On that Sunday, I showed up at Jingu at 10:30am. On my way in a bunch of high school ballplayers were jogging past me... they were from NICHIDAI SANKO! I didn't take a photo, and now I am kicking myself, as they went on to beat the crap out of Kokugakuin Kugayama 4-0 and claim a Senbatsu berth. (Their game was at Jingu #2 stadium, which is used mostly for high school ball, lower college leagues, and doubles as a golf shooting range as well.) Sanko is one of THE powerhouse baseball high schools of the Tokyo area, they regularly go to Koshien and steamroll everyone for the first few rounds, though though they also rarely make it past Best 8 for some reason.
But, the reason I was there early was that a friend of mine was giving me a free ticket to the games, and I wanted to get a front-row seat because I'd promised Kazuki Mishima that I'd take some nice photos of him one of these days, and this was my last chance, since he was the starting pitcher and it was Hosei's last game. Mishima actually saw me in the front row and kept looking my way, which was both awesome and yet disconcerting. I saw his girlfriend there too, but she was sitting behind home plate for this game. (Instead, this time it was backup bullpen catcher Tomoaki Kuroda's girlfriend sitting a few seats down from me, also taking photos.)
On the other hand, it made for some nice shots. I rarely ever actually get any with the player facing my camera, but it wasn't a problem this time:
The starting pitcher for Todai was Shota Suzuki, the freshman who actually WON A GAME this semester. Suzuki went into this game with a 1-4 record and a 2.83 ERA, which is actually ridiculously good for a Todai pitcher. By comparison, captain and "ace" Yoshihiro Maeda went into the weekend 0-4 with a 5.48 ERA. Maeda, the true hero of Sunday's game, came out of the weekend 0-5 4.91, while Suzuki came out 1-5, 4.58.
Yes, you read that right. Suzuki's ERA went up almost 2 points in this one game, because he faced 9 batters, managed to record one out, which was a sac bunt, and gave up 8 runs, 7 of them earned, in that 1/3 of an inning. OUCH.
The top of the 1st inning lasted 33 minutes and took 13 batters and 2 pitchers to get through. I wish I was making that up, but I'm not:
Kawai singles to center. Runner at 1st.
Nanba sac bunts to 3rd. One out, runner at 2nd.
Hasegawa singles to left. One out, runners at 1st and 3rd.
Hasegawa steals second during Taki's AB.
Taki walks. Bases loaded.
Narita singles to right, Kawai and Hasegawa score, Taki to 3rd. 2-0.
Hiromoto singles to center, Taki scores, Narita to 3rd. 3-0.
Tatebe walks. Bases loaded.
Matsumoto doubles to left, Narita and Hiromoto score, Tatebe to 3rd. 5-0.
Mishima ALSO doubles, to right. Tatebe and Matsumoto score. 7-0.
Suzuki is "mercifully" relieved of his duties and captain Yoshihiro Maeda takes over on the mound, despite starting and losing Saturday's game too.
Kawai grounds out to second; Mishima moves to 3rd. Two down, runner at 3rd.
Nanba grounds to second but Utsumi boots the ball for an error; Mishima scores. Two down, runner at 1st. 8-0.
Nanba steals second during Hasegawa's at-bat.
Hasegawa doubles to left. Nanba scores. 9-0.
Taki grounds out to second for real to end the inning.
I'm going to tell you something very funny: from that point in the game, Maeda actually allowed less baserunners (6) and earned runs (1) in his 8 2/3 innings pitched than Mishima did in his 7 innings pitched (10 baserunners, 2 earned runs).
Infact, if the Todai batters could run a little faster, or had a little more baseball sense for that kind of thing, I think they should have even gotten more than 2 runs off 10 hits!
Takashi Kihara led off the bottom of the 2nd with a single, was bunted up by Horiguchi. Shota Utsumi also singled cleanly to center, but rather than scoring from second, Kihara only made it to third. He finally scored when the next batter Atsushi Tanaka singled as well, making it 9-1.
The other Todai run came in the bottom of the 4th, when Horiguchi led off with a single, and two batters later advanced to second on another single by Tanaka. Then pitcher Maeda went to bunt up those runners... and laid down such a perfect bunt that he ended up being safe, loading the bases! Unfortunately, Yamakoshi grounded into a fielder's choice 6-2, getting the runner at home and keeping the bases loaded. But Hisanari Takayama singled to bring home Tanaka, making it 9-2.
That was all Todai could string together in the form of offense, though.
Hosei got two more runs in the top of the 8th; Tatebe got on base via a throwing error by Todai shortstop Iwasaki, and Matsumoto walked. (Tatebe stole second during Matsumoto's AB and then advanced to third on a pop fly out by Seiya Ohyagi.) Matsumoto also stole second during Kanji Kawai's at-bat, so Kawai's single to center brought home both Tatebe and Matsumoto to make it 11-2.
Hosei sidearmer Fumiya Kitayama pitched the 8th inning and lefty Ryoto Yoshikoshi pitched the 9th. I was originally going to go up to the Hosei cheering seats when Mishima left the mound, but Kitayama is way too interesting to take photos of, so I stayed up front for the entire game. (I had the same problem with sidearmer Kohei Nishi before he graduated last year. So WEIRD!)
I felt terrible for Maeda-kun though. I moved my stuff over to the 1st-base side after Game 1, and my friends were like "Maeda was crying and could barely address the fans -- it was his last game and he tried so hard," and I said "He DID. I was really impressed."
(The next day I saw this article in the paper, where Maeda's quoted as saying "I really wanted to win ONE game. Pitching from the mound at Jingu was the best and I don't want to ever forget the way this looked and felt." In his 3 years pitching for Todai, Maeda appeared in 38 games and his record was a whopping 0 wins and 23 losses. You have to feel bad for a guy like that. And here's another article about Maeda, as the "Akamon Ace". (Akamon is the red gate landmark in front of one of the Tokyo University campuses.) Since he's quitting baseball after college, it's just really a shame.
Teams line up to bow to each other.
Then they bow to their fans (and you can see the 11-2 scoreboard here). This was the last game for the 4th-year players. Even some guys who weren't officially on the active roster, like Yoh Sasaki, were still there in the dugout with the team.
Hosei captain Seiya Ohyagi gets interviewed.
And a few more shots from during the game...
Mishima on the mound.
Mishima at bat.
Todai's Maeda-captain at bat.
Shuhei Iwasaki, who I am betting will be captain next year.
Of course no day at Jingu is complete for me without stalking Kagami.
Sidearmer Fumiya Kitayama.
He not only holds the ball at a weird angle that makes you wonder why his wrist hasn't fallen off yet,
but also makes you wonder why his elbow hasn't fallen off yet either.
It's the last game of the semester for the ouendan too -- and the last game ever for the graduating seniors -- so they also addressed the fans after the game.
So, Game 2 was Meiji-Rikkio, starting 30 minutes after Game 1 ended. As I mentioned, I moved my stuff to the Meiji side where my friends were sitting, and then went outside for... I'm not sure what exactly. I guess I wanted to try to say goodbye to some of the Hosei players, and to some of my friends who cheer for them. A few people had mentioned to me that there would be a retirement ceremony outside Jingu for the graduating seniors, so I figured I should check that out too.
You'll never believe what happened, though -- on my way over to the Hosei gathering place, I saw a boy walk by in a Rikkio blazer and I'm thinking WAIT A MINUTE I KNOW THAT FACE HEY ISN'T THAT and before I was really aware of what I was doing, I said to him, "Hey, you're Hirahara-kun, aren't you? From Teikyo?"
He stopped, looked at me quizzically like "...yes, I am..."
My brain just spilled forth, the most surprising thing probably being that I didn't stutter but managed to get this all out in reasonable Japanese. "OMG I was a huge fan of yours in high school I went to Koshien last summer and saw you play I've cheered for Teikyo for a while I thought you were a great pitcher and 3rd baseman I saw you guys beat Tsuruga Kehi um, can I get a photo with you? Please?"
He seemed surprised, maybe confused, but flattered, and said sure. I ended up tagging a random Hosei-related friend of mine I saw go by at the moment to take the photo. It didn't come out so well, but I'm still really happy about it:
As usual, ballplayers don't smile in photos with fans usually... and also as usual I am totally on the wrong plane rather than standing next to him. Whoops. BUT... who cares! I mean, here is a kid I watched win a game at Koshien! For Teikyo! Seriously, I was just totally psyched to meet him, even if maybe I freaked him out a little. Really, I'm pretty proud of myself for actually recognizing him and tagging him -- that would have NEVER happened a year ago.
I showed him that I have a whole bunch of Teikyo charms on my cellphone, which I think led some credibility to my story... I said that I went to Koshien to cheer for Teikyo both last summer and this spring, and to the Tokyo regionals too. I asked if he'd be appearing in the rookie tournament, but he said it was pretty unlikely, there are a lot of really good freshmen at Rikkio this year and a LOT of strong sophomores, most of whom are regulars on the normal team anyway.
So after that excitement, I continued on to where a bunch of the Hosei baseball club guys who aren't on the active roster right now were hanging out, and asked them what was up. They basically told me that there'd be a ceremony but it wasn't likely to start for a while, until all the ouendan and brass band people got set up, and the seniors all assembled and came out, since some had been playing in the game and some were just at Jingu to cheer for the team and to be part of the retirement.
In the meantime, the guys were mostly hanging out and messing around, which was amusing. Some of them were being silly and dressing in Halloween costumes. The most ridiculous was this one:
That's sophomore Soma Uendo, from Chukyodai Chukyo (a year before they won it all at Koshien, he's Daisuke Takeuchi's classmate). He's a pretty crazy kid. And his name is spelled 上戸 which almost always gets misread either as Ueto or Joko. Even in a college ball magazine they mispelled the kana as Ueto. Oops. Either way, I guess he really likes taiyaki.
I hung out for a while either talking to people or just kind of watching people set up and whatever. Eventually the seniors and current players did come out; though a lot of them were looking for vantage points to either harrass the seniors or to take photos from. And last year's student 1st-base coach Kitao was also there; it took me forever to remember who he was since in my mind he was always just "not Abe-chan".
The gathering finally started around 2:45pm, about an hour after the first game ended. By this point I knew the second game was well underway, since we could hear the Rikkio marching band. But I also figured that by that point I was committed to the Hosei thing, plus I was genuinely curious about it anyway.
Eventually when the seniors got there, before the actual procession started, things started off with a BANG! Well... that is, the seniors yelled some stuff, the underclassmen yelled some stuff, and then two of them got into a fight:
"Oi! You seniors!"
"Yeah? What do YOU want? Especially the freaks in the back dressed like Spiderman?"
FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!
"You guys better cool down. Here's some Cold Spray to help."
A sign things were going to start was first that some cheerleader girls came around handing people confetti to throw on the seniors as they paraded by:
And then things calmed down for a minute or two...
Co-captain Yoh Sasaki on the left. And the 4th-years in the ouendan club also got prepared to go through the confetti parade, at right.
Here we go! Running! And confetti! The marching band played the Hosei fight song as this was all going on, too.
I can't help but stalk Kagami; here he is kind of heading up the back of the parading seniors.
Once all of the ouendan leaders and players got into the space under the Jingu arches, the ceremony started. I was way too far back and on the side to really hear everything that happened, though I could catch some of it. The Hosei club also has a page up about the retirement ceremony with a few photos.
First guy up was Kagami; the ouendan leader spent a while extolling the virtues of our ace, about how he was a Waseda-killer and had anchored the Hosei pitching and been a leader for everyone and a role model for the younger players with his work ethic and all. The ouendan yelled a cheer for him and one of the other players gave him flowers.
And well, that's about how it went for every guy. I stayed for about 10 of them, of whom I actually knew 5 for real. But even for the players who had never appeared in a league game, they still talked about what the guy had done for his 4 years in the club, and yelled a cheer for him.
Kento Kameda... who has at least appeared in enough games that I'm familiar with him.
Due to being so far back anyway, and having already seen Kagami, I ended up giving up after a bit and found one of the guys I knew in the crowd and asked if there would be anything else after this player-introduction part, and he said no, not really, and I said that I had friends waiting for me inside the stadium, so I really ought to go join them. So I did that.
On the way in, I saw some people coming out of the Sanko game, and found out that indeed, Nichidai San had just claimed a Senbatsu spot. Good for them.
When I got back into Jingu and to where my group was sitting on the Meiji side, it was already 0-0 in the 5th inning. Fast game! This was the view to my right:
Kazuki Nishijima had started for Meiji and was still pitching. Yuho Yabe started for Rikkio but came out of the game pretty much right around when I got there, and Kenya Okabe took over for him.
But it stayed tied 0-0 for quite some time.
Meiji loaded the bases in their half of the 7th when Okabe hit both Uemoto and Katsuya Kawashima, but they couldn't get a run in.
It started raining around 4:45pm, and lots of fans made an exodus to the covered area behind home plate... while the rest of us idiots got out plastic bags and raincoats.
The score was still 0-0 in the 9th, and Meiji couldn't put up a run in their half, and the rain was falling, and it went into extra innings, with Kazuki Nishijima STILL pitching for Meiji.
Rikkio's Ryuichi Maeda led off the top of the 10th with a single to left, and Sekine pinch-ran for him... and was immediately caught stealing second. One down.
Kitada struck out after that. Two down.
But then Yuki Maeda singled to center.
And pitcher Okabe... walked.
And Koichiro Matsumoto... ALSO walked. Bases loaded.
And would you believe it but Ryugoro Mogi ALSO walked. Oshidashi! 1-0.
At this point, having walked in a run, and having thrown 134 pitches, and being completely soaking wet, Nishijima came out of the game. Takayuki Morita took the mound...
...and promptly gave up a single to captain Soichiro Tanaka. Okabe and Matsumoto scored. 3-0.
Okazaki ALSO walked to load the bases again, but Fujita hit a fly out to second to end the inning.
Meiji, to their credit, also loaded the bases in the bottom of the 10th; Shimauchi got a hit, and Yajima reached base on an error, and Abe walked. So, bases loaded. But Kenji Kawabe pinch-hit, and while he isn't a bad hitter, he chose this moment to ground into a 4-6-3 double play. Game over, Rikkio wins 3-0.
As you can see, by the time it ended at almost 6pm, Jingu was quite cold and quite wet, and umbrellas were all over the parts of the stands that still had people:
I thought it might be neat to catch a final Meiji ceremony -- and Yusuke Nomura had promised a signature! But no, thanks to the rain and thanks to Meiji losing, there was pretty much no chance to stalk anyone, the players were in a sour mood and I didn't want my stuff getting wet anyway.
And then I found out that they don't have a final ceremony with the players and band and ouendan anyway, because they don't actually have a cohesive ouendan club, or something weird like that.
Hosei had won their series against Todai after those two games, but Meiji and Rikkio faced off a third time on Monday, where Meiji won 11-7 in what was a huge slugfest of sorts from what I heard, combined with a bunch of "must... play... seniors... and... freshmen..." All of Meiji's pitchers were either freshmen (Sekiya and Takayuki Oka, the first 7.2 innings) or seniors getting their last chance to appear in a game (Nakamichi, Kondoh, and Nagai, the last 1.2 innings). The game and series didn't actually matter for the standings at all, so. Fumiya Araki collected a double and two triples -- his only extra-base hits of the season, and raised his average to .302, though I doubt that actually had any effect on him getting drafted 4 days later.
Week 7 decided the standings for the bottom 3 teams, at least:
G W L T SP WP%
1 Waseda 10 8 2 0 4 .800
2 Hosei 13 8 4 1 3 .667
3 Keio 12 6 4 2 3 .600
4 Meiji 13 7 6 0 3 .538
5 Rikkio 15 4 8 3 1 .333
6 Tokyo 11 1 10 0 0 .091
Hosei was guaranteed a finish in the top half, at least. Yay!
And thus, we went into Week 8, Soukeisen/Keisousen, to determine the actual winner of the league. Waseda was favored to win, but Keio had a shot if they could win 2 games in a row against Waseda in Soukeisen to tie their W/L/SP record, and then win a forced playoff game as well... (and at the time of this finally being finished, that is EXACTLY WHAT THEY DID. I love this Keio team.)