Thursday, November 29, 2007

Tales from the Card Side

Hey, if Pat Neshek can write posts like this, so can I.

A few days ago a Canadian friend of mine asked if I could go hunt down some special card cases for him and some super-thick hockey autograph cards he was collecting. Since I'd never been to Ryogoku before, I figured, what the heck, I'll go to the shop and see what they have. My friend Pau, who is one of the most awesome baseball geeks I've ever had the fortune to meet, came along with me in the hopes of finding some more NPB cards. Oddly, this store had tons of MLB cards, tons of Hockey cards, Basketball cards, American FOOTBALL cards, etc, etc -- but no Japanese baseball cards!

Either way, we found the cardholders, I bought one, got the paper explaining it in English, and also found out my friend in Canada should be able to order them online. Score.

Afterwards, Pau and I spent the day basically hunting down and trading NPB cards in Jimbocho. It was awesome. First we stopped for lunch and exchanged as many doubles as we could from the BBM 2007 set, and went through Pau's Nostalgic Baseball collection to see what he was missing.

We found the card store I'd been talking about and probably spent over an hour there just looking through old boxes of cards. ("Look," I happily exclaimed, "I found a Hiromitsu Ochiai card from when he was still a player!" "Whoa," replied Pau, "He had hair back then!")

We each bought a "Fukubukuro" bag from the card shop. These are "lucky bags", usually you see them in a department store -- they've put a whole bunch of random stuff inside a bag, you can't look inside, and you pay some arbitrary price for every bag. You might either get some totally awesome stuff worth a lot more than that, or you might get something completely useless. The card shop guy said "Well, these cost 1000 yen, but it has 3000 yen worth of random baseball packs inside!"

Eventually we went to a coffeeshop and sat down and got out all of our packs we'd bought. We also bought Sanseido out of their last 6 Nostalgic Baseball packs, and I also bought two more BBM 1st Version 2007 packs.

Inside the Fukubukuro was two Draft Story packs, three Softbank Hawks team packs, three Chunichi Dragons team packs, and inside mine there was also a Takahiro Yamazaki autograph card. (Yeah, I know. I saw Rakuten and Yamasaki and was like "DUDE!!!!" then "Oh. That one.") Since each team pack costs 420 yen normally, it really was 3000 yen worth of packs inside, so that's pretty cool.

I traded Pau my BBM 1st packs for his Chunichi Dragons packs, and also told him I'd give him any new cards from the Nostalgic set. And thus we erupted in a mad plastic-ripping rampage, surfacing occasionally to say things like "Hey, do you have a Nagashima already?" or "Yay! Another Naomichi!"

First we settled the Nostalgic packs. These are a set of baseball cards that are entirely of Japanese baseball stars from 50-60 years ago. Pau has most of the set now and is missing like 20 cards. I think he got one new card in his 3 packs but he got 4 or 5 from my packs, so it wasn't a complete loss. He gave me ALL of his doubles, so now I've got around half the set too! Yay! What beautiful cards!

BBM 2006 Nostalgic Baseball cards

Then we went through our Draft Story packs. Both of Pau's packs had mostly really old players so I wasn't all that excited about it, but my first Draft Story pack had, I kid you not, an Ichiro card, a Tsuyoshi Nishioka, a Kazuhiro Wada, an Osamu Hamanaka, and a Naoki Takahashi (older player from the Toei Flyers). Pretty cool, especially since I like Hamanaka and because Ichiro's card actually had the "Suzuki 51" uniform picture on it from the way old Orix days.

I open my second Draft Story pack and I swear the first card is Hirokazu Ibata, who I totally love, so I'm like IBATA! OMG! The second card is Koji Uehara. OMG UEHARA! The third is Katsuaki Furuki, which isn't terrible but isn't particularly exciting. Then the fourth is MICHIHIRO OGASAWARA and I nearly completely flip out, it's this cute young smiling catcher Ogasawara on the Fighters. AWWWWW! Before Ogasawara went to the Dark Side, I was totally obsessing over finding one of his rookie cards. This isn't exactly the same thing, but it's got the same purpose - a card with a really young picture of him as a catcher. At that point I notice the fifth card in the pack...'s Daisuke freaking Matsuzaka.

We're both stunned.

Pau's like "I think you just pulled the single best Draft Story pack known to man."

BBM 2007 Draft Story cards

After that we went through our Softbank and Chunichi packs. The Hawks ones are kind of nice though nothing came out that was super-exciting -- I did get a Munenori Kawasaki card, so that was good, and a silver Sadaharu Oh card which is really pretty. The Chunichi ones are kind of interesting, although the stupid part about team sets in general is that they make cards for EVERYONE on the team, and this includes the minor leaguers who don't even get playing time at ni-gun, plus every single coach on the team, and so on and so forth, so even if you're a gigantic fan of the team you still probably won't know who everyone is. I'm pretty sure I literally have a card for every single Dragons coach ever in existence now, but I DIDN'T get an Ochiai card, which was kind of sad. I also did get two more Naomichi Donoue cards, but I didn't get a lot of the normal lineup guys like Morino and Araki and Ibata and all, so I was a little disappointed. I did get a Kenshin Kawakami "Shining" card which was really pretty, though.

One cool thing about the Chunichi set: They have this bunch of cards called "Consecutive". Apparently it's for a few players -- I got one of Kosuke Fukudome and two of Masa Yamamoto -- and if you collect ALL of the cards for that player it will line up and look like their pitching motion or their batting stance. Each card had three pictures on it and looked sort of like a puzzle piece. I need to go back to the card shop and try to see the others in the series sometime.

Another cool thing about the Hawks and Dragons cards is that I got two guys who I saw in my first ever Fighters game. One is Tatsuya Ide, who is now a coach for the Hawks, and the other was Hiroshi Narahara, who is now a coach for the Dragons.

My Fukubukuro cards

I also traded Pau a non-double 2007 1st card of Takashi Toritani for another Naomichi Donoue he got in his BBM 2007 1st packs that I'd traded him. Pau's really a Tigers fan and I'm really a Fighters fan, but we both follow most of the league in general, so it works out well.

After that, we played a baseball dice game called Replay Baseball for a while. We played a game of the 2005 Mariners vs. the 2005 Athletics. That was so funny! King Felix started against Danny Haren and the A's won 2-1. The funniest thing is that while rolling dice and seeing the results I kept feeling like I totally remembered all of these things happening in real life in 2005, heh. The other thing is that I had Matt Thornton pitch for me and he didn't suck. But everything else about the game was fairly accurate, especially the part where Ichiro was the only one who could consistently get on base.

The coffee shop kicked us out pretty much right as we were finishing the last half-inning of our dice game, since they were closing. Then I went home, buying another B5 trading card book at the 100-yen shop and organized a few more cards into it. It had been about 3 years since I'd gotten to open packs with someone else, so I'd forgotten exactly how awesome it is. Good times.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Yokohama Bay Stars Fan Fest

I went to the Yokohama Bay Stars fan fest on Friday, November 23. It was on Friday afternoon because that was a national holiday in Japan. In addition, the event had a pretty reasonable fee: zero yen. Overall, it was really interesting and I had a pretty great time.

Because other people couldn't make it and I ended up going alone, the good part was that I could run around with my camera the whole time and just go crazy snapping pictures of players all over the place. The bad part was that I didn't feel like waiting in any lines for things, because waiting by yourself for 45 minutes is boring, and running around the field is a lot more interesting.

What was going on: Event Map

1. Main Stage: Various bands were playing short music sets, and inbetween those, various players were on stage doing "talk shows".

2. Speed Gun corner: You could go into the Baystars bullpen and test your pitching speed. I wanted to go into the bullpen just to see it, not to throw, but alas, the line was really long, of course.

3. VP Auction: I never actually found the auction and it's not like there's anything I wanted anyway.

4. Kids Corner: They had an inflatable playground and some other stuff, including for a while a 90-foot dash between 2nd and 3rd base. For a while the Shonan SeaRex mascot Reck was out there scaring playing with the kids as well. I honestly can't remember if I saw Hosshey or Hossiena anywhere, come to think of it.

5. Players' Autograph Zone: You had to wait in a HUGE line for this and I think it was limited to 3000 people anyway, so I said "screw it".

6. Catch-ball Corner: Unquestionably the most popular and most awesome part of Fan Fest. This involved kids playing catch with Baystars players, and I don't just mean random farm team guys, but they had Yoshimura and Miura and Terahara and Nonaka and such out there, and probably others I didn't see as well. Kids (and some adults, but it was largely kids) could play catch for a few minutes with a random player and then pose for a picture with them. The players were incredibly sweet to the kids and the kids were incredibly cute and I felt all warm and happy just watching for 20 minutes.

7. "Two Shot Pose" area -- apparently that actually means "get your picture taken with a player". Again, this was in the sign-kai area and I never actually went into the stands at all, to be honest.

8. Tee Batting Corner: You could bat off a tee the same way the players do before a game. I didn't watch this that much because it wasn't as interesting as catch-ball.

9. Mini train corner: This was pretty bizarre. They had this big model train and they'd have about 10-15 fans riding it at a time and 2 Baystars members (sometimes players, usually staff/coaches/mascots).

10: Tent Corner: This was... about 5-6 tents set up on either side of the main stage. I honestly don't exactly remember what they all had, but some were run by local newspapers or radio stations. One was just selling Baystars calendars (and about 2/3 of the time they had a random player there signing calendars if you bought one), and another was run by the Baystars Store. Another was a baseball card tent run by BBM I think, and there were a few run by either food or sports drink or some such thing companies, like Meiji. From time to time players would be involved in the random tents but most of the time the tents were just selling random crap.

Anyway, I pretty much did exactly as I said: I ran around for 3 hours snapping pictures and watching players talk about stuff and whatnot.

Hayato Terahara suddenly reminds me a lot of Nick Swisher. He has a similar goofy personality and the way he dealt with kids with this adorable grin seemed really Swisher-esque, along with the long hair and facial hair and chubby cheeks.

Takahiro Saeki, who already cracks me up, was practically doing stand-up comedy at one of the tents for about 20 minutes. He was just super-funny and it culminated in him leading a crowd of a few hundred people in a crowd-wide janken for some prize the radio station was giving out. "Did you have scissors? If not, sit down. No, HONESTLY, who had scissors? You had rock, I saw you!"

I almost got Shingo Nonaka to autograph my calendar but missed him by about 5 people in line. So close! So sad. I like Nonaka.

Takuro Ishii called Kimiyasu Kudoh an old man up on stage :)

The only other non-Japanese person I saw in the stadium was John Turney, the Baystars' strength and conditioning coach. He was at the model train thingy helping load people onto the trains. I wanted to yell something like "Hey, why aren't you riding, Turney?" but I was way too far away for him to hear it. Oh well. I got a lot of funny looks from people all day; I doubt random Americans usually wander into their fan fests here, at least not for a team like Yokohama.

I was really sad that I only saw Atsushi Kizuka for about 5 seconds and that was when he was on stage with a few other players. No Kizuka Time for me. I hope he'll be the closer next year. When I was walking around the infield, I went up onto the pitcher's mound and gave it a good hard kick and said, "Kizuka rashii!" One person got it and laughed, the others just stared at me like "What on earth is this crazy gaijin doing?"

Speaking of "that crazy gaijin", while I was watching players playing catch, there were always about half ni-gun players out there, and they were usually wearing jackets over their uniforms, with just the number on a sleeve, no name. So there were always these "dare aitsu?"s coming from all around me. At one point there was a guy practically standing on top of me and he said to his wife in Japanese, "Number 4, who the heck is that?" and I looked up and said "That's Kitagawa," and he was like "Thanks," and then did a double take and laughed and said "Really, thanks!" in that tone of "Wow, did some crazy American chick just tell me who a guy was on my own team's roster? How wacky!"

Also, man, I nearly knocked out a lady with my camera lens while the entire crowd was fighting to try to snap pictures of Daisuke Miura playing catch. It wasn't my fault -- I was out there on my tiptoes trying to get a shot and she started jumping up and down to try to see him, yelling "Miura-sama!!!" like the other people around us. If I hadn't noticed, she literally would have jumped right into my lens, and I'm pretty sure either the lens or the woman wouldn't have come out unscathed. Miura is really, really, really popular in Yokohama, regardless of how much hair gel he uses.

Anyway, check out the photos I took at Baystars Fan Fest!

Here's a few of my favorites. Aren't the Baystars so cute?

Takuro Ishii and Kimiyasu Kudoh

Takahiro Saeki

Atsushi Kizuka

Daisuke Miura

Shingo Nonaka

Hayato Terahara

Yuuki Yoshimura

(By the way: you know, I don't mind if people USE my photos, but could you just ASK me first? It's really beginning to disturb me how often I see my photos in other places, cropped or re-sized or whatnot, no attribution, etc. I love sharing pictures with the world and all, but if you like my stuff enough to copy it and use it as your own, couldn't you at least TELL me that? It would make my day. Honest.)

Yokohama Stadium is easily one of my favorite places in Japan to be with a camera, so this was a pretty fun time for me as well. I'm only wondering why I didn't see Nishi or Koike or Kinjoh or Uchiyama anywhere... probably I just missed them, or maybe they were at the sign-kai and photo things for a while or something. I know Murata and Aikawa are off on the Olympic qualifying team, but as far as I could tell the rest of the team was around for this event, which was really great of them. In Seattle, you'd generally see like 7-8 players at a Fan Fest and all they'd do is a 20-minute Q&A and an autograph session, but here it was seriously something like 50 players and they were all over the place, posing for pictures, signing things, shaking hands, talking to fans, playing catch, etc. I think everyone had a pretty good time at this event -- the weather was lovely and it was just plain neat to hang out on a baseball field for a while.

(And yeah, despite being outdoors, Yokohama's field is not grass, but is artificial turfy stuff. I sat down on it at one point and it seemed pretty soft though.)

Afterwards I stopped by the Baystars store and got a Yoshimura #31 keychain to go with my Morino #31 keychain, and a few other things. I should also mention that the 2008 Baystars calendar is really pretty nice -- it's 1200 yen and is celebrating the 30th anniversary of the team being in Yokohama.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Joe Kennedy, 1979-2007

It sounds like a bad punchline to something, but it's not: Joe Kennedy is dead. How completely shocking and sad.

I didn't even realize he had left the A's. No, seriously. It apparently happened during that month after I moved to Japan but still didn't have internet.

I'll best remember Joe as one of the easiest guys to spot in the Safeco bullpen (I could always tell he was warming up from my seat in the upper deck, because a gigantic lefty is pretty easy to recognize).

They don't know exactly how he died yet -- possibly either a heart attack or an aneurysm -- but he was only 28 years old. 28 years old! Also, he leaves behind a pregnant wife and a 1-year-old son. And to think it happened during Thanksgiving, too -- I had something similar happen during Thanksgiving 9 years ago, when my stepfather had a heart attack the night before. He lived, but we were all pretty freaked out at the time, so I can't even imagine how sad Kennedy's family must be right now. Argh.

In other losses for the A's fanbase, Marco Scutaro was traded to Toronto. Dang, that's pretty weird. I always loved seeing Marco at batting practice and he always made me laugh.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Friday Foto: No insulation, but plenty of decoration

It's really cold in my apartment right now, and probably will continue to be really cold for the next few months. I really ought to figure out a way to use all of my baseball magazines and books as insulation.

Today I went to the fire department building in Akabane and asked them if I could have an Ayumi Kataoka smoke alarm poster, since I've seen these posters up all over the place in the last few weeks. They seemed REALLY amused when I explained that I love baseball and I respect Ayumi a lot, and gave me TWO posters! Whee! For those who don't know, she is a female professional baseball player in Japan. She's an infielder for Kin-chan's club team, the Ibaraki Golden Golds. They play in the industrial/club leagues in Japan, so not quite NPB, but still.

The poster is of Ayumi holding a smoke detector sort of the way one would normally hold a baseball. From a distance you'd almost think it WAS a baseball:

So, this called for rearranging the posters on my wall. I put Ayumi where Kazumi Saitoh used to be, shifted him down, and added a Morino page from Dragons magazine:

Baseball wall!

Above Ayumi is a Hanshin Tigers poster of Shinobu Fukuhara which I randomly got last year and just like, and the 2005 Mariners Little League Day poster, and the Go Mariners card I got signed by most of the bullpen near the end of the 2006 season. Dangling from my loft ladder are cheer sticks for the Dragons, Fighters, and Baystars.

This is what that corner of my room looked like a few weeks ago. Yes, that's a John Olerud poster on the other wall:

You might notice that there is an extremely cute pair of stuffed animals sitting there. Yes, the Phillie Phanatic is holding onto my cardboard noisemaker from the Keio-Waseda game:

And the Inaba home run ball I caught back in August is being guarded by two Mariners rubber duckies, which are perched on top of my 100-yen-shop plastic drawer tower. The top drawer contains this season's baseball tickets, too:

"Wait," you're thinking, "Deanna, you're a gigantic Fighters fan. Where is all of your Fighters stuff?"

Oh, well, see, that's all on my closet door, on the other side of the room:

And while we're at it, let me show you something else I have in my room: championship t-shirts from the Fighters and Dragons. I know it's fitting because of the magnitude of the championship, but seriously, the Dragons shirt is 32293402343289582342 bazillion times cooler than the Fighters one. It features a nice gold victory dragon logo on the front, and on the back, a caricature of Ochiai pointing into the distance, and the Chunichi roster. It's a really nice silkscreen, and cost me 2650 yen:

The Fighters one, on the other hand, cost like 3000 yen and is just a lame white shirt with nothing on the back and practically a dot-matrix-printer iron-on on the front:

Anyway, it's cold. I can't seem to go more than about 2-3 feet from my space heater without my fingers turning blue. I was going to go to Yokohama for the Baystars Fan Fest today, but that's REALLY far away from my space heater, so we'll see if I make it down there without freezing to death first.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Yakiniku Erika, Part 2: Hokkaidorkitude

I went back to Yakiniku Erika after work tonight with my friend Jeff, who is in Tokyo on a business trip. Erika is the restaurant owned and operated by Fighters centerfielder Hichori Morimoto's parents, and I've nicknamed it "Fighters Town Nippori" due to the amount of Fighters stuff in there. Jeff lives near Nagoya and is a huge Chunichi Dragons fan, so he was joking, "Will they let The Enemy into their restaurant?"

Fortunately, the answer is not only yes, but we got there, and sat at the same table I sat at during the Japan Series, AND not only that, the entire back two tables were taken up by six guys playing some variation on Strat-o-Matic baseball, only with NPB teams. They were rolling dice and using chess pieces and whatnot to advance batters on a big homemade wooden board. IT WAS SO COOL!

We had been lamenting that it was the offseason so there wouldn't be a real baseball game to watch there, but it was almost as much fun watching these guys run their simulated games. I pretty much turned around and immediately just asked them in Japanese (as all conversations herein were in Japanese) what they were playing, which teams they were, who was winning, etc. They were playing Lotte vs. Rakuten at the time. "Is Kobamasa in your game?" I asked, and they all were like "No, of COURSE not!"

(Context: Masahide Kobayashi signed with the Indians today. I still can't stop giggling over the idea that Nate Minchey "scouted" him. I guess that's because I still remember when Nate Minchey pitched for Lotte.)

Anyway, we ordered food and beer. Morimoto-san brought us our beers and I said to him, "This place is ALWAYS crazy, isn't it!" He laughed and nodded.

Their game shifted to Chunichi vs. Rakuten. They were like "Wait, who's a Chunichi fan around here?" and one of the Strat guys was, and Jeff also said "Me too," explaining that he lives in Gifu, etc. So the Strat guy asked him, "Who's your favorite player?" "Iwase." "Ah, I like Iwase too."

I chimed in with "I love Morino!!", of course.

"You like Chunichi too?" they said incredulously, since I'd said I was a Fighters fan.

Boy, did I have some explaining to do. But it was all in good fun. I was showing Jeff the Nostalgic Baseball cards I picked up the other day too, and one of the guys was like, "Wow! You have many cards of famous Japanese players and you even know who they are! You really love baseball, don't you?"

"Baseball is my life," I said. "It seems like you guys really love it too!"

"Oh, yeah," he said. "We always meet to play these baseball games together, especially in the offseason when there is no real baseball."

He turned out to be a Tigers fan, so we talked about Arai a little bit, and Kanemura. I was just so happy that I had people to babble with about baseball that it didn't even occur to me how bizarre the situation really was.

"That's the great thing about baseball geeks," Jeff said to me in English. "They don't care who you are, gaijin or not, as long as you speak Baseball. It's universal."

Their game progressed. I sang the Morino cheer song as a joke when the chess piece representing Morino was "at bat", and they rolled a few dice and everyone groaned, saying "Oh no! Your Morino struck out!"

We grilled and ate our dinner and listened to the guys playing their games and occasionally chimed in with things like "Hiroshima won the championship in your league? Impossible!" and "Takeshi struck out again? Whaaaat?" and "Another passed ball for Tanishige? Are you kidding me?"

The entire restaurant emptied out around midnight; I assume most people had to get their last train home. I believe the shop is open until 2am, but I have this feeling many people come there from afar. I did ask the guys if I could take a picture of the game, though they were already taking apart the board and all I had was my cellphone camera:

We were the last people to leave. Jeff had told me I totally had to show Hichori's parents the picture of my Hichori costume from Halloween, so... since I'd had a beer, I guess I was a little less afraid of making an idiot of myself. We paid the bill and were putting on our shoes and having some random chit-chat with Hichori's parents -- the father even told Jeff something like "You must be happy for your Dragons," and so I blurted out something like "By the way, I was Hichori for Halloween!"

"You what?"

"I am an English teacher, so for a Halloween school activity I had a costume, and I was Hichori!" I showed them the picture on my cellphone.

"Wow! That's funny!" said Hichori's mom. "Did people get it?"

"Err..." I paused. "Everyone said it was really interesting!"

They asked how long we'd been in Japan. Jeff of course said he'd been in Gifu for 15 years, but was in Tokyo on a business trip, and would be back next week. ("Oh, come back here again then!" joked Hichori's dad.) I said I'd been in Japan four months, to which they said "Impossible, you speak Japanese too well," and I said that no, I suck, and I explained I'd been to Japan a few times before, which is how I became a Fighters fan in the first place. They asked when, and I said "A couple of years ago? Back in the Tokyo Dome days," and showed them my picture of me with Fighty.

Jeff asked them how long they'd been running the yakiniku shop. "15 years? Maybe 16 now? I can't really remember," replied Hichori's mother. "We've been here a long time."

I guess it suddenly hit me like a Darvish fastball how completely weird we must have seemed, me showing cellphone pictures to Hichori Morimoto's parents!, so I finished putting on my shoes and bowed a lot and said "I'm so sorry I'm such a weird person, I am embarrassed" or something along those lines, and thanked them for the wonderful meal, and said goodnight, and we left.

"I can't believe what a complete dork I was," I said. "Did I even make sense with most of what I said? Am I completely rude? Can I blame it on beer?"

"You were fine," Jeff said. "I am betting they get people MUCH stranger than you in there."

"I guess so," I replied. "Though they're still running the shop, so it can't be THAT bad."

To sum up, anyway, this was yet another one of those "My god, I live in Japan, don't I?" kind of evenings. I mean, I just went to a restaurant operated by the parents of one of my favorite baseball players, where I sat around and chatted with Strat-o-Matic nerds in Japanese and ate yakiniku. Sometimes, it's best not to think how? but instead just think wow.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

More NPB Awards - Best Nine, ROY, and MVPs

2007 Pacific League Awards (Japanese):

MVP: Yu Darvish (Fighters, 15-5, 1.82, 210 K) photo
ROY: Masahiro Tanaka (Eagles, 11-7, 3.82, 196 K) photo

Neither of these comes as any huge surprise. Darvish won by a comfortable margin over the second-place person, teammate Atsunori Inaba. And there was absolutely no contest for Ma-kun getting the PL ROY award -- he was pretty much destined to get it from the moment the Eagles won the lottery for his services in the draft last year. Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating, but he really kicked ass this year (and he just turned 19 three weeks ago!)

PL Best Nine:
P Yu Darvish, Fighters
C Tomoya Satozaki, Marines
1B Alex Cabrera, Lions
2B Kensuke Tanaka, Fighters
3B Greg LaRocca, Buffaloes
SS Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Marines
OF Atsunori Inaba, Fighters
OF Hichori Morimoto, Fighters
OF Naoyuki Ohmura, Hawks
DH Takeshi Yamasaki, Eagles

A few things to note here: one, EVERY TEAM IS REPRESENTED. That's really nice. Second, this is actually Takeshi's second Best Nine award, except last time was in 1996 and he was an outfielder for the Chunichi Dragons.

2007 Central League Awards (Japanese):

MVP: Michihiro Ogasawara (Fighters Giants, .313/.363/.539, 31 HR, 88 RBI) photo
ROY: Keiji Uezono (Tigers, 8-5, 2.42, 83 K / 85.2 IP) photo

ARRRRRRGGGHH. This is like insult to injury in some ways. First he defects from the Fighters to the Giants, then he wins another MVP award. Ogasawara's clean-shaven doppleganger is only the second player in Japanese baseball history to win MVP awards in both leagues (the first was pitcher Yutaka Enatsu, who won his first one with the Carp and second with the Fighters).

It bugs me though, I'd rather have seen Yoshinobu Takahashi get the MVP award, but he actually finished third in the voting, sandwiched between teammates Uehara and the other Takahashi.

I don't have any comment on the ROY voting. I didn't think there was a clear-cut winner in the CL this year, but Uezono's a decent pick; if it had gone to runner-up Norihito Kaneto I wouldn't have particularly whined about it either.

CL Best Nine:
P Hisanori Takahashi, Giants
C Shinnosuke Abe, Giants
1B Tyrone Woods, Dragons
2B Hiroyasu Tanaka, Swallows
3B Michihiro Ogasawara, Giants
SS Hirokazu Ibata, Dragons
OF Norichika Aoki, Swallows
OF Alex Ramirez, Swallows
OF Yoshinobu Takahashi, Giants


Heh, I'm totally kidding, I have no real problem with that. Araki came pretty close, but I think a majority of voters appreciated that Hiroyasu is a better hitting second baseman by far. I think the best part is that the Swallows had three players in the Best Nine, yet they finished Dead Last. At least they had a kickass draft this year (Yoshinori Satoh in the HS portion, and Mikinori Katoh in the college part? That's about as good as it gets, although they're going to need a LOT of help next year, that's for sure.)

But if you look at the list of teams the Best Nine came from, it's from the 1st place team, the 2nd place team that won the Japan Series, and the last place team. That's sort of odd, I think.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Dude! Tadano! (aka NPB College/Industry Draft Liveblogging)

The college/industry draft is going on! Yay!

This year all 12 teams picked between three guys for their top choice.
Yakult chose Mikinori Katoh of Keio astoundingly unchallenged.
The Giants, Tigers, Fighters, Hawks, Baystars and Buffaloes all went after Toyodai's Shota Oba.
The Dragons, Carp, Marines, Lions, and Eagles all chose Aichi Kogyo's Kouhei Hasebe, who is currently on the Japanese olympic team.

And the winners were Softbank for Oba, and Rakuten for Hasebe. Wheee! The biggest news to me though is that the Fighters took Kazuhito Tadano in the first round! How cool is that?

I'll translate this as the draft is happening and I'll fill in info in the rest of the chart as I go along. Some of these guys were profiled in Shube but a lot of them weren't.

I'm getting draft info from Sportsnavi but bio info from Shube and elsewhere.

Name Pos Univ/Company B/T DOB Ht/Wt Hometown
-------------------- --- ------------ --- ---------- -------- --------

1 Tooru Murata P Osaka Taiiku R/R 05/20/1985 181/75 Osaka
x Junpei Sonoda
x Shota Oba

3 Yuuki Furukawa P Meiji Univ L/L 04/05/1985 170/63 Saitama
4 Ryuuichi Kajimae OF Tokai Univ R/R 04/06/1985 175/80 Nara

1 Sohma Yamauchi P Meijo Univ R/R 07/01/1985 181/77 Aichi
x Kouhei Hasebe
3 Tetsuya Tani IF Hitachi R/R 07/09/1985 180/76 Tokushima

1 Hirokazu Shiranita P Fukuoka Univ R/R 10/02/1985 187/80 Fukuoka
x Kouhei Hasebe
3 Shunsuke Ishikawa P Jobu Univ R/R 08/12/1985 184/82 Tochigi
4 Yuusuke Kuroda P Chanson Keshohin

1 Futoshi Kobayashi P JR Higashinihon R/R 05/11/1983 182/76 Gunma
x Shota Oba
3 Kentarou Kuwahara P Nara Univ R/R 10/29/1985 182/75 Mie

1 Junpei Sonoda P Nihon Univ L/L 04/20/1985 186/72 Gunma
x Kouhei Hasebe
3 Tetsuya Kokubo IF Aoyama Gakuin U R/R 04/12/1985 175/77 Osaka
4 Ryuhei Matsuyama OF Kyushu Kokusai U L/R 09/18/1985 176/80 Kagoshima

1 Mikinori Katoh P Keio Univ L/L 06/04/1985 179/75 Kanagawa
3 Yuuji Onizaki IF Fujijuu (Subaru) L/R 04/07/1983 177/72 Saga
4 Hidehiro Okamoto P JFE Nishinihon L/L 04/19/1983 177/70 Tokushima
5 Toshihiro Nakao OF JR East L/R 11/12/1982 178/77 Fukuoka
6 Masayoshi Miwa IF Kagawa L/R 01/23/1984 168/69 Yamaguchi

Nakao: JR East info
Miwa: Shikoku Island League, Kagawa Olive Guyners

1 Kazuhito Tadano P Sacramento (AAA) R/R 04/25/1980 182/82 Tokyo
x Yasutaka Hattori
x Shota Oba

3 Naoki Miyanishi P Kwansei Gakuin U L/L 06/02/1985 177/74 Hyogo
4 Kazuya Murata OF Chuo Univ L/R 07/23/1985 165/65 Chiba

1 Yasutaka Hattori P Toyota L/L 09/10/1982 174/71 Tokushima
x Kouhei Hasebe
3 Tomohisa Nemoto P Yokohama Shodai U L/L 03/21/1986 178/78 Fukushima
4 Yoshihiro Itoh P JR Tokai R/R 06/02/1982 177/75 Fukuoka
5 Yuuta Shimoshikiryoh P Nihon Seimei R/R 05/04/1983 184/75 Osaka

1 Shota Oba P Toyo Univ R/R 06/27/1985 182/77 Chiba
3 Yuuki Kume P Meiji Univ R/R 09/10/1985 180/75 Gunma

1 Kouhei Hasebe P Aichi Kogyo Univ L/L 05/21/1985 173/67 Aichi
3 Tadashi Ishimine C Tokyo Joho Univ L/R 06/22/1985 178/78 Okinawa
4 Ryo Hijirisawa OF Kokugakuin Univ L/R 11/03/1985 179/72 Nagano

1 Masamitsu Hirano P JR East Tohoku R/R 06/28/1983 186/78 Saitama
x Yasutaka Hattori
x Kouhei Hasebe

3 Ryohei Fujiwara P Daiichi Kodai Univ R/R 02/15/1986 181/80 Hyogo

Hirano: JR East roster
(Sportsnavi says 平野将利 but I believe it is actually spelled 平野将光)
Fujiwara: kyushu nikkansports

1 Kenji Kobayashi P Aoyama Gakuin Univ R/R 07/03/1985 184/84 Yamanashi
x Junpei Sonoda
x Shota Oba

3 Hiroyuki Oze OF Kinki Univ L/R 09/02/1985 180/73 Kagawa

Friday, November 16, 2007

Kazuhisa Inao, 1937-2007

I've been thinking about this for the last few days, and it just makes me sad that I don't have appropriate words for the situation at all. If you really want to read a fantastic obituary, go check out Japan Baseball Daily, where Gary has not only written an extensive obituary story but even translated several players' comments and respsects.

I guess what's strange is, it was only a month ago that Inao was a color commentator on the Pacific League playoffs.

It was only a week or two ago that I was IMing with my friend Jeff (who has also written his respects) about Inao and other "oldtimers", as we were looking through the pages of the Master's League pages and giggling over the "OMG, this geezer?" factor on many pages. I was even looking at the Fukuoka team page like "Wow, they have Inao as their manager! How cool is that?" (Seriously, if you're a Japanese baseball history nerd, you should go look through the rosters.)

On Sunday, at the Asia Series final, I was looking at my friend Pau's collection of Nostalgic Baseball cards, which is a gorgeous card set overall. One of the cards, of course, is of Inao. We even were talking about Inao for a while, and other "iron man" pitching feats. I don't think either of us knew that he had cancer.

On Tuesday, Inao died at the age of 70.

On Friday, I'm still a little bit stunned when I think about it.

Back when I was first learning about Japanese baseball, I learned about many of the "great" players who did various legendary things. Inao was of course one of the examples of "typical" Japanese pitcher overworking, a guy who was best known for things like personally having a won-loss record of 4-2 in the 1958 Japan Series. (No, really. He pitched 47 out of 62 innings for the Nishitetsu Lions in that series and even hit a walk-off home run in the 5th game.) Inao also co-owns the single-season wins record in Japan, having gone 42-14 in 1961. 42 wins! Pitchers these days don't even make 42 starts in a year! After doing things like regularly pitching 300-400 innings for several years in a row, he inevitably blew out his shoulder and was pretty much done being a legend at the age of 26.

After his playing career was over, he still stayed involved in baseball in various ways. I was rereading Robert Whiting's series of books, and of course they mention that Inao managed for Lotte in the 1980's, and was laid-back and liked to hang out and drink with his players, rather than having a crazy regimen, and this helped guys like Hiromitsu Ochiai flourish with his cocky Triple-Crown-predicting attitude. In a weird chain of events, Inao leaving the Orions and the stricter Aritoh taking over as manager led to Ochiai going off to Chunichi; and perhaps if Ochiai hadn't gone off to Chunichi, he wouldn't have become the Dragons manager in the last few years, and then where would we be?

In some ways, Japan is fortunate that its baseball league is so much younger than the MLB, and thus many of its legends are still alive and still contributing to the game in one way or the other. Thus it's a very sad day when we lose one of them.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

11/11, Dragons vs. Wyverns @ Tokyo Dome - Misero Ochiai Asia Ichi!

A man whose last outing was 8 perfect innings walked the leadoff batter, the best double-play combo in Japan made no double plays, two former Hiroshima Carp pitchers lost the game for the Korean side, and two guys named Lee hit two-run homers for two different teams. Despite what the scoreboard shows, it was a close game all along and it was never entirely clear who was going to win until the final ball of the game landed in leftfielder Ueda's glove, and Chunichi won the game 6-5.

Your 2007 Asia Champions... viewed from the upper deck.

Let's take a moment to review what happened in this year's series.

China got completely demolished, but at least this year it didn't get demolished until the late innings in most cases. They were actually up 4-1 on Taiwan in the first game before eventually losing 9-5 with Taiwan scoring 6 runs in the 7th inning, and didn't even allow a Chunichi baserunner until the 4th inning of the third game, again only down 3-1 until a 6-run 7th inning. Sadly, the only game I saw of theirs was Friday afternoon, where they had the mercy rule called on them as Korea won 13-0 in 7 innings. They made 3 errors and were just sort of fundamentally Bad At Baseball in that game; it was sad to watch.

Taiwan also got completely demolished by Korea in another mercy-ended game, this one 13-1 (starter Peter Munro got rocked for 8 runs), but other than that they weren't bad. They only lost 4-2 to the Dragons, and they beat China, although everyone beat China, so that's not saying much.

The Dragons lost their first game of the Asia Series to the Wyverns, becoming the first Japanese team to lose a game in the Asia Series ever. They beat China and Taiwan, but with nowhere near the same margin the Wyverns did. Infact, I'm not entirely clear on how the rules worked for the round-robin format, but if the Wyverns hadn't completely clobbered the Lions there was a chance that Chunichi wouldn't even make it to the finals. I wonder if the Wyverns thought of that. My guess is they didn't.

The Wyverns kicked ass. That's really all there is to it. I went to Friday afternoon's game with Westbay and saw them play and we kept saying, "These guys are GOOD." They played some really fundamentally good baseball on all levels of the game.

I went to Sunday's game with Pau (a Hanshin fan who I've dragged to a bunch of games that have nothing to do with Hanshin), and his friend Martin (who hails from Germany, where they don't actually HAVE baseball). They had beer and sembei; I had cola and a katsu sandwich.

We found pretty decent seats up on the first-base side in the upper deck. The entire second floor and all of the outfield was unreserved seats. The Chunichi side of the outfield was completely packed, but that was about it. There were plenty of people in the upper deck but I wouldn't have called it crowded. And the Wyverns side of the stadium was pretty sparse; the overall attendance was reported as being 21,091, in a Tokyo Dome which seats around 50,000.

Hey, who ordered the marching band?

One majorly obnoxious thing during this game was that they had announcers in both English and Japanese. It makes sense in a way, because between China, Taiwan, Korea, and Japan, the common second language that most people will study is English. And even though all the places use kanji for writing, the pronunciation is really different among them.

The problem is, this announcer kept saying Japanese names in a way that made me want to kill him. I'm surprised at that. "The next batter IZZZ. Ma-sa-HEE-ko Mo-REE-no." "The catchaaaa, MotoNObu TaniSHEEEEge!!!"

Another Englishy point of amusement for the evening was the way they'd announce to watch out for foul balls. Now, keep in mind, EVERY game in Japan has an announcer saying "Be careful of foul balls." in Japanese whenever a foul goes into the stands. But this time it'd not only say the nice normal Japanese announcement but the English announcer would also say, in his weird voice, "Watch out for foul balls." And the kicker is that they'd added an English line to the scoreboard display...

Watch out for balls!

Sure enough, a foul ball actually came into our section in the 9th inning. And boy, were we watching for it!

Anyway, the starters for this game were Kenny Rayborn for the Wyverns, and Daisuke Yamai for the Dragons. If you don't know who Kenny Rayborn is, he's had an interesting last few years wandering through Asia. After failing to make the Cleveland Indians team in 2005, he ended up playing for the Hiroshima Carp. Then he headed off to Taiwan for the 2006 season, playing for the La New Bears, who ended up being the league champions, visiting Japan for the 2006 Asia Series and narrowly losing to the Fighters in the final. In 2007 he moved up from Taiwan to Korea, playing for the SK Wyverns, who became the KBO league champions and visited Japan yet again for this year's Asia Series. One wonders if he'll somehow manage to play in the 2008 Asia Series as well.

Daisuke Yamai pitched 8 perfect innings of baseball last time he took the mound, in the fifth and decisive game of this year's Japan Series. He wears his sunglasses at night.

Full starting lineups:

Chunichi Dragons SK Wyverns
---------------- ----------
Araki 2B KW Jeong SS
Ibata awesome DH Cho LF
Dragonbutt 3B JH Kim DH
Norihiro 1B HJ Lee 1B
Lee RF JY Lee RF
Kazuki "DH" JH Park CF
Tanishige C KB Chung 2B
Kouji Nakamura LF KO Park C
Fujii CF J Choi 3B

Yamai P Rayborn P

Anyway, the Dragons started off this game with a whimper instead of a bang. Araki and Ibata quickly grounded out to start off the first inning, and then Morino hit a high pop fly behind the plate that Korean catcher Kyung-Oan Park easily caught.

Yamai, who'd been perfect in his last outing, pretty much immediately walked leadoff batter Keun-woo Jeong. Jeong stole second on the third strike of Dong-Hwa Cho's strikeout, and Tanishige's throw was a bit wide of Ibata covering second, so Jeong made it to third on the play. Jae-Hyun Kim also struck out, but then Ho-Joon Lee walked. With two outs and runners at the corners, Jin-Young Lee hit a clean single to right, scoring Jeong and moving the other Lee to second. 1-0. Jae-Hong Park hit a grounder up the left side past a diving Morino for another single, scoring the first Lee. 2-0. Kyoung-Bae Chung hit a pop fly out to second after that, but the Wyverns were off to a quick lead. 2R, 2H, 1E, 2LOB.

As a joke, I yelled "KAZUKI!!!!! YOU SUCK!!!!!" when Kazuki Inoue was up to bat in the 2nd. He responded by hitting the ball into the first few rows of seats in left field. 2-1.

The Wyverns got off to a quick two outs in the bottom of the second, before Jeong walked again. Fortunately, he also tried to steal second during DH Cho's at-bat, and Tanishige totally read it and nailed him at second, Ibata getting the tag in early and cleanly. Boom.

Between the second and third innings, for whatever reason, the Dragons cheerleader girls danced to a song called "Jumpstart My Heart". I wouldn't have remembered this if not for the crazy Engrish announcer saying "The Dragons cheer girls, will now dance, and they will jump start, your heart!"

Much like the Wyverns, the Dragons also got off to two quick outs in the top of the third, with Kouji and Fujii both striking out. Araki singled to right, but then... a pitch or two into Ibata's at-bat, completely out of nowhere, Araki just sort of started running to second, before Rayborn had even delivered the pitch. Predictably, he was thrown out at second by a mile. We're not really sure what happened there; our best guess was that he missed a signal or something.

The bottom of the third was a 1-2-3 inning (or a K-9-9 as the case may be). Nori Nakamura walked in the top of the 4th, KB Chung singled in the bottom of the 4th, and that catches us up on excitement until the 5th.

I didn't yell anything about Kazuki sucking that time, so he started off with a strikeout. Then Tanishige was hit by a pitch -- and it looked pretty bad for a bit there. The Dragons are kind of screwed if anything happens to Tanishige, but he got up and walked to first after a bit. Kouji singled to right, moving Tanishige to second, and then Fujii hit a ball way out, out to center... for a double! Tanishige scored and Kouji moved to third. 2-2. The Dragons oendan started the "uchimakure" chance music, and Araki grounded out to third after that, but Kouji Nakamura managed to score on the play. 3-2. Ibata walked after that, and Rayborn was pulled so lefty Kwang-Hyun Kim could pitch to the lefty-hitting Morino (and Lee and Kazuki).

I held up my Morino towel and yelled really loud "MORINO! MORINO!" along to the chance music, and he did a pretty good job of wasting pitches -- around 10 of them or so -- before eventually striking out to end the inning. Still, the Dragons had taken the lead.

The Wyverns went down in their half of the 5th, and it was back to the Dragons quickly enough. Nori Nakamura walked, and then BYUNG-GYU LEE HIT A HOME RUN!! Blam! So much for the lefty theory. 5-2. After Kazuki popped out to left field, there was another pitching change, righty Woong-Chun Cho coming in to pitch for the Wyverns. He struck out Tanishige and got Kouji Nakamura to ground out to short.

In the interim and during the pitching change, though, along with singing Moeyo Dragons, the oendan group also started playing the Ochiai-kantoku cheer song several times over. Normally it'd end with two chants of "Misero Ochiai Nippon Ichi!!" but this time instead it ended with "Misero Ochiai Asia Ichi!!" which was pretty funny.

Jae-Hyun Kim wanted to make it clear that he was NOT messing around here. Leading off the bottom of the 6th, he took a 1-0 pitch and hit one of the most beautiful home runs I've ever seen in my life. It just left his bat on a nice clean flat hard line drive and landed in the right-field stands a few split seconds later. There was no arc to the ball's flight, it just went upwards at a slight angle on a straight line until it hit the seats a few rows off the field with a loud thud. I realize some people love watching a big pop fly home run go sailing out into the stratosphere, but there's really something to be said for efficiency. 5-3. Unfortunately for him the Wyverns didn't follow it up with anything beyond a single from Jin-Young Lee.

Fujii led off the top of the 7th with a single, his bat flying one way and the ball flying another. This led to another pitching change, with Eun-Beom Song replacing CW Cho on the mound. Once the game got going again, as a joke, I yelled "Hashire Fujii!!!" and sure enough, a little while later the oendan also started yelling "hashire hashire fuji-i!" So, of course, that meant lots of throws to first base to try to hold him. Araki hit a pop fly out to center and Fujii nearly got himself doubled off, but didn't. After that, Fujii did finally take off for second, and the pitcher Cho chucked the ball into centerfield by accident. Oops. So Fujii made it to third, and Ibata ultimately walked, Morino came up to the plate with runners at the corners again, and predictably, there was another pitching change.

Notice the scoreboard is actually in English. Also, Dragonbutt.

Lefthander Deuk-Yum Ka came out to pitch for the Wyverns. The Chunichi oendan started the tune of the "nerai uchi" chance music, but sadly Dragonbutt ended up hitting a pop fly out to right. Nori Nakamura hit a pop fly out to short and that was it for the half inning.

I didn't catch exactly what happened to the Wyverns third baseman, but during his at-bat, Jeong Choi somehow ended up down on the ground and the loudspeaker had the following announcement in English (but not Japanese): "The game is PAUSED! Jeong Choi is RECEIVING medical attention!" We also thought this was funny, like "Wow, so they say it in English for our benefit, but they figure that Japanese people are smart enough to look at the field and notice all the trainers around him and figure out that he's getting medical attention with no announcement?"

Between the 7th and 8th innings, the Chunichi cheer girls did another song and dance, but this time for some reason Doala was up in the upper deck also being all mascot-like! So I ran over to see Doala, just like approximately 3829483298 other Dragons fans up there.

Doala sighting!

The top of the 8th was a 9-K-K inning for the Dragons again, with the Wyverns making the "ok, we're done with the lefties" requisite pitching change yet again, taking out DY Ka after Kazuki's at-bat and putting in Mike Romano, who struck out Tanishige.

Daisuke Yamai pitched a pretty respectable 7 innings on 114 pitches, walking 3, striking out 6, and giving up 5 hits, with one HR, 2 earned runs. So, he came out of the game and Shinya Okamoto took over to pitch the bottom of the 8th.

Okamoto got off to a nice start, striking out a pinch-hitting Jae-Sang Park, and getting Jae-Hyun Kim to pop out to right for two quick outs. But then he walked Ho-Joon Lee, and no sooner had I gotten a text message from my friend Jeff saying "I have a bad feeling about this..." Jin-Young Lee got a pitch he liked and COMPLETELY BLASTED IT INTO THE UPPER DECK IN RIGHT FIELD for a game-tying 2-run homer that probably would have gone all the way to Korakuen station had there not been a wall in the way. 5-5. Lee was the best hitter on the Wyverns that day, going 3-for-4 with that blast.

I don't have a better way of explaining exactly how freaking huge this home run was except to show a picture:

Jin-Young Lee's homerun wuz here!

It ricocheted off the empty seats into a completely stunned Chunichi cheering section in right field.

Okamoto gave up two more hits and Ochiai finally came out like "Ok, enough of that crap," and put Yoshihiro Suzuki out there, who struck out catcher Kyung-Oan Park to end the inning.

Well then.

I warned Pau that the 9th inning was going to be a LOT of chance music, and sure enough, it was. We just kept cycling through the three chance themes ("uchimakure", "nerai uchi", and "gogo") for the whole inning.

And it apparently worked. Ueda pinch-hit for Kouji Nakamura and led off with a walk. Fujii, showing bunt the entire way... bunted. Ueda moved to second, and Araki hit a bounder back to the mound. Two outs and things were looking a little grim, but didn't I mention several thousand times in the last month how awesome Ibata is? He proved his awesomeness once more by singling to center, and Ueda ran for his life and managed to beat the throw home! 6-5. I got a text from Anthony saying "You know, your boy is the only one who hasn't been on base tonight," at the end of the 7th, so it was slightly gratifying that they intentionally walked Morino in the 9th to get to Norihiro, who obliged by grounding out to third base.

We were also informed that people should not use noisemakers at all for cheering after 10pm out of respect to the neighborhood.

For some reason they DIDN'T repeat this one in English.

As you can see from that shot, Hitoki Iwase, one of the best closers in Japan in recent history, came out to pitch the bottom of the 9th inning. A strikeout, a groundout to third, and a pop fly to left field later, the CHUNICHI DRAGONS WERE THE WINNERS OF THE ASIA SERIES!!!!!


Martin and Pau pretty much left right after the final pitch of the game, but I stuck around to see everything afterwards. First, the streamers flew from the right field stands, and of course the teams lined up for a big awards ceremony, where Ochiai was presented with some stuff, the other teams' managers were presented with some stuff, and Hirokazu Ibata was not only named the game hero for that final game, but was also named as the MVP for the entire damn Asia Series! Like I said, he's awesome.

The Dragons players (and Doala, of course) posed with the Asia Series flags and pennants, and then they did a parade around the field, waving to everyone in the stands and showing off the flags, and that was that.

The Dragons fans weren't leaving, though -- we sang another round of Moeyo Dragons and all of the player cheer songs, ending with another "Misero Ochiai Asia Ichi!", and the fans were still out there, so Doala came out to the field and started leading cheers and doing cartwheels and flips and stuff, and that was about when I gave up and went home, being as it was almost 11pm and I knew I still had a 40-minute trip to make.

Actually, I don't know how many people noticed it, but Byung-Kyu Lee snuck off from the Dragons team contingent and went over to the Korean fan side of the stadium to talk to a whole bunch of people, too. It must be sort of strange for him to have to play against the Korean team.

So, just a few more pictures and I'll be done with this post, which has taken me three days to write, seriously, and I'm sure nobody actually bothered reading all of it anyway, but that's okay.

I was apparently sitting in the Araki Fan Club section. Who knew?

But I will forever love Morino first. Ibata second, of course.

Doala sighting from before the game, as he tries to dance with the cheer girls.

More Doala-stalking before the game.

And that's it!

Pretty exciting stuff! I'm really glad I got a chance to see some other Asian baseball teams play, and I'm also really happy for the Dragons (but sad that all their parades and fanfests are on Saturday and thus I can't go).

Sunday, November 11, 2007

2007 NPB Fall Fan Festivals

In case you are wondering why several of these are on Friday November 23, it's because that's a national holiday in Japan.

Of course, I have to work Saturdays, so I couldn't go to half of these even if I wanted to.

(In case you are wondering what "Kansha no Tsudoi" means, it's 感謝の集い, or "meeting of thanks", basically. A lot of these Fan Fests were called "Thanks, Fans!" days instead.)

Personally, I'm hoping to go to the Marines one on the 18th and the Baystars one on the 23rd. If I go really crazy I could try to head to one of them on the 25th, but that'd require going to either Fukuoka or Sapporo, or down for the SeaRex one, maybe.

Pacific League

Fighters Fan Festival
Sunday, Nov 25
11am - 3pm (doors at 9:30am)
Sapporo Dome

Marines Expo 2007
Sunday, Nov 18
10am - 3pm (doors at 8am)
Chiba Marine Stadium

Hawks Kansha no Tsudoi
Sunday, Nov 25
10am - 4pm
Fukuoka Yahoo Dome
Price: 1200 yen

Eagles Fan Kansha Matsuri 2007
Saturday, Nov 17
11am - 4pm
Miyagi Fullcast Stadium

Seibu Kansha no Tsudoi
Friday, Nov 23
11:30am - 2:40pm (doors at 10:30am)
Seibu Goodwill Dome

Buffaloes Fan Festa
Friday, Nov 23
11am - 1:30pm (doors at 10am)
Skymark Stadium

Central League

Chunichi Fan Kansha Day
Saturday, Nov 24
11am - 2pm
Nagoya Dome

Giants Fan Festa 2007
Friday, Nov 23
10am - 2pm
Tokyo Dome

Hanshin Fan Tsudoi 2007
Saturday, Nov 17
11am - 3pm (doors at 10am)
Intex Osaka

2007 Baystars Festa
Friday, Nov 23
Starts at 1pm (I don't see an end time listed)
Yokohama Stadium

(There is also a Shonan SeaRex festa in their news page, on Sunday Nov 25.)

2007 Carp Fan Kansha Day
Friday, Nov 23
Starts at 10:30am (doors at 10am, I don't see an end time listed)
Hiroshima Municipal Stadium

Yakult 2007 Fan Kansha Day
Friday, Nov 23
Doors at 10am, starts at 11am (I don't see an end time listed)
Meiji Jingu Stadium

PS -- I'm going to the finals of the Konami Cup / Asia Series in a few hours. SK Wyverns vs. Chunichi Dragons for the rematch and the win. In honor of that I'm posting this hilarious Youtube video I found last night -- it's of people walking to the Nagoya Dome before the first game of the playoffs. They're doing the "nerai uchi" chance music... until they run into a group of louder people doing "uchimakure". Fun!

Friday, November 09, 2007

2007 NPB Golden Gloves

The lists are out. The CL is dominated by Dragons, which should come as no surprise to anyone, and the PL is completely Fighters and Marines, which would seem more wrong if I could actually come up with good arguments for other players to have won the awards, but I can't.

Announced here (in Japanese):
     Central League                         Pacific League
(3) Kenshin Kawakami (CD) P (1) Yu Darvish (NHF)
(3) Motonobu Tanishige (CD) C (2) Tomoya Satozaki (CLM)
(3) Andy Sheets (HT) 1B (3) Kazuya Fukuura (CLM)
(4) Masahiro Araki (CD) 2B (2) Kensuke Tanaka (NHF)
(6)* Norihiro Nakamura (CD) 3B (3) Toshiaki Imae (CLM)
(4) Hirokazu Ibata (CD) SS (2)* Tsuyoshi Nishioka (CLM)
(2) Norichika Aoki (YS) OF (2) Hichori Morimoto (NHF)
(7) Yoshinobu Takahashi (YG) OF (2) Atsunori Inaba (NHF)
(2) Tatsuhiko Kinjoh (YBS) OF (2) Saburo Ohmura (CLM)

The number in parentheses is how many golden gloves they've won.

(*This was Norihiro's first GG in the Central League after getting 5 of them in the Pacific League, and Nishioka got a GG in 2005 as a second baseman, so this is his first one as a shortstop. I haven't detailed the players' consecutive GG streaks.)

I really have to protest two choices in the CL. One is Andy Sheets for first base. Does that mean that none of these baseball writers took notice of a kid down in Yokohama named Yuuki Yoshimura, who was actually a FANTASTIC first baseman? I know I'm really high on Yoshimura, but seriously, he was great this year. Another fantastic candidate would have been Hiroshima's Kenta Kurihara. And if not either of those super-qualified kids, then why not, dare I say it, Yomiuri's Seung-Yeop Lee? (There, I said it.) I'm sorry, but, ANDY SHEETS? Is this the contest for WORST first baseman in the league?

The other one, sadly, is Norihiro Nakamura. I really don't think he's that great a defensive third baseman anymore, but I guess GGs aren't REALLY based on defense. The guy who probably should have gotten it was the Hiroshima Carp's third baseman Takahiro Arai, who was all over the news tonight for filing for free agency and crying because it was so painful to leave the team he grew up watching. (Psst! Come to Chunichi! Then they can have a full set of Arai brothers AND Donoue brothers! Of course, there'd be a logjam at third base, but so what?)

Oh, hm. I just saw the GG voting and at least it appeared that Sheets only BARELY won, 52 votes to Lee's 49 and Kurihara's 43. Though the second-place vote-getter for CL 3B was OCD, not Arai, sadly.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

And here's to you, Kanemura-san; Hanshin holds a place for those who play

Hey hey hey.

We'd like to know a little bit about you for our files
We'd like to help you learn to help yourself...

Earlier this week, the Fighters traded Satoru Kanemura to Hanshin for Yasuhiro Nakamura. I know little to nothing about Nakamura to be honest, although, hey, he went to Keio. Neat. He was actually drafted out of IBM's industrial league team in Yasu City, and according to his Yahoo page, he's practically the same age, height, and weight as I am. And heck, we're both left-handed! I hope he can throw faster than I can.

Look around you, all you see are sympathetic eyes
Stroll around the ground until you feel at home

Let's face it, I've been unnecessarily harsh on Kanemura for... well, forever. In reality, I was probably just really frustrated at feeling like the Fighters didn't have a genuine ace pitcher on the staff, and Kanemura was just our #1 because he'd been around a while and could throw lots of innings compared to the rest of the staff -- sort of a Ryan Franklin type, if you will. (And, well, he was Japanese, unlike Carlos Mirabal.) Imagine if Ryan Franklin was your pitching staff's ace? How would you feel?

The 2006 season really was pretty bizarre for Kanemura. He started off the year getting his ass kicked by Julio Zuleta, who stormed the mound following a beaning. After that he basically spent most of the season playing video games and being generally mediocre. On September 24th, he got in a huge fight with Trey Hillman, who pulled him from a game just shy of 5 innings; it was 4-1 with the bases loaded and two outs in the 5th. At the time, Kanemura had 9 wins, and had won 10+ games for the previous 4 seasons, so he was pretty pissed off about being denied the chance at a 10th win, and mouthed off about what a horrible and selfish person Hillman was; this resulted in Kanemura getting a 10-day suspension and missing half of the postseason. Despite getting shelled by a KBO exhibition team the week before, Kanemura came in to pitch Japan Series game 4, and got the win and the game hero accolades. The Fighters won the series, and everything seemed peachy. I even promised to stop making fun of "Kanemoron" for the time being.

Anyway, 2007 happened, but Kanemura didn't. For the first time since 1999, he didn't pitch 100 innings, but sat out with shoulder troubles, among other things. Perhaps if anything, the problem was actually psychological, realizing that the Fighters simply didn't NEED him in the rotation anymore. It wasn't like he had fallen to being the #2 or #3 starter, but at this point he was more like the #6.

So, rather than me remembering the LAST time I saw Kanemura pitch a game live (in September 2006 when he gave up a grand slam to Toru Freaking Hosokawa), I'm going to talk a little bit more about the FIRST time I saw Kanemura pitch a game, back in September 2003.

Sitting on the subway on a Monday afternoon
Going to the Fighters-Orix game, yeah

Picture taken in the 2nd or 3rd inning. What's missing
from this scene? Fans in the stands, perhaps?

When the Fighters played in Tokyo, they shared the Tokyo Dome with the Giants. However, they did not share the Tokyo fan base with the Giants. Giants games would pack the Dome to its 50,000 capacity or so, while the Fighters games would sell 50,000 tickets... over the course of an entire month, if they were lucky.

One day, in a subway station in Tokyo, we found these Fighters fliers with a grinning picture of Trey Hillman flanked by Michihiro Ogasawara and Itsuki Shoda, not that I had any clue who either of them were at that time. Even better, the fliers had coupons for discounts at Fighters games! 500 yen off any ticket! Wow! We could sit in the outfield for under 10 bucks! What a great deal!

Little did I know exactly how much that great deal would change my life, as we sat in the middle of the Fighters cheering section completely by accident, surrounded by flags and noisemakers and instruments and crazy people. They took us in and taught us the songs and cheers and we had a grand old time. From then on, I was a Fighters fan for life! Or something.

However, the outfield was fairly full. This is Japanese
baseball economics at its finest.

The starting pitcher for this game was Satoru Kanemura, who I was told at the time was the ace, so I was sure to see a good game. Infact, just for old times' sake, here's the starting lineups from that game:

Orix Blue Wave Nippon Ham Fighters
-------------- -------------------
Mitsutaka Gotoh, SS Tatsuya Ide, CF
Koichi Ohshima, 3B Tomochika Tsuboi, RF
Yoshitomo Tani, CF Michihiro Ogasawara, 3B
Roosevelt Brown, LF Angel Echevarria, DH
Kazuhiro Shiotani, 1B Kazuteru Shimada, LF
Jose Ortiz, 2B Yukio Tanaka, 1B
Takeshi Yamasaki, DH Kokichi Akune, 2B
Takeshi Hidaka, C Hiroshi Narahara, SS
Ikuro Katsuragi, RF Kazunari Sanematsu, C

Rui Makino, P Satoru Kanemura, P

One of the greatest things that Trey Hillman ever did for the Fighters was basically telling all of these random old guys, "You're old. You are not very good at baseball. You should retire so we can get some young guys who are actually good at baseball, and have them go out there and win games." Okay, maybe he didn't really say that, but I like to pretend that he did. It's still really funny to look back at these old lineups, though. And of course, there's only one guy from that starting lineup who will play for the Fighters next year (well, assuming they re-sign him), and that's Tsuboi, who's now become the 4th or 5th outfielder. Quite a step down from the 2003 season, where he batted .330, second to Ogasawara's league-leading .360.

(I actually think I know where most of those guys are now, too. Ide went off to be a Hawks coach, Shimada became a Fighters coach, Narahara became a Chunichi coach, OCD went to the Giants, Yukio is retiring, and Kanemura is now going to Hanshin. Echevarria ended up in the independent leagues in the States for a while. And Sanematsu, of course, did his greatest service to the team by getting traded to Yomiuri for one year of Hideki Okajima, back in March of 2006.)

Even better is looking at that Orix lineup. Takeshi Yamasaki!!1!1!1!!!1 And Jose Ortiz, too!

Kanemura also had 9 wins going into this game, looking for his 10th win. Funny how that seems to be a recurring state for him in September. Infact, this game resembled a lot of recent Fighters games in many ways.

What happened in this game? Kanemura actually pitched pretty well, all things considered. The only two runs that he gave up were on Orix homers (one by Jose Ortiz in the 2nd inning, one by Katsuragi (!) in the 6th.

In the meantime, the Fighters scored a run in the 3rd inning (batted in by Angel Echevarria), and then Echevarria also hit a 3-run home run in the 5th inning.

Scoreboard immediately following Echevarria's home run.

Kanemura stayed in for 7 2/3 innings, and wasn't pulled until the 8th inning, with the score at 4-2 and runners at first and second. Yoshinori Tateyama, the closer at the time, came in to finish out the game at that point.

Tateyama finished out the eighth inning without a problem, but...

Laugh about it, shout about it, when you've got to choose
Any way you look at it, you lose the top of the 9th, Ohshima hit a double, and then Roosevelt Brown hit a home run way over the centerfield wall, tying the game at 4-4. Argh. Thus Kanemura had been robbed of another chance at his 10th win.

Tatsuya Ide walks back to his position after watching the
ball sail over the centerfield wall.

However, all was not lost. Ide led off the bottom of the 9th with a double, and then Tsuboi hit a pop fly out to center. So with batting champion Ogasawara at bat and a winning run at second, they decided to walk Ogasawara and go for Echevarria, who was so far 3-for-4 on the day with 4 RBI. Not sure exactly what they were thinking, but Echevarria made them pay, hitting a single to center. Tani threw in the ball but Ide, who used to have pretty good speed in the day, ran and ran and ran and scored and the game ended right there at 5-4.

Final score - Echevarria 5 Fighters 5, Orix 4.

(Something neat is noticing that Kaneko and Nishiura came into the game for the Fighters, and Daisuke Hayakawa for Orix. Yes, THAT Hayakawa.)

Naturally, Tateyama got the win rather than Kanemura. I also remember that Echevarria was the game hero, and he spoke in English, and I could understand the Japanese translator better than I could understand "Echay" himself.

Kanemura did finally get his 10th win on September 21st that year, but he finished 10-8 and second-best to Carlos Mirabal's 16-11. Oddly, Mirabal had a higher ERA and much worse peripherals (Kanemura: 103 K, 56 BB, 24 HR, 157 IP; Mirabal: 103 K, 70 BB, 27 HR, 193.2 IP). Either way, they were both pretty mediocre when it really comes down to it. Kanemura was the 2004 Opening Day starter after the move to Hokkaido; Mirabal was the 2005 Opening Day starter and then had arm troubles and sort of just faded out of existence. In typical Japanese fashion, nobody noticed, since they were too busy admiring how cool Shinjo was.

And then 2006 happened. I don't know whether to be more surprised that Kanemura was on the Fighters in 2007, or that he won't be on the Fighters in 2008.

Either way, I guess I want to sort of send him off in a good way, rather than a bad way. Despite that I was always making fun of him, part of me is very sad that we won't have Kanemura to kick around anymore, as it were. (Though I'm betting he's pretty happy to put more distance between himself and Julio Zuleta.)

So here's to you, Kanemura-san. Hope you have fun hanging out with Tsuyoshi Shimoyanagi again, drinking beer and talking about dogs, and whatever else pitchers talk about when they've gone from the Fighters to the Tigers. I promise not to make fun of you next year. Not much, at least.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Lotte Urawa Stadium

Hypothetical question: Is it illegal to sneak into a minor league baseball stadium and take a picture of yourself in the dugout? And is it technically sneaking if all of the gates were open anyway?

I sure hope not.

Some baseball bloggette in the dugout of the Lotte Urawa Stadium.

Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.

While searching for information on NPB events in November, I found out that there's a series of "Futures games" going on right now. They seem to be a series of games featuring a bunch of NPB minor leaguers playing against various industrial league teams. Sadly, I found out about the one today a little bit too late (and it was at the Giants park in Yomiuri Land anyway, bleeeggghh) but next Sunday afternoon there's going to be a Futures game at the Lotte minor league stadium, NPB Futures vs. JR Higashi Nihon. Yes, I'm planning to go to the Konami Cup finals on Sunday at 6pm, but that gives me plenty of time to go catch a futures game at 12:30pm, right?

Well, it gets even better. I looked up where the Lotte minor league stadium is, and it's in Saitama -- in Urawa, even! Now, I live in Kawaguchi, so it's about 4 miles from where I live as the crow flies, and a bit more on bicycle, but that sounded like it'd be a nice ride. So today I rode out to check out the stadium and see what the area's like, and whether I could bike it, or if I should take the train to Musashi-Urawa instead.

Anyway, I found the stadium without too much trouble. And much to my surprise, the stadium gate was actually open.

Welcome to Lotte Urawa Stadium.

I saw a pretty funny sign on the gates, actually.

This sign basically says, "From the players: In order for us to concentrate on the game, we request that you please don't ask us to sign stuff before or during the game. Thanks."

And this sign, which is posted up on the wall inside the gates, basically says, "Lotte kindly requests that people don't bring noisemakers and instruments for cheering players."

Yeah, that's right, inside the gates. I walked in and poked my head around and said in Japanese, "Hello? Is anyone around?" but didn't get a response or hear or see anyone there, so I walked around a little bit to see what was there. There wasn't all that much anyway -- this is just a minor league stadium and not a big one at that. But, I'd come out here to see what it was like, so I wanted to, you know, see what it was like.

Then I walked to where the field was, and that gate was ALSO open.

So I took a picture or two of the field.

Urawa Stadium has a huge dirt infield!

A minor league stadium without a bazillion ads in the outfield. Is that allowed?

I wonder if this really IS all the seating they have there. I suppose it might be more of a picnic-type place.

So, anyway, I took those pictures while just standing in the gateway looking at the field, but still nobody appeared to be around, so I... walked along the edge of the infield for a bit. And there was still nobody there. So I went right into the dugout and sat down for a minute, set my camera's timer, and quickly took that picture shown at the beginning of this post.

I wanted to try to take some good shots of the field, except I was really sure I was going to get caught at any moment, plus I only had my little camera and it was sort of cloudy out anyway. So I basically snapped a few more pictures and ran off the field, rather than worrying about composition or anything. Hence, it mostly looks like it's a vast sea of dirt, when in reality that's just the infield. The outfield fences are pretty close -- 96 meters to the corners, which is 314 feet.

The area behind home plate.

The Urawa Stadium sign up on the first-base side.

I walked around a little bit more. There was something resembling a clubhouse or at least an equipment room open, but there wasn't anyone in there.

Maybe it's a laundry room. I dunno.

I finally saw a human being when I was on my way out. Well, kind of. If you look at the picture of the stadium gates, you can see that there's a window of some sort, with a few inches at the bottom of the window under the window shade. So, I did see that there was some guy in the office there, but he was doing paperwork or something and wasn't looking up at all.

Either way, I figured I should leave, so I did. I mean, it's not like I did anything wrong, and I didn't take anything except pictures, but it was both really awesome and really freaky that I was able to just wander into the dugout of the Chiba Lotte Marines minor-league park, if you know what I mean.

Across the street from the stadium there's a big indoor practice center building, though:

"Chiba Lotte Marines Indoor Practice Place"

Yeah, see, THIS one had big gates that were quite closed.

Down the street from the stadium is a big Lotte factory of some sort. (For those that don't know, Lotte is a gigantic company that does all kinds of things, but in Japan mostly seems to be associated with candy, gum, ice cream, fast food, and Bobby Valentine.) The building smelled really strongly of chocolate, so I had my suspicions. When I got around to the other side I saw big signs on top of it for Lotte Chocolate and Lotte Yukimi Daifuku, which is a kind of mochi ice cream ball (which are AWESOME, I have a few packs of them in my freezer right now, I love daifuku). If they at least do some chocolate processing there, it'd make sense, I think.

Anyway, yeah. Next weekend I'll get to watch some baseball again! Hooray!

I'll try to post all the stuff I've discovered about fall camp schedules and fan fests soon.