Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Photopost: Rainiers vs. Sky Sox - Cheney Field Trip!

Last weekend I was up in Seattle for the Microsoft Puzzle Safari, but I also had a side goal of trying to go stalk Brian Sweeney.  I'd noticed a few months ago that he and Luis Jimenez were on the Rainiers, and this particular weekend both the Rainiers and Mariners were in town, so I figured that one way or another I should be able to catch them.

(Brian and Luis both played for the Fighters when I lived in Japan, see.  Brian was there for several years, even, through two Japan Series runs, and I used to talk to him fairly often, and once his family even joined me and my friends in the outfield cheering section.  Brian is without a doubt the nicest guy I've ever met in baseball.  Luis was only around for half a season, but he was also really nice when I met him.)

Anyway, the last time I went to a game in Tacoma was at least 5 years ago, maybe 6.  I used to try to make it to a few games a year in both Tacoma (Rainiers, AAA) and Everett (Aquasox, short A) when I lived in Seattle, so I could see what the newest and oldest minor-leaguers in the Mariners system were up to.  At the time, Cheney Stadium was a fairly typical minor-league park: slightly run-down, full of a 1960's flair of sorts, kinda campy, but the kind of place you go to because watching minor-league ball is fun and cheap.  And who can beat Dollar Dog Thursdays and deals like that?

Well, about two years ago they renovated the crap out of the place, quite literally.  I showed up and even from the highway, I could tell that it had completely changed.  There's a whole new front facade, mostly because there's a whole structure full of luxury suites and apparently a restaurant seating area and all kinds of new stuff.  To be honest, I'd bought a ticket a few days before coming to Seattle, because it looked like the Sunday game was almost sold out at that point!  It's crazy, but between season tickets, the renovated stadium, fan-friendly events including an autograph booth before the game, and the way they're promoting, the Rainiers seem to be doing pretty good business for themselves.

However, thanks to all the new stuff, I wasn't entirely sure how the lines and entrances and such worked now.  My seat was on the 3rd base side, so I lined up at the 3rd base gate, around noon, for a 1:35 game, where the gates apparently would open at 12:30.  It was slightly rainy, and I was getting concerned by the fact that people kept lining up on the 1st base side, but not so much on the 3rd base side.  So finally I turned around and asked the older guy standing behind me in line, "Hey, what's the deal with the gates?  Am I in the wrong place?"

"Yeah," he told me, "This side is for season ticket holders.  The middle part there's for the dugout club and suites and all.  The other side is for general admission."

"Oh crap," I said, "I haven't been here in about 6 years, and there wasn't a system like that back then as far as I remember."

"Well, that's okay," he said and winked, "You're with us, right?"

He turned out to be a season ticket holder for many years with his kids, so when I started babbling about coming to watch Felix, and Hunter Brown and all, he started telling me about all the renovations to the stadium and so on.

Anyway, eventually we got into the stadium.  And my seat, which was in the front row of section D, a single seat available there, turned out to be between two season ticket holders.  (No wonder.  But the number of season ticket holders seems pretty impressive nonetheless.)  I went down to the dugout in the hopes of catching Luis or Brian, and I basically stayed there for an entire hour until game time.

See, it was Sunday, so there was no batting practice.  Some players were coming out to stretch or run or throw in the field, but it wasn't mandatory.  A little boy down the row from me got several of the players to sign his ball, and then the guy standing next to me asked, "Do you have any idea what Stephen Pryor looks like?"

"Not really, why?" I replied.

"Well," he explained, "I was at the combined no-hitter game, and then went to the game where they gave out posters commemorating the game.  And then a week or so ago Tom Wilhelmsen was doing a signing at Fred Meyer, so I went there and got him to sign the poster.  And I saw Stephen Pryor got sent down to AAA so I thought maybe I could catch him here.  And then after that... well, maybe if I'm lucky sometime I can catch the other guys in the bullpen.  I'm pretty sure I can recognize Brandon League, and maybe if he saw what I was doing he'd help me get Furbush and Luetge.  The problem is going to be Kevin Millwood."

"Yeah," I agreed, "Millwood's tough.  I mean, I still remember seeing him throw a no-hitter for the Phillies like ten years ago too.  Guys like that are hard to catch... but I don't think it's impossible, there's always spring training, or minor-league rehabs, or maybe he'll be a coach someday?  Alternately you could try going to one of the early opening days for season ticket holders, if you know anyone who's a season ticket holder?  I got half the bullpen to sign a poster for me at one of those several years ago..."

Anyway, I explained to him that I was there waiting for Brian or Luis, and we stood around by the dugout talking for a while.  I looked at his poster and kinda tried to memorize Pryor's face; I was pretty sure I hadn't seen him go by.  A photographer came by and saw this guy holding the poster and said he'd see if he could pass the message on to Pryor, and sure enough, around maybe 10 minutes before game time, Pryor came out and signed it for him! That was pretty cool.

I waited around some more, feeling kinda confused, like "Why haven't they come out yet?"  Other players came out; the starter Andrew Carraway walked by us, a bunch of infielders like Carlos Triunfel and Nick Franklin and Mike Carp went to warm up.  For the record, Carp didn't even turn his head at all when the little boy down the row for me asked for a signature, but Triunfel and Franklin both said they'd sign on their way back in, and did.  I prefer photos to signatures, honestly, and I had the sense to ask Nick Franklin if I could get a photo with him, which he was fine with and even smiled for.  What a nice guy!  I guess this is what happens when players are coming up through the system rather than going down.  Also, no, I didn't see Danny Hultzen anywhere.

Anyway, I finally did get to talk to Brian for all of 2 minutes before the game started.  It was a little weird because I wanted to tell him how I'd been following his games this year, and hope he'll get called up to Seattle at some point, and how the Rainiers came to Sacramento a few weeks ago and he was the starting pitcher on a Sunday afternoon then but it was 106 degrees out and I was kind of sick at the time.  And so many other things, like how I'm just happy he's still in baseball since so many guys come back from Japan and have nowhere to go, and I wondered how his family was doing and all.  But, our conversation was more like "OMG HOW ARE YOU I HAVEN'T SEEN YOU IN FOREVER!"  At least I showed off how this time I wore a Fighters shirt -- last time I saw Brian was 2 years ago and I had a Marines shirt, and promised to wear a Fighters shirt next time I saw him.  Pretty crazy, really.  He said he'd be pitching on Tuesday, unfortunately, so I wouldn't get to see him pitch this time.

I got to talk to Luis a little bit too, congratulate him on being part of the Triple-A All-Star team, things like that.  At least Luis was in the starting lineup as DH, so I'd get to see him play.

And I got a photo with both of them.  It was kind of frantic, but it's so cool that they're both on the same team! I showed the photo to a bunch of my Fighters friends back in Japan, and they're all basically like "OMG SWEENEY AND HIME-CHAN! PLEASE CHEER FOR THEM FOR US!" Everyone was really excited to hear that they were still playing baseball and doing well and looking happy.

On my way to my seat, I passed by the guy who'd gotten the Pryor autograph, and he was like "I saw Brian and Luis come out and talk to you!  Awesome that you got to see them!"  So that was good.

I spent the first 2 innings in my actual seat, and then joined up with my friend Jeff (no, not the LL one) for the rest of the game.  We'd actually made plans to meet up at the game, but I was coming down from Seattle and he was coming from further out in Tacoma, so it just worked out this way.  Jeff and I used to go to Rainiers games waaaaay back in the day, and he hadn't been back there since the last time we went to a game together either (since I went to Japan for a few years and he moved to California for a few years).  So we got to sit together and reminisce and watch the game and all.

I also spent a half inning wandering through the stadium just taking photos of the various things there like the Tacoma Hall of Fame, the concession stands, the concourse, and so on.  It was nice to really appreciate how the stadium had been completely remodelled.  The concessions are really crazy, though I ended up just getting a hot dog because I was in a hurry.

Oh, and I did watch a game.  Rob Scahill started for the Colorado Springs Sky Sox, and Andrew Carraway for the Rainiers.  It was a fairly close game all the way, with each team scoring a point here or there, but no huge innings.  The Rainiers went up 1-0 in the 2nd when Nick Franklin walked and was singled around by Catricala and Triunfel.  Then the Sky Sox tied it up 1-1 in the top of the 4th as Andrew Brown singled, moved up on Matt McBride's single, moved to third on a bunt by Charlie Blackmon, and scored on a sac fly by Brendan Harris.  But Nick Franklin walked again in the bottom of the 4th, stole second on Vinnie Catricala's at bat, moved up on Catricala's fly to center, and then scored during a wild pitch to Carlos Triunfel, 2-1.  The Rainiers made it 3-1 in the bottom of the 5th when Darren Ford reached on a throwing error by short, stole second on Trayvon Robinson's at-bat and moved up on his groundout.  Then he scored when Luis Jimenez hit a single to left!  Yay!  The Sky Sox made it 3-2 in their half of the 6th, with McBride walking, moving up when Harris walked, then scoring on a hit by Chad Tracy.

I had to leave by around 5pm in order to get to the airport in time for my flight back to San Francisco, but everything seemed fine going into the 9th, at 4:15 or so.  Scott Patterson came out to pitch the top of the 9th, and the very first pitch he threw was sent over the left-field wall by Tommy Field, to make it 3-3.  Oops.

Sky Sox made it 4-3 in their top of the 10th on a double by Blackmon and another by Tracy.  But then the Rainiers tied it up 4-4 on a Luis Rodriguez pinch-hit homer over the right-field wall in the bottom of the 10th.

Normally I *hate* to leave a game early -- I'm always showing up to the park way before the game and leaving way after -- but missing my flight would really suck, so I packed up after the bottom of the 10th and left.  I stopped in the Rainiers Team Store on my way out of the stadium, to get a shirt, and while I was buying it, we saw on the TV screens in the shop that Charlie Blackmon had just hit a 3-run homer to make it 7-4 Sky Sox, which is what the final score was.

I shouldn't feel too bad, I guess -- I did watch 10 innings and 3.5 hours of the game, after all.

Anyway, here's my photo set from the day, of Cheney Stadium and many Rainiers. And as usual, a sampling in my post...

Nick Franklin!  1st-round pick in 2009 and already up with the Rainiers.

Tacoma Baseball Hall of Fame, featuring plaques for Gaylord Perry and such, and of course Ben Cheney, the businessman who brought baseball to Tacoma in the first place.

Look at this crazy treehouse... I mean grandstand full of suites and restaurants all.  Hard to believe this is Cheney Stadium.

Rainiers starter Andrew Carraway.

Mike Carp (check out that tattoo)

Sky Sox starter Rob Scahill.

Renovated scoreboard looks good, and looks better with Hime-chan on it!

Luis Jimenez at bat!

Nick Franklin slides into third base!

Score when I left the game.

I have no idea whether I'll make it to another Rainiers game at all this year -- maybe when they come to Fresno, we'll see.  The Mariners don't come back to Oakland until the end of September, and I may be in Japan then.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Photopost etc: Eri Yoshida pitches in San Rafael!

When I was about 5 years old, someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I said I wanted to be a pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies. My mom told me that girls couldn't become baseball players, and I cried for like a week.

Well, last Friday, July 6th, I went up to San Rafael again to watch the Pacifics. The difference this time was that it was actually to watch the Maui Na Koa Ikaika team... because Eri Yoshida was starting for them! I figured I just HAD to go up there if she would be pitching so close to home, after reading about her for so long.

I thought the game was at 7pm, left work right after our company meeting, hit the road around 5:45pm, got to San Rafael around 6:20pm... and was very surprised that the stadium wasn't particularly crowded. Then I found out that the game was at 7:30. However, this worked in my favor because I got a GREAT seat, I was in the "Dugout Club" again at a table RIGHT against the field. To my left was a lady who modelled in Japan like 30 years ago and the rest of my table was a Japanese family, the father was from Nagoya, the mother from Shizuoka, and the kids born and grew up in California. But they spent the whole game speaking Japanese anyway, which was amusing because it took them a bit to realize I was fluent and could understand/speak with them. (I started explaining the intricacies of independent league baseball in Japanese...) The mother kept up a stream of very motherly babbling the entire game, including "Why are there no cheering sections or big scoreboards here?" about the atmosphere, and "She looks like a junior high school student!" about Eri Yoshida herself.

I spent the pre-game wandering around the stadium a bit, to get food and look around and take photos. I noticed Tsuboi wasn't in the lineup again, and asked a staff guy, who thought he'd been released! OH NO! But then I ran into the team trainer, a Japanese guy who kinda serves as a translator for Tsuboi as well, while he was talking to someone in Japanese, so I just sort of butted in on their conversation for a second to ask what was up with Tsuboi, and he's like "Oh yeah, you were here a few weeks ago in a Fighters hat, right? Tsuboi injured his shoulder... we'll see what happens but..." The three of us talked about Eri Yoshida a bit, and THEN Trainer-san told me something VERY interesting, namely "There's another Japanese pitcher on the Maui team here, this is his first day, he's a lefty, former pro yakyu guy with the Seibu Lions... they're supposed to have him pitch after Eri-chan because so many Japanese people are here tonight..." and my brain suddenly clicks and I'm like "WAIT A MINUTE, IS IT YOSHIHIRO DOI?!" and he's like "Maybe?" I'd heard that Doi was looking to catch on with another team over here after getting cut from the Orioles, so it certainly would make sense.

(Also, from blog reader Ken: Tsuboi out for 10-14 days with a sprained shoulder, apparently. Since the team had a week off, I guess it works out well for him, and I hope he gets back into the lineup soon since I'd like to see him play again.)

Anyway, eventually the game happened. And around 1500 people were there. For a stadium that seats 800 people officially. They had bleachers set up behind the dugout area, and standing-room only arrangements. The local papers apparently wrote about Eri Yoshida so a bazillion people came out to see her pitch. By the time I went to take photos of her warming up in the bullpen, it was almost impossible to actually walk back there, because there were so many people in a space not intended for so many people.

Of course, the sad part is, she had a kind of bad outing - only 3 innings, 5 walks, 1 strikeout (and the 3rd strike was dropped so the runner advanced, I was all like "what do you call that in Japanese, nige... nige... furinige?") and a hit batter, so she was taken out in the 4th inning after walking in a run. Bizarrely it seems she was only charged with 1 earned run out of the 5 she gave up. After she came out, Steve Boggs hit a 3-run homer that cleared all of her runners.

Still, it was pretty cool to watch a 20-YEAR-OLD JAPANESE GIRL throwing pitches and having BIG AMERICAN DUDES SWING AND MISS.

The other cool thing is that Yoshihiro Doi DID pitch 2 innings! He gave up a run but he also got a strikeout or two and looked pretty good. After he finished his innings and walked by us to go to the bullpen, I called out to him in Japanese, "Hey Doi, good job, nice pitching!" (お疲れ様!) and he looked over surprised but then smiled like "Huh? Oh, thanks!" (ああ、どうも!) And the people around me were all like "Holy shit! Do you know him?" and so I explained how I'd seen him pitch for years in Japan and this was his first game for Maui and so on.

The Pacifics won the game 7-3. Box score here.

After the game I went over with the Japanese family I'd been sitting with, to try to get a photo/signature from Eri Yoshida. Despite having a somewhat bad start, she stayed after the game and signed for pretty much everybody who asked! It was really nice of her. Although I really wanted to talk to her a lot more and tell her how much I admire her, since I wanted to be a major league pitcher when I was a little kid, there were so many people around that I just got a photo and an autograph and wished her a hearty ganbare and moved on.

However, while she was being mobbed, nobody was talking to Doi, so I came over and chatted with him for about 10 minutes. I asked him about how he'd ended up there, and yeah, he'd signed a few weeks ago but had to wait for paperwork to start actually playing, and was a little nervous because he hadn't pitched in front of live batting for a few months. (I told him he did fine, of course. He told me my Japanese was really good and asked why I was able to speak so well.) I explained that I was a Fighters fan but of course had seen him pitch with Seibu many many times, and that I used to live in Saitama, so we got into a long conversation about Saitama. Bizarrely, I used to live really close to where he grew up, when I lived in Kawaguchi. We were talking about riding our bicycles over the Warabi track crossing, which is a somewhat obnoxious high bridge; he used to ride that every day to go to Kasukabe Kyoei HS; I used to ride it once or twice a month to go watch baseball at Lotte Urawa or Yakult Toda stadiums. Again, I was having such a strange moment of "I can't believe I'm standing here talking to Yoshihiro Doi about living in Saitama." I'm pretty sure this qualifies as a "only happens to Deanna" kind of moment.

Also, blog reader Eric came up and said hi as well, while we were in the group of people waiting to talk to Eri Yoshida. Since I'm kind of "retired" from this blogging stuff and not in a country where a white girl stands out as much anymore, I'm not used to getting recognized, so that was kind of cool.

The only downside was, getting the game timing wrong and some crazy roadwork on the way home meant that I nearly had a big Zipcar failure. I think it all worked out okay, though, and now I've got a better idea to overestimate on future runs up to San Rafael.

Anyway, click here for my entire photo set from the day, or here are a few highlights:

Eri Yoshida warming up in the bullpen.

Eri Yoshida warming up in the bullpen.

Eri Yoshida on the mound.  Look at the knuckles!

Eri on the mound with 2B Gered Mochizuki in the background.

Pacifics starter Brian Gump. Brian also blogs about baseball and has some amusing things to say about his time with the Pacifics.

Eri coming off the mound with catcher Logan Kanamu.

Doi on the mound for the Ikaika.

How cool is this!! Despite it being an away game and her having a somewhat bad outing, Eri Yoshida stayed after the game and signed autographs and took photos with people for quite a while! So I was lucky enough to get a photo with her. She complimented my t-shirt :)

I also asked Doi if I could get a photo with him since we were talking for a while, but I'd only brought the one shikishi.  Honestly, I like photos more than autographs anyway :)

So anyway, I'm about a week behind on blogging games, but yesterday I saw the Tacoma Rainiers vs. the Colorado Springs Sky Sox when I was back up in the Seattle area, and I got to catch up with Brian Sweeney and Luis Jimenez a bit, so hopefully I'll write something about that game and put up pictures before too long :)

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

4th of July in Oakland: The You, Ess, and A's

This story actually starts towards the end of June. It was a grumpy morning for me, I was running late for work, was feeling pretty tired, really just wanted to go back to sleep. I walked into the BART station near my house, absentmindedly ran my Clipper card over the machine, and suddenly noticed that there was a BIG ELEPHANT IN AN OAKLAND A'S JERSEY STANDING IN FRONT OF ME!

This is one of the A's promotions with BART -- they have their mascot Stomper riding around on the trains sometimes, and even better, occasionally you'll catch the street crew in stations giving away free A's tickets and BART tickets! This had happened to one of my coworkers who lives in Oakland a few weeks ago as well, but since I live in San Francisco, which is decidedly Hipster Giants Fan Land, I figured there was no way I'd ever get that lucky. Apparently I was wrong!

You may be wondering, what did I have to do to get free A's tickets?

I had to get my picture taken with Stomper.

That was it. Really. And if you know me at all, you know I LOVE getting my photo with mascots and baseball people, and have been known to chase down mascots in Japan with my friends.  Think about this one: first, I don't have to chase down Stomper for a photo.  Second, they WANT me to get a photo with Stomper.  Third, they're going to give me free tickets to a baseball game for getting my photo with Stomper.  Does it get better than that?

Actually, it does, because the tickets they gave me were for the 4th of July game! I'd already been thinking of going on the 3rd or 4th, vaguely in the hope of seeing Bobby, but even so, just to watch baseball on July 4th. And it ALSO gets better because they gave me two $5 BART tickets, which would pay for me to get to the game! And the tickets were for 200-level seats behind the bullpens, not something crappy in the middle of the outfield! How lucky is that?

(The retarded thing is, I swear to god, there were people just saying "no thanks" and walking past the A's crew and going down to the platform. WTF? How do you turn down BART tickets and baseball tickets? San Francisco is dumb.  I walked off saying "You guys made my day!" and went to work with a big smile on my face instead of a big frown.)

Anyway, as for the day of the game itself, I went with one of my coworkers who lives in Oakland, and we had a pretty good time.  I mentioned that I knew Bobby Valentine from my days in Japan, and hoped to say hi to him, and I even wore my Bobby 2010 t-shirt from the Keep Bobby in Chiba campaign back during the 2009 season when the Lotte front office was stupid and decided to fire him.  UNFORTUNATELY, the downside of us having seats in the 200-level for a day game with no batting practice and a crowd-drawing team like the Red Sox was that the ushers and staff were being particularly careful about letting people who didn't have appropriate tickets down to the front of the field, and I made a few attempts to get down to the dugout but completely failed.  Here, however, is proof that I really did make the attempt:

And I saw a guy in the stands holding up a "In Bobby V We Trust" sign during the game, too:

Anyway, disappointment about not seeing Bobby aside, and given that I actually root for the A's in general, it was really a pretty good game.  Aaron Cook, who's mostly spent his career in the Rockies system, started for the Red Sox, and AJ Griffin, who's barely older than my interns at work, started for the A's.

Because it was the 4th of July, they were theoretically giving out some kind of red, white, and blue A's hats, although we not only were too late to receive one, we didn't even SEE anyone wearing one anywhere.  But, they had a whole bunch of pregame ceremonies involving the Marines and various other military things, including a bunch of fighter jets flying over the stadium after the singing of the National Anthem.

And then things got underway.  Brandon Moss hit a home run right over the "400" sign in dead center in the 2nd inning to put the A's up 1-0, and then in the 4th, David Ortiz tied things up for the Red Sox by hitting a home run of his own into the corner of the right-field stands, slightly over from the A's mini-ouendan cheering section, making it 1-1.

I haven't really been paying close attention to the MLB like I used to back in the old days, so my brain started to wonder "How many career home runs is that for Big Papi now?" and before I could even look it up on my phone, someone a few rows behind us said "Hey, that was his 400th career home run!"

And sure enough, the A's announcer even called that out the next time Ortiz was up to bat, and there was a stadium-wide round of applause for him:

(Honestly, in a semi-related point, I was kinda shocked to hear what stupid shit Manny Ramirez has been up to since last I lived in the USA -- but at the same time, I'm kinda sad I never got out to a Sacramento River Cats game to see him while he was playing there this year.  Apparently he was released a few weeks ago, at his own request.)

The Red Sox did go up 2-1 in the top of the 6th after Ortiz walked, Jarrod Saltalamacchia (who I pointed out as "the most annoying name to stitch on a uniform") reached on a fielding error by Jemile Weeks and Adrian Gonzalez singled in Ortiz.

But the A's tied it up in their half of the 6th when Brandon Moss hit a "double" that was really a sun ball that got lost by 3 guys in left field and just dropped, and then Brandon Inge hit a real double to bring him in ("Inge-sanity!"), and then Coco Crisp hit a triple to right to lead off the bottom of the 7th and was brought in by a single by Jemile Weeks, and that made it 3-2 and the A's won the game. Box score here.

There were a surprising number of people carrying brooms around the stadium:

But well, that's about what you can expect.

Personally, I was glad the game ended by 4pm because it was pretty hot and sunny out there.  On the other hand, because BART was running on a Sunday schedule it took forever to get on a train!  They actually have police holding up people at the staircase to the station and only let people through in waves, so that the platforms don't become crowded enough to be dangerous.  I was surprised, since in Japan, teams would often run extra trains after games to disperse the fans (well, Seibu and Hanshin and teams that owned their own train lines at least.  Nevermind...)

Still, it was a good time at the park.  If I'm lucky I can try to see Bobby around Labor Day, I guess.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Photopost: Tomochika Tsuboi and the San Rafael Pacifics

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.