Saturday, February 13, 2016

Fighters Spring Camp - Two-Shot Friday!

I mean, that's not an official thing or anything, but I was surprisingly lucky today in getting photos with and talking to a whole ton of really interesting and awesome people!

Yesterday was an off day for the team, so Dani and I went to tour Chase Field.  I'm not going to write a separate entry about it (maybe some other time), but it cost $7 and we got to go all around the concourse (and past the pool in CF!), down into the visitor's clubhouse and bullpen, into the press room, up to the Diamond Level suites, and then down onto the field for a bit (well, standing on the warning track in front of the dugout).  I've been on several stadium tours now, and I think this one you at least certainly get your bang for your buck.

At the end of the tour, we went into the gift shop.  I didn't really want to get anything big, since I know I won't wear a Diamondbacks t-shirt, but I got a small Chase Field pin, AND this is relevant a bit later, I saw that they had Diamondbacks chapstick, and so I bought one for Kagiya.  (This sounds weird unless you watch enough Fighters variety shows like Dani does and find out that he actually has a problem with dry lips and is always carrying around chapstick in his pocket.  Dani even gave him a bunch of chapsticks earlier in the week and is probably going to kill me for mentioning that here.)

After getting back to Peoria, the only Fighters-related thing that happened to me for the rest of the day was, I went to the nearby mall to get food, and... nearly walked right into Hiromi Oka out on the concourse.  I said hi, but he ignored me.  Probably he was as surprised anyone recognized him as I was to see him.  At the food court, then, I saw Takumi Ohshima and Yuya Taniguchi standing at the Jamba Juice with Takahiro Nomo (Hideo's son, and a translator for the Fighters).  I wasn't really sure what to do other than to pretend I didn't see them and move on.  It isn't surprising that several of the guys on the team would spend their off day shopping; it's a typical hobby for young Japanese men, and I'm sure they wanted to bring back some souvenirs to Japan.

Today, Friday, was my last full day in Peoria, as I'm flying out tomorrow evening.  It was another practice day, so I packed light.  I got to the stadium, got out of the car, and thought that my bag seemed a little TOO light -- get this, I had prepared my dSLR camera and then completely not taken it with me when I left the hotel.  Oops.  I figured I could maybe go back for it at lunchtime, but for now I wanted to enjoy the craziness of the morning practice session.

And believe me, it was CRAZY.  Do you want to know why?  This is why:

Yes, Yu Darvish came to visit camp this morning.  Some of the fans didn't seem surprised -- he had apparently either mentioned it on Twitter or it had surfaced in the media that he would stop by camp at SOME point during the two weeks, but nobody knew when.

Ohtani must have been relieved since for an hour or so this means the media throng was following somebody else around for a change.

So that was sort of nuts.  Darvish walked around mostly inside Field 6 and the bullpen area and seemed to just be hanging out watching stuff.  Also in exciting things, Romash Tasuku Dass, if you remember him (he was a half-Indian Fighters pitcher that got cut from the team after 2011), was hanging around camp as part of Darvish's entourage.  I actually did say hi to him like "Long time no see, what are you up to now?" and he basically said he's working as an assistant for Darvish.

Eventually Darvish got whisked off on a cart and things got back to "normal", whatever that means.  I talked to a whole bunch of random fans in the morning, and I also met Keith Werman, who played in the Mariners system for a year or two and is now working for the Fighters and Padres and apparently helped facilitate the Fighters coming to the USA.  (There aren't many non-Japanese people around in camp with Fighters gear; 99% of the non-Japanese people around are either scouts or are random Peoria people who just came by to see what was going on because they're regulars at the PSC.  So I wondered what his story was and decided to just ask.)

I caught Kagiya as he was coming off the field at one point and was like "Hey-we-went-to-the-Diamondbacks-stadium-and-I-saw-this-lip-cream-at-the-store-and-thought-of-you-so-here-you-go-it's-major-league-lip-cream" and gave him the chapstick.  He laughed and thanked me.  I guess that was a success.

The foreign pitchers all kind of came off the field at the same time so I asked Chris Martin and Anthony Bass if I could get photos with them, and I also managed to get Kuriyama-kantoku, and then Luis Mendoza came out and we chatted about basketball for a while!  That was really cool.  He said that he went to the game with two of the other players (Nakamura and I forgot who the other one was).  I was like "Didn't the rest of the team go to a hockey game?" and he was like "Yeah, but I wanted to see the Warriors, they're such a good team, it's fun to watch Stephen Curry play and all."

Bizarrely there was another fan there -- a Japanese woman who lives in Arizona now but used to live near me in the Bay Area -- who had also been at the game!  That was pretty random.

(I didn't find Dani until almost noon, so I ended up making friends with a whole bunch of random other Japanese fans who were around, because I needed to bug someone to take photos for me.  And people were interesting -- one woman was there with her son, because her husband was cooking the meals for the Fighters.  Another woman, a Masui fan, had come in from Osaka for the weekend and told me she was going to Okinawa next weekend.  Another man, Tanaka-san, had lived in Arizona for a few years so his English was pretty good and we ended up hanging out together for a lot of the day just because we were always in the same place.)

I kind of intended to leave and go back to the hotel around then, but interesting things kept happening.  For example, a bunch of umpires showed up at the field and were hanging around!  Curiosity got the best of me so I chatted with them for a while.  They said that umpires do have spring training too, of course, and so they were also going to work out with the team for the afternoon.  I mentioned how I could immediately tell during the game that they had Japanese umpires there because of the way they called the strikes (it sounds like "TORAAAAAAII"), and they were joking how one of the umpires is the "quiet man" because he doesn't do that.  I dunno, it was funny.  I got a photo with the younger one, Tomoya Ishiyama, number 25:

I dunno, I have several friends who are big fans of some of the umpires, crazy as that sounds.  And of course, I've always kept an eye on Kengo Iwashita since he graduated from the Hosei baseball team and became an umpire as well.  And one of my old junior high school students is currently studying to become an umpire too, crazy as that sounds!

A little bit after that, I guess to start preparing for fielding practice in the afternoon, Makoto Kaneko came out to the field we were hanging out next to, and I was like "Kaneko-saaaaan" and he was like "chotto matte ne?" and then when he came back I asked if we could get a photo and holy crap he said okay!

I had seriously been all prepared to pull out the pouting "But I even wore my Kaneko shirt todaaaay" like I had done on Saitoh the other day, except I didn't even need to!

So at that point I was like "Great!  Now I can leave for lunch and go get my camera so I can take pictures at afternoon fielding practice and all," and so Dani and I walked from Field 6 over to Field 4, just to see what was going on there on the way out.  And so Tanaka-san was hanging out there, AND we all went over and got a photo with Takashi Saito, who was surprisingly nice as well!

And then I got to talking with this older guy from Minnesota who spends his winters in Arizona -- his name was Duane and he is also relevant to this story quite a bit -- he was saying how he'd seen us at the game the other day, and was also saying how he'd been sitting with Seguignol and with Matt Winters, and I was like "dang, I've always wanted to meet Matt Winters, he's such a legend within the team."

"Well -- Matt's right over there, why don't you say hi to him?"

"Wait WHAT?"

And he points out a guy in a blue polo shirt and calls out like "Hey Matt, this girl wanted to meet you."

And Matt Winters, legendary Fighters outfielder of the 90's and scout for the last ten years comes over and is like "HEY!  You're the girl who wrote the Fighters blog for all those years!  I was such a big fan, why did you stop writing?"

If you've ever met me, you know that I am rarely speechless -- infact, usually completely the opposite -- but for once I really had no idea what to say!  I mean, my friends still wear their "Winters 10" jerseys sometimes!  And he had read my blog to keep up with things back in the day!  How crazy is that?

I ended up talking to Matt for about an hour or so.  It was just really awesome.  He is completely full of crazy stories about both playing for the Fighters as well as scouting for the Fighters.  Like he would tell funny stories about him and Rick Schu and Kip Gross and all hanging out back in the day, and then talk about things like how he just happened to see Brian Sweeney pitching in Omaha one day and said "This guy is perfect, we need a pitcher, can we get him?"  And, oh man, Matt brought up the entire Jason Botts debacle that I may have partially contributed to back in 2008-9.  That was about as nostalgic and embarrassing as my blogging history gets, certainly.

Matt eventually had to actually run off and talk to some more relevant people, so I went to sit back down with Dani and Tanaka (who had gotten a photo and autograph from Winters as well), and he's like "So you wrote a blog about the Fighters?  In English?  Can you give me the URL?" and so we traded business cards, and I wrote this blog's URL on the back of mine, and then something even weirder happened:

A guy behind me is like "HEY!  Did I just hear you wrote a Fighters blog?  Are you Deanna?"

And that guy turns out to be Dan Evans.  Yes, former GM for the Dodgers and such.  We follow each other on Twitter.

And then he's also like "Do you know if the other girl, Dani, is she here?"

Dani was standing next to me talking to someone else in the stands so I'm like "Dani!  Turn around, this is Dan Evans, you need to say hi to him!"

And he's like "Can I get a photo with you guys?  We have to put this on Twitter."

(Yes, you read that right.  An MLB executive asked if he could get his photo with us.  Like I said, this day couldn't possibly get any weirder.)

No, seriously, Dan is a very cool guy and it was great to meet him and chat with him for a while.  Like Matt, he also had real relevant work to be doing and people to talk to besides a bunch of crazy fangirls, but he said it was great to meet us and that he learns lots of interesting NPB gossip from following us.

Next thing that happened was, there was this half-Japanese boy there wearing a Kansai little league t-shirt.  I didn't get why this was relevant until Sho Nakata came out of BP, saw the kid, gave him a big hug and a baseball bat and his batting gloves, and of course the whole media was very WTF over this.  The Fighters official photographer even took a picture of them together, and they were chatting together for a few minutes.  So while the media swarmed Sho, I asked the boy what his story was, and he was like "Oh yeah, I grew up in Kansai and I played at the same little league that Sho played in, a few years later, and he visited us, and so now I'm here in Arizona in college and Sho invited me to come out to see him at camp."

And my jaw dropped like "That is so awesome!  You're so lucky and I hope you're enjoying it!"

And before I could ask more, the media swarmed up to him to ask him a bazillion questions, so I excused myself and went back to sit down.

I noticed that the Fighters' director of operations, Toshi Shimada, was standing near us so I said hi to him -- not that I'd ever spoken to him before, but I was basically like "Matt Winters was talking about you!" and he laughed like "Yeah, I think Matt's bitter that I get to boss him around now unlike the old days," since he was Matt's interpreter, and then he was like "Oh, and I saw you on TV the other night with the Kagiya jersey," and I was like "I hope you don't think I'm too stupid," and he said no, it was nice of me to be such a big fan.  And we got to talking for a while, about the future of the team coming back to Arizona and some other stuff.  His take on it all was pretty funny -- like, the players were a lot more enthusiastic their first few days in the US but are now kinda like "let's go home already", but he also said that of course, when they go to Okinawa, it'll be the same way -- a few days of "woo Okinawa!" and then a week of "Okay, let's go home already".

So that was cool too.  I feel like this week has been great for getting to meet people all across the Fighters organization, from the players to the staff to the front office.

By this time it was already 2:30, and I was starving, but there was no point in leaving.  I was talking to Duane again, the guy from Minnesota who had introduced me to Matt Winters, and Duane mentioned that since he had the season tickets to the normal Peoria spring training, he had gotten comped tickets for the Fighters vs. Lotte Giants cames on Monday and Wednesday.  And I was like "Are you kidding me?  That's so cool, those shouldn't even exist!"

"Wait, do you want them?  I'll go get them for you.  I'm probably just going to throw them out, but a super fan like you, you should get them signed or something, put them in a scrapbook of this trip!"

And he seriously said he'd meet me back by the front gates in about 15-20 minutes with them.  Dani and Tanaka and I walked out there a bit later since practice was winding down anyway, and... and he showed up with the tickets!  He had two for Monday and two for Wednesday, so I kept one of each and gave one to Dani and one to Tanaka (it's not like I needed four, but having one of each day was kind of awesome).

And finally at THAT point I went and got something to eat, dropped off some things at my hotel, put on more sunscreen, and came back to wait around for players to come out.

Except it turned out they were having some big party that evening - a barbecue with some Padres people, supposedly including Trevor Hoffman.  So after waiting for like an hour none of the players had come out, and we were all a little worried.  Two girls in particular, they were both leaving tomorrow morning and had bought Valentine's presents for Taniguchi and Nakashima, and were a little despondent.

Eventually all of the players did come back through to go to their party.  Well, most of them anyway.  We never did see Nakashima.  But Taniguchi came by and I got him to sign one of my tickets, and I got Kaneko (!) of all people to sign the other.  So that worked out.  I spent a while talking to all the people there, and I hope they managed to find the players they wanted to see, or otherwise had good evenings.  I did feel really sorry for the Nakashima fan girl.  I left around 6pm when it became dark.

Okay.  I don't have any action photos from the day, so you're going to get a ton of my two-shots with people plus a funny Ohtani pouty face in the dugout.  Enjoy!

Yukihiro Nishizaki retired a year or two before I started following NPB, but he's often been around as a commentator on Fighters TV.  I saw him pitch in the Master's League once.

There were some holes in the dugout fence wall, so I poked my camera in to see what I could see, and came out with a pouty Ohtani face.

Chris Martin is much taller than me.

Anthony Bass is only mildly much taller than me.  :)

Manager Kuriyama!

Recently retired Satoshi Nakajima, who has been parading around in Padres gear all week

Takashi Saito!  Who actually has every right to parade around in Padres gear, or several other teams :)

Matt Winters!

Winters still signs the way he did when he was a player, with number 10 and his name in katakana and all.  Tanaka thought that was really cool (he's been a Fighters fan for 25 years so he actually remembers Matt as a player!).

Shota Ohno, who I have seriously wanted to meet since he was in college.  No joke.  I just wish I hadn't been so shy back then.  Now he's captain again, just like he was at Toyo.

Sho Nakata talking to the boy from his little league.

Hayao Segawa, who I'd never met before, and I couldn't find my camera at the time, so this was taken with my cellphone.  He was nice and waited a second for me while I scrambled to find something to take the picture with after I asked.  Segawa's one of the oldest rookies the team's ever had, but he's also from Hokkai HS originally so I hope he's successful with the team!

And last but not least -- these are those tickets that Duane gave me!  He said to go get 'em signed and put them in my scrapbook, so here they are!  It's really neat having tickets to a game that didn't have tickets.  :)  The Japanese fans were all calling these "幻のチケット", like when you have tickets to a postseason game that doesn't happen, that sort of thing.

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