So a week or two ago (June 23rd to be precise), Edwin was in town for a J-Pop concert, and I thought it'd be fun for us to go do some kind of baseball game. The most interesting option that weekend was not, in my opinion, the Giants-A's game, or any of the possible semi-local minor-league stuff, but instead, I got a Zipcar and did the 30-minute drive up to San Rafael to check out the San Rafael Pacifics, a team in the independent North American Baseball League.
The REAL reason for this, though, was that I'd heard from Patrick and others that former Fighter Tomochika Tsuboi was playing for the Pacifics and I HAD to check it out. Tsuboi fandom goes back for me longer than just about any Japanese baseball player, and infact was the first Japanese player t-shirt I ever owned. He was batting second and playing right field for the Fighters in the first game I ever saw in Japan, and even finished that year out at .330, second to Ogasawara.
So you better believe that if Tsuboi was playing this close to home, I HAD to check it out at some point.
Having absolutely no idea what to expect, we showed up, found parking, and sprung for the "Dugout Club" seats for $22 (you can kinda see the chart here). See, the seating is mostly just an infield bleachers around home plate, the dugouts are below that, and so this "Dugout Club" is actually along the baseline from the dugout out to the base. The nice thing about it is that there are all of these tables there, so we essentially got there, found a table right along the field, and then put down our stuff, cameras, scorecards, signboards... yes, I even brought along my Tsuboi sign that I made like 4 years ago in Japan.
After the players finished their warmups and were walking back to the dugout, I held up the sign and yelled "TSUBOI-SAN!!!" He looked over and started laughing and called over to me in Japanese, basically, "Why on earth do you have that??" and I called back, "Because I'm a Fighters fan!!"
The staff had told me before the game that it was okay to go on the field AFTER the game and talk to players, so I figured I'd just leave it until then.
Edwin, taking advantage of the not-gouging food prices, had pizza and chili, and I had a hot dog, and the table really was pretty awesome for that. We had wristbands that let us go in and out of the dugout club area, and the food trailer was literally behind us. Only problem is that bathrooms were outside the stadium and were actually just port-a-potties. It reminded me of minor-league parks in Japan, except those generally have nicer bathrooms.
As for the game itself, it was the San Rafael Pacifics vs. the Hawaii Stars. Tsuboi was once again batting second and playing left field! The starter for the Pacifics was a righty named Matt Durkin, who's from San Jose and spent some time in the Mets organization, and the starter for the stars was a sidearming lefty named Dallas Mahan who's basically an indie league journeyman (literally something like 10 years in the indies after spending a short time in the Mariners organization, he's almost as old as me!)
Everything was fairly normal for a minor-league atmosphere for the first few innings -- decent play but nothing spectacular, a few miscues here and there, a lot of gimmicks like a burrito-eating contest and a dizzy bat race against the team mascot, Sir Francis the Drake, a large green duck wearing bloomers and a cape.
Then the bottom of the 6th hit, and the Pacifics just ripped open the Stars, basically. Mahan got taken out of the game with the score at 3-2 Pacifics and a runner on second... and Steve Detwiler immediately hit a home run off reliever Cortney Arruda to make it 5-2, and then a few walks and ANOTHER homer by Johnny Woodard later it was 8-2, and then 5 hits and a hit-by-pitch later it was 11-2, which is what the final score eventually was, after a 9-run inning. You can see a boxscore here.
And sure enough after the game we went on the field, and I got to talk to Tsuboi for around 10 minutes! He doesn't speak English, apparently, so he was actually pretty happy to just chat with me for a while in Japanese. But he said that he's having a really fun time in the USA playing baseball anyway, just that it's a little bit of a pain that there's not very much in Japanese out in San Rafael and all. I asked if he'd been to things like the San Francisco Japantown (he asked where I live and I said SF, and he's like "So around 40 minutes by car?") and he said yeah, but it's far.
Amusingly I was wearing my really old Fighters #7 t-shirt, he asked "who's that? Itoi?" and I'm like "No, dude, it's YOU!" and took off my jacket so he could see. I told him I'd been a Fighters fan for almost 10 years, and that I first saw him so long ago, and we reminisced about it ("Yeah... Ide, Tsuboi, Ogasawara, remember those days?") I helped Edwin talk a bit too, mostly a little about Koshien and all, and PL Gakuen, and watching the games over the internet and the time differences and all. Mostly, though, I kind of can't believe that I WAS TALKING TO TSUBOI! I mean, he was a
veritable All-Star back in his day! And I used to cheer for him with the Fighters for years! He even went through my Fighters cheerboard book like "Hichori... Kensuke... Inaba... natsukashii!"
Pretty awesome. I told him I'd try to come back sometime again. Edwin and I both got signatures and pictures with him, he really was super-nice to us.
Here's a few photos from the day:
Starting lineup for the Pacifics, posted outside the stadium.
Me with Sir Francis the Drake.
The team lining up for the national anthem.
Pacifics starter Matt Durkin.
Tsuboi running in from left field.
Stars starter Dallas Mahan.
Tsuboi at bat.
Tsuboi at first base.
And here's an awesome picture of me with Tsuboi! How cool is that?
You can see the whole photo set here.
Bizarrely, I should be going back up to San Rafael tonight (July 6) -- guess who's coming to pitch? None other than Eri Yoshida and the Maui Na Koa Ikaika! That should be pretty awesome too! Wonder if I'll get to meet her or not.