Friday, June 26, 2015

Day 15: My Manager Throws Bases, revisited

Day 15 of the NPB 30-Day Challenge says "Funniest scene in an NPB game".

I'm going to have to go with the infamous "Marty Brown Throws Bases" incident here.

I figured this one will take way more than 100 characters to adequately explain.  It's hard to believe it was almost 10 years ago now (on my birthday no less) May 7, 2006.  It was a month or two into Marty Brown's first season managing in Japan.

The Dragons were playing at the old Hiroshima Municipal Stadium (a stadium I would visit later that year and also see the Dragons).  Domingo Guzman was pitching for the Dragons, and Mike Romano for the Carp.  In the top of the third inning, with the score tied 0-0 and one out, Guzman (bizarrely) was on first base having gotten an infield hit.  Masahiro Araki grounded to shortstop Eishin Soyogi, who threw to Akihiro Higashide at second for the easy out on Guzman.  Higashide then threw the ball to Kenta Kurihara at first.  It was a really close play and the umpire called Araki safe.

Romano wasn't too happy about the call and said that it was a "fucked call" or something to that effect.  First base umpire Manabe didn't hear exactly what Romano said but just the syllable "fuck" was enough for him to eject Romano from the game.  Romano, naturally, was kind of pissed off about this and started yelling at the ump.

Marty Brown came out then to talk to the ump himself, or more like, to first announce Koji Hiroike for the pitching change, and THEN to tell the ump where to shove that call.  There wasn't a brawl or anything like that, but the entire team came out while Brown was yelling at the ump.

Eventually, after getting nowhere with the umpires, Brown ran over to first base, pried the base itself out of the ground, and threw it halfway into right field, to thunderous applause from the crowd, indifference from Araki and Kurihara, synchronized "EJECTED" hand-waves from the umpires, and the amusement of just about anyone else watching.  He bowed, Japanese-style, as he was exiting the field.  Nobody in Japan had ever seen anything quite so crazy before.

Araki and Kurihara went to retrieve the base.  The fans kept cheering.  The umpires announced that Romano and Brown were both ejected for poor behavior, that Jeff Livesey (bench coach) would be the manager for the rest of the game, and that Hiroike was pitching.


Years later when talking about his interpreter at the time -- Joe Furukawa, who had played for the Carp for a few years, interpreted for Brown, and then eventually got a job scouting with the Texas Rangers and spent a year interpreting for Yu Darvish -- he recounted it slightly differently:
"The first time I was ejected from a game, I didn't know the rules and Joe didn't either," Brown said. "You have a certain time to argue and then the umpires would walk away and you would go back to the dugout. We didn't know that and I couldn't get the umpire to talk to me. The only way I could figure out how to get thrown out was to throw the base to right field. And all four umpires threw me out."
For the record, by the way, the Carp went on to win the game, 5-2.

Brown and Romano were both slapped with fines from the league later that week.

But the funny thing is, the Hiroshima Carp team itself was surprisingly supportive of Brown.  They even made T-shirts commemorating the event, that said "DANGER" on the front, and "MY MANAGER THROWS BASES" on the back, for the players/staff to wear, and "I THROW BASES" for Brown himself.

There are still a few articles out there about it with photos, like this one from Asahi, or this one about auctioning off the shirts to benefit a musical:

Or you can just do a web image search yourself on ベース投げTシャツ and find quite a few.
I think that's what was the funniest thing about it -- not that the entire episode itself wasn't so funny -- but the reaction of the fans, AND the legacy it created for the rest of that year.  Brown also had a few other amusing incidents of getting ejected which also resulted in silly t-shirts being created.  This, for example, is a shirt I saw a guy wearing when I was in Hiroshima later that year:

In the end, Brown was ejected a record 12 times over his 5 years spent managing in Japan (four with Hiroshima, one with Rakuten).  But honestly, his ejections shouldn't speak for what he accomplished there.  Much like Bobby Valentine, though in a more subtle way, Brown helped develop young players and to introduce a new style of baseball in Hiroshima.  The time he was there saw the city build a new MLB-quality ballpark, and a year or two after he left the team made it into the playoffs, no small feat when you're a perennial low-budget team competing with the Giants and Tigers.  For a while after Brown left I even heard some of my Japanese friends who like the Carp say that Kenjiro Nomura was an idiot and everyone would rather have Brown there, at least he kept things interesting.

BTW, I did consider some other pretty funny things I've witnessed along the way, and my runner-up for this category was the time Tsuyoshi Shinjo thought he should pitch an entire ceremonial first at-bat to Hichori Morimoto (video here - note how his uniform number is actually his face?) but that wasn't really during a game so I figured it didn't count.

Monday, June 08, 2015

Day 9: If it weren't for those meddling home run hitters...

Day 9 of the NPB 30-Day challenge actually says "A player you think is the most difficult to play against".

I thought about different ways to interpret this.  The obvious one that a lot of people would go for would probably be a really strong pitcher, that when you see they are the scheduled starter against your team, makes you think "Do I really want to go to the game today?".  Me being a primarily Pacific League person, there have been a lot of those over the years.  Ma-kun in 2013 (or any year really).  Darvish (though not an opponent to me).  Chihiro Kaneko.  Hisashi Iwakuma, of course.  Kazumi Saitoh before he got injured.  The entirety of the Hawks and/or Lions rotations some years.

But what fun would that be?

I want to talk about two personal vendettas that specific home run hitters have had against me in the past.

Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura

You've probably heard of the Seibu Lions third baseman Takeya Nakamura.  If nothing else, I've written my fair share about him on this blog.  He's almost hit 50 home runs 3 times in his career - in 2008 when he hit 46 and in 2009 and 2011 when he hit 48.  He would be leading the PL this year if Sho Nakata wasn't one homer ahead of him (at the time of me writing this), and he's on pace to be pretty close to 50 again this year.

Anyway, those years that Okawari was pounding the crap out of the PL in general, it always felt to me like he was pounding the Fighters more than anyone else -- and pounding them particularly in games I was watching.  So I went and looked up the numbers:

Year     HR total    HR vs Fighters   Games I saw    HR in front of me
----     --------    --------------   -----------    -----------------
2008        46         7 (15%)            11           7 (2 off Fs)
2009        48        11 (23%)            11           5 (4 off Fs)
2011        48        10 (21%)             3           3 (all off Fs)

So maybe I was a little over-paranoid in 2008, but in 2009 and 2011 he definitely hit homeruns against the Fighters a little more than average -- each year he only played 17% of his games against the Fighters but hit 21% and 23% of his homers against them.  Of course, there are plenty of reasons why this happened, like home games and interleague pitchers and whatnot, but I'm just justifying my own impression of how things went down.

Also, if you think about it, in those years, he was hitting homers at a rate of about 1 HR per 3 games (you'd expect him to hit a homer about 33% of the time; yeah, I know he hit more than one in a few games).  However, I saw him in 25 games and 15 homeruns of his, so he hit a homerun about 60% of the time in games I was watching.  And it clearly wasn't just against the Fighters; this was also against the Marines, Buffaloes, Dragons, and even the Giants in the 2008 Japan Series.

The upshot is, at some point I was so annoyed at losing to Seibu that I had joked to a friend who worked for the team that he ought to hire me as an "Okawari Omamori" of sorts and hang me in the Seibu Dome dugout for good luck since Nakamura was hitting homeruns in pretty much every game I watched there.

As for my second personal vendetta...

Nobuhiko Matsunaka

Those of you who just started following NPB recently are probably like "I don't get it.  That old guy?  Why hasn't he retired yet?"  But those of you who remember Matsunaka as the freaking Triple Crown winner back in 2004 who led the Japan team at the 2006 WBC in all batting categories, you'll know what I'm talking about when I say how in my earlier days as a Fighters fan I was pretty damn sure Matsunaka personally wanted me to see as many of his home runs as humanly possible.  Heck, the very first time I saw him in person in a game (in Sendai in 2006) he hit a home run.

Anyway, looking at numbers, it's clear that the only time this was really true was 2009.  Not only did he hit 8 out of his 23 homers against the Fighters (for 35%) but I did personally see 5 of them in person in 7 games.  Infact, there was a point that season where I wrote on here how "I've seen Matsunaka in 5 games this season and I've seen him hit 5 homers.  Coincidence?"

So yeah.  My nemesis is Matsunaka 10 years ago and Okawari-kun now.  I wonder who the next one will be.   Given that it's likely to be a Hawks or Lions slugger born around 1994 I'm going with Tomoya Mori :)

Monday, June 01, 2015

Day 5: A post about Yohei Kagiya

Day 5 of the NPB 30-day challenge actually says "The moment you became a fan of a player".

I have to admit I wasn't entirely sure exactly what this one means, and I certainly have plenty of random stories that could fit this.

I mean, is it the moment you took a bad impression to a good one?  I actually had a bad impression of Daisuke Miura like 10-15 years ago, until I saw him at a Fan Fest and saw what a great guy he was with fans, especially kids, then read about all of the humanitarian work he did, and then after the earthquake he was tweeting about being at stations with collection boxes, and so on.  The kicker was when he turned down a FA offer from Hanshin because "I think the fans need me more in Yokohama".  And now Bancho is kicking butt at the age of 41 and I still think it's awesome and I still want him to succeed and I still think he wears too much hair gel.

Is it just the moment you took notice of a guy?  Moments like when Naoto Inada ran into the stands to get a foul ball during the 2006 playoffs, "running as if I was a hungry bull and it was a piece of food"?  Or Hichori wearing some crazy outfit to an All-Star game? Ryota Imanari making me crack up at Fighters Kamagaya Fanfest 2008?  Hiroshi Kisanuki giving out baseball cards to fans in the outfield stands and then turning out to be a fellow train nerd?

Anyway, I stopped blogging for the most part way before I became known as a Yohei Kagiya fan among all the Fighters regulars, so I thought I'd bend this "becoming a fan of a player" theme and make this a Kagiya post!  Yay!

High School

The first time I saw Kagiya play was Koshien 2008.  I wasn't there in person, but I was watching on TV before heading to my eikaiwa job every day at 1pm.  Kagiya was the ace pitcher for Hokkai high school, from Hokkaido, and they were playing Toho HS, from Aichi, a geographical matchup much like the Fighters-Dragons Japan Series.  I was just going to watch the first few batters before heading off to my train, and then Yusuke Yamada took the very first pitch off of Kagiya and hit it into the stands in right-center field.  I typed into the chatroom at the time,


I missed my train and was a few minutes late to work.  It was memorable.  Yamada came to Rikkio for college, I met him a few times, he was a nice kid, and sadly he never really got taller than his 166cm he was in high school and went to work for a properties rental company after graduation.  So clearly, while Kagiya may have been the worse for their first interaction, he's done better overall in the grand scheme of things.


The next time I saw Kagiya play was his sophomore year at Chuo, in 2010.  I came to Jingu to see Takahiro Fujioka pitch for Toyo, and stuck around for the Chuo-Aoyama game.  Kagiya came in to pitch in the 5th inning, and my brain was trying to remember why he looked so familiar, and then I remembered who he was.  (Especially when he gave up a home run to Aoyama captain Ko Shimazuru.) Even back then he still had a little yell he would do when he struck batters out.

I was actually somewhat of a Chuo fan in general at that point thanks to Kageyama, Nishime, Seiya Inoue, and even Sawamura and Yuhi Yamasaki.  And then the next year I went to several of their games to watch Yosuke Shimabukuro pitch.

But then Shimabukuro got injured, and at the same time Kagiya was emerging as their ace.  I went to several of his games in 2012 and charted him out and noted that he threw more first-pitch strikes than pretty much anyone else in the Tohto league.  He still had the same calm but passionate demeanor, and he was still attacking batters, striking them out, throwing a great fastball, and still losing a ton of games because Chuo's team sucked.

I tried really hard to meet Kagiya his senior year but it never worked out, sadly.  The Tohto league works a little bit different than Tokyo Big 6, especially being on weekdays (embarrassingly, when I got a photo with Shimabukuro, I had to ask another player on the Chuo team to take it, because I didn't know any of the other fans hanging out there).

Kagiya during his sophomore year at Chuo.

Kagiya during his senior year.

Holding Out For a Hero

After Ryota Imanari got traded to the Tigers, I spent the second half of 2012 looking for a new favorite Fighters player.  Having your favorite player(s) is part of your identity as a baseball fan in Japan; people know me as a Fighters fan in general but in the grand scheme of all your Fighters fan friends, you need to be identified by which player's camp you're in.  (It is not uncommon for someone to be described like "You know her, she's the Konta fan with the purple-letter jersey?") This is especially important for merchandise; during my 5 years wearing an Imanari jersey around I can't count how many people would give me Imanari pinbadges and other similar things.  Even at Swallows games at Jingu, wearing my Kawabata jersey, a woman once came up to me like "I heard you were visiting!  Welcome home!  Here's some Shingo cards I saved for you."  Similarly, I would save cards or pins for my friends who liked specific players as well.

So Kagiya got drafted by the Fighters and I decided, even before the 2013 season started: Kagiya was going to be my new guy.  Not only was I already a fan of his from college, but being as he's from Hokkaido he was unlikely to get traded any time soon, and also, since he's awesome, he was likely to have an impact on the team.

Fighters Year 1 (2013)

I got a new uniform with kanji letters made in time for the first Tokyo Dome series of 2013 and ran into another person who also had a custom Kagiya kanji uniform.  Whoa!  Then I went to Kobe for a weekend and saw Kagiya's first pro win and well, that was the beginning of this crazy run.

Later that year when I was back in Japan I got extremely lucky and caught Kagiya outside the dorms at Kamagaya briefly and was stuttering like an idiot as I asked him to sign my uniform and if we could get a photo together.  He had a bit of a "why is this girl freaking out" look on his face but I told him how I used to watch him at Chuo and was a huge fan of his, and then he was more like "wait, really?" and then smiled and thanked me for cheering for him and all that.  I felt super-awkward but super-happy about it.

When I got back to Sapporo, a friend in Hokkaido gave me a Kagiya towel and some other cheering stuff (including the Sapporo-area newspapers from Kagiya's first win -- the only place in the country that had him on the front page, of course!), so I had something to hold up in the stands during the Lucky 7 but also before games to yell hi at him in the outfield.  So by the end of 2013 I had solidly gotten most of the fans and Fighters players, Kagiya included, to recognize my new identity as "crazy Kagiya fangirl".

Our completely random and somewhat surprising but totally awesome Kagiya cheering section.

Kagiya and Kisanuki warming up before the game in Kobe, where Kagiya got his first pro win. Also the day I became a Kisanuki fan, but that's another story, maybe.

Finally met him! This is an awful picture of me but to be fair it was August and I had just gotten back that morning from a train trip to Hokkaido.

Hanging out at the Osaka Dome with my newly acquired Kagiya towel a week later.

Kagiya entering the game in the 11th inning of the longest game in Pacific League history.

Unfortunately, Kagiya gave up a 3-run homer to Akira Nakamura in the top of the 12th... the game ended shortly after midnight.

Fighters Year 2 (2014)

In the fall of 2014 I happened to make it to the final Kamagaya game on 9/23, which was both a national holiday and Kagiya's 24th birthday.  Some friends snuck me in line with them near the front, so I got to do the "team high-five greeting" with everyone -- where basically, for the first ten minutes of fans flooding into the stadium, the entire team is out there high-fiving and saying hello to everyone.  It's actually pretty comical if you've never seen this sort of thing before -- 40 baseball players and coaches in the concourse as a thousand fans filter past them into the stadium, so all the players have their hands held out and are high-fiving everyone and it's a big chorus of "konnichiwa," "ohayou gozaimasu," "ouen arigatou," etc as fans are flooded past the players, some of whom seem to actually be enjoying the entire thing (Hakumura), some of whom look like they're just amused and smirking at it all (Yukio Tanaka), some of whom definitely are grumpy just like "It's so lame that I have to be out here greeting you all just because I'm having a bad season (Yuki Saitoh), and some of whom are just like "holy crap this line goes on forever!" (the rookies)  For me, it's kinda funny because I've met about 70% of the team at one point or another, so some players react to me like "WTF A WHITE GIRL!" and the rest are like "Oh hey it's you, good morning, long time no see".

Anyway, I'm making my way down the line, laughing, greeting, etc, and then I got to Kagiya, and he had the "whoa, it's you!"reaction so instead of just high-fiving him like the other players I stopped for a second, took his hand in both of mine, and said in English, "Kagiya-kun!  Happy birthday!"

And he broke into a huge smile like "Oh!  Thank you!!" and shook my hands.

Toshiyuki Yanuki, who was standing behind him, said something in Japanese like "Damn dude, it's your birthday?  I didn't even know that."

Kagiya even pitched an inning, so it was cool to see him out there.  The only thing is, the game went over 4 hours, and then there was a season-closing ceremony afterwards, and the last bus that leaves Kamagaya is around 5:12pm, so I pretty much had to bolt right after the game and couldn't catch up with any of the players.

And so on... (2015)

So this spring when I was back in Japan, I went to eight Fighters games; 7 ichi-gun, 1 ni-gun, and the Fighters won all but one of them.  The last two games were home games at the Tokyo Dome.  When the Fighters win a home game, the game heroes come out to the outfield cheering stands and throw signed baseballs into the crowd.  At the Tokyo Dome, almost the entire team runs out onto the field and throws signed baseballs into the crowd.

The first game, I was in the front row.  The first row almost never gets those signed balls because the players throw them into the stands pretty far.  But the second game I was with a different group of friends in the stands, in the 6th row or so, and when the players came out I held my Kagiya towel up and yelled really loudly and he threw a ball almost right to me!  That is, my friend two seats to the right caught the ball, and then someone else was like "I actually think he was throwing that to Deanna..."

Remember how I said that having "your player" is a really important thing?  My friend was kinda like "OMG, of course he was, you should totally have this ball" and he gave it to me.  I was like "Really?  You sure?" and he said "Yeah, it'll make you happy when you are back in the USA."

I had to go look up what the kanji on the back of the ball meant.  It's a a yojijukugo, a "four kanji idiom" of sorts, and says "a hundred cuts without bending", really meaning a kind of endurance.  I found out that it's the baseball club slogan from Kagiya's high school team at Hokkai, basically.  (In this year's Fighters Guide Book they had a photo of him and Hayao Segawa sitting in the Hokkai clubhouse, with that slogan written on the wall.)