Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Jingu Taikai, Sunday, Games 2-3

Well, when I STARTED writing this, the Jingu Taikai tournament was finishing up the finals. The high school final match was Kagoshima Jitsugyo High School, aka "Kajitsu", against The Third Senior High School Of Nihon University, aka Nichidai San or just "Sanko". The university final match was Waseda vs. Tokai. And Sanko beat Kajitsu 4-1 and Waseda beat Tokaidai in a heartbreaking 2-1 game, so Sanko and Waseda are your champs. The media already had a field day with the Yuki Saitoh stuff, and now maybe he can finally get around to signing with the Fighters.

I'm not sure why the Jingu Taikai has both high school and college in the same tournament, but it makes for some really interesting days at Jingu where you can see some of the finest players in both levels of play. Each day they have 4 games, with 2 high school games in the morning and 2 college games in the afternoon, and if you buy a ticket for the day, you can sit for all 4 matches if you so desire.

The only problem is that it starts on Saturday and goes until Wednesday, so only the first two days are weekend days; the other days I'm checking the scores on my computer at school between classes and meeting some of my 9th-grade boys in the hallway to feed them contraband information like how many batters Tatsuya Ohishi struck out.

Anyway, so Saturday November 14th, I went down to Jingu for the second game of the tournament. My actual motivation for going was to see Sanko's team and specifically right-handed pitcher Kentaro Yoshinaga, who I've been following along with some of my students, but had never seen in person thanks to the rainouts at Senbatsu and a scheduling snafu during the Tokyo summer tournaments.

Sanko vs. Hokkai was the second game of the day, scheduled to start at 11am, which is when I arrived. Unfortunately, due to Game 1 of the day, Ogaki Nichidai knocking out Tenri 2-1, taking only 1 hour and 43 minutes, Game 2 actually started at 10:45am, so it was already the bottom of the 2nd inning when I arrived. Fortunately, I could get the box scores off Sanko's website and find out what I missed later. (It was only two walks, anyway.)

The stadium was already pretty full when I got there, and I'd guess that fully half of the people in the stands were other high school or college students, with the other half being a mixture of friends/family of the teams, and the usual suspects that make up the college games, ie, housewives who love Yuki Saitoh, and old men who have nothing better to do than come to Jingu and drink beer and yell at young boys playing baseball. Naturally the front area I usually sit in was taken up by high school students on my side -- Sanko's cheering section -- and by tons of towels that were seatholders for Waseda's game on the other side. I am not sure that Hokkai actually really brought a cheering section down from Hokkaido, to be honest.

(Nichidai Sanko's ouendan -- they scored a run in the middle of me filming this, so you can even see them singing the school song.)

I sat about 2/3 of the way up the stands, behind the Sanko dugout, basically, and kept score, watched the cheering, and didn't have my big camera for a change. The only shame about that was that I didn't get to take any good pictures of Yoshinaga-kun, who was the main reason I wanted to see the game.

(And in short: He is GOOD. We saw him hit upwards of 147km/h on the Jingu gun with his fastball, but he also threw a bunch of other stuff as well... and he literally allowed 4 runners all game, not even allowing his first hit until the 5th inning. And that for a sophomore who is already 6' tall!)

Right after I arrived, in the top of the 3rd inning, Sanko's catcher Takahiro Suzuki was hit by a pitch, and then leadoff rightfielder Shun Takayama followed that up with a home run to right field! That made it 2-0.

But then things settled down for a while. Hokkai's starter was a freshman named Shoichi Tamakuma -- he wasn't nearly as overpowering as Yoshinaga, and the highest speed he was getting was maybe 134ish. Also, his control was iffy and he walked like 4 guys over the course of 8 innings (and hit two more), so there was a Sanko runner on base EVERY inning pretty much. But somehow for the next 3 innings, despite 6 runners, Sanko scored no runs, including leaving the bases loaded in the 6th.

Top of the 7th, Suzuki led off with a legitimate double to left (I say legitimate because at the HS level you often get "doubles" and "triples" that are really just "this dude will learn to judge the ball a lot better with time" problems). Takayama popped out to left, and so Yuta Taniguchi tried to bunt up Suzuki, but the Hokkai pitcher made an awkward grab and throw to field the bunt, and so both runners were safe at the corners. Sho Asegami singled to right to bring home Suzuki; 3-0, and Toshitake Yokoo singled to bring home Taniguchi, 4-0, before Ryoya Kaneko grounded into a double play.

Hokkai put one run on their side through a big mistake by the Sanko battery; two runners in a row had singled and so there were runners at 1st and 2nd when Yoshinaga threw a wild pitch that Suzuki couldn't block. But for whatever reason, they kind of stalled on actually GETTING the ball back, long enough that runner Tama was able to score from second base on the wild pitch. Pretty nuts. 4-1.

Koki Shimizu led off the top of the 8th with a double to right, and then Kenichi Suganuma sac bunted... and Hokkai pitcher Tamakuma fielded and threw the ball over first base, with Shimizu scoring on the play, 5-1. Pitcher Yoshinaga grounded into a double play after that.

Back to the top for the top of the 9th, though, where home-run hitter Takayama led off with a single, at which point Hokkai switched pitchers from Tamakuma to Hirata, another freshman righty. Taniguchi bunted and Hokkai third baseman Matsumoto booted the ball, so there were two runners on. Asegami struck out but Yokoo was hit by a pitch on his arm, loading the bases. Kaneko hit a fly ball to right field that should have been a routine out, only the right fielder misjudged the ball completely, got to a spot, planted his feet, put up his arm to catch it... and the ball landed about 15 feet behind him. SUPER embarrassing, and by the time the dust cleared, Takayama and Taniguchi had scored, 7-1, and Yokoo was on third. (And they called it a "double", of course.) Fortunately, a walk and a double play later, the inning ended and Hokkai escaped further embarrassment.

Yoshinaga finished out the game quickly and painlessly and 7-1 was the final score, with him pitching a complete game win on 103 pitches, striking out 7.

And a few more (crappy) photos from that game:

This was the view of the infield and Jingu during the game. It was surprisingly full for a high school tournament game. In the third game of the day, which involved Waseda and His Handkerchiefness, they had to open the outfield since the infield was full -- for the first time in 33 years, since Suguru Egawa (Hosei, later Giants) faced off against Tatsunori Hara (Tokai, later Giants).

Sanko's Kentaro Yoshinaga.

Hokkai's freshman pitcher Shoichi Tamakuma.

Shun Takayama, the boy who hit the homerun.

Sanko ouendan in the 7th inning, singing the school song.

Sanko ouendan later on waving megaphones.

Between the games, they showed "Memories of past Jingu Taikai Tournaments", going all the way back 40 years. It was pretty neat spotting various schools and various players. For example...

1977, the famous college matchup of Hosei vs. Tokai, of Egawa vs. Hara.

1992 -- a famous high school matchup of Teikyo's Koichi Misawa (who later on played for Yomiuri and various other places, including the US indie leagues), and Seiryo's Hideki Matsui... you probably know who he is.

The second game of the day was Waseda University (representing Tokyo Big 6) vs. Aichi Gakuin University (representing the Tokai and Hokuriku region). I was conveniently sitting on the Aichi Gakuin side (on purpose, of course), so between the two games I also went down to the field briefly to take a look at the Aichi Gakuin players, since I'd never seen them before. Their uniforms look remarkably like the Yomiuri Giants (with the hats vaguely resembling Aomori Yamada):

However, their ouendan didn't really resemble any other college that I've seen in particular, besides that the cheer girls had "AGU" on their shirts -- and AGU usually means "Aoyama Gakuin University" to me, the school in the Tohto League.

Interestingly, unlike the Tokyo Big 6 ouendan that I'm used to, which usually have a bunch of guys in black gakuran jackets waving and punching and dancing in unison on the platform along with the cheer girls, this one only featured ONE dude on the platform -- an extremely loud guy in a red t-shirt and black shorts. He spent the entire game yelling cheers and getting the crowd into the game, with the cheer girls alternately either dancing or holding up signs with players' names and things to yell.

Aichi Gakuin also did bring up their marching band. To be fair, their band mostly played stuff that is typical for high school baseball games, like Yamato and Nerai Uchi, but they did also have a few more interesting routines, including a recurring rendition of YMCA that they did for leadoff man Kajiwara:

And the band also played while cheerleaders flipped up in the air during the 5th inning:

As for the game itself... THAT was particularly boring, sadly. Yuki Saitoh started for Waseda, as expected, and Hiroshi Urano (浦野博司) for Aichi. You probably know who Yuki Saitoh is by now. Urano, on the other hand, was a new pitcher for me. Aichi Gakuin has represented Tokai in the last three years of the Jingu Taikai, BUT they have also gotten knocked out in the first round each time. According to draftrepo, though, Urano was definitely a legitimate ace this year for his team, pitching 64.1 innings in 8 games and personally going 6-1 with a 0.70 ERA, striking out 54 in those 64 innings. Not too shabby.

I noticed that he had a really high kick, but couldn't pick anything else out in particular about his throwing:

Anyway, Urano started off great -- the first 3 innings, he struck out 5 guys and only gave up one hit. Unfortunately, then the floodgates opened on him in the bottom of the 4th; with one out Koji Udaka singled, Toshiki Yamada also singled, moving Udaka to third... fortunately a Yuki Jihiki squeeze bunt completely FAILED after that and Udaka was out at the plate. But Hiroki Matsunaga walked, which loaded the bases, and then Daisuke Ichimaru hit a bases-clearing double to left which made it 3-0.

As for Saitoh, well, he only had one time where Aichi even got more than one runner on the bases in the same inning, and that was when they managed to load the bases off him in the 6th on a single, an error, and a walk... and he worked his way out of the jam with a strikeout and a groundout, and then came out of the game so Yuya Fukui could finish out the final 3 innings anyway. (The luxury of having more than one ace pitcher for these tournaments.)

Though Saitoh also had a somewhat bonehead moment on the bases in the 5th inning; he led off the inning with a double to left, which had the entire stadium oohing and ahhing over how "Yu-chan is also such a good batter!" And then Shohei Habu bunted him up to 3rd... except that Saitoh didn't run. No, seriously. I have no idea why, and even "Bob", the third base coach (really Shoji Nozaki, long story there), was waving him and looking confused.

So Waseda didn't add a run there, but they did add one a little later off Aichi's reliever Ogiwara in the 8th inning; Hiroki Matsunaga singled, stole second, advanced on a grounder, and was then batted in by a pinch-hitting Keisuke Sakuraba. 4-0.

Boring game, really, overall. At least the AGU ouendan was entertaining; it's always interesting for me to see and hear new marching bands and cheer routines, and the non-traditional approach was kind of refreshing (but don't get me wrong, I love gakuran jackets and the ouendan boys in Big 6 too).


The fourth game of the day was Kyushu Sangyo University (representing Kyushu) vs. Kokugakuin (representing the Tohto League). Now... I do not have the stamina to do three full games, especially by myself, so I was not planning to stick around for the entirety of this game. I even already had dinner plans with two friends who were moving back to the US this week.

HOWEVER, Kyushu Sandai's starter was Yodai Enoshita, and he just got drafted by the Fighters two weeks ago, so I just HAD to run down to the bullpen to watch him warm up and take a few photos. Plenty of other people had the same idea too, but I was able to get right up there against the netting and watch him throw.

I stuck around for the first few innings of the game before leaving for dinner. Enoshita did eventually get the win. I like him quite a bit already! Shame I won't be around next year at Kamagaya to harrass him about blowing his arm out in college like I did with Yutaka Ohtsuka, though.

Yodai Enoshita.

Well. Sorry this post took so bloody long to write. I've actually been spending this month watching a lot of non-baseball sports -- hockey, American football, and even a basketball event. The offseason still sucks, though. I did make it to the Swallows fanfest today though, hopefully I'll post a few photos from that soon. Seeing Keizo Kawashima again made it all worthwhile :)

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