 3000 yen for the three things together, so I figured, why not?) but I don't think there is any way I would go up for it. It's funny because I find myself already trying to figure out where I can take another trip... might not get to go anywhere until Sapporo in late August though, when I get back from my US trip, which I also need to buy tickets for, argh.