Got to Koshien a little too late -- 8:30am. Ended up in the 2nd row instead of the first row, behind the 1st base dugout. Doh. But I have a new lens that I bought last night (still the same cheap 70-300 zoom, but at least it doesn't have chips and scratches and dirt like my old one did).
They've really sped up the pacing, so you barely have time to do anything between games anymore. I did manage to buy souvenirs and donate money to earthquake relief before the first game, but between games, all I had time to do was go to the bathroom, pretty much. It's like, they sing the winner's school song, then it's OFF the field for you, ON for the next two teams, very short pre-game warmup, and next game!
First game was Tenri, a Nara powerhouse, vs. Odate Homei, an Akita newcomer. Homei, as a matter of fact, were pictured with their baseball team posing in a huge snowfall, in the Senbatsu magazine. So, it was an expectation that Tenri would win. And they did. The funny thing in that game was that Tenri's #11 pitcher, the lefty Nakatani, was pretty good, while their #1 "ace" righty Nishiguchi was terrible (he threw the last 2 innings when it pretty much didn't matter).
The second game was Yokohama vs. Hasami. Tatsuya Yamauchi started for Yokohama. He's a lefty freshman-upcoming-sophomore (this time of year is so annoying to refer to years by). I saw him pitch last summer, and was psyched to see him again since it sounded like he'd just gotten better in the fall and spring. Except, apparently, not so much... he gave up 2 runs in the first inning, both oshidashi runs where he walked in or hit by pitch in the run. And Yokohama never really recovered from that. Hasami's starter was a tall sturdy boy named Ryoma Matsuda who also batted cleanup (this is usually a BAD sign), and he basically pitched a whole game and somehow Yokohama's batters just never managed to capitalize on the chances they had. (I think Matsuda's strategy was to walk captain/cleanup batter Kensuke Kondoh, that worked out well for him.) So, if you consider that Tenri never wins when I see them the first upset of the day, then Yokohama losing to Hasami was certainly the second.
What was crazy about Game 2 for me was that I inadvertantly ended up sitting with Yokohama right-fielder Tomo Otosaka's family. If you don't know who Otosaka is, this is him...
Yeah, a half-Japanese kid -- father's American. I actually am not sure what his English name romanizes as (乙坂・ルーセロ・智・ニコラス - "Nicholas Lucero"?). They've been calling him "Yokohama's Ichiro" because he steals ninety bazillion bases. (It's true. He stole two in today's game even.) I'd seen him in Kagayake Koshien no Hoshi magazine, and from afar at last summer's Kanagawa taikai, but that was it.
Anyway, his entire (Japanese) family had come down from Fukui Prefecture, so his grandma was next to me, a high-school-aged cousin was next to her, and an aunt was next to her, and various other family members were in other nearby rows. They were all at Koshien for the first time ever, but BOY were they psyched. I think the cousin girl didn't even really understand the game very well, but she kept yelling "TOMO-CHAN! GANBATTE!!!" at the top of her lungs.
I kinda regret not asking more questions about him while they were there, but I'm never quite sure how much is or isn't rude to ask. Cousin said something like "Tomo's dad is from Kansas. I heard he might be here today but we don't really know." And Grandma showed me a family photo from a while back, and also pointed out where some other family members were sitting ("there's my son over there, he's a high school teacher...") and so on. She told me how Tomo's older brother is studying abroad in England right now and wants to be an interpreter. And I guess she felt bad that I wasn't eating anything, because she even gave me an onigiri (rice ball with nori) when the rest of them were eating lunch!
And despite Yokohama losing the game, Otosaka's family was remarkably chipper. I think they were mostly just very psyched to be at Koshien and to have a relative of theirs on the field. They were like "oh well, that's too bad that first pitcher gave up so many walks and runs. Everyone tried their best, it's too bad they lost. We're gonna go try to catch up with Tomo-chan." I joked, "See you at summer Koshien!" and they laughed.
Game 3 was Kanazawa vs. Kakogawa. Kanazawa had a boy I'd heard of quite a bit already named Yoshinao Kamata, who could supposedly hit 150km/h on the radar gun. Well... he CAN infact do that! His pitching speed was basically pro speed, like in the mid-140's on just about every pitch. He struck out a bazillion guys over the first few innings. And then... well... Kakogawa's pitcher Inoue, while not as fast and not as much flair, managed to outpitch him, because, quite frankly, I don't think Kanazawa's team can actually hit or field. So once Kakogawa had a few points on them, it just kinda fell apart from there. I think Kanazawa was the favored team in this match because of the flashier, more famous pitcher, but well, this is a team sport, see, and one guy can't do it all. Still, I was totally in love with Kamata for the first few innings, and I expect to see great things out of him in the future, assuming he can get onto a good college/shakaijin team. Kanazawa always has these awesome pitchers and this crappy team behind them for some reason.
Anyway, if you want full logs/commentary for these games, you should look at Edwin's Koshien blog, because he wrote them all up (I even had to look at his writeups a few times to figure out things like WTF WAS WITH THE KAKOGAWA BASERUNNING IN THE 7TH AND 8TH INNINGS). Me, I was sitting behind the dugout with a camera, so clearly what I've got to offer you all is photos.
I didn't have time to really tailor this set; I took over 1000 photos today so I just kinda picked out ones I like. They're Game-2-heavy because Yokohama is Yokohama. They've been churning out pro players left and right since the Matsuzaka heyday, after all.
Tenri's Nakatani, the lefty pitcher. He was pretty good.
Komei's starter Saitoh, a little lefty kid.
I just like this photo of Tatsuki Kameda jumping.
Tenri's "ace" Nishiguchi. I am not sure why he is wearing #1 when he doesn't seem like that great a pitcher, although he LOOKS like he should be.
Hasami captain Yudai Yamaguchi
Hasami pitcher Ryoma Matsuda batting
...and Matsuda pitching
Yokohama lefty Tatsuya Yamauchi, who had a rough first inning
Yokohama captain and cleanup and catcher Kensuke Kondoh, who was pretty solid (here he is tagging out yet another runner at the plate)
Yokohama's righty pitcher Yuya Yanagi
View of the final score from behind the Yokohama dugout.
Kanazawa's fireballer Yoshinao Kamata
I didn't catch him getting 150 km/h, but here's a 149
Kakogawa's starter Maito Inoue, who had a much more solid team behind him
"Guys, uh, look, you know that, uh, baseball thing? You're supposed to hit it with a bat when you're at the plate. And get it with your glove and throw it to the proper place when you're in the field. Uhh... guys?"