Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Game Report: Dragons @ Swallows - Whither Ouendan?

Because it obviously wasn't enough for me to spend the afternoon watching Yakult's farm team play up in Urawa, I headed down to Meiji Jingu Stadium to watch Yakult's top team play against the Chunichi Dragons in the evening.

Okay, just kidding. I'd been planning to go to this game for quite some time, although the big question on my mind was, naturally: whither ouendan?

See, a couple of weeks ago there was a big deal when a couple of Chunichi ouendan groups that might have possibly had some yakuza ties got banned from all Dragons games and their cheering privileges revoked. In protest of this, and in some form of solidarity, many OTHER Chunichi groups decided that they would ALSO not lead cheers. So for a while when I'd watch the nightly news, the Chunichi sections were awfully quiet. Eerily so. Where were the trumpets? The drums?

The answer is: I don't know, but you can't stop the fans from yelling. That much is certain.

At Jingu on Sunday night, there was definitely some sort of ouendan group -- I only saw maybe three different leaders -- but they were out there and they were getting the crowd to yell, mostly in unison. They didn't have drums or trumpets, though, just one guy in front with a happi jacket and a really loud whistle. Now, Jingu always seems to have this issue with everyone getting out of sync, but things were actually mostly good with this acapella cheering for the most part...

...until we got to a point that called for chance music.

For those that don't know, the Dragons have three main chance music themes:
1) Uchimakure, which actually HAS words although most people don't sing them, they just bang sticks a lot until the part where we all yell "utte, utte, utte, utte, utte utte uchimakure!"
2) Nerai Uchi, which is pretty much a trumpet melody with people occasionally yelling "HEY!" between lines of it, and a little bit of "let's go let's go [name]", and then everyone singing "NERAI UCHI" after yet another fanfare.
3) uhh... I dunno what you actually call the third one but I think it's technically named "Get Get Victory". And it's basically a whole bunch of fanfares with people banging sticks for like 4-5 stanzas, then "GOGO [name], GOGO [name], kattobase [name]!"

So in case it isn't obvious, when your chance music theme is 90% trumpet fanfares and 10% people yelling things, it's really not going to work without, well, trumpets.

But, even when we did Uchimakure -- the one that is most doable -- thanks to not having drums to keep everyone in time, you ended up with, at any time, the following happening:
- 40% of the people were yelling "utte! utte! utte!" completely randomly
- 30% of the people were singing "ai to kibou no, yume wo dakishime..."
- 20% of the people were just banging cheer sticks and being unsure of what was going on
- 10% of the people were looking around confused trying to figure out how to catch up to the general crowd and/or the surrounding people

Aside from that, though, things were pretty good, even without trumpets. During the Tyrone Woods fanfare, basically, people just did "clap-clap-clap T!" over and over, with a few people actually singing the song behind it. (If only I had a kazoo... I swear...) And in general, since Japanese people seem to be fairly in tune, it wasn't a problem to sing the other player songs without trumpets and drums and all.

Though, my subgoal for the evening was to learn Norihiro Nakamura's new cheer (I'm not sure how many people know this, but ALL YEAR last year the song for him was just the "player we haven't bothered making a song for" song), and Kazuhiro Wada's. Wada's I actually managed to start picking up after 2-3 times; it's a little tricky but it's got a followable rhythm. Norihiro's, however, has a FANFARE which was completely impossible to pick up because nobody was ever in sync for it (I even took a video with my little camera to get the sound, and on my video, you can hear how one group finishes, then a second or two later the other group finishes). Oh well, I'll get them soon enough I'm sure. (You can see the lyrics here; I'd like to do a Dragons ouenka post sometime when I have, you know, time.)

Anyway, whatever. The outfield was FULL OF PEOPLE yelling and singing, and as it turns out I managed to find a seat in the middle of a bunch of really nice people (and down the row from another crazy Morino fan). And oh, there was a game, too, to go with all the yelling. Honest. Yakult's starter was the young sometimes-hotshot Tatsuyoshi Masubuchi (he turns 20 next week), and the Dragons put up Kazuki Yoshimi, who has been more than outstanding this year, nearly untouchable. Exciting!

In the top of the second inning, Kazuhiro Wada led off by walking, and then Morino came to bat for the first time. I got up and held up my Morino towel and yelled "MORINOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" A few people around me laughed (this is normal). So we yelled a bunch of cheers ("bring us a home run!", "smash the ball to right field!" etc), did his cheer song, and then BAM! He hit a home run into right field!!!

So I start cheering like crazy, and everyone starts high-fiving everyone around them as the players round the bases, and someone behind me said "Wow, you must be really happy! Good for Morino!" 2-0!

Yoshimi was perfect through three innings, striking out 5 in that time as well. Then Keizo Kawashima -- that is, former Fighter and all-around little bouncy dude Keizo Kawashima -- came up to bat and hit a home run off Yoshimi that pretty much landed in like the second row in left field. Sheesh. 2-1. A bit after that Aoki grounded out to first and Tyrone actually got the ball and ran in with it, and the guy next to me was like "Wow, now THAT's a rare sight, eh?"

Morino led off the top of the 6th by singling! Then he advanced to second on Norihiro's groundout, and advanced to third on a wild pitch during Tanishige's at-bat, with Tanishige ultimately getting hit by a pitch. Ow. Anyway, Yoshimi comes up to bat... and they do a SUICIDE SQUEEZE! Awesome! Yoshimi bunts up the first base line, Morino comes crashing home, Tanishige runs to second, and in the meantime Adam Riggs runs in from first to get the ball and throw it home, but Morino slides in under the tag! Wheeeee! 3-1! That ends up being curtains for Masubuchi and instead we get another former Fighter, Jun Hagiwara, on the mound (except that unlike Kawashima, Hagiwara usually kind of sucks). Araki hits a pop fly out to right and then Ibata singles. Tanishige attempts to score from second on Ibata's single... and he makes it to the plate around the same time as the ball, and is tagged out. Doh!

Everyone is in pretty good spirits as we hit the top of the 7th and our "Lucky 7" time:

The balloons go a-flying in the Jingu night.

In the top of the 7th, Lee leads off with a single, and then Tyrone Woods hits this monster shot into centerfield -- it ends up not being a home run, but bounces off the back wall. However, Aoki is fast and Tyrone is slow, and thus the ball actually arrives at second base a split second before Tyrone does, and he's out trying to stretch into a double. Oops. Wada hits a liner that Hiroyasu "Beavis" Tanaka is lucky enough to catch, and then Morino is up to bat again, and I stand up and yell...

...at which point the ouendan come up with yet another crazy stunt. The leader yells instructions, most of which I can't hear from where I am, but he says "Sore wa daisakusen!" and everyone yells "DAISAKUSEN!!!" ("Big plan!") Then they're all silent. The ball gets pitched and as it flies to home plate they all yell "OI!" Then everyone laughs. Naturally, on the next pitch they try it again. "DAISAKUSEN! ... ... ... ... OI!" Repeat about six times until everyone's laughing too hard to continue, and Morino hits a pop out to shortstop anyway.

Somehow most of the stadium sings along to Tokyo Ondo in the middle of the seventh inning, although I get the impression the words the people around me were singing were not, erm, the real words.

Aoki leads off the bottom of the 7th with a double, and then two players later (including a superb running catch by Morino in shallow center -- "there's your boy again!"), Shinya "Captain Japan" Miyamoto also hits a double up the right-field line, scoring Aoki. 3-2.

Yoshimi batted for himself even in the top of the 8th inning, and also pitched a 1-2-3 bottom of the 8th, including when Takeuchi hit a liner back towards the mound. Yoshimi pretty much put up his glove hand and ducked and somehow managed to end up with the ball in his hand. Crazy.

Masahiro Araki (!?) led off the top of the 9th with a home run which also went about two rows back in left field, off another former Fighters pitcher, Takehiko Oshimoto. :( 4-2. And then for the bottom of the 9th, we got to see Hitoki Iwase pitch, which naturally brought on even more yelling from everyone -- at first lots of "ganbare Iwase!!" but then we went into a chant of "ato hitori!!" ("One more batter left!") when Aaron Guiel was up to bat with two outs. (Yeah, you could say we're ripping off Hanshin fans or whatever. Who cares?) We also started a chant of "ato ikkyu!" ("one more pitch!") when it was up to two strikes, and then... and then there ended up being something like three balls and a few fouls until finally Guiel hit a pop fly out to right field and that was the game!! Dragons win, 4-2!

Everyone yelled and cheered and sang and was generally pretty happy out in the left field bleachers.

"Morino's gonna be game hero, isn't he?" I remarked. "He hit that awesome homerun in the first inning and then scored the other big squeeze run..."
"Probably," said the people around me.
I thought it was great how last time I came to Jingu and cheered for Chunichi and went nuts as a Morino fan, Morino was the game hero that day. So it would be fitting to have it happen a second time.

But, it was not to be.

Kazuki Yoshimi, your game hero.

In all honesty, though, I can't blame them for making Yoshimi the game hero. He kicked butt and has continued to kick butt so far this year. If he keeps it up he's going to end up having a year somewhat like Naruse's last year, the difference being that Yoshimi actually throws in the low 90's and isn't left-handed.

We all stayed around in the stadium singing for quite a while -- first we had to do the lineup, and several times through the Ochiai song, and then a few refrains of Moeyo Dragons, and then a song for Morino for his big home run, and another song for Araki for his home run, and then another song for Yoshimi for being game hero, and a song for Morioka for some reason I didn't catch, and then another refrain of Moeyo Dragons, and in the meantime the Jingu staff has been politely giving us all looks of "Go home" and turning off all of the stadium lights. If you can imagine what it's like when a bunch of Japanese people are trying to politely kick out a group of 2000 singing Dragons fans, that's about what we were going through.

On my way out of the stadium I was still wearing my Morino jersey and a few people came up to me and were like "Wow, you're a Morino fan?" sort of surprised, and I was like "I'm a HUGE Morino fan, I love him!" "Well, his home run today was great!" "Yeah, I am really happy about it!"

I decided to walk to Sendagaya station after the game just to prove that I could, and I only got mildly lost doing so. I did, however, avoid the craziness that is Gaienmae Station after the game, so I think it worked out for the best.

So, now it is Monday night (ok, Tuesday morning) as I write this, and in the morning I'm heading to Nagoya for the day! Yay! I'll be going to the Nagoya Dome store and trying to keep myself from buying a ton of stuff, and wandering around Nagoya a bit, and then heading out to Gifu to meet up with Jeff-the-photogeek and his wife and go see the Dragons take on the Baystars at Nagaragawa Stadium, for one of their "play in random local other places" games. Then Tuesday night I'll be taking the Moonlight Nagara night train back to Tokyo. I can't wait -- I'll get to see a new stadium AND try out a new train line! (Although I'll probably be completely zonked when I go to see the Fighters play in Chiba on Wednesday night -- and then Thursday I'm heading up to Hokkaido...)

Golden Week is awesome.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Game Report: Farm Team Blowout - Marines vs. Swallows at Lotte Urawa Stadium

Sunday was the first day of my Week Of Baseball, and I took advantage of the nice weather to go see TWO games!

The first game I went to was a minor-league game at Lotte Urawa Stadium, where the Marines farm team plays. I had been there once before in November to, er, check it out, but I had never actually seen a game there. The opponent was the Yakult Swallows farm team. For anyone who knows the geography of Saitama -- the Marines play at a stadium near Musashi-Urawa station, and the Swallows play at a stadium on the water in Bijogi Park, kind of near Toda Koen station. Either way, their stadiums are a mile apart from each other, and both about 3-4 miles from where I live.

What ruled about this game is that it was absolutely free. I rode my bike there -- a nice 7-mile round trip -- and bike parking is free -- and admission is free -- and I brought a bottle of water and some raisin bread with me to eat. (I'm not sure I saw anyone selling food come to think of it, but I wasn't looking. They had vending machines for drinks.)

But, sadly, there are huge fences. Everywhere. You cannot avoid them. If you want to take pictures, you have to get there early, and set up in the front row so you can aim your camera through the fences. Which I didn't do -- I arrived at like 12:45pm for a 1pm game. Went around the Marines fan side and asked if any spots were open and was told no by many people. Saw Szu-yu Wu warming up in the bullpen and then decided to wander around to the Yakult side and see if I'd have more luck finding a seat there. On my way walking around the back of the stadium, I saw a really familiar-looking dude walking by with one of the coaches, and no joke, it was freaking Saburo! I thought about saying something like "ganbatte", but figured that if he was stuck on the farm team, he probably really didn't feel like listening to random gaijin fans wishing him luck.

On the Yakult side, there were no bench spots, but a guy was like "it's a little hard to see sometimes, but you can sit here," about the grassy hillside. So I figured what the heck, and plunked down on the ground with the people there. Thus for the first four innings of the game I ended up sitting on a semi-muddy hillside while hoping for a bench spot to clear up:

There are THREE benches for seating! Wow!

(In the fourth inning someone behind me left and this old guy was like "hey Gaijin-san, you can come sit up here". Which I did, because my legs were KILLING me from trying not to fall off the hill.)

There aren't any ouendan at these games as far as I can tell. It's actually fairly quiet all things considered -- there's not even really music or gimmicks or much of anything, just an announcer reading the player names as they come up to bat and all. It might be different at other stadiums -- I get the vague impression some minor league teams actually have mascots and bigger stadiums (like Yokohama's Shonan SeaRex, or the Fighters' Kamagaya mascot Cubby), but this was a pretty laid-back deal.

Anyway, the Marines KILLED the Swallows. To be fair, Yakult's farm team was really a farm team, but Lotte's farm team was actually half guys I think should be on the top team (Saburo, Takehara, Heiuchi, etc).

Here's my scorecard from the game. I admit that I didn't always see if the strikeouts were swinging or called so if I didn't write it down I've just put in swinging. And I think there were one or two times where someone stood up or sat down and I couldn't exactly see the play. You see, there are NO scoreboards there, no lists of players, not even a list of how many hits -- just one of those ones that lists the runs per inning, and a B/S/O light counter. However, IMO, this is an AWESOME fun challenge to keep score for, because I really have to listen well to the announcements and look at all the action on the field:

April 27, 2008 - Lotte Urawa Stadium

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Swallows (ni-gun) 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 3 3
Marines (ni-gun) 2 1 1 5 0 0 2 0 x 11 14 1

Swallows AVG AB R H RB K BB SH SB E 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
Yoneno, C .000 4 1 0 0 3 0 0 0 0 KS .. KS .. .. KS .. .. E6
Mizuno, pr .333 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..
Kawabata, ss .429 3 0 0 0 1 1 0 0 1 KS .. .. F7 .. G3 .. .. BB
Miwa, pr .412 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..
Hatakeyama, 1b .244 4 0 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 KS .. .. G5 .. .. G4 .. S8
Onizaki, pr .170 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..
Miyade, rf .000 3 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 .. KS .. L6 .. .. G4 .. ..
Ueda, rf .196 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. G5
Ono, dh .313 2 0 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 .. KS .. .. S7 .. .. .. ..
Shida, pr-dh .278 2 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 .. .. .. .. .. .. G4 .. KS
Noguchi, lf .250 3 0 0 0 1 1 0 0 0 .. BB .. .. d1 .. .. G6 KC
Kajimoto, 2b .245 2 0 1 0 1 1 0 0 2 .. KS .. .. S7 .. .. BB ..
Ohhara, 3b .167 2 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 .. .. G6 .. L7 .. .. BB ..
Ohtsuka, cf .182 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .. .. G6 .. .. F8 .. d6 ..

Marines AVG AB R H RB K BB SH SB E 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
Hayasaka, 2b .245 4 1 0 0 2 2 0 0 0 E4 BB BB L9 .. KC .. KS ..
Satoh, rf .277 5 2 4 2 0 0 1 0 0 D7 s9 G1 S7 .. .. S4 S8 ..
Saburo, dh .667 5 2 3 3 1 1 0 0 0 S7 BB .. D8/KC .. .. H7 F9 ..
Takehara, lf .154 4 1 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 d4 F7 .. BB G5 .. G6 BB ..
Kohbe, 1b .232 4 2 2 1 0 2 0 1 0 BB .. H9 S9 G6 .. HP .. ..
Heiuchi, 3b .222 4 1 1 4 1 1 0 0 0 KS .. G1 H8 BB .. E6 .. ..
Minami, cf .162 5 0 1 0 2 0 0 0 0 .. KS S7 G5 F8 .. KS .. ..
Kanazawa, c .208 5 2 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 .. E4 KS D9 .. F9 G4 .. ..
M.Watanabe, ss .235 3 0 2 0 1 2 0 0 1 .. S6 S8 BB .. KC .. BB ..

Takaichi (loss) 4.96 2.1 16 5 1 3 3 4 1
Maruyama 0.00 0.2 4 1 0 1 1 0 0
Nishizaki 18.00 1 10 5 1 1 2 5 5
Uehara 0.00 1 4 0 0 0 1 0 0
Okamoto 0.00 1 3 0 0 2 0 0 0
Yoshikawa 9.00 1 7 2 1 1 1 2 2
Kamada 0.00 1 6 1 0 1 2 0 0

Wu (win) 5.03 5 17 2 0 7 1 0 0
Tejima 3.60 2 6 0 0 1 0 0 0
Hattori 9.53 1 4 0 0 0 2 0 0
Aihara 2.03 1 6 1 0 2 1 1 0

(Batting averages and ERAs are from the Eastern League page on the official NPB site.  I checked my numbers with the score summary for that day. BTW, I don't know how they estimate the audience at 775 people given that they don't charge admission or take tickets AND people just go in and out of the stadium all the time...)

Wu was REALLY dealing for the first three innings. Infact, he struck out the first 5 guys that Yakult brought to the plate, and had a no-hitter into the 4th, having only walked one guy, striking out 7 in the first three innings. It was really pretty crazy. (One of the guys he struck out was Ryuuji Miyade, but the third strike got dropped... and Miyade kinda started jogging to first, and one of the people yelled "RUN FASTER, MIYADE! DON'T YOU WANT TO GET BACK TO ICHI-GUN?")

Szu-yu Wu in the midst of striking out a whole bunch of people.

I snuck down for about 30 seconds to quickly aim my little camera through the fence and snap a few pictures, but in general just didn't bother taking any. Sometime I will come back on a weekday afternoon when I have no classes to teach, and then I will go crazy!! Hopefully.

You can also see by the density of that box score that the Marines batters were just teeing off on the Yakult pitchers. By the time four innings had gone by, they were already up 9-0. Some of this was due to errors -- Yakult second baseman Kajimoto dropped the ball not once but twice, both times leading to runners who scored. Takumi Kohbe led off the third inning with a home run that got tangled in the rightfield netting and fell back onto the field, and in the fourth inning Heiuchi hit a grand slam over the centerfield wall. The Marines would later tack on two more runs on a Saburo home run that flew over the leftfield wall.

To his credit, Miyade played right field nicely and made a lot of good plays, but he couldn't seem to get anywhere at the plate. Which disappointed me greatly since I really wanted to see him at first base standing next to Takumi Kohbe. Miyade is listed at 190cm and Kohbe at 191cm -- both about 6'5", which makes them among the tallest Japanese players out there.

Takumi Kohbe

Kohbe, by the way, is a monster. He's gigantic and strong and bats left-handed and if he ever gets his skills up to the ichi-gun level, is going to scare the crap out of some pitchers. I mean, that home run of his, he CLUBBED it. And even more funny, he stole a base in the first inning. He was the ONLY player to steal a base all day -- and that's counting all of those little fast dudes on Yakult.

The Swallows really didn't do anything for most of the game on offense. It was really pretty sad to watch an 11-1 blowout like that.

After the game, people were all trying to crowd the players for autographs as they were escaping the park. (The perils of having a disconnected clubhouse.) Saburo in particular looked like a rock star with a gigantic entourage following him. Some other minor-leaguers were just kind of hanging out -- one guy was even throwing pitches in the bullpen after the game. On the Yakult side, they had a team meeting and then the players had to go drag bags back from the bullpen and all. Pretty crazy how open and informal the entire deal really was. If I hadn't had to get home quickly afterwards, I would have stuck around to observe more and maybe get a few pictures of players, but alas. In most ways this was just a decision on a whim to go check out a minor-league game, and it was fun!

I went home, and then headed down to Jingu for the Chunichi game vs. the top Yakult team. More on that a bit later...

Saturday, April 26, 2008

An Apology to Hitoshi Tamura


I am really, really, really sorry how I keep referring to you as the Player Most Likely to Kill Himself Running Into A Wall.

I realize it was only three weeks ago that I saw you in Chiba and marvelled that you had not, in fact, run into any walls recently.

Thus, tonight, when I watched the sports news, and saw Akira Ohtsuka hit that ball to left field... and it caused a collision in left field as two fielders both ran for the ball with wild abandon and CRASHED and fell over... and one stood up and went for the ball, while the other just lay there on the ground... I had a sinking feeling...

...and I was right. Ohtsuka got a 2-run inside-the-park home run, and you got carried out of the stadium on a stretcher with a broken right leg. That did NOT look like fun.

I was really freaked out about the entire thing, but then I saw that you seem to be pretty optimistic about it, so if you tell us not to worry, I won't worry. You're right; accidents happen, and it should be 4-6 weeks to heal, sure. Look on the bright side, you'll miss rainy season and interleague! (Of course, you should be getting back just in time for the deadliest heat of summer, so maybe it's a mixed blessing.)

Anyway, I'm really sorry I jinxed you. Please get lots of rest and heal quickly.

Also, I hope you do not mind if I give left-fielder Yuya Hasegawa the nickname of "Wall" from now on.

Deanna the Hokkaidork

Friday, April 25, 2008

Game Report: Mariners vs. Royals - ...Yabuta, who's gonna Bale out Nomo?

(It's not just a host of ex-NPB guys, it's a bad punchline!)

Usually when I'm in "better late than never" mode I just let these games slide off my radar into "never", but this one was kind of special for various reasons, so I at least want there to be some form of entry here about it. This is from the April 15th Mariners-Royals game.

It was another cold and cloudy morning in Seattle, so I was in no particular hurry to get down to the stadium; plus I had a bunch of errands to run in the morning. (You know, a baseball game really can kill most of a day for me -- since I generally try to get there 1.5 hours early, which means catching the bus 2.5 hours before the game, so for a 3:40pm start, I got out of the house a little after 1:30pm, and I didn't arrive home until around 9pm that night.) I ended up arriving around 2:30pm, wihch was way too late. I went down to the field and just sat there in the front row, watching the Royals take BP, which is really more than enough entertainment for me. I just enjoy watching batting practice, to be honest, regardless of whether I have my big camera with me. Brent (aka etowncoug on Lookout Landing and such) arrived a little while after I did, and he sat down next to me and we chatted about various stuff.

Joey Gathright got called over by some people and signed some stuff, including my ticket stub. Thanks, dude.

I was just saying to Brent what a totally nice guy Trey Hillman is when... Hillman actually started coming over towards us! I'm pretty sure he was actually going towards the group of people behind us -- the friends I saw him talking to the day before -- but I said hi anyway as he came up. And this time I actually managed to ask a few questions as he was signing stuff for kids/etc, although I still feel pretty dorky about it all. These aren't exact quotes from him, I'm just trying to recapture the responses via my shorthand notes and what I remember.

I asked, "Do you think what you've been given with the Royals is like what you got when you arrived with the Fighters six years ago?"

He said that you could say the situations were similar, but that being in the majors is a completely different ballgame. Getting the guys to keep working together well as a team is a big objective. "The important thing is to never underestimate what we can do. I'd love to take these guys all the way to the World Series."

"If anyone can do it, it's you," I said. "How about... err... do you have any crazy guys on this team kinda like Shinjo or Hichori?"

"Oh, yeah, we definitely have crazy guys," he said.

"Are YOU still crazy?" I laughed.

"Yeah, I'm still crazy. Last week I set my pants on fire."

"You WHAT?"

"I was going out to congratulate Tony Pena on a play, and there was a propane heater in the dugout, and I got a little too close, and next thing you know, I was on fire. It wasn't on purpose, but it got a good laugh from everyone."

"How much do you still keep up with what's going on with the Fighters?" I asked.

"I still keep up with it. I go visit japanesebaseball.com as often as I can to see the standings and articles," ("Dude! I wrote the box score translator for that site!" I rudely cut in, because I was just too freaked out that Hillman-kantoku reads the site!), "and I even did that Skype call to Hillman's Hangout last night! It was at 5am here, but after people had watched the game in Sapporo, I think it was a tie, 3-3, not sure who they were playing," (again I cut in, "Seibu,") "the tie game with Seibu," he continued. "I can't see the crowd, they choose some people to come up and ask me a question, and I can see that person, but everyone in the restaurant can see and hear my response. The place fits around 70 or 80 people."

"Will you be doing any of those Q&A sessions during the first weekend in May?" I said, having told him before that I'd be heading to Sapporo for my first time over Golden Week.

"I don't know the schedule. Ikeda-san decides it and I just call in," he replied.

BP was coming to its end by that point. I asked him to sign a card for me -- it was his Nippon Series 2007 manager card -- and would you believe, he said "Hey, this is cool. I don't think I've seen this one before."

"Really? It's from last year's Japan Series."

"Yeah, that company, BBM? They make a lot of money off these cards, but they rarely give the cards to the people in them."

"Damn! I would have brought you a whole set if I'd known!"

(Now I am seriously trying to figure out if I could somehow find another box or two of Japan Series 2006/2007 cards and send them to Kansas City, no joke.)

My friend Brett, who had also shown up by then, asked Hillman to get Brian Bannister to come over to see some pitching stats that he'd printed up (because Bannister is a stathead. Which is cool). Hillman was like "I don't know if I want you Mariners fans getting into his head... but I'll give him the message."

Anyway, as Hillman headed off, I made some comment about how "It's just great to meet you finally. People in the stands in the Fighters section, they see my white skin, and usually ask me about you."

"Well, now you can tell them you've met me, and that it's absolutely no big deal!"

"WHAT? No way! This was the highlight of my trip home!"

The ushers kicked us out of the field area after that, and so I made my way over to section 108, where I was meeting up with a few folks; Chris and Rachel, who had gone with me to the first open-sen game this year at Jingu, and Edwin, who posts to japanesebaseball.com as Kamina Ayato, and writes a TON about the Koshien tourmaments. (As such, I brought him a present: the Shube magazine special issue summarizing the spring senbatsu tournament. I knew Kinokuniya in Seattle NEVER gets those special issues.)

But, I pretty much immediately ran off to the bullpen to watch John Bale warm up, because, hey, last time I saw him pitch, he was wearing a Hiroshima Carp uniform. So, neat! I also saw Miguel Batista warming up, wearing a #42 jersey -- somehow it had entirely escaped me that this game was Jackie Robinson Day as well. I looked around both bullpens, but I actually don't really recognize all the guys anymore, which was kind of odd. I did see Norm Charlton hanging out in the M's bullpen, and realized he must be the bullpen coach now. And in the Royals bullpen I watched as the guys came in and as Bale and Buck left; I saw Yabuta, and at the very end before I left, I saw Nomo enter. He looked around, and kind of nodded at me and the Japanese guy with a camera, and then hid in the bullpen bench.

(The last time I saw Hideo Nomo in the Safeco bullpens was almost three years ago, when he was with Tampa Bay.)

Anyway, I got a BBQ sandwich and ran back upstairs JUST IN TIME to see leadoff batter David DeJesus get a single to right. Grudzilla singled as well, and my Royals boyfriend Mark Teahen struck out. But then during Billy Butler's at-bat, Batista threw a wild pitch, advancing the runners to second and third, and so DeJesus tagged up and scored when Butler hit a sac fly to center. 1-0. Jose Guillen grounded out after that to end the inning.

Naturally, Ichiro led off the bottom of the first with a double to right as well, then stole third in a cloud of smoke during Jose Lopez's at-bat, and thus scored on a sac fly to left. 1-1.

The Mariners put on two more runs in the second; Jose Vidro led off with a ground rule double which bounced over the wall into our section (it was pretty difficult to see from our angle, actually). Richie Sexson walked, and after a popout by Johjima, WILLIE BLOOMQUIST!1!111 hit a single to right; Vidro and Sexson were off on the hit so Vidro scored and Sexson got to third. 2-1. Yuniesky Betancourt hit a sac fly to center, and even Big Richie could tag up and score off that one. 3-1. Ichiro came out to some random J-Pop song, and a few seconds later, Bloomquist got caught stealing to end the inning. Whoosh.

So Ichiro led off the bottom of the third, and singled to left. This time he got to second on a wild pitch during Lopez's at-bat, ran to third on a popout by Lopez, and scored on a Raul Ibanez single. 4-1. Adrian Beltre hit a popup into the outfield after that... except it actually landed, so Raul had to actually run and slide into second base. Whoops. Bale struck out Vidro and Richie to end the inning, though.

The Royals caught up in the top of the 4th. Billy Butler walked. Jose Guillen mashed a double into left, so when Alex Gordon grounded out towards first, Butler scored (4-2) and Guillen got to third. Ross Gload singled, scoring Guillen -- 4-3. John Buck also singled, and... got caught stealing during Tony Pena's at-bat. (He was out by a mile. Or at least by his own height, and he's a pretty tall dude for a catcher.) Pena hit a weak grounder up the left-field line which rolled foul (and evoked the Price is Right music as it went), but then after that hit a grounder towards third which went for a single, Gload scoring on the play. 4-4. Pena stole and DeJesus walked, but that was it for the Royals as Grudzilla grounded out to end the inning.

They had announced Hideo Nomo being in the bullpen, but I didn't know if it was worth jumping up and running down there to see him warm up. After Johjima led off the bottom of the 4th with a single, Bale came out of the game and Nomo came in to pitch, and then I DID feel a little sad that we didn't catch him -- I realized it was probably the last chance I would ever have to see Nomo pitching from close up. Dang.

Sadly, Nomo got the crap beaten out of him. Willie Freaking Bloomquist also singled off him, and then Betancourt hit a double to left, scoring Johjima. 5-4. Ichiro actually STRUCK OUT, but then Jose Lopez -- who would eventually hit three sac flies for the day -- hit another one, scoring Willie. 6-4. Ibanez popped out to end the inning.

(As Ichiro was at bat, I said "This is definitely going to be on the news in Japan tonight... Nomo pitches to Ichiro! It's just a shame he didn't pitch to Johjima too.")

The onslaught continued in the bottom of the 5th. Beltre led off with a double. Vidro walked. Richie walked. Bases loaded, and out came Hillman-kantoku, who we noticed was also wearing #42 (in addition to many players -- Guillen, Betancourt, Beltre, etc). Nomo comes out of the game, and in comes Ron Mahay... and naturally the first thing that happens is that Johjima hits a double to left. Beltre scores. Vidro scores. And as Teahen finally recovers the ball and throws it in, Richie Sexson slides into third base. Headfirst. ARGH. 8-4. Bloomquist walks again, and then Yuniesky Betancourt also hits his second sac fly of the day, scoring Richie Sexson. 9-4. Ichiro grounds to short... but it turns into a wacky rundown for Johjima, some sort of 6-2-5-2-5 or something play, and he's out. Meanwhile, Willie gets to third, and thus scores when Jose Lopez singles. 10-4. "Raul," I implore, "You have to get an out, or I will run out of space for this inning." He obliges and strikes out.

In the meantime, the scoreboards have shown that Yabuta is warming up in the bullpen. "HOLY SHIT YABUTA!" I exclaim. "Thank Hillman! We HAVE to go down there."

So Edwin and I head down to the bullpen for the top of the 6th, during which time John Buck and Tony Pena manage to get on base and score runs to bring the score to 10-6.


While we were down there, watching Yabuta warm up, people were yelling crap at him. In English. We told them to shut up. They said "He can't understand us anyway," and I'm like "Is that an excuse?" I know it's part of the game and all, so it's really not that big a deal, but given that I was wearing a Lotte t-shirt under my Mariners jersey, I felt obligated to make sure somebody had his back. (Blame the mind control.) As Yabuta ran onto the field, we yelled "GANBARE YABUTA-SENSHU!!!! GANBATTE!!!", and then ran back up to our seats to see him pitch the 6th inning.

He did pretty well! Got a groundout from Beltre, and then struck out Vidro and Sexson!

But then the bottom of the 7th happened... Johjima led off with a single. ("Oh, that's gonna be on the news too. Yabuta pitched to Johjima and Johjima got a hit -- wow, is that now THREE moments from this game that'll end up on TV in Japan?") Willie Bloomquist walked -- making him 4 times on base for 4 plate appearances on the day -- and then Betancourt hit a pop fly out. Sadly, rather than going for ANOTHER moment for the Japan nightly news, they took Yabuta out of the game at that point and put in Jimmy Gobble instead, who promptly walked Ichiro to load the bases. Whoops. Jose Lopez served up yet another sac fly, and that made it 11-6. (And that's what the final score of the game would be, as well.)

Joakim Soria came out to pitch the bottom of the 8th, probably because he hadn't pitched in a week. Seems the Royals haven't really had a lot of close games for him to hang on to.

Arthur Rhodes (yes -- THAT Arthur Rhodes) pitched the top of the 9th. DeJesus was out on a looping liner caught by Yuniesky Betancourt, but then Grudzielanek and Teahen hit singles, and that was the signal to bring out another pitcher. "Where we're going," I said, "We don't need Rhodes." Mark Lowe came out and got a double play off Billy Butler shortly afterwards, and that was the game.

Strangely, the game took so long -- about 3 and a half hours -- that by the time it ended, it was already a little past 7pm, which is when games NORMALLY start. And damn, was it ever cold. Sometime around the 5th or 6th inning when a beer guy came in like "COLD BEER HERE!!!" I heard someone yell "I'd rather have hot chocolate!" In the 7th, we actually went up and bought hot chocolate.

After saying goodbye to people and to Safeco and stopping in the team store briefly, I headed back up to Ballard -- and then I pretty much stopped thinking about baseball for my entire trip back to America, for the most part. The Pirates weren't in town when I was in Pittsburgh, but that's probably a good thing. I guess I could have gone to PNC Park to look for Kuwata stuff, but eh, I had better things to do.

It's pretty neat that I got to see Bale and Nomo and Yabuta all in the same game. When I came back to Japan, the two big questions my students had for me about baseball were "Did you yell Shinjirarenaaaaaaaiiii at Hillman-kantoku?" and "Did you see Nomo?" It's great that I was able to answer "yes!" to both of them.

In a day or two, I'll start my Golden Week of Baseball - something like Jingu Sunday, Gifu Tuesday, Chiba Wednesday, Sapporo Friday-Saturday-Sunday, Seibu Monday. I may mix other games in there if I can figure out timing. (I *could* just go sit at Jingu all day Sunday and watch Tokyo Big 6 games before the Swallows-Dragons game in the evening. This is not a bad weekend for that, actually -- since Todai isn't playing, I might actually get to see some REAL baseball.)

Friday, April 18, 2008

Friday Foto - Royal Rumble

I don't really have time to write a full report about the Royals game I went to on Tuesday afternoon, so here are a few photos I snapped for now. I'll write more later.

Royals starter (former Hiroshima Carp pitcher) John Bale.

Mariners starter Miguel Batista wears #42 for Jackie Robinson day.

Ex-Marines pitcher Yasuhiko Yabuta. I yelled at the people who were shouting mean things to him, and shouted "Ganbare!!" to him as he went into the game.

Sadly we didn't go down to see Nomo warming up -- which is why I jumped up and ran downstairs as soon as we saw Yabuta in the bullpen.

Anyway, I have been in Pittsburgh the last few days -- having a blast at my college reunion, and the weather has been fantastic too. I have one more full day left in America and then I fly out Sunday morning from here to go back to Japan. I really kind of wish I could spend some more time back here in America...

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Game Report: Royals @ Mariners - All Greinke, All The Time

So, I'm in Seattle. Five days is just too short a time to spend here; I need about three times as much, or more. (And no, having my Saturday last 34 hours doesn't count.) It's really fantastic to be back, and despite the crazy reverse culture shock, it's making me rethink which country I ought to be in. But that is neither here nor there. Right now I'm here. So there.

I went down to Safeco tonight for the Mariners-Royals game. I'll fully admit that the timing of my trip to America was based upon my college reunion this upcoming weekend, and the Royals coming to town now. I was really, really, really hoping to get a chance to shake Trey Hillman's hand and thank him for all he did with the Fighters. And, well, I got to do that...

Trey had actually been warned that I'd be stalking him, though, so I'm not sure it still qualifies as stalking.

I showed up at Safeco at 5:30, just in time for opposing team batting practice, and went down to the field, and... and I saw Hillman just sitting there talking to some people! Whoa! So with my heart pounding as loudly as the PA system, I just... went over and sat down. And after a minute or two I introduced myself to Trey, or more like, he figured out who I was. Now the confusion is, I think he had the idea I wanted to interview him so I could write stuff here on the blog, except me being an idiot, I had no such plan, I really just wanted to say hi. You all know I'm not a real reporter, I'm just a dorky girl with a blog who happens to be a gigantic Fighters fan.

I just sat there and listened to him talk to his friends for a while, trying to curb the "Oh my god, that's Hillman-kantoku!" alarms going off in my brain. He had a lot of funny stories to tell -- about being in Japan, about getting the KC job, etc. About how the Fighters winning the Japan Series brought a lot of money to Hokkaido and had a huge impact on the island. About his daughter learning Japanese and dancing with the Fighters Girls. About his son, also involved in sports, who is taking on tennis in addition to track. ("I told him, 'TJ, tennis is a country club sport. We're rednecks!'") About how in Japan, it's nigh impossible to interact with fans due to the fences and the high walls and all, so it's nice how he could just sit out and chat like this.

I've read articles for years about how nice a guy Hillman is, and seen him on TV in Japan countless times, and now having met the guy, all I can say is -- it's for real, every bit of it. While I was out there chatting with him, people would keep coming up, asking for autographs and to get a picture taken with him. I think most of them knew who he was. Many of them were kids. Some of them were Japanese people, even -- "Hillman-kantoku, can we see Nomo pitch today?" "Tabun." (Maybe.) "Tabun???" "Okay, probably not..." He was very kind to everyone, and I ended up taking a whole lot of pictures of people with their cameras and lending kids my Sharpie :)

He asked if I'd been to Sapporo; I said I'm going for my first time in two weeks. His recommendation was to make sure I check out "Hillman's Hangout" in the Susukino area. Apparently he even does some broadcast chats with the Fighters fans there over Skype! How cool is that? (Well, aside from the part where he has to be awake at 5am for it, that is?) He also had some funny stories about getting confused between speaking Spanish and Japanese.

Anyway, I feel like a major retard because I didn't really have any questions prepared. Naturally, of course I thought of a bazillion as the game was going on and I was still kicking myself. If I get there early again tomorrow, maybe I'll bug him, but, sigh.

Yasuhiko Yabuta came over and signed stuff for about 4 people before he ran off. I said in Japanese, "please sign this!!" but he just looked at me funny on his way out running. Doh! A lot of other people caught Joey Gathright and Brian Bannister as they were around after BP, but I don't like to elbow into the crowds much.

Oh, so anyway, there was a game. And it was COLD outside. REALLY COLD. It was BECU night, which means $11 tickets in the upper deck. As a result of that plus the temperature plus the Royals, the left field bleachers were LITERALLY empty. When the game started, one person was sitting there. Even towards the end, we think we saw 6 people out there, 2 of whom were ushers.

I was sitting up in section 340 for the start of the game with Gomez and Brett from Lookout Landing, plus Brett's mom, plus my friend Jason from college. (Jason is a Yankees fan, but he's a Yankees fan from the days when they sucked, so he's Allowed.) Anyway, to keep warm, Brett decided to yell a lot of stuff. Or maybe Brett just always yells a lot of stuff, I don't really know. It mostly started off pretty tame -- "Nice range Guillen, you know who gets that one? Adam Jones!" or "Hey Vidro, what's your secret? Hot dogs? Footlongs?"

(Brett held up his 'Sign Barry Bonds' sign for a while and said things like "You know who makes that a home run? Barry Bonds," after Jose Guillen doubled in the 2nd inning. Jason remarked, "So Barry Bonds is the Chuck Norris of baseball?")

Jarrod Washburn, aka J-Rod the Washburninator, started for the Mariners. Zack Greinke, who I thought had gone insane, started for the Royals.

The first inning went by quickly, with the Mariners GIDPing themselves out of it, but the second was big for the Royals. Billy Butler led off the inning with a 387-foot home run into the Royals bullpen. 1-0. Then Guillen's aforementioned double, a strikeout by Alex Gordon, and... as I was saying how Miguel Olivo should also be striking out any minute, Brett said how "Olivo hasn't hit any home runs so far, so I bet he'll do that now." And sure enough, BLAM, Olivo sent one over the centerfield wallm, 420 feet. Funny how I rarely ever saw him do that when he played on the Mariners... but, 3-0.

"Hey, if Washburn basically walks, strikes out, or gives up a home run to every batter he faces, does that make him a Three True Outcomes pitcher?" I asked.

The M's GIDPed themselves out of the second inning too, and then in the third, Brad Wilkerson led off with a walk. Kenji Johjima singled, and then both Betancourt and Ichiro hit grounders to first which were thrown to second to head off the leading runner. However, during that, Wilkie managed to get all the way around and score, so good for him. 3-1. Lopez grounded out to second to end the inning.

I want to point out that according to my scorecard, Mark Grudzielanek at second base was responsible for, or partially responsible for, 13 out of the 27 outs. He's good.

We spent the top of the 4th moving down from section 340 to section 108, and it went by so quickly we pretty much missed the entire thing.

No such luck on the top of the 5th, though. After two quick outs, there were two quick singles, and then Washburn hit Grudzilla with a pitch to load the bases. Mark Teahen grounded out after that, though.

Music trivia song was Jungle Boogie by Kool and the Gang. I guessed 1978 instead of 1974. Vidro was born in 1974 and the World's Fair was in Spokane. Go figure.

Somewhere in the 5th and 6th innings, Brett started getting bored, so he was heckling Jose Guillen. Except, given that his mom was at the game with us, he wasn't going to say anything offensive. The Mariners put up the "quick facts" on the big screen with each batter, so he started yelling things like "HEY JOSE, RICHIE'S FAVORITE 70'S BAND IS CCR. WHAT'S YOURS?" "JOSE, BRAD'S FAVORITE VIDEOGAME IS MADDEN. DID YOU KNOW THAT? THAT'S A DAMN GOOD CHOICE, BRAD!"


"WE DON'T HAVE ANY QUICK FACTS ABOUT YOU JOSE, CAN YOU TELL ME SOME? DO YOU LIKE PAPER OR PLASTIC?" At this point, a girl in the row ahead of us who was laughing called back at Brett, "Coke or Pepsi?" and Gomez was like "Dude, you have a request," and so Brett yelled "CMON JOSE, TELL ME SOMETHING, I'M WRITING A PAPER ABOUT YOU. HOW ABOUT COKE OR PEPSI?"

I was positive we were going to get thrown out of the stadium, but apparently (fortunately?) the ushers in 108 know Brett and think he's pretty funny.

While Zack Greinke was quietly and effectively (and coldly) blowing through the Mariners lineup over and over again, Jarrod Washburn came out of the game after 6 innings, and Sean Green came in and immediately loaded the bases -- Olivo singled, Buck walked, and Pena came up bunting but ended up singling. Ryan "Hyphen" Rowland-Smith came in after that. David DeJesus hit a pop fly way out to center, but even Ichiro couldn't fire in the ball quickly enough to keep Olivo from scoring. 4-1. RRS dealt with the next two batters quickly, though.

Roy "the other Corco" Corcoran pitched the top of the 8th, and gave up another run. With one out and one on, Alex Gordon hit the ball to short, and it looked like a sure double play, but the ball got away from Lopez at second. Our guess is that Guillen slid into him (come to think of it, last year I saw Guillen do that in a Royals game too, only that time he took out Grudzilla) to break up the DP. Olivo then hit the ball up the middle too -- and Jose Lopez stopped the ball but it somehow fell out of his glove again. He rolled it to second, but apparently was not quick enough to get Gordon, who then scored on a subsequent John Buck single. 5-1.

In the bottom of the 8th, we were hoping to see an appearance by the Yuni-Bomber, except instead, we saw an appearance by Leaping Teahens, as Mark Teahen made a jumping catch right out by the back wall in left field.

And that's really all there is to this story. The 9th inning went by quickly and painlessly, which was good, because it was COLD. The Royals won 5-1, and 16,751 watched it. I totally believe that number -- the stadium was deserted. It's a shame I couldn't be around for a warmer game sometime, but I really did want to see the Royals. They're kicking ass!

Tomorrow John Bale gets the start against Miguel Batista. Last time I saw Bale pitch he was wearing a Hiroshima Carp uniform, so this should be pretty neat!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Friday Foto - Giants Kaimaku Matsuri

Yes, this is an anti-Giants blog, but this is also a "random neat things related to Japanese baseball" blog, and I think that the little exhibit the Giants put up for Opening Day was actually pretty neat, even if it featured Those Evil Guys.

Besides, I don't have time to write anything right now -- I'm leaving Japan in about 12 hours to go back to the US for a week visit. I'm heading to Seattle from April 12 - 16 and then Pittsburgh from April 17 - 20. This will be my first time returning to the states since I moved here, so I'm expecting a decent amount of reverse culture shock. I mean, it'll be nice to eat burritos and real pizza again, and buy shoes in sizes that actually fit me, and not get stared at everywhere just for having white skin. But I'll also have to turn my city sense back on and stop doing things like walking around alone late at night. Also, I'll have to remember how to drive a car, and which side of the road they go on. And there won't be vending machines everywhere! Yikes!

Anyway, about two weeks ago I met up with an old college friend of mine who moved to Japan last fall, but I didn't find that out until recently. He actually doesn't care about baseball at all, but he likes roller coasters, so after wandering through Jimbocho, we took a walk up to the Tokyo Dome area. Walking past the dome and all of the pictures of players, I kept rambling about how evil the Giants are and how they steal all the good players and they're like the Yankees and I hate hate hate them. Going through LaQua, though, I noticed there was some sort of weird carnival-booth-like thing in the courtyard, so I said "Hey... uhh... can we go check that out?"

"Wait, I thought you said you hated the Giants?" my friend asked.

"Yeah, but... it's... well, it's baseball. I'll just be a minute and snap some photos." I was already speedwalking towards the stairs.

Giants Kaimaku Matsuri, this way. Check your evil detectors at the gate.

Various little booths; pictures from spring training, signed baseballs from players, bats and gloves and other equipment that you could play with.

A big stage area was set up with movies of various Giants teams in various moments of glory.

Tatsunori Hara wants YOU to join his forces for evil in a game of Recapture The Flag.

My friend commented, "You know what's weird? The Japanese signatures all look like a bunch of scribbles with a number underneath, but the foreign signatures look really nice and well-written! Look at that Kroon guy's signature!" I remarked, "I bet Japanese people think the exact opposite thing -- like 'why do those foreigners have such ugly scribbles? Kanji are so beautiful!'"

"That picture is weird," my friend said. "Only one of the dudes appears to be on the Giants."
"Err..." I started. "The guys NOT in Giants uniforms are two of the greatest baseball players in Giants and Japanese baseball history."
"Oh yeah?" he said.
"Yeah, Oh," I replied.
"The guy on the left is Sadaharu Oh. You probably have heard of him. He hit 868 career home runs. Now he manages the Hawks, hence the uniform."
"Okay, and who's the other old dude?"
"That other old dude is Shigeo Nagashima. He was so well-loved by Giants fans for a bazillion years, that they don't even bother calling him Mr. Giants, they just call him Mister."

"Cool!" I said. "Give me a minute; I'm gonna go curse Ogasawara's clean-shaven doppleganger's bat, if you don't mind."
"I have no clue what the heck you just said. Go ahead."

Big inflatable baseball of pure love. Or something.

Yoshinobu Takahashi's helmet and shin guards.

Tetsuya Utsumi's shoes. I know, I know, this crush on Utsumi will only lead to heartache and strife when I am forced to face the fact that he is pure evil. I went through the same thing with Yoshinobu too.

Anyway, uh... I'll write more from America. This blog actually hit its third birthday earlier this week and I should probably stop to reflect on that fact at some point.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Game Report: Marines vs. Hawks - Ninth Inning Nishioka

Okay, this is a long one, but it was a pretty crazy day for me. I got up fairly early to head down to Chiba Marine Stadium on the morning of April 6th, with my friend Isamu "Tokyo Sam" Maruhashi, who follows the MLB from Japan the same way I followed the NPB when I was in Seattle. Last time Sam and I went to a game together was ALSO in Chiba, towards the end of the 2006 season. But last time we didn't get to have a backstage tour and meet the leader of the band, as it were ;)

If you want, you can just skip this entire entry and go look at my pictures from the game, they tell a pretty good story themselves, I think.

At about 10:55am, we went up to the special-people-associated-with-the-team desk, and I tried to explain that Larry Rocca had left us tickets... except apparently he hadn't. We actually were supposed to talk to the media people, it seems, BUT just as I was about to go into a dead panic and try to call Larry... Larry walked through the door and said, "HEY! IT'S THE GIRL WHO KNOWS TOO MUCH ABOUT BASEBALL!!"

(My nickname this week is apparently "Deanna Baseball", by the way.)

Anyway, I introduced Larry to Sam, and then Larry pretty much immediately took us onto the field. We had gotten there just too late to see Marines batting practice, with the legendary two batting cages. (As Larry put it, "Our homefield advantage is that we get to work twice as hard!") The Hawks were starting to take the field for batting/fielding practice, although some Marines players were still there and straggling off the field. Tomoya Satozaki walked by us and I sort of smiled at him and he sort of looked at us funny. (I was wearing a Satozaki #22 shirt.)

I'm standing there looking around like "Oh my GOD that is Munenori Kawasaki standing right there... and Matsunaka! And Tamura! And is that Shibahara? Holy crap! I'm standing on the field at Chiba Marine Stadium!" when naturally, who walks up to us but Bobby Valentine, and even more to my surprise he remembered who I am and said hi. (Sam commented later, "I couldn't believe you were just standing there talking to Bobby Valentine like you're old friends." Thinking about it, though, Bobby seems like a really open and nice guy in general, that could talk to anyone as if they were old friends. I wonder why there isn't an "ore-tachi no Bobby" cheer?)

So, we took pictures. Bobby is surprisingly about the same height I am. Sam is not. That is beside the point. (If you didn't see them in the last entry, here is the three of us, here is me with Bobby, and for good measure here is me with Larry.)

Larry took us over to the other side of the field and we watched the pitchers doing fielding practice; naturally I'm like "oh wow! there's Arakaki! And Kume! And hey, it's CJ and Ricky!" Rick Guttormson actually smiled back at me when I smiled at him, but I don't think CJ noticed me at all. But anyway, suddenly I realize that SADAHARU OH IS STANDING LIKE 50 FEET AWAY FROM US. I don't even really know how one is supposed to react in the presence of a living legend, although everyone else seemed to be like "He's just the Hawks manager, dude." But everyone else is probably also a lot more accustomed to standing on the field than I am too. (Not counting that I am the queen of sneaking into minor-league stadiums, of course.)

Me being me, I was even like "Wow! That's Tatsuya Ide!!" when one of the coaches walked by. Sam says, "Who?" I reply, "He was the Fighters centerfielder a few years ago... right before we got Shinjo... er..."

Sadaharu Oh.

The Hawks player is Munenori Kawasaki, and the Marines guy is Yoshihisa Naruse. These are two of the best young players in the country.

Hitoshi Tamura, who still hasn't killed himself running into a wall, thank god.

We went into the dugout for a bit and I met Eric Neel, a sportswriter for ESPN who has apparently been doing the world circuit lately, covering Joe Torre in China and now doing a story about Bobby here in Japan. It was very interesting talking to him, but it reminded me of how frustrated I get about people's viewing NPB as just a minor league for the MLB. (Not that Eric necessarily feels that way, but he reminded me about a lot of people who do.) "Come on," I said, "Japan sends over guys like Kosuke Fukudome and Daisuke Matsuzaka, and what do they get in return? Shane Spencer?" I guess that's another reason I have so much respect for Bobby -- he agrees that baseball here is awesome for what it is, and not for what can be exported.

Anyway, after watching BP for a while, we went back behind the scenes at the stadium and saw lots of neat stuff. We came through the press box and the "press seats" room, and went up to the third floor to the VIP area, which is actually a lot like the VIP boxes in other stadiums like Safeco and whatnot. There's a whole ton of TV/etc booths right behind home plate, and then these nice cushy rooms with couches and all to watch the game from. And you can see the new picnic areas with tables and everything; they look really nice. There's also plates with every Orions/Marines roster ever, so I was having fun looking for the 1974 roster, and for the Ochiai/Inao years, and so on. Larry and Sam, in the meantime, were discovering that they both grew up in Maryland and thus were big Orioles fans as kids. Whereas I only have one particularly big memory of the Orioles, when they were on the WRONG side of the 1983 World Series.

The Marines Sports Bar lounge.

View of the new picnic tables from a VIP box room.

There's also a really neat "sports bar" area up there. Larry said it's supposed to look like an American sports bar and for once I think someone actually got it right (unlike the monstrosity known as the Baseball Cafe in the Tokyo Dome City). It probably didn't hurt that we were going along and former Marines players kept walking past us. One guy I totally didn't know, and then Johnny Kuroki walks by and I'm like "Why does he look really familiar?" and Sam's like "That's Johnny Kuroki, Deanna." "Ohhh. HOLY CRAP!"

We got to see some of the new stuff along the home side of the stadium too; there's an izakaya-like area way in the back of the infield unreserved seats past first base, under the cover; there are also small party rooms maybe for a birthday or something else, with baseball bats for doors. And due to the "Bobby Magic" name that was given to the secret behind the 2005 team winning the Japan Series, they also opened a Magic Bar, with lots of kinds of beer and with mixed drinks named after the players and all.

So after that we run through the concourse and come back down to the field area, and walk back out onto the field, and I look to the right and there's Kenji Morozumi (former player, now first-base coach) and I'm so surprised I just blurt out "Morozumi-senshu!" and he looks at me like "Huh?" and then I realize what a retard I am and start babbling in Japanese about "oh... I remember you from the 2005 team... er..." and Bobby laughs and comes over and also starts explaining in Japanese, "This girl has too much baseball in her head." And I'm just turning red because I can't believe what a total dork I am. At least I didn't explain that the reason I remember Morozumi really well is because I totally could NOT read the kanji for his name for a long time, I had to go memorize them specifically, so that gave him a special place in my brain.

So Larry had to get Bobby to sign a whole bunch of baseballs... so we're just kind of chilling out there by the dugout. I talked to Bobby a little bit about the Marines while they announced the lineup. "Nishioka's not leading off?" "Nah, he's batting third today." "How's Fukuura doing?" "Kind of hurting." "Sorry about him getting run over by Koyano..." I also asked why Imae is batting ninth, given that he is absolutely ON FIRE lately, and Bobby explained that he likes to have players who can start something in all parts of his lineup, not just at the top. Sam then pointed out that Yuniesky Betancourt is doing the same thing in the Seattle Mariners lineup right now, and we were really impressed that Bobby knew exactly who and what he was talking about without missing a beat. (Because, really, I haven't been paying attention to the Mariners since opening day, for my own sanity.)

I watched Paul Pupo work on putting up the day's lineups, and the opposing team's lineup and bench and their lefty-righty splits, which is, like, awesome. And players took fielding practice, which is also neat to watch... and some guys like Nemoto and Nishioka and Imae and all were just hanging out in the dugout and I simply can't freaking believe that I'm standing there in the midst of all this. After all of the groundball drills and whatnot, the guys came over to the dugout and did some sort of huddle. "What time is it?" "GAME TIME!" Then Frank Ramppen, fielding coach, also came over and said hi. Crazy! On our way off the field I said "Good luck today" to Jose Ortiz, but that's really about as close as I came to talking to players.

What time is it? GAME TIME!

Bobby in his natural habitat.

We got to take a brief look at Bobby's office, which is just plain awesome. I mean, it's full of photos of him with various US presidents and other famous people, and of course lots of baseball stuff, and a neat collection of old Japan Series programs, and of course a big book full of kanji that he's studying (hmm... I wonder who knows more kanji, me or Bobby) and various other awards and stuff.

Larry had to go hang out with some bankers during the game, so he took us to our seats just as the first batter of the game, Munenori Kawasaki, was on his merry way to hitting a popout to short. And our seats were AMAZING! Third base side, second row, field seats, all the way on the end by the camera wells. We got out our cameras happily...

...and shortly afterwards noticed that Moriwaki-coach, the third base coach for the Hawks, was almost always going to be in the way for taking Shunsuke pictures. Oops :)


We could also watch Tsuyoshi Wada throwing near the dugout.

Oh yeah, so see, there was a baseball game too. But when you pit top-notch pitchers like Lotte's awesome submariner Shunsuke Watanabe against Hawks' left-hander Tsuyoshi Wada -- even a gimpy Tsuyoshi Wada who's still recovering from arm trouble -- that's going to result in a lot of zeroes. So the first three innings went by blazingly fast with only four baserunners, only one of whom got past first.

But then in the top of the 4th, Hiroshi Shibahara got in a double to left, and then two batters later Shotaro Ide singled to left. Takehara's throw to the plate came in around the same time as Shibahara, but Shibahara slid in before Hashimoto could make a tag at all. 1-0. Ide advanced to second on the throw home. Nakazawa walked, and when Katsuki Yamazaki singled to right, Ide scored. 2-0. That was it for the inning as Munenori Kawasaki hit a pop fly out to center.

Shibahara slides into home plate for the first run of the game.

(You know, this is an aside; I've never really looked at Tsuyoshi Wada's groundball/flyball tendencies, BUT I will note that there were at LEAST 5 instances of a Marines batter hitting a huuuuuuuuge pop fly off of him, that would have probably sailed straight out of any normal stadium, but since we were in Chiba with the winds blowing off the bay, they all died right in front of the centerfield fence. By my count, 13 of the 19 batters he retired were on fly balls.)

Wada had a no-hitter going through 4.2 innings -- really through 6.1, but they called a Benny bloop a hit, even though Nakazawa and Shibahara lost the ball in the sun and allowed it to drop. Hashimoto walked after that but that plus a Satozaki walk in the 2nd was IT for the Marines' offense for pretty much the first 6 innings.

Shunsuke got into a bit of a jam in the 5th -- with one out Tamura singled, and Matsunaka hit into a fielder's choice. Shibahara and Matsuda both singled to center after that, but on grounders up the middle, so Matsunaka didn't score (he's looked a bit slow lately). Shotaro Ide struck out swinging with the bases loaded to end the inning. Whew.

In the top of the 7th, Mitsuru Honma led off the inning with a home run into the right-field bleachers. 3-0. Then Tamura singled, and so it was curtains for Shunsuke. Left-hander Yusuke Kawasaki came out to replace him.

Shunsuke stares at Matsunaka at third and just gets out of the jam.

Mitsuru Honma high-fives the entire dugout after his home run.

Matsunaka singled, putting Tamura's pinch-runner Ryuma Kidokoro on third, and then Shibahara hit into a 6-4 fielder's choice -- and so did Matsuda -- and Kidokoro scored on the latter one, running with two outs and the fielders failing to convert to a DP. 4-0. Kawasaki intentionally walked Shotaro Ide, and then Nakazawa popped out to end the inning.

BUT, the Marines rallied back in their half of the 7th. Satozaki hit a pop fly to shallow left, which Munerin ran out for and Shotaro Ide ran in for, making the catch. Jose Ortiz CRACKED a line drive into leftfield for a double, and then Takehara hit a looooong fly ball to center which bounced off the top of the wall and rebounded onto the field for a double (not a ground-rule double though). That scored Ortiz, so 4-1. Benny hit a single to left as well, but Ide fielded it so fast with such a good throw in that Takehara had to stay at third. That was it for Tsuyoshi Wada, though, and Akihiro Yanase came in to take his place on the mound.

Naturally, the obvious next trick was PINCH HITTER SABURO! Whee! I said to Sam, "Watch, Saburo's going to hit a pop fly that's going to die in center field." And sure enough, Saburo hit a pop fly that died in center field, but it was good enough for Takehara to score from third. 4-2 and an "Did I call that or what?" Imae hit a line drive to left and Benny had already taken off running as soon as the bat made contact, so he managed to get all the way around the bases on what became a double for Imae! 4-3. A pinch-hitting Daisuke Hayakawa grounded out after that, but the game had suddenly become a LOT more interesting.

Munenori Kawasaki says to Shotaro Ide, "What? I didn't HEAR you call me off..."

Benny, Benny, Benny would go!

Kawasaki walked Yamazaki to lead off the 8th, and then Kawasaki pitched to Kawasaki, and Kawasaki bunted. Confused yet? The rest of the team grounded out to end the inning.

Shunichi Nemoto was announced as pinch-hitting for Koichi Hori to start off the bottom of the 8th, so naturally Oh pulled pitcher Yanase and put out Koji Mise instead. So Bobby pulled pinch-hitter Nemoto and put in Keisuke Hayasaka... who hit another pop fly that died in the outfield. Nishioka also hit a pop fly out, but then Satozaki actually singled, so Mise came out and in came... Yuuki Kume! I know I make fun of Kume for his funny eyebrows, but really I'm excited to see him, since I saw him pitch when he was still at Meiji, and I am a big dork. Kume got Jose Ortiz to hit a pop fly that died in the vast foul territory near first base.


Larry stopped by around then and I told him to apologize to Shunsuke for me for the bad luck I brought him again. He said, "No problem, we're going to win today."

Ogino pitched the top of the 9th and handled the Hawks just fine, striking out Matsuda and Ide, even.

So with the score at 4-3 going into the bottom of the 9th, CJ Nitkowski came in for the save (since Mahara's having shoulder problems I'm not really clear on who's the Hawks' closer). Takehara led off with a double, then Benny grounded out moving Takehara to third. And naturally this set off whatever starts the Chiba Bouncing Oendan, which I think is designed to give the batter motion sickness.

I was positive Saburo would hit another sac fly, but Shibahara smartly let his pop foul fly fall instead of catching it; instead, Saburo walked. Imae also walked. Bases loaded for... Masahiko Tanaka! (No, the Rakuten pitcher is Masahiro.) Tanaka hit a single to left and it was 4-4! Then Hayasaka grounded to third, but Matsuda threw home for the force out on Saburo. Two outs. The next batter was Tsuyoshi Nishioka, and he was 0-for the day, so you could say he was due. And do he did, hitting a low liner to left, Imae running home, and the Marines won the game 5-4!

The entire team ran out of the dugout and soaked and crushed Nishioka and Tanaka.

Marines win! Wheeeeeeee! Let's kill our game heroes!

Tanaka was the game hero for the tying RBI -- probably for the first time in his life, and hopefully not the last, but who knows.

I took way too many pictures of this game and thus I vowed I'm totally not bringing my big camera to another game for a while, but being as I'm going back to America for a week on Saturday, my next NPB game won't be until April 27th anyway. (I'll be going to a Mariners-Royals game when I'm in Seattle, though. I hope if I yell "SHINJIRARENAAAAAIIII" really loudly, I'll be able to get Trey Hillman's attention... and thank him for the last five years.)

How many heroes fit on this platform anyway?

I'm still trying to figure out if this was Hichori's idea or not.

From left, our kickline is: Hichori Morimoto, Kensuke Tanaka, Atsunori Inaba, Shinji Takahashi, Terrmel Sledge, Eiichi Koyano, Takahito Kudoh, Takayuki Takaguchi, and Shinya Tsuruoka. (picture from the official Fighters' website)

So, last night the Fighters played against the Eagles at Sapporo Dome, and the Eagles racked up SEVEN RUNS in the second inning off of Masaru Takeda. Which is, as everyone knows, inconceivable! They batted around the order with Jose Fernandez starting the inning with a single and ending the inning with a strikeout, and inbetween there were five singles, a double, and a walk, and seven runs scored. Ouch.

Yet, Nashida left Masaru in to recover from it, and the Fighters' lineup said, "No problem, dude, we got your back." In the bottom of the 3rd, THEY batted around the order, starting with a Takahito Kudoh double and ending with Kudoh grounding out to short, and in the middle there were 3 walks and 4 singles and 5 runs. (Since we cannot beat you by actually hitting the ball with a bat, we will beat you by ignoring your bad pitches! Woohoo!) Yasuhiro Ichiba, the Rakuten starter, came out of the game after walking Kensuke Tanaka to drive in the first run (since he had just walked Hichori Morimoto to load the bases). Former Fighter Masaru Yoshizaki came in, but he only succeeded in giving up hits to Inaba, Shinji, and Sledge (RBIs on the first two, but Shinji was out at home on Sledge's hit). Ogura came in to pitch after that and Koyano managed an infield single off of him, and then Kudoh grounded out. I would like to note that the only Fighters player to NOT get on base that inning was Makoto Kaneko, and I am still hugely, hugely worried about him.

With the score at 7-5 going into the bottom of the fourth, Hichori got a two-out single and then KENSUKE POWER!!?!?! struck again, as Kensuke Tanaka hit a home run into the exact same spot he hits every home run at the Sapporo Dome. (I'm serious, I wonder if someone could sell tickets to that particular seat in right field about 8 rows back and call it the "Kensuke's Sweet Spot" seat. I'd buy it.) So that made it 7-7!

In the bottom of the 6th, Shinya Tsuruoka doubled. Takaguchi, who replaced Kaneko at short after the third inning, came up bunting, but didn't actually hit the ball. Tsuruoka had taken off from second anyway, so Fujii threw the ball to third, and Tsuruoka ended up in a rundown of sorts, but then Naoto Watanabe made a bad throw to third to catch him, which bounced through the third baseman, so not only was Tsuruoka safe at third but he also managed to run home on the play. 8-7! Takaguchi singled after that and made it all the way to third in that inning, but that was it.

Some other stuff happened too, but essentially Masaru Takeda managed to get a win for a game where he gave up 7 runs in one inning, because sometimes weird stuff just happens like that. (boxscore)

Everyone in the lineup got a hit, so everyone in the lineup worked together to be the game hero, essentially. Which is cool. Because something the Fighters have gotten RIGHT in recent years is working together as a team, and I think this was a really nice way to symbolize that.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Marines vs. Hawks, quick version

I went down to Chiba Marine Stadium today with my friend Sam and all I got was this lousy sunburn!

No, just kidding. The Lotte Marines Mind Control Task Force let us go on the field before the game and I got to take a bunch of pictures and talk to a bunch of people and hopefully not put my foot in my mouth too much.

Deanna Rubin and Bobby Valentine
Me with some guy. I think he's the Lotte manager or something.

The quick version is that Larry gave us a backstage tour of the stadium, and it's pretty neat (even aside from things like "Uh, did Johnny Kuroki just walk past us?"). And I got to talk to Bobby Valentine, who is really great, especially because we really do share the belief that baseball here in Japan truly is awesome for what it is, not for what could be exported. Oh, and there was a game. And it was Tsuyoshi Wada vs. Shunsuke Watanabe which is already a pretty great pitching matchup, PLUS it was a gorgeous sunny afternoon and we were sitting in the second row in the nifty field seats in front of the screens with our cameras and so if I wait to go through all 650 pictures I took I will never write an entry.

Wada had a no-hitter going through 4.2 innings -- really through 6.1, but they called a Benny bloop a hit, even though Nakazawa and Shibahara lost the ball in the sun and allowed it to drop. Shunsuke, on the other hand, gave up a whole bunch of scattered hits and runs and came out of the game shortly after giving up a home run to Mitsuru Honma in the 7th inning, behind 4-0. But the Marines rallied back to get 3 runs in their half of the 7th. Larry stopped by in the 8th and I told him to apologize to Shunsuke for me for the bad luck I brought him again. He said, "No problem, we're going to win today."

So with the score at 4-3 going into the bottom of the 9th, CJ Nitkowski came in for the save (since Mahara's having shoulder problems I'm not really clear on who's the Hawks' closer) and Takehara led off with a double, then Benny grounded out moving Takehara to third. I was positive Saburo would hit another sac fly, but Shibahara smartly let his pop foul fly fall instead of catching it; instead, Saburo walked. Imae also walked. Bases loaded for... Masahiko Tanaka! (No, the Rakuten pitcher is Masahiro.) Tanaka hit a single to left and it was 4-4! Then Keisuke Hayasaka grounded to third, but Matsuda threw home for the force out on Saburo. Two outs. The next batter was Tsuyoshi Nishioka, and he was 0-for the day, so you could say he was due. And do he did, hitting a low liner to left, Imae running home and the entire team running out to dump water on Nishioka and to, er, "congratulate" Tanaka and Nishioka:

And this is how they treat their game heroes.

I feel a little bit bad for CJ Nitkowski, actually, but that's another story.

Anyway, I have a bazillion pictures to go through and miles to go before I sleep. I'll write another entry about the game soon, I promise.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Been Caught Stealin'

I just wanted to point this out since it might look odd to anyone reading the box scores:

Friday night, Fighters 3, Buffaloes 2

In the first inning, you'll notice the sequence of Hichori walked, Kensuke walked, Inaba walked, Shinji Takahashi (playing first base again!) hit a popout to center, and that's the inning. Sounds odd, right? Well, Hichori got caught stealing second for one out... and then Kensuke got caught stealing second for the second out. So when Inaba walked, that didn't load the bases but instead put one runner on with two out. Hence, the three walks and a fly out for one inning. I know, you were also hoping for some kind of bizarre triple play on the pop out, weren't you?

Also, because I haven't seen it in English anywhere (though I don't always read enough articles), you know the back-to-back-to-back home runs the other night by the Giants? Off Kenshin Kawakami? If I'm reading this correctly, the last time the Giants had back-to-back-to-back homers was on June 19, 1999 -- Kiyohara, batting fourth, Yoshinobu, batting fifth, and Domingo Martinez, batting sixth. (Matsui was batting third that day, but wasn't part of the festivities.)

I got home tonight after work just in time to NOT see any of the Giants-Tigers came on TV, as it ended relatively early. Instead, though, I saw a couple of NHK history clips of the old V9 Giants and the 1985 Tigers, and they showed the back-to-back-to-back homeruns of Bass, Kakefu, and Okada. Good timing!

I'm going down to Chiba tomorrow. Please remind me NOT to mention how Shota Ohba completely owned Lotte tonight. I might get punched. But still... SIXTEEN STRIKEOUTS, which is one away from Hideo Nomo's rookie record of 17 in one game. That's amazing. I was saying a few months ago that Ohba even LOOKS like Kazumi Saitoh. Ohba and Kume could really turn out to be the prizes of this year's draft, it seems (even with Kume's bizarre eyebrows).

Friday, April 04, 2008

Gaikokumoku (or, other crazy things happen on Thursday too)

I promised the Lotte Marines Mind Control Task Force that I'd mention this here, since I was whining at him about how I can't even GO to Chiba on Thursdays due to work. But maybe there are people reading this who can go...

Basically, they're going to try starting an "International Zone" at Marines home Thursday night games, and encourage people to come watch the game and chat in English. Will it work? Who knows. Does that matter? Not really. Should you go? Hell yeah!

I'm mostly copying and pasting this from an email (minus the subliminal messages), so here you go. No official website to link to about it yet, but if it works out well I'm sure there will be!


Hey all you friendly, fun-loving foreigners, Thursday Night is officially the un-official “International Night” for the Chiba Lotte Marines! If that makes any sense in any language, please let us know!

Come join us in the fabulous new “Left Stand Deck” in Marine Stadium for every Thursday night home game to make new friends, drink a few beers or sodas or just tea and cheer on the greatest team in Japan!

Tickets are only 2,300 yen and are available:

· www.marines.co.jp
· Marine Stadium Box office: Open daily from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
· E-mail Larry Rocca, captain of the Mind Control Task Force, rocca(at)marines.co.jp for help or any other inquiries

As an added bonus, Peter Gallante, the founder, CEO and world renowned host of japanesepod101 will be at the first gathering on April 17, so buy your tickets now, as supplies are limited!

See you at the ballpark on April 17, when the Marines will crush the Golden Eagles!

Or on April 24, when the Marines will slay the Lions!

Or on May 1, when the Marines will so thoroughly embarrass their opponents as to have them consider disbanding!

Or, if you are an alcoholic and have no job, on all 3 nights!

And don’t forget those wild and wacky GAIKOKUMOKU nights are not just for home games anymore!

Anyone who wants to pound beers, watch the Marines on TV and heckle, in English, the executive formerly known as M-Crash (don't ask) should join Larry Rocca at the “Marines Official Sports Bar” at Kaihin-Makuhari Station for every Thursday night ROAD game.

First gathering of “gaijin needing just the slightest sliver of an excuse to drink beers together” is at 6:00 p.m. on April 10, Marines versus the sucky Lions.

The Marines Official Sports Bar is located next to the Lotteria hamburgers in the Plena Mall on the left as you walk in the direction of Marine Stadium. No Bobby Burgers at the bar, sorry!

In other words, Larry really needs a beer. You'd need a beer too if your team had just gotten swept by the Rakuten Golden Eagles.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Never Could Get The Hang of Thursdays

So, first off, today was the birthday of Yoshinobu Takahashi (Giants, 33) and Koji Uehara (Giants, 33) and Iron Man Tomoaki "Aniki" Kanemoto (Hanshin, 40). Strangely, I've known Yoshinobu's birthday for a long time and Kanemoto's, but somehow I had never made the connection that Uehara and Yoshinobu were born on the exact same day. Crazy, since they are both kind of the "Face of the Giants" sorts of players.

Chunichi's Kenshin Kawakami was handling the Giants just fine tonight until Yoshinobu remembered it was his birthday, sometime around the middle of the 7th inning, and he said "Wait a minute, today is my birthday, I'm not supposed to be grounding out!" And so he hit a home run into the first few rows of Dragons fans in the left field stands. Yoshiyuki Kamei followed that up with another home run into the right field stands, and to add insult to insults, Ogasawara's clean-shaven doppleganger, who had already hit a home run in the 4th inning, ALSO followed that up with a home run into the right field stands. Back to back to back. Kenshin was just like "WTF?" That made it 6-5 and thus the Giants won their first game of the year.

I'm also a bit saddened by Wednesday's Giants-Dragons game. Masa Yamamoto was the starting pitcher for Chunichi, leading many Dragons fans to say, "Masa ka?" But the 43-year-old lefty was actually doing just fine... until he threw his back out in the second inning. Wei-yin Chen did pretty well in long relief, and despite Tetsuya I-Love-You-Please-Switch-Teams Utsumi striking out half of the people in the Tokyo Dome, the Dragons still won 3-0. But I'm worried about Masa. This is supposed to be one of his GOOD years.

On a Dragonbutt note, I don't know which I want more: Ochiai to move Morino up in the lineup to 3rd where he's supposed to be (watch, now when the Moeyo Dragons 2008 CD comes out next week it'll have "Nana-ban Morino" and I'll cry), or for Kazuhiro Wada to wake up his bat enough so I don't mind. Today was a nice start, I suppose. And, as an aside, Morino was a crossword puzzle answer in last week's Shube: 中日の背番号31.なぜかマスコットのドアラに似ていると言われる--将彦選手. ("Chunichi #31. Some people say he looks like the mascot Doala. Masahiko _____.") I was working on the puzzle on the train and nearly fell out of my seat when I saw that :)

Darvish was the starting pitcher tonight for the Fighters, and he got 9 strikeouts in 7 innings. Some guys on the Fighters even decided it'd be a cool idea to hit the baseball with their bat a few times and thus they won 6-2 but I am hugely, hugely, hugely worried about Makoto Kaneko. Usually our fearless leader has all glove and no bat, but in this case I'm SERIOUSLY wondering where he left his bat, being as he has gotten all of ONE HIT this year so far, in 28 plate appearances. I hope he figures things out soon. We seriously had Shinji Takahashi playing first base tonight, and given that I'm not sure he's done that before in his career, makes me wonder what the heck's going on. I mean, I know we need the SHINJI SMASH!!!! bat in the lineup, and in all fairness Tsuruoka is a better defensive catcher and he is also fortunately ON FIRE these days, but really, Shinji's a better option at first base than Terrmel Sledge? Really? That's kind of frightening.

Speaking of SMASH, Takeshi Yamasaki smashed his 300th career home run today in a 9-1 whipping of the Chiba Lotte Marines by the Rakuten Golden Eagles. Hisashi Iwakuma is finally getting some good karma, which he really deserves after all the crap he's been through, particularly that heartbreaker when Domingo Guzman chewed up and spit out his win on Opening Day. After starting out the season 0-4, Rakuten won their next 7 games straight for a club-best winning streak AND they are now in first place for the first time ever. Nomura-kantoku always comes out and says some bizarre quotes after the game, but today when they interviewed him on the news, he just stepped out and said "どうもすみません.また勝っちゃった." ("I'm sorry. Unfortunately, we won again.")

MLB Flakes

A few days ago I mentioned that Calbee 2008 Pro Yakyu chips are officially out. Given that BBM isn't releasing the 2008 Series 1 cards until April 17th (at least that's what the kind folks down at the Jimbocho branch of Mint told me last weekend when I stopped by), Calbee is what we've got for now. I was at the supermarket last night for my normal grocery shopping trip, and grabbed three bags of Pro Yakyu Chips because I'm incredibly weak-willed. (Cards: Hiroshima's Masayuki Hasegawa, Hawks' Tsuyoshi Wada, and Chunichi's Kazuhiro Wada. Whatta lotta Wada.)

So I'm thinking about how unhealthy it is to bundle baseball cards with potato chips, and I round the corner to the breakfast/tea aisle, and I can't believe what I see on display there:

Yes, this is some kind of tie-in from Kellogg's. As far as I can tell, they're putting MLB baseball cards inside BREAKFAST CEREAL boxes. Which isn't all too strange in some senses; I certainly remember wanting to collect cereal toys when I was a kid (and my mom telling me no). But as an answer to Pro Yakyu Chips it's pretty funny!

There's also a chance to get "MLB Rare Goods" like baseballs and jerseys.

"Corn Frosties", "Genmai Flakes", "Frostie Crunch", and "Coco-kun no Chocowa".

I've been requested to bring back some genmai flakes for a friend when I go to the US in a week or two anyway. This is a perfect excuse to buy them! (But I didn't think of that last night.)

The only thing that'd be better is if they had Japanese player tie-ins for these, like Fukumori Flakes or Fukudome Frosties. Although, come to think of it, given the Mariners' opening day game, "Fukumori Flakes" isn't really that far off.


Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Game Report: Marines vs. Buffaloes - Rhodes Collar

I went down to Chiba Marine Stadium on Sunday afternoon to celebrate Shunsuke Day. For whatever unknown reason, it seems that whenever I actually get to watch Shunsuke Watanabe pitch in Chiba, though, it rains, without fail. (I figure it's because "Chiba Lotte Marines" anagrams to "Hi! Come battle rains!")

Nonetheless, I sat up in Row 26 with some of Team 26 and cheered for Shunsuke, who handled his first 26 batters pretty well.

He throws from a hand down under. Can you hear the thunder?

I should perhaps first explain that I was there as a guest of the Lotte Marines Mind Control Task Force, which is how I ended up sitting right under the press box. To my left was an old guy who has been a Lotte fan for approximately ninety billion years who hates the Fighters, and to my right was the Murata family, who kidnapped me and brought me to the stadium and then had their 9-year-old son hypnotize me and force me to sing the Marines songs, and one section over was a heckler who threatened to kill all non-Marines fans, and...

...no, I'm mostly making that up. Max is a great kid though. And the heckler is really a nice guy. And the old guy didn't actually hate the Fighters but he kept needling me about all the players they've lost over the last few years (as well as tell me random stories about Marines players; I didn't know Daisuke Hayakawa was from Funabashi). And I wasn't really kidnapped; rather, I got a ride down to Chiba with them from Tokyo. But I really was there as a guest of the Lotte Marines Mind Control Task Force. More on that later.

I scribbled scorecards, munched on a Bobby Burger, did some Chiba cheers, and then the game got going.

(Yes, they have Bobby Burgers at the stadium Lotteria. We don't have them up here in Saitama, so this was my first chance to try one. It was also surreal to see the Philly cheesesteak stands selling Ivar's clam chowder, which is a crazy hybrid of two of my "hometowns". All they'd need is pierogies and my brain would explode.)

I spent the first inning trying to play with the focus on my camera to take pictures of Shunsuke from behind the homeplate netting. As you can see if you look at my game picture set, I sort of succeeded but not really. What was really great was the angle we were at; it looked like he was throwing the ball up towards us. Seeing that through a camera zoom lens was even crazier, like when you watch a 3-D movie and things start flying towards you.

In the second inning, Orix got off to two outs fairly quickly when Arihito Muramatsu grounded into a double play after Greg LaRocca singled. But then shortstop Mitsutaka Gotoh smacked a double to left, and Shinji Shimoyama singled him home. 1-0.

The Marines almost got a run in their half of the second. Saburo led off with a double to center, and then Ohmatsu grounded out weakly up the line, advancing Saburo. Orix starter Hidetaka Kawagoe then hit Julio Zuleta with a pitch, in the shoulder. So with runners at first and third... Satozaki, who was DHing, struck out throwing his bat away. Oops. But then catcher Hashimoto walked, loading the bases. Shunichi Nemoto, in his second plate appearance of the year, struck out. Called. He seemed kind of confused by it.

Zuleta has just been hit by a pitch and is not too happy about it.

Satozaki says, "HEY! COME BACK HERE, YOU OLD BAT!"

The next few innings went pretty quickly, and the rain started up more and more. There were a lot of close calls and a couple scattered hits, but that was it. Kawagoe called a timeout for a possible injury in the 6th inning, and then in the 7th ended up giving up one run to the Marines; Hashimoto singled, Nemoto singled, Nishioka grounded out. With two outs runners at second and third, and people yelling all kinds of encouragement at Daisuke Hayakawa (the heckler yelled "Don't do it for us, do it for Shunsuke!!"), he grounded back to the mound. OR DID HE? Kawagoe couldn't get ahold of the ball in time and so everyone advanced a base safely, Hashimoto scoring on the play. 1-1! Third baseman Jose Ortiz grounded into a fielder's choice after that.

(I point out that Jose Ortiz was playing third, because Imae wasn't playing at all. I guess since Imae's been ON FIRE lately they were afraid the rain might extinguish him or something. Alternately, maybe it was just a way to get another left-handed bat in the lineup with Nemoto.)

One pretty cool thing about the new features at Chiba Marine Stadium is that they use the "Auroravision" screen that goes around the infield to show all of the out-of-town scores between some innings. And even cooler, we got to see in realtime that the Yakult Swallows -- predicted to finish last in the CL -- had finished sweeping the Yomiuri Giants out of Jingu this weekend.

Shunsuke was still out there pitching into the 8th. Ex-Fighter Kuniyuki Kimoto grounded out, but then Takeshi Hidaka hit a double to center -- his second double of the day, even. Sakaguchi hit a popup for the second out, but then Masahiro Abe hit a low line drive to right field, over a jumping Nemoto. Saburo threw the ball in and Zuleta got the cutoff, but not in time to catch Hidaka at the plate. 2-1. Then, uh... that Tuffy Rhodes fellow came up to the plate, and he took the first pitch he saw and WHAM it went flying over the centerfield wall for a home run. 4-1, and Shunsuke was out of the game.

Ogino came in to pitch and also seemed to have some trouble at first -- he hit Greg LaRocca with a pitch and walked Muramatsu, but then Gotoh grounded out and that was it for the top of the 8th.

Kazuya Motoyanagi pitched an eventless bottom of the 8th, and Brian Sikorski struck out two in a 1-2-3 top of the 9th. Orix closer Daisuke Katoh came in to pitch the bottom of the 9th. Katoh is actually a really good pitcher, and can throw in the mid-to-upper 140's and some pretty great stuff at that. I wonder how long it'll take Orix to trade him away for a sack of beans?

(Just kidding.)

Actually, it wasn't that easy a save for him. Satozaki led off by finally getting a hit, and while Hashimoto struck out on a checked swing called third strike, Nemoto literally fouled off 6 balls in a row to the third-base stands; when he finally hit a ball the correct direction, it was caught in right field for the second out. Tsuyoshi Nishioka singled after that to get Satozaki to third, but Hayakawa also hit a big blooping fly ball to left field for the last out of the game. Winner: Kawagoe. Loser: Shunsuke. Save: Katoh. Score: 4-1. Rain: still going.

Morozumi says: "No, kid, second base is THAT way. Yes, your hair looks fine with those gloves."

Anyway, the Lotte Marines Mind Control Task Force, otherwise known as Larry Rocca, came up and visited us halfway through the game for a bit, and then afterwards he took our small posse (me, the Murata family, and a guy who's doing international relations for Chiba prefecture named Benjamin, and his friend whose name I never caught) into the "backstage" of the stadium briefly and we got to meet a few assorted cast members of the Marines. I met Paul, the "Minister of Information" behind the Marines, who Westbay had mentioned to me several times, so it was neat to put a face to the stats and chat a bit about Seattle. There were some other people around, coaches and whatnot, and literally like 40 feet away from us there were a crowd of reporters interviewing Shunsuke Watanabe (or, as Larry put it, "hey Deanna, look over there, it's your boy... you can kind of see him in the postgame media swarm."), and then Bobby Valentine actually came down the hallway. And Larry introduced me, and I got to shake hands with Bobby, and he actually knew who I was, and I was completely flabbergasted, and the rest of it is kind of a blur (except for where he's got me thinking about ways to translate Korean box scores, but that's another story). And I wish I got pictures of any of this, but alas, I didn't. Maybe some other time.

Afterwards, I got a ride back to Tokyo with the Muratas, who gave me a Marines flag. So now I can wave a flag and yell "BA! MO! FLIO!!" with everyone in Chiba, which is the Japanese version of "Vamos Julio!" for Zuleta. No, really.

(Also, in case you are wondering, no, this is NOT a permanent blog name/color change. What's today's date? I did this last year too...)