So, today was meeting up with the Shinozawas for a Fighters vs. Marines minor-league game up at Lotte Urawa. I used to go to Lotte Urawa a ton in 2008 when I lived in Saitama because it was an easy bike ride from my place, and went a few times in 2009, and after I thought that I picked up all those damn ticks or whatever in the middle of that summer, never went back. Working a normal 9-5 job kind of meant no free weekday afternoons, and Urawa gets stupid crowded on weekends because it's free admission and there are only 3 benches per side for seating.
Either way, it was long time no see for the stadium and for the Fighters and Marines and for my friends as well. Tomoko actually showed up early to save seats for everyone; I got there at 11:30 and she'd fortunately already put out stuff for 5-6 people in the front row. (Kon-chan was also supposed to be coming.) I basically just sat there for an hour and a half waiting for the game to begin, for the most part; didn't really have anything else to do, and was watching the practices anyway, trying to spot new players' faces. Took photos, etc.
The Shinozawas were actually both late so I felt kinda bad that we'd taken up so much space, but they did show up. I gave everyone Easter bunnies as omiyage and they were like "This is too cute to eat!"
The Fighters won the game 4-1; the only Marines run came in on a solo homer by Kei Hosoya. Fighters starter Keisaku Itokazu was kinda shaky and the win ended up actually going to Yodai Enoshita, who came in to pitch the 6th inning and struck out the side, and then the Fighters went up while he was still the pitcher of record. Enoshita's one of my favorites of the new draft class, so that's fine with me.
Aaaaaaanyway, after the game, I had two goals basically:
1) stalk Shuhei Fujiya
2) stalk Shota Koike
and vaguely 3) stalk Masaru Saitoh
And I was successful on all three!!
What happened is, the majority of Marines players lined up with donation boxes for earthquake relief -- this is a normal thing now for games. But as I was standing outside with my friends trying to figure out who was in there, I realized that the tall Marines pitcher walking out was Shuhei Fujiya! Fujiya actually lived in California for most of his life and the Marines drafted him out of USC (the Padres actually drafted him too last year but he didn't sign with them) so I approached him and said, "Fujiya-senshu, sign kudasai? Can I have your autograph please?" and he did a double-take, looked at me, and replied in English, "Sure, no problem," and I got out a shikishi and a marker and he signed it. I was like "I've read about you for months but this is my first time to see you, thank you so much". He ended up signing for a few other people too... so I asked after that, "Can I get a photo with you?" and he said sure, and so Shinozawa K took this:
He's so tall!
I asked, "How do you like it here so far, anyway?" and he said with a half-laugh, "It's pretty... DIFFERENT here." I asked if he liked chocolate and he said yeah, so I gave him the remaining two easter bunnies I had :) I should have probably introduced myself and explained who I was, but I wasn't really thinking straight, I guess.
But still! It was cool that I actually spotted him and got to talk to him a little since I'd been so intrigued by him these last few months! No idea if I'll get to stalk him again or not this trip, we'll see.
After that, my friends and I lined up to give money to the earthquake victims. Shinozawa J and Tomoko both had lots of 100-yen coins so they basically just were putting coins in various players' boxes and stuff, but I had no coins so I was like "Okay, I'm gonna put 1000 yen in someone's box. Whose box?" I looked at the players and was like "Dare... saa, Hattori-kun!" and put my 1000-yen note in Yasutaka Hattori's box, because I was (am?) a fan of his. He laughed and said thanks, as did the other players standing next to him. Maybe I'm a little weird, but I claim gaijin rights on weirdness!
And I also am making a point of putting 1000 yen in a donation box at every baseball game I go to, as I said I would. (It's the best way I can think of to donate to earthquake relief -- I want to encourage them to continue doing this stuff, to have charity games and so on.)
So after a few minutes of the donation-box parade, Shingo Ono made a speech thanking everyone, and then all the players went back into the clubhouse.
Bizarrely, the Marines mascots were actually out to help with the donation stuff too (it makes sense, they're not doing anything with the top-league team so they might as well come to the minor-league game and entertain people and help for the collection cause). So... I got my photo with Rine-chan. She patted the Fighters bear mascot keychain on my bag and I'm like "Gomen!!" But we took a cute picture anyway:
Marines players started filtering out of the stadium then. Almost every player did get stopped by some kids or some people for autographs and whatnot. I saw Shota Koike try to escape and so I pretty much bolted after him and caught up with him out on the street, where some cute girls had cornered him for a photo together. Ha. Anyway, I had a photo of him that I'd taken when he was still at Aoyama Gakuin University and so I asked him politely to sign it and also to sign a shikishi, and I told him that I was a big fan of his when he was in college and I hoped he'd do really well, and he looked me straight in the eye and smiled and said thanks. I wish I coulda gotten a photo with him too, but all my friends were elsewhere.
Various other players came out. Fighters players too... a lot of the guys were actually in street clothes and were just going to drive home themselves rather than taking the team bus. It was funny because I still recognize a lot of them so, if you didn't know better, you'd wonder why I was saying "otsukaresama" to these various good-looking guys walking by! A few of them got a few people asking for autographs, though most of them didn't stop. Takahiro Imanami was surprisingly gracious and signed for a huge group of people though, I even saw him smiling, I guess he's changed a little over the last few years. Enoshita signed for a few people, but I was too far down to get to him. The younger boys, Nishikawa and Taniguchi, pretty much darted out, sadly.
BUT! I got a photo with Masaru Saitoh!
He was the 6th-round draft pick by the Fighters this fall, a lefty from the Sega Sammy corporate team, but he went to Shutoku HS, where one of my JHS kids is going next year, so I've been cheering for them. So I got a photo with him and then a few minutes later got him to sign a shikishi and I told him how I cheer for Shutoku's team and their alumni and he looked kinda surprised but laughed and thanked me. He seems like a really nice guy, I saw him give a baseball to some kids before the game, and players totally aren't supposed to do that.
I really wanted to meet him, so I'm happy I could. He was Shutoku's ace when they were at Senbatsu in 2005. And he was one year ahead of my friend Ogura's son, apparently, so they were in the Shutoku baseball club together. (I think he was also one year ahead of Naoki Satoh, one of the Hosei ballclub manager boys who graduated this past year...)
I probably could have tried for some more autographs, but I didn't want to push my already-fantastic luck.
Oh, so the amusing thing was, Tomoko wanted to wait for the umpires to come out. She and Shinozawa J spent the entire game talking about how hot the 2nd-base umpire was. No joke. Both the 1st- and 2nd- base umpires were really really young guys, like 24-25 years old. I thought the 1st-base umpire was pretty cute, couldn't really see the 2nd-base one. But... we waited a while, and all the players were gone, even Shinya Tsuruoka (who left by taxi), and Takumi Kohbe, who pretty much ran by like "no not signing today sorry everyone" though one little boy bolted after him anyway. And so the umpires didn't seem to be coming out, so we left.
(This post somehow never got posted back in March when I wrote it, so if you're wondering why it's showing up in your RSS feed now, that's why.)