Tuesday, July 29, 2008

My Weekend in Fukuoka

If I try to write full entries about all this I never will, so here's me trying to summarize everything quickly, since I need to get on a plane back to Tokyo in the morning so I can be at work tomorrow afternoon. But, basically, I have now completed a tour of seeing all current 12 teams at their home stadiums -- when I tried to do it two years ago I left off Sapporo and Fukuoka. Now I guess I need to work on minor league parks, or independent leagues, maybe...

Sunday afternoon -- Marines 2, Hawks 3 at Yahoo Dome

First, I need to profusely thank batting coach Frank Ramppen for leaving me a ticket to this game. The Chiba Lotte Marines have been very good to me this year despite that I still refuse to stop being a Fighters fan first and foremost. So I went into the stadium, and despite my seat being out on the 3rd base line, I snuck down to the netting behind home plate during batting practice. I got Paul Pupo's attention and waved and yelled "PAUL!!! FRANK!!! BOBBY!!! HI THERE! THANK YOU!!!! GOOD LUCK!!!!"

Paul pointed up at me and Bobby and Frank waved to me. The people around me were like "Whoa! Bobby-manager waved to her!"

I wandered around a bit and took pictures, talked to some people (met a crazy Hawks fan named Yukawa, she was really funny), got a Kawasaki bento for lunch (it's labelled as "most popular lunch for women"), and watched the game. I was sitting with this family of people, where there were three boys that were all Hawks fans and the parents were all Marines fans. I was wearing a Watanabe #31 shirt and doing the Lotte cheers.

Tsuyoshi Nishioka led off the game with a home run off Tsuyoshi Wada. No joke. Then the next three batters struck out. The Hawks tied it up in the bottom of the first, and the game stayed at 1-1 for a loooong time, with the Marines finally going up 2-1 in the top of the 8th by essentially scraping together a run. As for Shunsuke, he almost got another complete game, but then with one out in the ninth, Hiroki Kokubo hit a home run over the centerfield wall to bring it to 2-2 and make the game go into extra innings, and I pretty much figured the Marines were doomed from that point on.

Oh yeah, and Shunsuke pitched his 1000th inning in that 8th inning as well, and they gave him flowers for it.

The Hawks' Mahara is back from the dead and pitched a decent inning, and Marines Yusuke Kawasaki also pitched a decent inning (now that I have stalked him, he will do well. Seriously) but then Ogino gave up the ship in the bottom of the 12th. Sigh.

One of the vendors came up to me in the top of the 9th and looked at me and took a deep breath and said in English, "Excuse me, would you like some lemon chu-hai?" and I said "No, that's okay", then told him in Japanese, "Your English is very good, perfect, I'm just not thirsty." He laughed and moved on.

Speaking of English, the Hawks have this blonde announcer/emcee named Max who does all of these announcements there, about 70% in Japanese and about 30% in English. His Japanese is fluent, although he speaks kind of funny at times, I think it's on purpose though. "Max Time", they call his segments. I'm not really sure what's up with them, if I have any readers who actually live in Kyushu, feel free to clue me in. (I see some stuff about "DJ Max" on their site but...) It's a bit weird to me because I couldn't believe the sheer amount of "OMFG A GAIJIN" treatment I got this weekend in Fukuoka, seriously.

After the game, to let off steam, I went down to the beach near the Dome, walked around a bit, and took some pictures. This one came out with an odd perspective, but I like it:


Sunday Night -- Mint Fukuoka

Yeah, look, I couldn't think of a better excuse to wander around the Tenjin area of downtown Fukuoka, so I went to hunt down their Mint store. A short review of it would be that it's nothing special, they did have some great old cards (saw a Bob Horner Calbee 1987 card for 1000 yen and cracked up), and a TON of Hawks stuff, naturally. I bought a Fukubukuro for 1000 yen since it's been a while and inside was a Carp pack, a Hawks pack, a Fighters pack, a normal BBM 2008 pack, AND a Takahiro Arai numbered 491/500 gold signature card from 2003 BBM 2nd. Nice. I got another Fighters pack and man, the first one I opened had Tadano on top and the second had Imanari. Two of my favorite guys! Win!

Then I wandered around downtown Fukuoka for a while. Ended up in the underground mall maze and found a sushi place and tried some random stuff I'd never heard of, all of which was good, at least.

I got home and saw the last inning of the Dragons-Tigers game on TV, and saw Iwase close it out, and MASA 199!!!!!!! I'm so, so, so excited for him, and so glad I got to see him pitch this year!

Monday afternoon - Gannosu, Dragons farm team vs. Hawks farm team

You know how CJ Nitkowski occasionally complains about how much the minor leagues suck here? Well, he's totally not kidding. Dear god, Gannosu stadium officially ranks near the top of my "I went to the middle of freaking nowhere for baseball" list. I thought Fighters Town Kamagaya was pretty bad since it's like in the middle of fields and farms 2km from the station, but at least Kamagaya station has a STATION. You know, with station-y things like bathrooms, and ticket gates, and an office, and buses and taxis. Gannosu stadium is like 15 minutes from the station, and Gannosu station is like... a bench on either side, with a box that says "please put your ticket here". There is basically nothing near there. There's a taxi "station" a bit down the road and it basically says "here's a phone number to call if you need a taxi". It all looks like it's straight out of the 1960's there.

Which is actually COOL in a way.

But not on a day when it's 36 degrees out (that's 97 to you guys on the other side of the pond). I walked to the stadium and arrived just as the game was starting, and sat down on the Dragons side. The people were at least nice -- one girl chatted with me since she's from Aichi, and is a big Masa fan, and I told her I love Morino and today was his birthday and all, heh. She asked me whether I like baseball better in Japan or in America. I told her Japan; she couldn't believe it, but I was like, "It's more fun here, cheering for teams. And it doesn't feel like it's all about money. I enjoy going to baseball games here more than I did in America."

I took pictures of many young Dragons players, especially the Donoue brothers, and I also saw Jason Standridge start the game for the Hawks and Mike Restovich was the Hawks DH. I couldn't stand the heat after about an hour and a half though -- my towel was completely drenched with sweat and I had drunk both bottles of water I brought. I did get up and go over to the Hawks side for a bit on my way out but so many kids were like "omfg there's a gaijin" that I just gave up and left. I had hoped to see CJ Nitkowski and say hello, but after reading his blog that he accidentally put the wrong gas in his car this morning, it's probably a good thing I didn't see him.

Also, old men yelling rude things in Japanese at foreign players, and then justifying it with "He doesn't understand me anyway", really piss me off.

Oh, also, just as a side note, I was astounded that Gannosu Stadium actually DID have one western toilet stall in the bathroom (even the Yahoo Dome toilets are primarily Japanese-style, I swear), BUT it had a huge spider web in it, complete with huge spider. Gross. It reminded me of summer camp.

It took me over an hour to get back to the hotel here -- after walking back to the station and literally drinking two more bottles of tea and sports drink on the way -- I had to take the JR Kashii line from Gannosu to Kashii, transfer to a real train on the Kagoshima line to Hakata, then at Hakata transfer to the subway line, get off at Tojinmachi, and then I took a taxi here, because I realized I had all the symptoms of heatstroke going on -- big headache, dizziness, big thirst, etc, so walking 20 minutes in the sun seemed like a dumb call. I spent an hour or two at the hotel just trying to cool down and rehydrate and all, then headed over to the Yahoo Dome.

Note: The JAL Seahawk Resort Hotel is really AWESOME if you want to come to Fukuoka just to see baseball games. It is not so great if you want to do OTHER things around town and don't have a car, because the nearest subway stop is 20 minutes away, and even the buses take like 30 minutes to get to Hakata station, so I've taken more taxis this weekend than in my entire time living in Japan, I think. But seriously, it's a very nice hotel and there's plenty of stuff to do nearby, and it's neat to be able to just walk back and collapse after a Hawks game without having to brave any transit systems or whatnot.

Monday night, Fighters 10, Hawks 2 at Yahoo Dome

So yeah, I got here around 4:20 right when the gates were opening, went to the left field unreserved seats, which is essentially the "opposing team cheering section". Fukuoka has the same thing going on as Sapporo, where they're the local team on ANOTHER FREAKING ISLAND. So they kind of own the baseball fandom here, and thus 95% of the stadium is Hawks territory. I didn't expect to see a lot of Fighters fans down here, to be honest. But, I came in and saw other people wearing Fighters gear, and asked if there were free seats, and a lady was like "Yah, come sit here in the second row", so I did.

I went down to the top of the outfield wall to take pictures of pitchers. I saw Tadano and Darvish playing catch with Miyanishi, which was fun enough, but then the CRAZIEST thing happened. I yelled down to Brian Sweeney as he was walking by and waved. "HEY BRIAN!!"

He looked up. And even weirder, he walked over towards the outfield wall to talk to me! "Hey," he said, "I know you, don't I?"

"You do?"

"Yeah! You're the blog chick, aren't you!"

"Yeah, I am!" I said, thinking to myself, WAIT A MINUTE, THE FIGHTERS GUYS KNOW ABOUT ME AND MY BLOG? "I'm Deanna."

"Nice to meet you," he said. "Don't you live in Tokyo?"

"Well, yeah," I said.

"What the heck are you doing HERE?"

"Oh, you know, the usual, stalking you guys around the country. I'm going to Sendai next weekend too."

"Is this your first time here?"

"Yeah. Well, yesterday was..."

"Well, great, enjoy the game today!" he said.

"You too! Good luck! Thanks a lot!" I said, as he waved and ran off.

I turn around, my heart pounding, and there's literally a whole group of people (in Hawks jerseys) gaping at me. I kind of blushed and nodded. An older lady smiled and said to me in Japanese, "Is he your friend?"

"No, that is the first time I ever talked to him!" I replied in Japanese. "I write a website about Japanese baseball and the Fighters, so..."

"Wow, you speak great Japanese! And great English! Good for you!"

That was REALLY surprising. But cool. But surprising. Even hours later I'm still kind of stunned at myself for actually talking to him, and even more stunned that he knew who I was! Wow! (I mean, sure, I'm sure they all think I'm a total nutcase, but you know, in Japan, travelling halfway across the country to cheer for your team is a perfectly NORMAL way to be a sports fan. Really.)

I ran off and wandered around the stadium some more, got a Wada bento for dinner this time, and settled down to cheer the opening lineups and whatnot.

The Fighters got off to a super-quick 3-0 lead after the first inning, and it just escalated from there. We even got to see MAKOTO KANEKO HIT A HOME RUN in the 6th which was seriously awesome and surprising. The Fighters just totally kicked butt and murdered Hawks starter Jeremy Powell, whereas Fighters starter Masaru Takeda, despite running into a few bumpy points, did awesome overall, 7 innings, striking out 8, walking 2. The lady sitting next to me was a huge Masaru fan so she was super-happy.

Also, we got to do the Inaba Jump, and lots of fun cheers, and it was just generally pretty awesome being out in the Fighters cheering section and cheering my guts out. AND I was on the big screen TWICE with crazy Fighters fans during the Lucky 7 singing/etc. I was the only one in total Hichori Green, so I really stood out. And I also got a text message from Hiromi like "How's Fukuoka? I just saw you on TV!" I wonder if I can get ahold of that somehow :)

There was a crazy old guy they were calling "Ham Oyaji" who was just plain nuts and would run around and yell a lot despite not being officially ouendan. He came over and talked to me for a while about my scorecard. Oh yeah, and Shinjo's parents or godparents or something like that were sitting a few rows behind us -- he's from Fukuoka afterall.

After the game we all went outside to do the postgame cheering. That seems common at the Yahoo Dome, the Hawks fans did that on Sunday too. Was fun though. The ladies who were sitting around me during the game said to please come back and cheer with them again someday, so we'll see.

I'm like the Jolly Green Giant-hater.

Now uh... err... well, I need to wake up in like 6 hours to fly back to Tokyo. Yikes! I promise there'll be lots of pictures and videos sometime.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Game Report: Baystars vs. Carp @ Hiroshima -- Wild Thing, You Make My Heart Sting

Saturday morning I flew down to Fukuoka, wandered around the Yahoo Dome and Hawks Town area until I could check into my hotel at 2pm, and then, as happy as I was to finally set foot in Kyushu... I took a shinkansen train to Hiroshima in order to see the Baystars play the Carp at Hiroshima Municipal Stadium. The Carp are going to have a new stadium in 2009, so I was hoping to get down there to see another game there before it's too late. I'd been there two years ago when I also did touristy stuff around Hiroshima, but this time I was going to sit in the outfield and cheer, which I didn't do last time.

(By the way, speaking of doing things before it's too late: you may or may not know that I'm an alum of Carnegie Mellon University, and I studied computer science, and thus while I never knew Randy Pausch that well, I had been checking his updates page every day or two, and learned of his death while I was packing for my Kyushu trip. It hit a lot of people pretty hard, and my thoughts go out to his family and friends.)

So, I arrived in Hiroshima city at 4:40pm, got on a streetcar, and arrived at the stadium around 5:15pm. I wasn't really expecting to recognize anyone, but bizarrely, the first person I saw walking out of the stadium as I was walking in was Uchiyama The Sign Guy. I said hi. He seemed as surprised to see me as I was to see him. Sadly, I didn't really see anyone else I recognized. I met some Baystars fans from Yamaguchi prefecture last summer so I thought maybe they'd be around, but oh well.

I found a bench seat in the midst of the ouendan and yelled my lungs out for three hours, in the hot humid Hiroshima haze. Several times I found myself in a kind of detatched state of just taking in the surroundings rather than really focusing on the game itself -- thinking things like, "this is the last time I'll see this view..."

It was actually a remarkably full stadium, all things considered. I think Hiroshima Carp fans are pretty crazy and intense -- I would even go so far as to say they are like Hanshin fans in their energy and dedication, the difference being that since they're all the way out in freaking Hiroshima (the furthest CL team from Tokyo), and there are a lot less of them, and the team hasn't won a pennant since the start of the Heisei period, they kind of get thrown under the rug. I've mostly seen their fans as "away fans" in Tokyo, and it's really nothing like the full effect of having the entirety of Hiroshima Municipal Stadium filled with people in white and red jerseys alternating sitting and standing and yelling and singing.

But, well, I showed up with the intention of being a Baystars fan for the day. I would not mind being a Carp fan in an alternate galaxy, though.

Away team ouendan in the outfield.

Crazy guy wearing a star over his head. Not crazy because it's a star, crazy because it was so hot outside I can't imagine wearing something like that.

I'm totally stalking Sign Guy from now on.

The Shimonoseki gang.

I have to stop for a minute and point out why the Shimonoseki gang are actually pretty cool. See, I didn't actually notice what their jerseys said until halfway through the game. (If you don't have images on, there's a guy wearing a jersey that says "球団発祥の地 下関") It means, "birthplace of the team - Shimonoseki". And so suddenly my brain makes the connection that the team that eventually became the Baystars did infact start out in 1950 in Shimonoseki, although they were only there for a few years before moving east. I suppose these guys are the equivalent of current Brooklyn Dodgers fans, but still, first it explains why there are bunches of random Baystars fans in Yamaguchi, and second, it's just plain cool to honor the team's history that way.

Also, I should point out that pink entryway. In the upper outfield, if you go through that entry, literally all that is on the other side is a bathroom. The pink one leads to a women's bathroom and the blue one leads to a men's bathroom. The "concessions" are underneath the lower outfield entryway, but there isn't much to them either. There's a lot to be said for the coziness and the history of Hiroshima Stadium, but at the same time, they really DO need a new ballpark.

Anyway, there was a baseball game. Dave Williams started for the Baystars and Michito Miyazaki started for the Carp. You know, I think I only went to one Carp game last year too, and Miyazaki also started that one. I thought he was a good choice when the Carp drafted him -- they seemed to be going for high industrial league guys who could make an immediate contribution to the team, and he had been part of the Chiben Wakayama steamroller and then decent with Honda Suzuka. But so far he has a career 3-10 record with the Carp, and is 0-5 this year. Hrm.

As for Dave Williams, I remember when he came up with the Pirates, since I still lived in Pittsburgh then, but that's about it.

Anyway, the Baystars kept putting lots of guys on base and leaving them there and it got really annoying. They left 3 guys on in the first, 2 in the second, and even 3 in the third AGAIN, although at least they scored one run in that third inning. Murata tripled (!!!) and Yoshimura doubled him in, but nothing else happened.

Tatsuhiko Kinjoh was all levels of fantastic in the outfield; I have a whole bunch of "8!!" and "8!" plays written down; somersaults, amazing runs in to shallow center, etc. I still can't believe he is THIRTY-TWO YEARS OLD. Today, as a matter of fact -- his birthday is July 27 1976. I don't know why, but I always think of him as being this young hotshot. (I guess, though, Saburo is also 32 now and I think of HIM as a young hotshot too.)

The Carp tied up the game at 1-1 in the bottom of the 5th after Murata booted the ball on a grounder from pitcher Miyazaki, who would eventually score after a sac bunt and a single; first RBI for Alex Ochoa.

This game convinced me that yeah, the Baystars have their outfield defense okay, but their infield defense really needs work. I'm not just bemoaning the lack of Takuro (who I later found out is on the DL right now), but yeah, those guys don't get to a lot. Saeki playing first was funny -- he made an easy play look difficult at one point and the Shimonoseki guys were yelling things like "that's gonna get you a golden glove for sure, Saeki!"

On the other hand, Yoshimura seems to have gotten a lot better in the outfield, at least the times I've seen him playing. In the 6th he made this awesome play, there were runners at first and second and a pinch-hitting Koichi Ogata singled to right and Yoshimura fielded it, came in, and sent the ball SCORCHING home, he had Ishihara out at the plate by like 20 feet. Since the Baystars had actually managed to score a run in the top of the 6th to make it 2-1, that play was HUGE, keeping the lead.

Speaking of Saeki, I took a video of his fanfare/ouenka. I figure I've gotten Murata's enough times, after all:

As with all Baystars games, the ending is anticlimactic. They had a 2-1 lead going, and the potential for more, but then Fujita ran himself out of the top of the 8th; he was on second base when Toshihisa Nishi hit a ball out to center. Fujita had to run back to second to tag up, and then for whatever unknown reason decided to run to third, so he was easily thrown out there as well on an 8-7-5 double play (with LF Shigenobu Shima as cutoff man). Then Yukiya "Wild Thing" Yokoyama came in and gave up a home run in the bottom of the 8th to Ishihara, who I guess was angry about being tagged out at the plate. That made it 2-2, and I knew at that moment that there was no way the Baystars would possibly win the game.

Sure enough, they couldn't do anything in the top of the 9th, and then Alex Ochoa hit a two-run walkoff sayonara homer in the bottom of the 9th, ALSO off Yokoyama, winning the game 4-2 for the Carp.

I guess the good part is, I had a train ticket back for the last shinkansen at 10:52pm, and if it had seriously gone into extra innings I might have had to leave "early". As it is, the game finished around 9:50pm anyway.

The only funny thing about the last few innings was that Sign Guy had made a sign that said "UNENDING STYL" on it in English, among other things written in Japanese, and as he walked by me I wrote "STYLE" on a paper and yelled his name and held it up. He was like "Oh, whoops" and fixed it, and then he called me "sensei" the next few times he saw me. I'm not sure if that was good or obnoxious of me to point it out.

Ochoa was the game hero, and in the meantime I bugged someone to take a picture of me since this would be my last time in Hiroshima Stadium. Then I went outside, and saw people stalking the Baystars player bus, and I took a few pictures of the stadium front with the "thanks for all the dreams" sign, since I didn't get it on my way in:

I ended up walking from the stadium back to Hiroshima Station, because the streetcars were too full, I didn't feel like paying for a taxi, and I don't know the bus system. It's really only a mile or so back; Hiroshima is NOT a big city.

On the way back, I actually saw another foreigner, walking with a Japanese guy. I don't usually just talk to random strangers, but about 2/3 of the way to the station I realized the foreign guy had a Johjima t-shirt on under his Carp uniform, so I said "hey! wait a minute! are you from Seattle?"

Bizarrely, YES, he actually IS from Seattle, and is an exchange student from Central Washington University, studying in Kyoto. So I explained that I'd moved to Japan from Seattle, used to be a Mariners season ticket holder, etc. Talking about how awful the Mariners are these days pretty much took us for most of the rest of the walk back to the station, and was vaguely therapeutic.

I took the shinkansen back to Fukuoka. Sadly, it was not another N700. Those trains are NICE. This one was normal. I got back shortly after midnight, took the subway here to Tojinmachi, and then got stuck walking the 20 minutes back to my hotel (I'm staying next to the Yahoo Dome). It was like a ghost town at 12:30am, seriously -- but a really HOT ghost town, at like 30 degrees celsius. And then I got some rest and prepared for my REAL Kyushu adventure to begin in the morning.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Game Report: Lions vs. Marines @ Chiba -- Sunday Shunsuke's Seibu Shutout, Sweet Swings Score Sixteen

I wrote a little bit already about the July 20th game in Chiba, but here's a long rambling version about the game itself.

A little bit of backstory needs to come with this, though. See, I went to Chiba on July 6th also, for the Hawks-Marines game (never did post photos, just wrote Satozaki fanfiction about the game -- will rectify that sometime). Before that game, I hung out with Rob Smaal from the Asahi Shinbun, and got to briefly meet and talk to CJ Nitkowski, Rick Guttormson, Mike Restovich, and Brian Sikorski, all of whom are incredibly nice guys. (And after the game I also met Mike Pagliarulo by total random chance.) While hanging out with Rob on the field, we were joined by two of his former coworkers, Yayoi and Ono-san. They both speak excellent English, having both spent a significant amount of time living overseas. Yayoi is a Lotte fan, works for TBS, and is much bolder than I will ever be. She even encouraged me to go up and stand in the reporter throng around Sadaharu Oh, so now I have been about TEN feet away from the living legend!

I introduced them to Bobby and Larry (how bizarre is that?), and then I went to camp out in the camera well and watch the Hawks, while Yayoi and her friends went to go cheer in the rightfield stands. It turns out, though, that Yayoi is a gigantic Shunichi Nemoto fan. And I am a pretty big Nemoto fan myself. So we decided to try to stalk him after that July 6th game, but we failed miserably, and gave up after waiting around for about 10-15 minutes.

So, for July 20th, we basically had two goals:
1) Meet Nemoto
2) Cheer in the rightfield stands

No, seriously. I promised to help Yayoi stalk Nemoto if she would help me breach the Marines ouendan. Seems like a more than fair trade, right?

By total luck, I happened to end up on the same train as Yayoi heading to the stadium, so we walked over together. We got our passes, and Larry introduced us to a couple of the big Lotte ouendan people, including ouendan leader MAB-san, who I had met a few times before, and who promised to sneak us in unscathed.

Then we went on the field. Sadly, we didn't make it there until 11:30am, so not only had all the Marines finished practice already, but even the bigger names on Seibu were already off the field. Me being me, I still snapped photos of some people and pointed out various players. "See, there's manager Watanabe... and that over there, that's Tomoaki Satoh, otherwise known as 'NOT G.G.'... and there's Ginjiro Sumitani taking catcher's practice. He just turned 21 yesterday. And over there, that guy is Kenta Matsusaka. He has the same name kanji as Daisuke so sometimes he's very funny and says stuff like 'Hello, I am Seibu's Matsusaka. No, not THAT one.' Oh hey, and there's Gotoh. He played baseball with Matsuzaka in high school."

Yayoi's like "Why do you know all of this? You said you hate Seibu."

I answer, "I don't know. My brain is strange."

We wandered over to the Marines side after that, and found Alex. Alex is a journalism major from USC who has been interning with the Marines this summer. If you've been at the stadium this summer, you've probably seen him wandering around with a videocamera before the games. I met him at his first game on June 4th, and I guess apparently also saw him at his final game on Sunday. He produced a series of short videos about the Marines team and the fans and the stadium and various other things, and you will be able to see all of them on Bobby's website eventually.

While we were chatting with Alex, I noticed that Yusuke Kawasaki had finished signing photos for the fans, and was coming back towards the dugout, so I was like, "If I ask Kawasaki if we can get a picture with him, will you take it?"

"Sure," he said. And so I went over to Kawasaki, asked him, and he got a huge smile and was like "Of course!" He was very friendly to us, and we took two pictures. So
here we are with lefty reliever Yusuke Kawasaki.

And then other players started filtering out a little bit after that... Jose Ortiz came out, I waved and said hello. Strength coach Tachibana... a few others... and then Nemoto came out and I'm like "Don't look now, but there's your boy!" Yayoi wasn't sure what we should do. I was a bit surprised because she's usually so bold, but I guess he IS her favorite player. I'm still too nervous to talk to Satozaki or Shunsuke, after all. Anyway, Alex said that if we wanted to say or do something, we should do it soon, because the players were going to go onto the field for warmups shortly. He also offered to take a photo should we get the guts to ask for it.

So, of all people to do it, *I* went up to Shunichi Nemoto, and said in the most polite Japanese I could muster, "Excuse me, Mr. Nemoto-player, do you think it would be possible for my friends and I to take a photo with you?"

And he said sure. So we posed for a picture. He is actually not that much taller or bigger than I am, which I guess I knew, but didn't realize until he was standing RIGHT NEXT TO ME. I thanked him profusely and wished him good luck in the game. Yayoi, on the other hand, introduced herself to him, said she worked for TBS, and even GAVE HIM HER BUSINESS CARD. Haha!

So someday, when he is the best second baseman in Lotte history, or something like that, I will be able to say I met him in his breakout year :) Yay, Nemoto.

So, then we wanted to say hi to Bobby, only we hadn't seen him anywhere. I look around and also don't see Frank or Paul or any of the Marines staff I'm comfortable talking to, so what do I do? I ask the first foreigner I see, which happens to be, uh, Benny Agbayani.

"Hey, Benny?"
"Yeah, what?"
"Err.. do you have any idea where Bobby is?"
"I think he's still in his office."
"Oh, okay! Thanks! Good luck today!"

I'm sure Benny wondered why the hell three random women were standing in the dugout to begin with, but that's neither here nor there. :)

We went to Bobby's office, and Frank was in the hallway too, so he knocked on the door for us while we were lurking outside (don't ask how I had the guts to talk to Nemoto, yet couldn't knock on an office door). Bobby was signing jerseys, which I guess he has to do a lot. Larry was there too, so we all chatted for a bit. I told Bobby I was going to go cheer the team from the rightfield stands, and since it was Shunsuke Day, they were absolutely definitely going to win the game. Also told him I'd be in Kyushu next weekend and would probably come see the team in Fukuoka. He offered our fangirl trio a box of cakes that were sitting there. And then Yayoi and Ono-san exchanged business cards with Bobby. I asked for a card too, so now I have Bobby's card! How cool is that?

Well, that was more than enough pre-game excitement for quite a while, so we decided to make our way out to the stands, stopping to chat with Paul Pupo, Bobby's chief stathead, for a bit.

Me: "Paul, do you think the Marines will win today?"
Paul: "Nobody can predict the future, you know."
Me: "Let me reword that. How is Fumiya Nishiguchi this year? He doesn't look so good to me lately, but you actually would KNOW this stuff."
Paul: "His control's been pretty awful, that's all I can really say."
Me: "I'm going out to the rightfield stands to cheer, so I promise the Marines will win. Also, I'm going to stalk you guys in Fukuoka next weekend!"
Paul: "Really? You know, it's HOT in Kyushu right now..."

So, we made our way out to the concourse, and with a little bit of getting lost near Bar Magic, found our way to our seats. Yayoi and Ono had rightfield bleacher tickets, but I actually didn't have anything, just a media pass and a guarantee from the Lotte Marines Mind Control Task Force that it would be okay for me to sneak into the stands. We met another friend of hers, Mayu, when obtaining food. Mayu was totally decked out in Marines stuff too, and also came down from Saitama.

Yayoi claimed that "her friends were saving us some seats", but it turned out that actually, the OUENDAN LEADERS were saving us some seats. They put us pretty much right in the dead middle of their area; we were sitting between two of those large black banners that they hold up (and helped hold them up for half the game), and were given MVP flags to wave, and everything. I put on my Watanabe #31 shirt for the occasion, although I later commented that I "felt stupid wearing #31 when everyone else around me was wearing #26."

Here's me and Ono-san with our flags. Goal #2!

This guy led the ouendan cheers for the entire game, from a platform with a microphone and speaker system set up. If you have ever wondered why you can hear the ouen calls so loud, this is why.

A guy named Daigo came up to me and said in English, "Nice to meet you, I heard from Larry that you write a baseball blog. We are very crazy, and very violent, but please write nice things about us anyway, okay?"

And then I met a guy named Declan, who is this Irish dude who has seriously been in the Lotte ouendan for like 4 years, and yet Larry had never mentioned his existence to me before. Seriously, Dec even travels with the ouendan, sometimes plays drums, does all the chants, has the shirts, shows up 5 hours early to set up, goes to all the home games, and so on. He pointed out another older guy named Nevin who has also been with the ouendan for a few years. I have half a mind to see if I can interview both of them for this blog someday, but I didn't think of it until afterwards. Declan said he'd be gone for all of August on holiday anyway, so I guess I have time to think about it.

And then the game started and it was time to yell a whole lot. SHUNSUKE! SHUNSUKE! SHUNSUKE!

The first inning went by blazing fast, and so did the top of the second. In the bottom of the second, Saburo got a one-out single, and then Hashimoto doubled to right, the ball bouncing against the wall near us. Saburo had hesitated to see if the ball was caught, so he and Hashimoto were kinda in a leapfrog run which ended with them at second and third. Imae hit a sac fly which scored Saburo, and then Jose Ortiz singled home Hashimoto. 2-0.

Bottom of the third, Fukuura singled, and then a few batters later, Shoitsu Ohmatsu hit a home run to right field which landed about ten feet in front of where I was sitting. 4-0.

Bottom of the fourth, Jose Ortiz hit a home run to center. 5-0.

Jose Ortiz tips his hat after the crowd chants at him.

You might notice I say nothing about the Seibu offense. That is because there was none to speak of. Shunsuke allowed a hit in each of the first three innings, and then he did not allow another Seibu batter to reach base for the rest of the game. It was pretty amazing, given what a pounding most of Japan has taken from Seibu's batters this year.

But anyway, the Lotte offense kept rolling. I sang my parody lyrics for Nemoto's at-bat and he singled, and then Fukuura followed that with a hit-and-run single to move Nemoto to third, and then Satozaki followed that with another strikeout. Ohmatsu walked and the bases were loaded for SABUROOOOOOOOOOOO. I was sad that he had apparently changed his at-bat music, but maybe no, because no sooner had the strains of "Eikou no Kakehashi" faded out that Saburo took the first pitch he saw and BLAM sent it to left field. Nemoto and Fukuura went home, Ohmatsu went to third, and Lions manager Watanabe went to his bullpen. 7-0.

The Marines flags went up in the air for the first round of the Flag Theme, a ska song which I had heard a few times from across the stadium, but never quite like it is to be right in the middle of it all:

As you can see in that video, at the end of said flag theme, Hashimoto doubled to the left-center gap, scoring Ohmatsu. 8-0. Saburo moved to third, and thus Imae got his second sac fly of the day after that to send him home too. 9-0.

Normally, you would think a 9-0 lead was enough for anyone, but not the Marines, apparently. They continued to rough up Tetsuya Iwasaki well into the 6th inning, continually sending a barrage of hits over the head of Lions centerfielder Takumi Kuriyama.

Actually, Daisuke Hayakawa led off with a grounder towards first which bounced on the bag, or something. The Lions didn't field it, it was ruled fair, and he was safe at first. Then Nemoto hit the first of the "over Kuriyama" doubles to right center, scoring Hayakawa. 10-0. Fukuura followed that up with a single to center, scoring Nemoto. 11-0. Satozaki finally did NOT strike out, hitting another double to right-center over Kuriyama, scoring nobody. (15 RBI on the day and none of them belong to Satozaki.) Ohmatsu hit ANOTHER double to center over Kuriyama, scoring Fukuura and Satozaki, 13-0, and then Saburo came up to bat, at that score, and with no outs and Ohmatsu on base.

I don't know how long they've been doing this, but a new call for Saburo is like the two-syllable call most other teams have for some player (like the Fighters have two drumbeats, and then yell "KEN-SUKE!!!" for Kensuke Tanaka, or the Eagles yell "TEP-PEI!!!!" for Teppei Tsuchiya, or whatever). So two drum beats, a call of "se-no!", which means "ready?", and this weird two-syllable shortening of "SA-BRO!" gets yelled.

His at-bat lasted a really long time. And so as a joke, a guy in front of us said "se-no!" and as if on cue, another guy, all by himself, yelled "SA-BRO!!!!!"

Repeat about 4 times. It was pretty funny. But it worked. Saburo got up to a 3-2 count, fouled off a few pitches, and then ALSO doubled to center over Kuriyama, scoring Ohmatsu. 14-0.

Well, six straight hits and no outs was enough to get Iwasaki off the mound, Ohnuma ON the mound, and the Flag Theme going again. Takehara came in to pinch-run for Saburo. A guy sitting next to me asked in English, "Why you always checking score?" to indicate my scorecard that I was writing.

I explained, "I always WRITE a scorecard because I want to remember what happened, for now, and forever."

I'm not sure the word correction came through, or if he understood the point, but he said "You write nice kanji."

After that, Hashimoto singled to center, moving Saburo to third, and Imae singled THROUGH the shortstop to center, the ball flicking off Nakajima's glove, scoring Takehara. 15-0. Masahiko Tanaka pinch-ran for Imae. A Jose Ortiz fly out moved Hashimoto to third, but then Hayakawa grounded into a double play to end the inning.

As about seven announcements came across about substitutes and pinch-hitters, I hastily scribbled who went where. Yayoi asked, "Wait, who went away?"

I looked down. "Saburo came out, and so did Imae. Tanaka's at second now and Ortiz went to third to replace Imae, see?" Then I grinned at the guy sitting next to me. "THAT's why I keep a scorecard!" He laughed.

I also asked Yayoi to confirm a few cheers for me. I've picked up most of the Marines cheers just by listening, though I had one or two words wrong along the way. I had gone and really learned all of the words to the first verse of We Love Love Love Love Love Marines for this game, so I got to try singing them for real. Mayu provided us with big white balloons, although we actually ended up hidden under the black streamers for most of the 7th-inning break anyway.

And well, Nemoto led off with a triple to right, he just kept running and running and running and running. Fukuura managed a sac fly to left and it didn't matter as the catcher dropped the ball anyway when Nemoto came home, and that was 16-0. Declan had come back up to chat for a bit by that point. "Looks like we're going to get a complete game out of Shunsuke today," he said.

"Have you seen a landslide quite this crazy?"

"This year? No."

"Great, now they're going to make me always sit out here, aren't they."

I also noted that Nemoto had hit a single, double, and triple in order. "We need Nemoto to get one more at-bat so he can hit a home run for the cycle!"

But, it was not to be.

The calls of "Shunsuke! Shunsuke! Shunsuke!" were deafening as we went into the ninth inning. And just as he had done for the rest of the game, he set down the Lions batters Kuriyama, Hirao, and Kurose for a 1-2-3 ninth, and the crowd went wild!

Shunsuke had thrown 88 pitches in 9 innings, faced 30 batters, walked none, and struck out 6. He was, to put it mildly, amazing. I expected him to be the sole game hero, but the game heroes were actually Shunsuke (complete game AWESOME shutout against the biggest offense in the NPB), Imae (first RBI of the game, 3 RBI overall), and Ohmatsu (first home run of the game, 4 RBI total, 3 runs scored, etc), eschewing Fukuura (4-for-4, 2 RBI, 3 runs scored), etc. I guess when your team raps out 16 runs on 20 hits it's a bit difficult to pick one hero, really.

The heroes gave speeches (all of which started with "it is HOT today"). Imae pointed out that they had 16 runs, a multiple of 8, and Shunsuke threw 88 pitches, and Imae's uniform number is 8, and he was batting 8th, so obviously it is all a big cool 8 conspiracy working together.

Then they came out to the outfield stands, threw a few baseballs into the crowd, waved and bowed to everyone, and then got surrounded by press and cameramen.

Shunsuke walks out with the Mar-kun mascot.

Your heroes, surrounded by media.

Shunsuke high-fives people along the stands as he runs back to the dugout.

This game went pretty fast, finishing by around 4:15pm. There was a ni-gun game starting at 5pm, but everyone was still in the stands for quite a while afterwards, singing more cheers and practicing. In particular, the ouendan leaders seemed unhappy with how people did Masahiko Tanaka's song when he came to bat in the 8th, so they practiced it a couple of times.

Something you have to understand is that his cheer is actually just the chorus of a song called "Gingiragin ni sarigenaku", sung by idol boy singer Masahiko Kondoh, almost 30 years ago. I have to admit I don't really know why they're using it per se aside from the fact that Tanaka's first name is also Masahiko. But if you've never heard it before, well, I present a few Youtubes of it: Kohaku 1982 performance and a Christmas 1981 performance. If you think it's embarrassing enough watching old disco performances from America, well, I do think Japanese ones put that to shame.

And well, after that, we left, because we had to sneak back to the bowels of the stadium and all.

I ran into Rob in the press room (was surprised, he wasn't out on the field before the game), and he introduced me to the woman who manages the "L-ism" magazines for the Lions. The ni-gun pitchers were starting to set up to film/chart pitches for the game, and Rob and I chatted with one of them, a Marines pitcher who I totally have seen before but utterly could NOT remember who the heck it was, which is embarrassing. I asked him who was starting, and he said it was Ono. "Shingo? Ni-gun? Really?" "Yeah." So DOUBLE oops on me. It's really hard to keep track of movement sometimes, seriously.

On the other side of the room was Alex the Intern, who was showing his video to batting coach Frank Ramppen, so I went over there to watch too. Again, these are a nice set of videos -- this one was all about the fans, with English voiceovers and even subtitles for the cheer songs. Hopefully you will all be able to watch them soon.

After nagging Larry again I went to say goodbye to Rob, and then while walking out noticed the OTHER pitcher sitting at the charting table, Yasutaka Hattori. I have watched Hattori a lot at ni-gun and I think he is awesome, plus he has a very distinctive face, so I was so shocked seeing him that I just blurted out, "Hattori! Oh!" He looked at me and smiled, and all I could think of to say was, "...ganbatte kudasai?" I guess that makes me feel like a big dork, and also makes me feel really bad that I had no idea who the other pitcher we were chatting with was. Hattori looks really kind of violent and mean when he's pitching, I guess you could call it a game face, but when not in uniform and just hanging out in the press room, he looks very different, a lot more relaxed. I mean, come on, he smiled! :)

And yeah, then I left. Met up with Lisa again and some of her friends and had a really fun evening talking about stuff (and trying NOT to keep talking about baseball).

Because I have spent all week trying to write this entry (and well, I still think it isn't very good, but nobody reads this blog anyway except for Larry so it's not a big deal), and it is now Friday, here are a bunch more pictures, in Friday Foto tradition:

Tomoaki "I'm not G.G." Satoh.

Ginjiro Sumitani taking catching practice.

Another shot of Ginjiro so you can see the silly streaky hair dye job he has right now.

Seibu manager Hisanobu Watanabe.

Kenta "Not Daisuke" Matsusaka.

Another shot of Matsusaka. If you look closely, you might notice he is actually using batting coach Hiromoto "Dave" Ohkubo's bat.

Taketoshi Gotoh. Last time I saw him he hit two home runs against Lotte.

We spent a lot of time staring at Saburo in right field. He's such a rock star.

This is the Olympics-bound G.G. Satoh. I did not yell "Kimochiiiii!!!" at him.

Man, what a day.

Tomorrow I am going to Kyushu for the first time, from Saturday morning to Tuesday morning. I'm psyched! I will indeed watch a lot of baseball, although aside from seeing Nippon Ham at the Yahoo Dome on Monday night, I haven't really entirely planned out what I will do. I kind of want to catch a ni-gun game at Gannosu, and I kind of want to go to Hiroshima since it'll be my last chance to see a game there, and I kind of want to see Shunsuke and the Marines at the Yahoo Dome on Sunday, and I kind of want to go to Sasebo or Nagasaki. But it's going to be super-hot, so ugh. Too many things, too little time. I should probably go back to Kyushu in the winter, maybe, for touristy things.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

NPB Roundup: Weighing in on the Olympics, and other fun

Just a few things while I stagger under the weight of an entry about Sunday:

We Love Hichorillusion

Our centerfielder is cooler than your centerfielder, because your centerfielder certainly does not do things like put a stunt double of himself in the dugout and then rapel down from the dome ceiling.

The Fighters beat the Marines 3-2 tonight. Positives for the Marines are that Satozaki hit another home run, and Hiroyuki Kobayashi actually pitched a complete game for once, even if it was a close loss. But the positive for the Fighters is better than all of that: seeing Makoto Kaneko as game hero is pure happiness to me. I feel really bad for not being more supportive of Kaicho while he was having such a rough start to the year.

The "We Love Hokkaido" jerseys this year, while not quite as awesome as the blue ones from last year, are actually pretty cool-looking. It took the entire team wearing them today for me to really appreciate that. The stupid part is, apparently they were selling them at the Tokyo Dome last week and I was too set on getting gatchapon pinbadges to notice. I'm a dumbass. Wonder if they'll bring them back here when they play at the Tokyo Dome next month or not.


Morino seems to have finally found his stride again, homering in two straight games and just kicking butt in general. It's just in time for two things: 1) his 30th birthday next week on July 28th, and 2) the Olympics, which he is going to!

Tatsunami got his 6th hit of the season yesterday, too, a 2-RBI double. I would put an over/under on his number of hits this year, but it would just be depressing.

Back in May, I said that my personal prediction for Masa Yamamoto's 200th win was around August 11th, his 43rd birthday. Then he stopped winning games and I was feeling stupid. But now he's kind of started again. With yesterday's win over Hiroshima (which, might I mention, Morino hit a home run in and went 4-for-5) that puts him at 198 career wins, and he should get at least two more starts before his birthday. So, it could still happen.

The downside is, if Masa gets to 200 wins, it's going to put a crimp in my vague plan to go around hunting down his career's worth of baseball cards this offseason. Although, I assumed that Meikyukai members' cards would become more expensive, and Yukio Tanaka's certainly didn't, so who knows.


is why Futoshi Kobayashi came out of the Baystars-Swallows game this evening after only two batteres. He hit Shinya "Captain Japan" Miyamoto in the head with a pitch and was ejected on the Dangerous Pitch Rule. Manager Akihiko Ohya was also ejected from the game in the 8th inning for arguing a call where the umpires said Saeki grounded out to first, but others thought the ball was foul. Kyohei Muranaka, who seems to be doing a pretty good job of being a Left-Handed Kenichi Nakata, got the win in the 4-1 Swallows victory.

Tatsunori Hara

likes birthday cake and is now 50 years old.

Hoshino Japan Gears Up For The Olympics

I saw Atsuya Furuta on TV tonight interviewing Senichi Hoshino, and all I could think was: I'm sad they're taking baseball out of the Olympics because I'd really love to someday cheer for FURUTA JAPAN. Sigh.

Everyone else has already mentioned it, but yeah, the Japan final roster is out for the Olympics.

Uehara (YG), Kawakami (CD), Iwase (CD), Fujikawa (HT), Darvish (HNHF), Naruse (CLM), Wada (FSH), Sugiuchi (FSH), Tanaka (TRGE), Wakui (SL).

You know what really confuses me when I read stuff about this pitching staff? It's not Uehara's inclusion; he's got international experience and blah blah relief whatever. No, it's more that it doesn't sound like people realize how good Sugiuchi really is. He's having another "on" year (that loss a few weeks ago to the Giants? Not his fault. That 9th-inning game-tying home run came on his 150th pitch of the night. That still bugs me), and I think he can bring that to China. Anyway, Darvish is of course the ace, but there's a pretty good staff here, and even four lefties in Naruse, Wada, Sugiuchi and Iwase. And uhh, Kyuji. He's so good I don't even notice anymore; it's when he's pitching like a mortal man that we go "Hey, that's right, he's not actually a god, he just plays one on TV."

Of course, today Masahiro Tanaka was deactivated from the Rakuten roster due to right shoulder pain; sounds like there's not much chance he can pitch at the All-Star game next week, though they're not ruling out the Olympics. Still, that sucks.

Abe (YG), Yano (HT), Satozaki (CLM)

You know, the funniest part about this is going to be watching the Giants second-string catchers doing janken to figure out who gets to wear Shinnosuke's mask while he's gone. I totally want to see Sanematsu out there. Anyway, whatever, Satozaki is going to hit like 5 home runs during the Olympics. It's going to be awesome. And I'm going to be even more terrified to speak to him when he gets back.

Araki (CD), Arai (HT), Murata (YBS), Miyamoto (TYS), Nishioka (CLM), Kawasaki (FSH), Nakajima (SL)

Wait a minute, this team has one 1B, one 2B, one 3B, and FOUR SHORTSTOPS?

(Well, counting Miyamoto as a shortstop. To be fair, I am betting he'll either play 3B or play Captain Japan: Veteran Presence.)

I suppose it makes sense. Hoshino was saying something tonight about wanting to DH Murata, anyway, although I think outfielder G.G. Satoh makes a better DH.

Dear god, Pro Yakyu Ai is going to have a ball with this and their Mune-Aoki-Tsuyoshi triumvirate, though. Add Hiro-chan into the mix and it's just going to be Ikemen Central.

Morino (CD), Aoki (TYS), Inaba (HNHF), G.G.Satoh (SL)

I was surprised, but pleased, to see that Morino got selected to the Olympic team. As Dragonbutt's biggest gaijin fan ever, I had thought he lost his shot at the Olympics when he suffered that freak injury two months ago at Jingu. But, apparently not. The odd thing is, I love him to pieces, but I'm not entirely sure I understand what he gives this team. They have plenty of other lefty bats, and plenty of infielders, although they don't have anyone else who can play all outfield positions AND all infield positions well like Morino. I hate calling him a "utility guy" because that always reeks of "crappy hitter who fills in various positions", when in reality he is "awesome hitter who happens to be able to play lots of positions, which is useful when you are on a team with guys like Tyrone Woods and Norihiro Nakamura playing the infield corners."

You likely know who Aoki is; he's hailed as being the next Ichiro. GG Satoh is a big dude with a big bat. Atsunori Inaba turns 36 next weekend (and I'm going to the Fighters game in Sendai that day!) but still plays excellent defense and is a great hitter, although he recently had a slight injury so I'm not sure what his status is.

I think my brain is going to explode from trying to follow Koshien and the Olympics all at the same time. Seriously.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Game Report: Baystars vs. Swallows @ Meiji Jingu -- Beach Blanket Bancho

The Baystars extended my personal record with them to 4-1 as they smashed the Yakult Swallows 10-5, in a nice cool evening game on Monday night at Meiji Jingu, featuring the return of Daisuke "Hama no Bancho" Miura to the mound after a 2-month injury hiatus, and two home runs hit by Yuuki Yoshimura. It was on a national holiday, "Umi no Hi", otherwise known as "Marine Day" or "Ocean Day" or "A really good excuse to take a midsummer 3-day weekend and go to the beach somewhere."

I went to this one with my friend Kohei, who is from Yokohama. Last time we tried to go to a game together was in mid-June and the game was called due to pouring rain a few hours beforehand. This time, we were both running a little late; I showed up around 5:30pm and bought us tickets, then went to scavenge for food among the street vendors. Heard the lineups from outside the stadium and groaned as I realized neither Ishii NOR Nishi were playing, although I kind of giggled when they announced Saeki playing first base. They got to the end of the lineup and I heard "Pitcher, Miura, number 18" and stopped DEAD in my tracks. "BANCHO??? Cool!!" I actually said out loud, causing a few people to look at me funny.

We got seats in the third row of the outfield unreserved seating, but a bit far away from the main cheering people. That is, we were far enough out that I felt a bit weird standing up to cheer, though everyone around us was banging cheersticks and singing, at least.

Kohei asked me how many games the Baystars had won so far this year, and I was like, "I'm not sure, but I think it's less than 30."

However, oddly enough, they came out and immediately started roughing up Yakult starter Ryo Kawashima! (You have no idea how many times I've mistyped his name as "Ryo Ishikawa", by the way.) Tatsuhiko Kinjoh led off with a single, advanced as Takehiro Ishikawa grounded out, and Seiichi Uchikawa followed that up with another single. Shuuichi "THE MAN" Murata walked and the bases were loaded for veteran Takahiro Saeki to come to bat.

Saeki must have been a little confused by being in the lineup instead of pinch-hitting, but he singled to center, and both Kinjoh and Uchikawa scored on the play! 2-0.

Yuuki Yoshimura, the younger half of the Mura Machine, came up to bat after that and ALSO hit a double to center, scoring the older half of the Mura Machine. 3-0.

After that, something bizarre happened. Kazuya Fujita, who I wasn't even aware was back up at ichi-gun, hit a sac fly to center, and Saeki tagged up and scored (4-0). That part was normal. The abnormal part was that Yoshimura also tagged up and moved to third on the play. Well, no, I suppose that was normal too, but the part where Aoki fired the ball to Shinya Miyamoto at third, only Miyamoto missed the ball... was NOT normal. So Yoshimura ran home too. But, Ryo Kawashima was out by the third base dugout to back up the play, so he quickly recovered the ball and threw it home to get Yoshimura out at the plate, hence an inning-ending 8-5-1-2 sacrifice fly double play.

Anyway, by the time Miura got to take the mound he already had a comfortable 4-0 lead to sit on. And he even struck out the first two batters, which was very, very promising. I was really psyched to get to see him pitch -- somewhere along the line I started to see past the hair gel and become a big fan of his, and yet, I rarely ever actually get to SEE him. (And no, I haven't bought his new book, but that's another story.)

The Swallows took a run back in the 3rd when Ryohei Kawamoto walked to lead off, was bunted over to second, and scored on a Kazuki "Long Train Runnin'" Fukuchi single, making it 4-1. Fukuchi then became Mr. "Been Caught Stealin" a few seconds later, though. And then Norichika Aoki, being himself, hit a home run into the Swallows cheering section to lead off the bottom of the 4th. 4-2.

I want to pause for a Patented Marinerds Tangent for a second and mention that this year's at-bat animations at Jingu are really nice and do fully take advantage of that gorgeous new scoreboard. But speaking of Aoki, his at-bat animation, combined with his at-bat music of a Carmina Burana remix, feels a little bit too over the top to me. I took a short video of it (later in the game):

Okay, anyway, the score was 4-2 going into the top of the 5th, and a fresh start from the top of the order saw Tatsuhiko Kinjoh hitting a double into the right-field corner. Ishikawa bunted him up to third, and amidst cheers of "timely, timely, Uchikawa!", Seiichi Uchikawa singled to center and Kinjoh scored, 5-2. Murata The Man struck out after that, though Uchikawa stole second on the third strike. (He was barely safe.) A wild pitch moved Uchikawa to third, and a few more outside pitches moved Saeki to first.

"THREE RUN HOMERUN YOSHIMURA! THREE RUN HOMERUN YOSHIMURA!!" we all shouted from the left-field stands.

Yoshimura obliged by knocking a home run into the right-field stands. BOOM! That would bring the score to 8-2.

"Do you think the Baystars will win now?" Kohei remarked as Fujita grounded out to end the inning half.

"I am pretty sure they won't blow ALL of this lead," I replied. "But you never know. Look, Terahara is stretching over there with the other bullpen guys..."

I guess maybe Miura wasn't ready for a full start again, because he started breaking down in the bottom of the 5th. Kawamoto led off with a single, and then a pinch-hitting Shingo Kawabata walked, Fukuchi singled in Kawamoto AGAIN (8-3), and Shinya Miyamoto also singled, loading the bases. With no outs. So yeah, Miura came out of the game and Shigetoshi Yamakita, a current LOOGY on the Baystars staff, came in, pitched to Norichika Aoki, but the "one out" part turned into "one hit"; Aoki singled to right-center and Kawabata and Fukuchi both scored. 8-5. Since the LOOGY did not succeed, they took him out and put in Yukiya "Wild Thing" Yokoyama.

"Who's this guy?" said Kohei.

"Err... Yokoyama... he used to be pretty good... like, he was the closer a few years ago... before... err..."

Something funny: He was, indeed a closer for a team I followed, just not the Baystars, which is why there was no way to finish that sentence, because "before Kroon" didn't make any sense, and neither did "before Terahara". What I had forgotten is that he was the closer for the FIGHTERS, before they got Micheal. Which makes more sense. I don't know what's worse, that my brain makes these blips, or that there's enough random data in there for it to do so.

Anyway, Yokoyama came in and got the next three batters out. So, yay.

There was a brief intermission between the 5th and 6th innings while they had a fireworks display behind the scoreboard. Only problem is that from our angle, it looked like all the fireworks were coming from behind one of the gigantic stadium lights. Pretty cool though. They led a group of kids onto the field and let them sit in centerfield to watch the fireworks, which was cute.

Exploding lights... or just fireworks?

Jun Hagiwara took the mound for Yakult in the top of the 6th, and I laughed, because Hagiwara was pretty bad when he was with the Fighters for a year. And naturally Ryoji Aikawa, who would ultimately be 3-for-4, led off with a single, and Larry Bigbie pinch-hit in the 9-slot and walked!

The Baystars ouendan struck up the "Get the Chance" chance music after that and I even stood up to yell with everyone around me. Lots of shuffling happened; after a popout by Kinjoh (Aikawa advanced to third), Shingo Nonaka pinch-ran for Bigbie, and Hiroaki Ohnishi pinch-hit for Ishikawa, and grounded out (but Aikawa scored! 9-5). Uchikawa also grounded out to end the inning. I find it funny that there was no chance music for all of those times where the Baystars were racking up 4 runs in an inning, but when they played it, they could only weasel ahead one run on 3 consecutive outs. Go figure.

More pitcher shuffling, a few more changes, but nothing overall exciting. Well, Yuuki Yoshimura hit ANOTHER home run in the 7th, off of Yuuya Kamada. 10-5. That was pretty exciting. I've been thinking for a while that I may adopt Yoshimura as my new post-Takuro favorite Baystars position player, just because I can't decide on anyone, don't want to go with the easy choice of Murata, and I need to pick someone young. Plus, he's #31, which is kind of an ongoing joke for me (many of my favorite players wear #31 - Shunsuke, Morino, Lin, etc). I guess what I really need to do is catch some Shonan Searex games, heh.

ANYWAY, I've mentioned a few times that there's this guy I've seen running around the stands at Yokohama, who always wears a Baystars headband and leather pants and carries various handwritten signs that he makes. I can't always read them because he goes by too fast sometimes (today, for example, he had one that said "This is an away game, so please clean up your trash", and all I caught was "away game"), and last time I saw him he had one about Kroon, and so on.

For some reason I am never sitting near an aisle seat when this guy comes by, so this time I decided, what the heck, I'd go hunt him down. I jumped up from my seat and ran up the stairs and caught him at the top like "Excuse me! Excuse me! Can I take your picture?"

"Does everyone remember? TODAY IS OCEAN DAY!!! So let's have an ocean victory -- LET'S GO BAYSTARS!"

I talked to him for a bit, told him I love his signs but I can't always read them because he runs by too fast. He apologized that they weren't in English. Heh. Anyway, his name is Uchiyama and he pretty much goes to ALL the Baystars games and makes these signs and walks around holding them, it's kind of his hobby/job/whatever. So next time I see him I'll totally be like "yeah! you rule! can you slow down a sec so I can read that?"

I was turning away to go back to my seat when another guy taps me on the shoulder. It was a big American guy who looked vaguely familiar. "Are you Deanna?" he asked.

"Yeah, I am."

"Oh, cool. I recognized you from your blog pictures. I post to Westbay's site sometimes as No. 1 Bay Fan."

"Oh! I know who you are. Matt?"


So we chatted for a while and also did the songs for Murata and Saeki, and stuff. Turns out Matt remembered me from that Baystars-Marines open-sen game back in March, because "I was so surprised to see another gaijin there, and SHE ACTUALLY KNEW THE SONGS!" Me, I remembered him because he was talking trash about Bobby Valentine in English. "Sorry, but you were dissing my friend Bobby, so I was a little confused by that." But, he seems like a good guy, so it's good to set the record straight.

Matt is moving to Saitama soon, although further out in the sticks than I live, so it's unclear how that will affect his baseball habits, but we should be going to a Baystars game together sometime, maybe in September. I'm sure it will duly confuse everyone in the stands even more to see TWO crazy foreigners speaking English and cheering in Japanese. Or something.

I got back to my seat and Kohei's like "Did you find Sign Guy? What took so long?"

"Oh, I met another random guy who knew me from the Japanese baseball forums."

"Wow! You're famous!"

"Nah, I just stick out in a crowd."

Anyway, Kuwahara, who had even batted for himself in the top of the 9th (everyone was like "why do you not pinch-hit Nishi or Ishii or Takanori or some other fan favorite? What do you have to lose?") finished out the bottom of the 9th really quickly, and oh my GOD, the Baystars actually won a game!

For obvious reasons, such as hitting two home runs, getting 5 RBI, and playing fairly decent defense in right field, Yuuki Yoshimura was game hero.

I have gone and cheered for the Baystars 5 times this year and they have won 4 of those games. Seriously.

Anyway, we left the stadium pretty quickly after that and hiked up to Sendagaya station and caught our trains our respective ways. I got on the train going my way and ended up sitting next to two guys who also were at the game, so we were chatting about the Baystars and about other baseball crap. We both had on Murata jerseys (well, mine is a t-shirt) and Yoshimura cellphone charms, oddly enough.

We checked the box scores for other games on our cellphones and I was like "OH MY GOD! MASA YAMAMOTO GOT ANOTHER WIN! 198!!"

So yeah, a good evening all around, and a great weekend in general. More later.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Photopost: Kamagaya July 11th - Back to the Futures

Last Friday afternoon, I went down to Fighters Town Kamagaya to see the "Futures" exhibition game. The "Futures" games happen occasionally (lots of information about them here in Japanese), and basically, one ni-gun team plays against a team assembled from various guys from the other teams in their league. I think the only rule is that the Futures players have had no ichi-gun experience. Seems like often they are even ikusei ("taxi squad") players.

Here's who was playing. I had to leave in the 8th inning so I don't have a full scorecard, but I can at least list the players:
Futures                               Fighters
------- --------
1. Ueda, 3B (Yakult) 1. Takahashi, DH
2. Fujimura, 2B-SS (Giants) Y. Kaneko, DH
3. Ijuin, C (Giants) 2. Yoh, SS
Miyamoto, C-DH (Marines) 3. Itoi, RF
4. Umeda, 1B (Giants) Murata, RF
Ijuin, PR (Giants) 4. Satoh, CF
Oyamada, DH (Yakult) 5. Komai, C
5. Momiyama, SS-1B (Giants) Ugumori, PR-LF
6. Ohtsuka, CF (Yakult) 6. Ohhira, LF-1B
7. Yamamoto, LF (Giants) 7. Imanami, 2B
8. Sakamoto, RF (Shonan) 8. Ozaki, 3B-C
Sekiguchi, PH-RF (Shonan) 9. Ichikawa, 1B-3B
9. Shirakawa, DH-2B (Marines)

P. Murata (Giants) P. Sunaga
P. Eguchi (Marines) P. Dass
P. Shu (Lions) P. Asanuma
P. Yamada (Yakult) P. Matsuyama
P. Okamoto (Shonan) P. Toyoshima

Yeah, Ijuin was the starting catcher and also came in as a pinch-runner. And people got moved in and out of DHing. There are a lot of special rules for these exhibitions because the teams are limited in who gets sent.

The good part is, because it was an exhibition game, it was free! I like free baseball very very much!

The bad part is, there were no special buses running to/from the stadium. I was waiting at the stop at noon, and so were a few other people, and so I asked, "Are you guys going to the Futures game?" and they said "Yeah. We're splitting a taxi, wanna come with us?" so I did. Turned out that they were all Fighters fans who had come to town from Hokkaido, and were very nice people, and one of them was another lady with not one but TWO Nikon dSLR cameras. I followed her around snapping photos for a while.

She was fairly fearless, even yelling things like "Hey Yohei [Kaneko], will you smile for me again? I got a great shot of you the other day, looking very cool!"

One of the players saw us all with cameras and even put up a V sign, but I was so surprised I didn't take a shot. And Sho Nakata was actually making faces at me during the team's pre-game huddle (but I didn't get a shot of that either, he was doing things like grinning and raising his eyebrows and stuff). He's a funny kid.

During the first inning, I followed camera-lady over to the 1st base side in order to take pictures of Shinji Takahashi, but I spent the rest of the game over on the 3rd base side, in the front row, over the Fighters dugout.

So here are some photos of some Fighters and some Futures.

Chon-so Yoh. This is my absolute favorite shot that I took all day.

Catcher? Infielder? Masaya Ozaki. He hit a 3-run homer in the third inning.

Teppei Komai, who I always mentally want to call Tomakomai.

Sho Nakata and Kazuya Murata sit outside the dugout with manager Yoshio Mizukami. They were both acting alternately as first base coach and as bat boy, throughout the game. Sho as a coach was pretty funny.

Giants longterm minorleaguer Mitsunobu Yamamoto.

Speedy young not-as-cool-as-Hayato-Sakamoto Giants kid Daisuke Fujimura.

Shinji Takahashi fouls off a pitch. Click for larger. I was just psyched to get to see him up close like this.

And like the gentleman he is, Shinji even collects Ijuin's mask for him.

Kazuya Murata as first base coach.

Chon-so Yoh steals second and as Ijuin goes to throw him out, the ball goes off into the outfield instead, past shortstop Momiyama. Whoops.

Fighters starter Hideki Sunaga. Sunaga went to Urawa Gakuin HS. Saitama pride!

Futures starter Tooru Murata. He was the Giants' #1 pick in the college/industry draft last year.

Suguru Ichikawa.

Pitcher Tatsuo Kinoshita takes over batboy duty for a while and really gets into it.

Token Sho Nakata picture, even though he still isn't playing.

Romash Tasuku Dass, the half-Indian half-Japanese Fighters pitcher. Some joke about him being "Darvish II".

Dass again.

Outfielder Seiichi Ohhira, who has a beautiful flamingo stance.

Atsushi Ugumori.

Akiyoshi Toyoshima, an 18-year-old lefty from Ishikawa prefecture. He's SO young. Seriously.

So yeah, the game was free. That was nice. There was still full concessions and everything else at the park -- lots of good food actually, and halfway through the game they also had the mascot Cubby serving 100-yen shaved ice cups, which you could add flavor syrup to to make your own water ice. Me, I mostly just kept running back to the stands to get more drinks. It was REALLY hot and sunny outside. I was hanging out with the people I took the taxi over with, and they were all really worried I was going to get sunburnt because I didn't have a hat on. As it is, what got burnt was a bit of my arm, but the rest of me was okay.

Cubby ambushed me again when I first sat down in the stands. He patted me on the top of my head. Perhaps I should try to become Kamagaya's pet gaijin?

I ended up having to leave halfway through the 8th inning. The Fighters were up 10-3 at the time. Basically, I left at 3:45ish to get a train at 4:19 to be back in Akabane at 5:15pm so I could be ready for stuff at 6pm. And as it turns out, two of the people I had taxied there with, a couple from Tomakomai, ALSO had to leave in order to go to Haneda Airport and catch a flight back to Hokkaido.

Only problem is... remember, no buses. And no taxis that we could find. But, they called a taxi and we split it back to the station. Thank god, because otherwise I would have walked the 2 kilometers back to the station, and that would have been pretty awful in the heat. They were explaining all this stuff about Hokkaido, and were so totally surprised that I actually KNOW where cities like Tomakomai, Obihiro, Kushiro etc are. I told them "Well, ever since the Fighters moved to Hokkaido I have been studying Hokkaido stuff..." They were from Tomakomai, so I was like "Tomakomai! Ma-kun!" I wonder if that's the equivalent of people being like "Oh. Seattle! Ichiro?" to me.

On the way out, actually, I bought another Cubby pinbadge. Only thing is, the gatchapon machine was supposed to cost 200 yen. I put in 200 yen, and a capsule came out, and so did one of my 100-yen pieces. And I was confused, and trying to explain exactly what happened got way too complicated, so I just left my other 100-yen coin and went off to the taxi-finding escapade.

Kamagaya is really a nice, low-stress, relaxing place to catch a game. I just wish it wasn't so far from here, or I'd seriously go down there more often.