The last few days, I've been on a trip around Kyushu, trying to "collect" the rest of the prefectures of Japan that I haven't visited. (In this case, I needed Tottori, Shimane, Oita, Miyazaki, Kagoshima, Kumamoto, and Saga. I also spent time in Hyogo, Okayama, Yamaguchi, and Fukuoka prefectures on the way, but they weren't new.)
Almost all of the prefectures of Japan that I've visited, I've done something baseball-related, but some of these others, there's not so much to do, so I end up finding other things to see like castles or other historical sites.
Well, with the loop of Kyushu I was doing, my last prefecture to pick up was Saga. I'd actually been THROUGH Saga before, while taking a train to Nagasaki, but my rule for this prefecture-collecting is that I have to actually exit train stations and set foot in the prefecture and do SOMETHING there to count it as visited. Even just stopping for an hour and having lunch a block away from the station counts, as far as I'm concerned. But just changing trains somewhere or riding through a prefecture does not.
So today, after going around Kumamoto Castle in the morning, we took the train to Saga City, and walked the mile and a half or whatever it was from the station to Saga Kita High School.
See, I moved to Japan on August 4, 2007. Koshien started on August 8, 2007. The very first game was at 10:30am on that day... and it was Saga Kita vs. Fukui Shogyo. I watched it on TV while people were fixing a window pane at my apartment, mostly just being completely psyched that I was in Japan and could just turn on the TV and watch Koshien! Saga Kita won that first game, and their pair of pitchers intrigued me. A week or so later I found myself watching them play a morning game against Ujiyamada Shogyo, after they had fought to a 4-4 tie a few days before while I was at work. They won that too.
Sunday, August 19, I specifically stayed home to watch Saga Kita play Teikyo. Teikyo I knew well already because it was where Hichori went, and also, in 2006 I watched Koshien over the internet from the USA, and saw Teikyo play the most ridiculous game EVER against Chiben Wakayama. So, this was going to be a good game... and amazingly, Saga Kita pulled out a 4-3 win in 13 innings, which they kind of really didn't deserve, but at that moment I was convinced they were going all the way.
Wednesday, August 22. I snuck out of my job at GEOS for an "extended lunch break". And Saga Kita won 5-4 in a ridiculous dramatic comeback, with Yusuke Nomura throwing a one-hitter for Koryo into the 8th inning and just running out of steam. When I see Nomura's face now, it still sometimes gives me flashbacks to standing in that Yamada Denki watching on the big screen TV, as Soejima's grand slam decided the game. My thought at that moment was "I really admire that Nomura kid, but Saga Kita has the right idea using two kings instead of one ace."
At any rate, since that Koshien, whenever anyone says Saga to me, I just think of Saga Kita HS. So I figured it'd be the most fitting way for me to pick up my last prefecture that isn't Okinawa (which shouldn't count anyway since I can't take a train there. Damn you, Okinawa).
The embarrassing thing is, there are a lot of students at Saga Kita, and even though there's no school today officially, a lot of them were around there anyway for various other things like club activities and extra winter classes. And the baseball team was actually out on the field having practice today as well. Yikes! So it was kind of crazy, all these kids going by staring at me and my friend like "What the hell are two gaijin doing all the way out here?"
Taking pictures at the school gate, apparently.
When you approach the school from the road, you see the baseball field before anything else.
Here's the baseball team clubhouse. They have a memorial to the 2007 baseball club, with all the members listed, not just the 18 who were on the Koshien roster. I thought that was pretty cool.
A few of the players saw us looking in and kind of pointed like "hey, there's two gaijin watching us", and I nodded in greeting at one of the boys and he smiled and nodded back at me, but I didn't go try to talk to anyone, it was a little weird. I have a feeling that 2-3 years ago they might have gotten random tourists often, but maybe now, not so much. So I felt a little bit stalkerish watching them practicing... even a kid throwing in the bullpen, I really wanted to take a photo, but he was staring right at me. Kind of weird. I guess I should have asked. On the other hand, we really only had about 15 minutes to spend there anyway before having to run back to the station and hop another train to meet up with our friend in Tobata, so.
Either way, now I've been to Saga prefecture and to Saga Kita HS. Hooray? I guess if I manage to meet up with Egashira-kun (who played right field on that Kitako Miracle Team and now goes to Hosei) again, I'll have a funny story to tell him, if nothing else.
Something else funny: we bought drinks in the train station convenience store on the way out of town, and the cashier who rang my stuff up was named Soejima, same as the kid who hit that grand slam in the Koshien final. I almost thought of asking her if she was related, but figured it'd just sound WAY too freaky.