Today was just a practice day at the Fighters camp. This was the posted "menu" for the day:
(It's funny how many Japanese-English words I've just gotten used to; while Dani and I were both like "Duh, it's the menu," Dave was like "The WHAT? Can I order some Nakata or Ohtani?")
Basically, what that paper describes, if you haven't seen something like it before, there are several different groups of players, and several different kinds of activities, and several different fields they'll be happening on. The left side is for position players and the right side is for pitchers. I didn't get there until around 11am, to be honest, so I didn't have a ton of time to decipher what was going on with pitchers exactly.
When I showed up, I basically said good morning to a whole bunch of people on my way in, and then found Dani and Dave over by Field 5. I was wearing my Tokyo Big 6 t-shirt, and Dani had her Kagiya jersey on, so for a while I put my Kagiya jersey on too, but in reality it was pretty hot and having two things on made it worse. Though -- I ended up getting a photo with Brandon Laird, and then I saw Takayuki Katoh come out of the pitcher's practice area and I asked him if we could get a photo and then told him how I'd seen him pitch with Kazusa Magic a few years back and thought he was awesome and was so glad he'd come to the Fighters. He still seems like a nice guy!
Kagiya came out of the pitcher's practice too and I was basically like "Hey, the photo we took together last night was really dark and awful, would you mind getting another photo with me?" and he was like "Sure, whatever" and we took two, because the sun was at a bad angle, and I apologized profusely for bothering him, and he was like "dude, it's okay, really!" He's such a nice guy and I just feel lucky that he's been so nice to me all along because I'm such a big dork about him.
I got Dave to show his picture of Kunitomi from Keio to Hakumura, who was basically like "thanks, that's really cool to know he's doing well out here".
I also helped Dave get cards signed from a few people, mostly by just knowing who they were and knowing which cards Dave had with him, so it was like, "Oh, Dave, that's Masui, you have one of his cards," as Masui walked by. Or calling over to Masato Yoshii who is like the nicest guy on the planet. Things like that. Like, it was a little weird since I wouldn't help the binders-of-cards-hey-wheres-ohtani guys waiting outside the day before, but I mean, I know Dave, he knows more about Japanese baseball than a lot of people, and he really does care about it, but since he hasn't spent a ton of time around the guys, he doesn't know most of them by sight, so having us around to point out who all the players were was helpful for him.
And, actually, something really funny happened -- Yuki Saitoh was coming out of the bullpen session where Yoshii had been coaching him, and so a few people managed to get him to sign things, including Dave, and I was like "Saitoh-kun, can we get a photo together? please?" and he was kinda like "I don't really do photos..." and I'm like "BUT I BROUGHT MY TOKYO BIG SIX T-SHIRT WITH ME ALL THE WAY TO ARIZONA" and he was like "Oh wow you really do have a Tokyo Big Six shirt" and I'm like "Pleeeeeeeeeease?" and then Dave took a photo of us and it was like, dang, I just got a photo with one of the most famous and elusive Japanese baseball players ever. Crazy.
I posted that to Twitter and a friend of mine in Hokkaido wrote back: "I saw that on TV! He had just come out of the bullpen and you were talking to him and took a photo, it was on GAORA."
Yeah, that's how my life goes in general. Oh well, at least now I'll have lots of conversation starters with my Fighters friends when I'm back in Japan, for sure.
(Infact, right before that all, I had been chatting with a guy named Yusuke out by the bullpens, who turned out to be from Obihiro, and he was like "I've seen you on TV cheering during games a ton over the years...")
Right around then Chris Martin and Anthony Bass also came out of the bullpen to ride the golf cart back to wherever, and a few people stopped them for autographs, so I was like "Hey you guys, I sound like the worst person ever but you are both super-tall dudes with beards and I want to be able to tell you apart -- do I have it right that you're Chris and you're Anthony?" and they were like "Yeah, you got it" and I said "Great, hope to see you do well with the team this year!" and then they drove off on their cart.
We waited around until the end of bullpens because I wanted to talk to Masashi Kanehira. Well, not exactly. More like, my friend Yuki, up in Sapporo, is a gigantic Kanehira fan. Like, as in, she follows him around Japan as much as possible, sends him gifts, etc. I think that's fairly normal for a NPB super-fan, although MLB people might not understand. Anyway, she had sent me a message like "hey, if you run into him can you tell him for me that I saw him pitch at the intersquad game and he was so good and that I sent him some stuff to the team hotel?" and I was kinda like "okay that's a little weird but sure, I'll do my best" and asked her to type to me specifically what she wanted me to say, so she basically wrote a short letter to him in a message to me. I owe Yuki a favor or two because she gave me a ton of Kagiya stuff during his rookie year, a few posters and a towel and pinbadges and whatnot.
So Kanehira comes out and I'm like "Hey, Kanehira-kun," and he's like "Hm?" and since I didn't obviously have anything to sign or anything like that he looked a little confused, and I was like, "This is going to sound really weird, but you know Yuki? In Sapporo? Your biggest fan?" and he's like "Yeah..." and I'm like "She wanted me to give you a message. Please read this!" and I handed him my phone. And he read it and laughed like "Ahhh, sugeeee...." which is kinda either "AWESOME!" or "CRAZY!" and honestly could go either way given the situation. I was like "I know that was kinda weird, but she's such a big fan and she knew I was here and...was the message okay?" and he was like "No that's cool, thanks." and I was like "Thanks for reading it, it means a lot to her."
Anyway. At that point we decided to take off for lunch, since it was already noon. The players officially had a lunch break on the schedule from 11:30-12:20, though when we were walking to leave the park, we nearly got run over by a golf cart driven by Sho Nakata. Seriously, I forget who he had on there, it was Haruki and Shingo and a few others, and they were all holding on for dear life, and I yelled "ABUNNAI ABUNNAI ABUNNAI" at them. Laughing, but still. I hope they realize I was joking, although I hope Sho doesn't kill anyone with his driving...
Dani and Dave and I went to say goodbye to Joe, who was catching a flight out in the afternoon, and then we got lunch at Red Robin, which was also funny since I kept apologizing to Dave like "We must sound like complete crazy people to you," and he was like "It's actually really cool to be around people talking about Japanese baseball."
We headed back to camp around 2pm, by which point they were doing the fielding/catching stuff listed on the schedule. Honestly, while we knew the schedule, we mostly just hung out looking for interestingness, so to speak. Like, for example, Ohtani was getting ready to take batting practice at Field 5, so... lots of people were there, of course, so we were too.
I sat down with Barden for a bit (he's a "friend of the Fighters" that I first met years and years ago on the field at Chiba when I used to get field passes from Bobby) and watched Kaneko throw batting practice to Taniguchi for a while, which was really cool in its own way, and then Kaneko switched out to watch Ohtani take batting practice, and of course all of the media also geared up to watch. Yoshinori Tateyama came and stood right in front of us inside the fence, and Dani was like "OMG he's right in the way" and he turned around and said in English, "Oh, sorry. Can you see?" and we were like "Yeah it's fine, thanks". Tateyama is so funny, at some point he got a ball during the BP, and he threw it into the fence, then was like "OW!" and we cracked up and he said in English, "I can't throw!"
After Ohtani's BP was over, Shirai-coach yelled at the media something to the effect of, "OKAY HE'S DONE! ALL YOU CAMERA GUYS CAN GO TO SOME OTHER FIELD NOW!" So when he walked by us I was like "Shirai-san, omoshiroi!!" and he's like "Not omoshiroi. I'm always serious. Very serious."
Only a few minutes later Dave went to get his signature... and Shirai at the time had just dove headfirst into a golf cart, so his butt was sticking up in the air and I was laughing like "Shirai-san, Shirai-san, mite mite, you have got to see this, he has your card from a long time ago!" and so he signed the card for Dave.
I also called out to a few other people for Dave, like Nakajima, and Yoh, and whoever else, I forget. We also lined up to try to catch Ohtani when he was coming out, but like, he obviously wasn't going to stop for anyone, and I don't really blame him. Later I found out that apparently the team told him to "watch out for people just getting your autograph to sign on Ebay", so that probably makes him even more wary, which sucks for all the real fans.
The catchers came by with Shinji Takahashi and I asked him if I could get a photo with him and he was kinda like "...with me? Why me? Don't you want one of the players?" and I was like "Dude you were like my first favorite catcher with the Fighters ten years ago, come on" and he was like "Really?" and so we took some photos because the sun was bright and all but it worked out okay. I swear that Shinji would have never posed and smiled and been so nice in photos when he was still a player -- so I guess that is one nice thing about all of my old favorite players being retired now... but still. I asked him how things were in Shinano and he said they were good.
We watched the catchers do their stuff for a bit and eventually it was like... wow, there aren't really any other people hanging out here anymore and you can't even really see what's going on, so we decided to wander out. I thought I had a meeting for work to call into at 4pm anyway, so I came back to my hotel, and while the meeting had been cancelled, I spent an hour or two answering work emails and doing some work stuff, and basking in the glorious airconditioning in my hotel room.
I came back to the field around 5-5:30 and hung out for a bit more with people there. I was honestly mostly just there to help out Dave get a few more autographs. Somehow it's easier for me to yell out to people for someone else than it is for myself, isn't that weird?
I got a photo with Takumi Ohshima because I'm wearing my Big 6 shirt, and I was like "I know it's not quite the same but you were from Waseda so... please?" and I also got a photo with Hiromi Oka (which is weird since he hates everyone but he even signed Dani's Meiji shirt for her), and I also got a photo with Kishisato and Naberyo, well, Dani took a picture of them and I was like "Can I do a... three-shot with you guys?" and they were like, okay, sure. Ryo Ishikawa came out eventually and a bunch of girls swarmed him, and I was just like "hey -- hit another home run tomorrow, please?" and he laughed like "uh, okay". Kagiya also came by and I called out otsukaresama but I wasn't going to bother him yet again after everything else.
A gaggle of coaches came out including Shirai and Kawana, and I knew Dave had a Kawana card from 1991 as well, like he did for Shirai, so I was like "wait! Kawana-san! this guy has one of your old cards, would you sign?" and he waited for us to find it and signed it, and I told him how I'd never seen him as a player since for the whole 14 years I've been a Fighters fan, he's basically always been a coach. Weird, right?
Anyway, it got super-dark around 6:30, and of course that's when most of the players came out, and I wasn't about to bother people I couldn't even really see. So I went back to my hotel at that point.
Although, I walked over to the nearby mall to get dinner around 8, and of course I saw two of the Fighters ANA bicycles parked outside when I was leaving. It would have been incredibly stalkerish and weird to go back in and look for them, so I didn't.
Wow, this did end up being a longer entry than I thought. It's not like there was much action today -- just a lot of hanging around camp watching guys practice and occasionally talking to them -- but it was still memorable and there were a lot of funny interactions.
Some (more) photos:
The media tower where the GAORA folks have been broadcasting from. I think during normal spring training, the Padres front office guys can sit up there and watch all the practice fields.
Practice field 3, I think.
Takayuki Katoh! When last we met him he looked like this.
Chris Martin and Anthony Bass about to get driven off on a golf cart. Sho Nakata wasn't driving, so I assume they survived.
I wanted to take a photo of the big baseballs all over the place, but without a human being for scale, it wouldn't really look as impressive.
Who's got two thumbs and is having a blast in Arizona? Me and Shinji Takahashi, that's who.
Satoh and Shiroishi failing to drive a golf cart through the opening in the fence.
Kaneko throwing batting practice!
Ohtani getting instruction from Kaneko, or something
Kazunori Yamamoto -- former pitcher with the team, now BP, it was nice to see him pitching again.
My "three-shot" with Ryo Watanabe and Ryosuke Kishisato
Takumi Ohshima was all smiles!
Hiromi Oka is never all smiles!