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.

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