Dunno how coherent this entry will be, but -- I'm in Peoria and just went through my first day of Fighters spring training ever. (I mean, unless you count open-sen, which most people don't, I've never been to spring training for any team.) Some photos at the bottom of the post.
Work has been crazy busy for me so I knew that it would be hard to get a lot of time to come to Peoria at all; I'm managing this one week, and I'm going to have to do some work remotely while I'm here, honestly. I didn't know what the Fighters schedule would be like for such a long time, but around mid-November I called the Peoria Sports Complex like "Hey, I'm a huge Fighters fan and I want to come to spring training, but they haven't released ANY info, what can you tell me?" and they were like "we know nothing except that they've booked the big field on February 8th, 10th, and 13th." Not even like, what their opponents would be, or anything else, just those three days. Sometime early December I found out from Dani on Twitter that the Korean NC Dinos team would be playing the Fighters on the 13th. So I booked a trip here to arrive on Feb 7th and leave on Feb 13th.
Flying *out* of SFO on the morning of the Super Bowl was pretty awesome, actually. We saw a ton of buses heading southward from the city when driving up to the airport, so trying to figure out how important their passengers were based on how much of a police guard they had was pretty amusing. (We went to the Warriors game on Saturday night and it was just chock-full of celebrities; Jay-Z and Beyonce were even there sitting courtside.) My flight had a bunch of empty seats, even. I got to Phoenix airport around 3pm, and then had to go get my rental car, and drive to Peoria. I figured that Dani and Joe had said that practice went until 4pm each day and the players were still around until 6-7pm, so after I checked into my hotel I went over to the Peoria Sports Complex...
...and absolutely nobody was there. I found out later that they ended practice early because of the Super Bowl. Oops. But, I took the opportunity to drive around the grounds a little and figure out where things were, at least.
I must say, btw, that I'm really happy I rented a car. My hotel isn't THAT far -- about a mile walking -- but dang, it is really hot here, and carrying a ton of baseball stuff is not fun already, let alone with the crazy heat. This area has a ton of stuff in it but it's really not walking-friendly.
Case in point: I decided to go to the Target across the street from my hotel and get a few things I'd forgotten to bring. The street is so wide that you can't actually cross it in one walk signal unless you RUN. Which I did. But still. Also amusingly, when I went to pay for my stuff in line at the Target, the people ahead of me were Yoshihiro Satoh and one other guy I still haven't figured out who. They were wearing Fighters camp gear; I was wearing my 野球道 shirt so they were like "...do you like baseball?" and I was like (in Japanese) "I came here to see you guys -- I'm a huge Fighters fan! Game tomorrow, right?" and it was really weird. (I didn't actually realize it was Satoh, just that it was someone I recognized from the team who wasn't a current player, he's team staff. The next day at the field he was like "Hey, you're the girl from Target last night" and I was like "OMG Satoh-kun, right??")
And yeah, that was WEIRD. But cool.
So this morning I showed up at the Padres training fields at the PSC at around 9:30am; basically they had a game at noon and therefore practice from 9-11. Kazunori Yamamoto (former pitcher, also now staff) was playing catch with some people in the outfield but he was standing on the path so I walked past him like (in Japanese) "good morning! oh! yamamoto-kun!" and he was like "oh! hi! good morning! be careful for the balls leaving the field!" And then I came up to the actual field and wasn't sure what to do. People were taking batting practice. Others were throwing in the bullpen. I walked over there, I took a few photos, I got stopped by a security guard who was just like "You can stand here but you can't block anyone going in unless you have a media pass," and I was like "Well, I don't really write about the Fighters anymore so I doubt I can get a pass." I ran into my friend Yohei who works for the team as a translator and chatted with him for a bit, and I also saw Fernando Seguignol and waved hi and he gave me a big hug! But he was also being interviewed at the time so I said we'd catch up later. Various other Fighters celebrities like Yukihiro Nishizaki were wandering around... and eventually I found Dani and Joe over by the third-base side and so I ended up hanging out with them for a while watching batting practice. So crazy! Funny thing: when Shohei Ohtani came in, people were all like "holy shit it's Ohtani" and so I just said in Japanese to him, "good morning!" and he replied to me, "good morning!" and then went into the field. I guess it's all of my years of teaching Japanese junior high school, but I know that greeting people is always a good thing to do and that they'll always reply to you.
(When I greeted Ryo Ishikawa he was all like "ohayou! good morning!!")
Also for some reason Mark Prior was there in the bullpen coaching! How neat is that?
Anyway, after a little while of hanging around with Dani and Joe the team started getting ready to go over to the main field for the game. I did manage to stop Masao Kida and Yoshinori Tateyama and ask them for a photo, which was awesome cool. The players were mostly taking off on golf carts. I offered Dani and Joe a ride and so we got lunch at Subway and then stopped back at their hotel to grab some stuff for the game, and then we came back to the field!
As Dani pointed out, most of the people who were there on the official Fighters tours were already gone by today (oddly, they had scheduled tours like this one for Jan 31 to Feb 5, for example, and I think there was another one until the 6th). I thought that it was odd that the official tours were before the games they were playing, but shrug. Anyway, as a result there really weren't that many people at the game today, and probably half of them were scouts! We sat right behind the Fighters dugout, which was great for photos and terrible for HOLY CRAP IT IS REALLY HOT.
Also a little bit before the game started I saw Atsunori Inaba standing there talking to Nishizaki and I was like "OMG I MUST GO TALK TO HIM OR I WILL FOREVER REGRET IT" and so I went up and waited for their conversation to finish and asked Inaba politely if I could get a photo with him and he surprisingly said sure and Joe took it and I swear that at that point I could probably have gone home from this entire week pretty happy to have accomplished something nigh impossible. (I should have aimed for Takashi Saitoh who was also wandering around, but Dani said he only does fan service for kids, so I dunno.)
There weren't a ton of people in the stands around us; the other people behind the dugout were Japanese; there were a few guys who've been on the Japanball tour a few times sitting a few rows behind us; there was a white guy who spent most of the game hitting on Japanese women in the front row (he was super-annoying; I don't really want to go into details but he creeped me out the whole game).
We ended up getting interviewed by a journalist from the local NPR affiliate, who was basically like "Hi, you guys are all decked out in Fighters gear, what's your story?" and so Joe and I spent an inning or two telling her all about Japanese baseball. That was fun. I wonder whether anything I said will be useful.
Oh yeah, and of course I got an email in Japanese from a friend in Sapporo saying something like "HEY I JUST SAW YOU ON TV! IT'S REALLY EARLY IN THE MORNING HERE BUT WE GOT UP TO WATCH THE GAME! I WONDERED WHEN YOU'D SHOW UP IN PEORIA! HOW'S IT GOING?" which was, as always, surreal, but kind of funny, since this guy also tends to send me email when I'm in Japan like "I saw you on TV at the Tokyo Dome, are you coming to visit us in Sapporo this trip?". For lack of a better reply I sent him my photo with Inaba.
So yeah, there was a game. I did keep score, but it was REALLY hard, due to a combination of being distracted by the interview for a few innings, and them not actually having the lineup or players' names on the scoreboards. They actually did all of the announcements in Japanese and English -- and as usual the English pronunciations were TERRIBLE (like, "who the hell is Day-kee Asooma?") -- but so it means I could follow the Fighters changes fairly easily and utterly could not follow the Lotte Giants changes much at all. Lotte changed pitchers pretty much every inning from the 4th on, and half of their pitchers were submariners or sidearmers, which was interesting on its own, but uninteresting in that I don't remember who half of them were. I mean, I wrote down names, but now they're all kind of fuzzy in my head. I do feel kind of bad about that, but it was just super-hard to follow. I have the account of what happened, but when it comes to the Korean team I'm not actually sure WHO did what, is all.
Yuki Saitoh started for the Fighters, which of course went poorly when in the third inning he gave up like 4 straight hits to account for 3 runs. The Fighters evened it up in the bottom of the 4th, after Giants starter Se Woong Park came out and was replaced by sidearmer Jae Gon Lee, who gave up a double to Brandon Laird, followed by walking Asama and Sugiya, so when Ryo Ishikawa pinch-hit for Shota Ohno and came up to bat, it was the perfect bases-loaded opportunity for him to blast a grand slam to left field! (Due to the way the left field bullpen is, I actually didn't realize it was a home run at first until it became clear it had landed in the bullpen.) So that made it 4-3.
It stayed 4-3 for most of the rest of the game through a series of one-inning Giants pitchers and for the Fighters, Yodai Enoshita pitched the 4th and 5th, Masahiro Inui pitched the 6th, Yohei Kagiya (!!!) pitched the 7th, and Akihiro Hakumura pitched the 8th and 9th.
Unfortunately in the top of the 9th, Hakumura gave up a bloop single to Hun Do Park (I think; honestly not sure), who stole second, and then two batters later Min Ho Kang hit a monster double to left, scoring Park, and he stole third, and then scored on a wild pitch to make it 5-4, which was the final score.
I was so excited when Kagiya came out! Especially since the NPR interviewer, she had asked us our favorite players on the team, and I'm like "Yohei Kagiya" and she's like "Oh, what position is he?" and I said "Middle relief pitcher" and she's like "...I see. Do you think he'll pitch today?" "No, but that's ok." But then he did! I put my Kagiya towel over the dugout fence thingy, and Masato Yoshii even pointed and smiled at it like "Nice sign!" But I wasn't actually sure Kagiya himself saw it, which was odd.
(It's really a shame Kisanuki isn't around anymore because I would have so so so so so much loved to meet him here. Just saying.)
Around the 8th or 9th inning we also had a lady come up and start talking to us who was like, Uwasawa's great-aunt or something -- and then it turned out she works on Portland Sister City stuff with my JET friend that I used to always stay with in Sapporo back in the day. That was pretty random.
Anyway, we got kicked out of the stadium pretty quickly after the game, which was okay, because it was SO HOT OUT. We decided to go line up for autographs/etc, but since I wasn't sure how long it'd take I went back to my hotel to get my laptop and stuff, and dropped Dani and Joe off at their hotel. But then it turned out I didn't get a damn bit of work done, because between 4:30-6:30pm or so there was a fairly steady stream of players coming out of the building. I thought it was kind of odd, but people were just lined up by the building, and basically, players would either come out and stop for fans, or they'd come out elsewhere and avoid the line, and for the most part people abided by "if he's not coming to the line, he doesn't want to talk to us", although for example, we went and chased down Kenta Uehara by his car a bit further off.
I got photos with Takanashi, Uehara, Oshimoto (!!), Sho Nakata, and Masui, and I also got some of them to sign my new uniform (Uwasawa, Hakumura, Nakata, Masui). I also got Inaba to sign my uniform!! I wasn't planning on it but basically he came out to the media van and a few people were kinda like "...should we?" and ran over, and then he was surprisingly nice and accomodating for everyone, so I got him to sign my uniform, like "I've been such a big fan of yours forever", and he's like "Your Japanese is great," (that's always what people say and usually it annoys me but when someone like Inaba says it my reply is "oh thank you so much but") and I asked when he got to town, and he said "Oh, I arrived yesterday," and I was like "Me too!" and then I felt like the biggest idiot ever, and I thanked him and ran off before I could sound even dumber.
I also chatted with Hakumura for a while because thanks to Dave, I knew that Kunitomi from Keio is playing in the Arizona Winter League somewhat nearby so that was kind of cool to have something interesting to tell him.
And of course Kagiya came out eventually and I got him to sign my new uniform AND sign my towel ("I put this out when you were pitching but I don't think you saw it!") and we took a photo together but it was so dark out by then that yet again I have a photo with Kagiya and I'm not happy with it, which makes me feel sort of bad. But, I guess I have all week to bug him again, hopefully he won't kill me! I was definitely super excited to see him.
Oh, a funny thing happened also where Tateyama had come out, and Dani had brought her Rangers Tateyama shirt, but she couldn't find her marker, and I was like "DANI TAKE MY PEN AND GO GET TATEYAMA" and so she took my pen and ran off like "Tateyama-saaaaaaan!"
Anyway, like I said, it got dark, so dark we couldn't tell who was coming out anymore by 6:30pm, so I decided to leave. Joe is heading back to Boston but I guess I'll see Dani again whenever I get to the park tomorrow, and Dave is also supposed to show up, so it's nice to get to meet up with all of my online NPB friends.
This wouldn't be a Marinerds post if I didn't end with some photos, so even though I'm already super-tired, here you go:
With Tateyama and Kida
With Inaba. I was so surprised and happy to see him!
Team pre-game meeting
Me and Joe and Dani (Dani did not want her face showing up in my blog but you have to give her mad Sanko props for the jersey)
Casey Kuhn was the reporter from NPR who interviewed us. She wanted a photo of us, so I thought it was fair to get a photo with her.
Final score of the game
Oshimoto, who seemed surprised (but pleased) that I was like "OMG IT'S OSHIMOTO CAN I GET A PHOTO WITH YOU?" Another woman tried to get him to sign something and he was like "...I'm not a player anymore, I don't really sign"
Same kinda story with Sho -- surprised he was patient enough to get me get a photo, now it's just a shame about the shadow. Ah well, it was still nice of him :)
Hirotoshi Takanashi... I've just never met him before, oddly.
Kenta Uehara. Funny thing here was that the two girls who got photos with him before I did, they both posed by saying "KENSHI NO SEBANGO WA NIIIIIIII" which I guess is like a "say cheese" sort of equivalent, only it's "Kenshi's uniform number is 2", about Sugiya's uniform number change. So, as a joke when I went up to pose, I said "KENTA NO SEBANGO WA NIIIIIIIIIII JU!" meaning "Kenta's uniform number is 20!" He cracked up and so did I.
Fighters closer Hirotoshi Masui
Kagiya! I was so happy to see him and all but dang, it was dark. Alas.