Sunday, August 31, 2008

Game Report: Swallows vs. Baystars @ Yokohama - When it Rains, It Pours

Some guys got together tonight on the field at Yokohama Stadium and played something resembling a game of baseball while the skies opened up and poured rain on them for several hours. I think those guys were members of some professional baseball teams, namely the Yakult Swallows and Yokohama Baystars, but honestly, between the rain and the staggering 17-5 score, it's really hard to tell. Every hit off of Swallows starter Masanori Ishikawa was a home run, but it would have taken about 12 more of them to do any good for the hapless Baystars.

I showed up around 5pm and ran into Sign Guy, who I had also seen on Friday at a minor-league game between Lotte and Shonan (more on that soon; I took too many photos). He was making a sign to hold up outside about the Hanshin games next week. I left him to his work and went on in to get a ticket and go into the game and find a seat in the Baystars cheering section and all. I actually saw a group of foreigners there, and I asked if I could sit with them, and they basically told me to go away. Went down to about 6 rows off the field and asked a pair of Japanese guys if the seats inside their row were free, they were like "Yeah, no problem, you can sit here with us."

Go figure.

Did my rounds of the concourses, got food, got a 300-yen plain clear raincoat (I don't know how you get the free Baystars garbage bag ponchos and the Baystars raincoats were 1800 yen), and did pinbadges, wherein I got a second Miura, and also got a Nonaka and a Yoshimura. Yay!

One of the ouendan guys caught a baseball thrown into the stands at the start of the game (the players always do that, but it usually goes further than the front row). He was immediately besieged by like 6 little kids asking for it.

That was probably the most exciting thing to happen in the first few innings of the game from our side, honestly. Kentaro Kuwahara started for Yokohama, and within 4 batters of the game it was already 3-0 Swallows. Lead-off Fukuchi walked, Shinya Miyamoto singled to short where Takehiro Ishikawa made a nice stop but had no time for the throw, and then Aoki grounded into what was a forceout at second instead of a 1-6-3 double play, and then Kazuhiro Hatakeyama hit a 3-run homer into the Swallows cheering section. Boom.

In the top of the 3rd, they added another run to that when Fukuchi singled and made it to third on a sac bunt and a groundout, so Hatakeyama could single him in to make it 4-0.

Ryoji Aikawa was the first Baystars batter to get a hit off Swallows starter Masanori Ishikawa -- and his hit was a homerun into the first few seats of the outfield in left field. It was so far out that I was fairly sure it was foul and was hugely confused as to why everyone was cheering at first. 4-1.

Shuuchi Murata got the next hit off of Ishikawa in the 4th, ALSO hit a solo homerun, this one a monster shot to right-center. 4-2.

Then, uhh...

Kazuya Takamiya, whose main redeeming feature seems to be that he throws baseballs with his left hand, took the mound in the top of the 5th inning, and it was just a disaster. Miyamoto doubled, Aoki singled, Hatakeyama singled, and Yasushi Iihara grounded into another failed double play, just a forceout. Hiroyasu Tanaka grounded to third and Murata threw home, and Aoki was safe and scored, by then making it 6-2. Keizo Kawashima walked, loading the bases, and then it started to rain. I mean, literally, water started falling from the sky, although you could say they were already in the midst of a when-it-rains-it-pours kind of inning. By the time Takamiya got yanked from the game, the Swallows had batted around their order and scored 6 runs, making it 10-2.

Hiroki Sanada came in for one batter and put him away to end the inning.

I have no clue why, but Futoshi Kobayashi came in to pitch the 6th for the Baystars. He gave up another two runs that inning, and by then I had given up on keeping score because it was raining too hard for me to have the book out in any reasonable capacity. 12-2.

Masanori Ishikawa gave up his third hit of the game in the bottom of the 6th, and just like the other two hits, this one was ALSO a solo home run. UNLIKE the other two, this one landed RIGHT near where I was sitting, two rows up and four seats over. Also unlike the other ones, this one was by Takehiro Ishikawa, and it turned out to be his FIRST CAREER HOME RUN! Wow! A bit later a few ushers came up to the guy who had caught the home run ball and asked him for it, which I thought was pretty weird since you're usually allowed to keep home run balls. Well, as it turned out, Ishikawa-player wanted his first home run ball. So, the fan gave up the home run ball and got a signed ball from Ishikawa in return. Pretty cool, huh? 12-3.

Kazuki Fukuchi led off the Swallows' Lucky 7 with a home run that barely cleared the wall in left, and infact bounced back onto the field. By this point so many of us on the Baystars side were holding up umbrellas in the rain and were fed up with the game, so we sang along with the Tokyo Ondo song and the Swallows fans... kind of... in that we were all singing "Kutabare Yomiuri" ("go to hell, Giants") and waving our umbrellas around. 13-3.

I started taking videos of stuff because I wanted to get a decent "rain video" like I had a few months ago of a rainy Murata cheer. After a few failed attempts, I got a decent shot of Yuuki Yoshimura's cheer song in the rain, and wouldn't you know it, in the midst of me filming, he HIT A HOME RUN 125 meters into centerfield. So instead, I got a video of his cheer song, AND of the home run fanfare, and of everyone singing the Yokohama Baystars run-celebrating theme and doing a banzai. 13-4. You might note that this was the fourth hit off of Masanori Ishikawa and also the fourth solo homerun.

Yoshimura cheer song and homerun!

Ishikawa pitched 7 innings, gave up 4 hits, 4 home runs, thus 4 runs, and struck out 4. When it rains, it fours?

Shigetoshi Yamakita came in to pitch for Yokohama then, and gave up another run in the 8th inning, bringing the score to 14-4. Sheesh.

It was still raining, and we spent the ENTIRETY of the 8th inning singing the "Behind" chance music. I had learned this a bit after the game on August 4th -- a game which the Baystars actually WON so there was no reason to sing it DURING the game. Since they were completely and totally losing this game, I guess it made more sense to sing it:

Baystars Chance Music 5 - "Behind"

Okay, so here is how this song goes. First there's some drumbeats and shouts:

(ドドドン)熱く! (ドドドン)熱く! (ドドドン)熱く!立ち上がれ!
Atsuku! Atsuku! Atsuku! Tachiagare!

("Heat up! Heat up! Everyone stand up!")

The first time, the trumpets play the song and you just say "Hey!" or "Oi!" at appropriate intervals. Then the shouts again, and then everyone sings the verse acapella:

Let's Go BAY 不器用で カッコ悪くても 選手を信じ声を枯らし
Let's go BAY bukiyou de, kakko warukutemo, senshu wo shinji koe wo karashi
Let's Go BAY 変えてゆく 俺たちが変える 想いよ届け君のもとへ
Let's go BAY kaeteyuku, oretachi ga kaeru, omoiyo todoke kimi no moto he

("Let's go BAY though we're clumsy and uncool, we believe in you players and raise our voices,
Let's go BAY let's change this game, all of us can change too, we hope our thoughts reach you.")

Or something to that effect.
I was surprised that they literally just sang it for the whole inning. Guess there's nothing better to do in the rain. And it's not like much happened. Kazuya Fujita singled, was replaced in a fielder's choice by Hiroaki Ohnishi, and he was left on second. Yay.

Yamakita gave up another 3 runs in the top of the 9th, including a 2-run homer to Yasushi Iihara that LITERALLY banged up against the foul pole in right field near us and bounced back onto the field. 17-4.

In the bottom of the 9th, with Masato Hanada still on the mound for the Swallows, Seiichi Uchikawa led off with a nice clean single... and got himself thrown out trying to stretch it into a double. Oops. Shingo Nonaka followed that up with another single, and though Yoshimura hit a high pop fly foul to the left of first base, the next batter was a pinch-hitting Takanori Suzuki, who almost hit another home run, but instead the ball bounced off the centerfield wall a meter or so short of clearing it. Aoki played it on a weird bounce and Takanori ended up with a triple, scoring Nonaka. 17-5... and naturally that is where the game would end, as Kinjoh grounded out to second.

I mentioned that the guys who let me have a free seat in their row were really nice, right? Well, after the game as we were all packing up and lamenting what a completely retarded blowout it was, the one sitting further away that I hadn't talked to before said "I know you! I've seen you here before, you were writing a scorecard but in a little notebook instead?" and I was like "Yeah, I forgot my scorecard book that day..." He said that it was really strange and memorable to see a foreign girl, left-handed, alone, cheering, and keeping a scorecard, so he remembered me. When the guys found out that my name is Deanna -- which sounds like "diana" -- which is the Yokohama Baystars cheer girl team -- well, they flipped out. I gave the one guy my fake meishi card so he could see the spelling, and he was like "I'll email you! Then next time I can cheer with Deanna!"

I realized two things after that:

1) I really need to film the "Go! Go! Diana!" opening sequence (Westbay has made the exact same comment, "Go go Deanna!")
2) I should actually be taking more advantage of the fact that I have the same name as the cheer girl squad. I've been a little shy about telling people my name at Baystars games because I figure either they won't believe me or I can't explain the difference in spelling and all. But, that's pretty stupid. So, Cheer Girl Deanna! That's me!

I figure that at least in terms of cheering, this year it's pretty much all been about the Fighters and Baystars for me, so this is a reasonable conclusion.

After the game I did more pinbadges outside the Baystars store since I opted to go for the north entrance to Kannai station. I got another Yoshimura, and an Ohnishi and a Katoh. I couldn't find anyone to trade with though. I wonder if there's some good time/place to see if there's anyone out there who would give me a Takuro for a Miura AND a Yoshimura... Fan Fest? Who knows.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Interview with Fernando Seguignol

One of the good things about the Marines-Eagles game raining out on August 17th in Chiba was that I got a chance to sit down and talk to Fernando Seguignol for a while in the Rakuten dugout during batting practice.

Seggy's career has taken him all over the place, making his MLB debut in 1998 with a team that no longer exists (the Montreal Expos) and his NPB debut in 2002 with a team that no longer exists (the Orix Blue Wave). His most successful run with any team was his four seasons spent with the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters from 2004 to 2007. In that time he hit 122 home runs and drove in 339 runs, batting cleanup in the Fighters lineup almost every game. He was an integral part of the Hichori-Kensuke-Guts-Seggy order which carried the Fighters to their Japan Series championship in 2006, for the first time since 1962.

After being released by the Fighters after the 2007 season, he played in Mexico and in the MLB minor leagues for a while this year before the Rakuten Golden Eagles signed him and brought him back across the Pacific. He was written into the lineup so soon after arrival in Japan that he was still jet-lagged in his first few games, but he hit the ground rolling and is batting .333 in his first month back here (12-for-36 with two home runs as of this writing).

Fernando was amazingly candid with me about many topics, about his career and about his time with the Fighters, and of course, about the bananas. It was refreshing to hear him talk about playing in Japan; he really loves it, and is genuinely happy to be here.

Thanks to the Chiba Lotte Marines for allowing me to stay dry from the rain by hiding out in their visitor's dugout to do this interview, and of course, a thousand thanks to Seguignol himself for being so friendly and talkative, and for letting me grill him with questions for almost half an hour. I wish him all the good luck in the world... except when he's playing against the Fighters, of course :)

So to start, how does it feel to be back in Japan?

Exciting! It feels good to be back at a competitive level. I had good times here, and leaving that behind was kind of tough to do. So coming back is definitely a really exciting thing for me, I really like it here in Japan. It's a different team now, so things are a little bit different, but hopefully I can do the same [with Rakuten] as I did with the Fighters.

What was your best moment here?

The best would be... well, there's nothing that compares with winning the championship with the Fighters. I was with them for four years.

Okay, so... where have you been this year?

Wow. [long pause] Let's start out with Arizona. I did Spring Training with the Rockies. Then I went to Mexico for two months, played with Olmecas de Tabasco... and after that I went to Toledo, Ohio, played there for a month or so for the Tigers AAA team, and then ended up here.

How did you end up back here again?

Well, the process... there were on and off conversations for a while. I got hurt in Toledo, my heel wasn't so good, and they said I would probably be out for anywhere from 6-8 weeks with a heel support. They told me to get some rest, that I wouldn't even get to play the rest of the season at AAA. But in the meantime I was feeling better, so when the Rakuten Eagles contacted my agent, we went back and forth in conversation. They wanted me, and I wanted to be back. We figured they'd give me a week or so of rehab and then I'd come here and once I felt ready to play I would, but the process was a lot quicker than that. It turned out for the better, so I don't take it as a setback, doing that, it was a good transition.

Wait, is your heel okay now?

There's still a little pain sometimes, and once I'm on it for a while it starts getting tight. But it's one of those things you gotta rest and eventually you'll feel better, so... I'm resting, I'm playing. It's one of those things you gotta flip a coin to see how it'll be tomorrow, but so far it's been good and it's getting better with time.

Did your agent contact the Fighters at all about coming back?

There were a few talks here and there, but it was one of those things where early in the season we didn't really know what happened there. It wasn't like, "what will we need to offer you?" or what I need, or what they need. It was more like "Thank you for what you did, let's move on." You know, separate careers, separate lives, one of those things. It wasn't like a bad divorce or anything, you've just got to move on, and I'm definitely moving on, even though I wanted to stay there. I think the fans know I wanted to be back. The team put it out there that my knee was hurt, and I'm still hearing that, I don't know why they keep saying that.

So the knee thing wasn't true, was it?

No, it was not true. As you recall, if you go back to a few weeks before the playoffs, game against the Hawks, I got hit in the knee by a fastball, like 97 miles an hour, hit right in the knee. So the whole week I was bruised and I still played all the playoffs with a hurt knee because I was hit. I think what it really was is that I didn't have such a great season, my numbers were okay but they were down from past years, so the Fighters wanted to move on. But to say my knee was hurt, that wasn't it at all.

I contacted a Japanese newspaper and did an interview but I don't think it helped. I contacted them, my agent did, they asked how I was doing, I said everything was fine. I have proof of going to the doctors, I wanted to make sure everything was right, I didn't want to come back here hurt. We took MRIs, took every test possible, so the idea that I was hurt... I don't know. But, I wish them the best, I had good times there. I just want to throw it out the window, just gotta move on.

Are you looking forward to going back to Sapporo?

Oh, yes. I think we'll be back to the Dome first week of September. I'm definitely looking forward to it, I have good friends there, hearing the fans and all that will be nice, to see that again. As a visitor I don't know what kind of reception I will get but I'm definitely looking forward to going back there to play.

So, you're not hoping for revenge? Extra special home runs against the Fighters?

Oh, no. I mean, Micheal [Nakamura] said he wants to break my back, and I told him I'm gonna get a hit off him, but that's just friends talking, that's what we've been doing. I call them real friends, all those guys. We all wish each other the best, we talk all the time, email each other, it's just a game, I definitely look at it that way. Sure, it's competitive, but it's a game. I want to win, they want to win, but it's really all about going out there and letting the best team win that day.

Who was your favorite guy to play with on the Fighters?

Every guy... had a unique thing about them. That's what separated us from other teams. Just by the chemistry we had, teams would already feel like they had already lost the game just by looking at our dugout, every guy had something to do. Once the game started we were on a roll, and that was huge, very important. Friends... well, definitely the other foreigners on the team, because of the language barrier and all that. But I mean, we had a good time no matter what, EVERY guy on that team had something special going on. It was a great four years I had there.

What was it like playing with Shinjo, or Hichori, the crazy people?

To be honest with you... I think Shinjo coming into the team, to spark something up, that was huge. We came at the same time, arrived the same year, and for him to bring what he brought, he made the younger Japanese players relax and play at their potential. He did that in so many ways. Everything he does is special. The biggest thing about him was that he would take younger guys, like Hichori, under his wing, and teach them the right way about going about things, defense-wise, or other things that would help the team. He did that, and he would bring a lot of good things out of a lot of the younger players, so they weren't shy about being themselves. That's what Shinjo was, being himself. A lot of people didn't like that, but at the same time it was great for us. He had this great energy that we'd feed off of.

There could never be another Shinjo in this league. Shinjo is one. Shinjo is unique. There's no other Shinjo. A lot of other guys might try to be Shinjo, but he's special in that way. He got along with foreign players, he got along with Japanese players, he respected younger players, that's something older guys here normally don't do, you know, "I'm older so whatever I say goes," but Shinjo was open to a lot of guys, to everyone, to the fans. The way he'd take over the Dome with the things he did, he helped us out a lot.

How did it feel to make such an impact on the city of Sapporo, coming there with the team?

You know, I remember the first day of practice in Sapporo Dome, in what, 2004? I said, "There's no way we're gonna get fans to fill this place." I looked around, said "No way. This place is HUGE. It's the biggest dome in all of Japan, we'll never get this place full." Trey [Hillman] looked at me, and said, "Seggy, you know what? This is a nice place. We just need to win some ballgames and build the right team," and sure enough, that's what we did, we won some ballgames and built a great team, and the next year, we were getting sellouts, 45,000 people in that place. It was amazing to see that, from the day we started to the day we ended, the fans came from everywhere.

Do you think the fan support is what made a big difference for the team in Sapporo then?

Oh, fan base, yeah, definitely. I mean, they're great. At times, we'd be going up against a tough pitcher or a really good team, and just to feed off the energy the fans would bring to the stadium was unbelievable. The guys would feel that and we'd go out there like "Hey, let's just go do this, the fans will support us no matter what happens," so we'd just try to relax and play a good game. The fan support made us relax and play the game the right way.

I gotta ask. How did the bananas thing start?

It kind of... I mean...

Well, that is, did you start it or did the fans?

Okay, so I was a guy that always had leg muscle problems. Hamstring problems, quads problems, you know, cramps in my legs. When I was younger I was the big guy with little legs, you know, and I used to dehydrate a lot. So they recommended me to always keep potassium in my body so I wouldn't break down so fast. Potassium, you know, so it's one banana here, two bananas there, while I was in the minor leagues. Next thing you know that's all I would eat before the games, bananas and a protein shake. I came here and started doing it, and of course my teammates started noticing, and the front office too, I think they put it out in the newspaper. "All he eats is bananas." And the fans listened, of course.

I've always liked bananas, I'm from a banana place, from Panama, we EXPORT bananas. The town I grew up in has a LOT of bananas too, everyone really loves bananas, sure. I like plantains, ground food, but you know, it's not like I eat bananas every day, not at home. I eat lots of other fruits too! [laughs] Watermelons! Mangoes! Pears, strawberries... no, I don't eat bananas every day. But when I play, that's the food I have here, and it's good for my body. So that's where it kind of started. The real story is that I don't want my muscles to break down.

So do you like the banana wave?

Oh, yeah. I enjoy it. The fans are having fun, and that's what matters. Most of the time, we're putting on a show for the fans.

I think what's great about Japan is how much the fans have a relationship with the team.

They really get into it. They appreciate the game, and we appreciate them doing it. I think sometimes it's good to give back. There's only so much you can do, but when you give back, an autograph here, a handshake there, just saying hi to someone... I think they like that, it makes a difference.

Hm, so then how is it in Sendai so far?

To be honest, the couple days I've been there has felt like a road trip. I'm just staying in a hotel, so it was just like going back and playing there before, like a visiting team member, only now I'm a local guy. I haven't had enough time to go around and know the stadium and city area yet, whatever I know about it is from prior years going there to play. The surroundings, the restaurants I visit, the places I was always going to then. But, I'm looking forward to knowing more about the area, hopefully I can enjoy it.

Do you like... cow tongue? They made me eat it when I visited Sendai.

I love it! It's really good! We had good times at those restaurants, one of those times you can sit down and enjoy a good conversation with your teammates. I don't know if you made restaurants like that in Latin countries if it would kick off, you know, people wouldn't see the reason for a place where you can cook your own food like that. It's kind of weird but I love the idea. It's really relaxing, and they have really good food, you get really full eating something like that.

On another Sendai note, the Eagles have a lot of, well, first basemen. Would you rather be a DH or a 1B? Where do you prefer?

I like to be on the field, definitely. I like to play first base if I can. When I'm on offense that day I can help out the team, sure, but I want to contribute to winning any way I can, either offensively or defensively, that's what I want to do. I know here they bring a lot of foreign guys and they want us to hit home runs. That's cool too. I tell them I'm here for that, I know my role, and that's what I'm gonna try to do, hit a lot of home runs, help them out. But I like being on the field defensively as well.

How does that change your approach here? Going for home runs all the time, is that different than how you try to hit in Mexico or the States?

Well, in the States... I'm a big guy, so they expect me to drive the ball, drive in runs, that's one of the things I'm there to do. But in the States being a good hitter, getting your hits here and there, and having a high on-base percentage is sometimes what's more important. It depends on who you play for, the team situation, the manager, see what he likes, go from there. But I guess wherever I go, with my frame... [laughs] They don't see me as a runner or bunter no matter what, you know? No matter where I go, I'm gonna have the same kind of approach.

What's it like playing for [Katsuya] Nomura?

So far? Well, what I used to see of him, when we'd have matches, Fighters vs. Eagles, I'd watch him talking to Trey Hillman. It was one of those times I could see they had something in common, they're really devoted and really enjoy the game and have a lot of knowledge. So as a player it's my job to pick his brain, try to get more information so I can be better, one of those things. You gotta listen sometimes and pick up stuff that can help you out. Nomura, he's a lot of fun to play for. He's managed a lot and seen a lot, so he's low-key, says what's on his mind. He says what he wants to say, doesn't beat around the bush. As a player that's good, we love getting the real thing, not just hearing something and still making the same mistake every day anyway. You hear it from him once and that's it, I gotta change. So far it's been good, and we've been winning a few games so that's good too.

I actually thought this team would make 3rd place this year.

There you go! We're gonna make the postseason. We've got what, 40 games left? That's a lot of games, we just gotta try to win some of them. We're what, 4-5 games out of third?

Yeah. The Pacific League has almost everyone at .500 or so except Seibu.

Exactly, it can be anyone's game. We'll see how it goes.

What's your plan for next year?

I've only got a deal for this year right now, so we'll see what happens. I guess [Rakuten] would have the rights to sign me back or release me. At the moment I'm just kind of focusing on these two months to do my best. I'm happy to get this opportunity to come back to Japan.

You *really* like it here in Japan!

I do, they really take baseball seriously here. Going to the games, at times it can be really tough because of the schedules and the travelling but whatever. You play, you really want to win and the fans are into it, and it's a completely different atmosphere.

Yeah, I know as a fan I would rather be here. It's a lot more fun.

Yeah! They enjoy the game. Always out there clapping, supporting us, talking, singing. You don't get that back home. In the US you might feel that kind of atmosphere in the playoffs, lots of noise and stuff, but here, from day one they get into it, it's amazing. Back home, it's almost kind of dull. You're out there doing your job, playing the game, but it feels like you don't hear anything.

What was it like the first time you heard the cheers here?

[Laughs] It was different! It's a process... when I first came here with Orix, getting used to the cheering, getting that out of the way, it helped me in the long run. I tell guys who come here for the first time that they have to get used to it, get it out of the way, try to understand what it's like here. Different place, different language, you need to learn so many things right away, try to understand the Japanese, it makes you a better player, a better citizen.

Are you studying Japanese?

I was before, but not anymore. Whatever I learned, nobody really understood me. What I was reading out of books, and studying off the internet, it was formal Japanese. The guys would tell me, "You're too proper!" I think I learn more by just listening here. I just try to talk with everyone.

[Editor's note: At this point we degenerated into a talk about language learning for a bit and shortly after that, batting practice ended anyway. The rain never stopped, and the game was cancelled after only one inning.]

For the record, Seguignol is TALL.

Unfortunately, in the ten days or so since the interview, the Eagles have had two more rainouts and gone 2-4 in the games they did manage to play, so I'm not sure how bright things are looking for them at the moment. Next weekend, September 5-7, they head up to Sapporo to play against the Fighters, so we'll see what the fan reaction is like when he gets there.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

New Blogspot Gadget Stuff

Just a post to say that if the blog looks weird for you, or is wreaking havoc with your RSS readers, etc, it's because I just finally got around to upgrading to the new Blogger layout stuff, and am still playing with it to try to make it happier.

I'm trying to update links and whatnot as well while I'm at it. I'd love to go back and relabel posts as well when I have time; we'll see.

On the other hand, I hope that this will make the blog more readable; I'll try to have less crap on the front page now that I actually have a "go back to older posts" option.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Monday Night Fighters Liveblogging

This really isn't the way my weekend was supposed to go. (I work Tuesday-Saturday, so my weekends are Sunday/Monday.)

Yesterday was supposed to be the get-together at Meiji Jingu to watch the Swallows-Tigers game, with two Tigers fans, two Baystars fans, and two people who were going to cheer for the Swallows but aren't really Swallows fans per se (me, and Simon). At 5pm our motley group of gaijin met by Gate 2, and we were also joined by Garrett from Transpacific Radio for a bit. We stood... we talked... and we WATCHED IT RAIN, until 6:10pm when the team finally announced that the game was cancelled. So instead we went to a yakitori place near Gaienmae and drank beer and ate food and talked about baseball until 9pm. I gave people Bikkuriman stickers for lack of anything better to do with my extras, and Pau brought Calbee chips (I got Aoki! Though maybe I should have traded for Futoshi Kobayashi anyway because I'm a dork like that.)

It was really nice to meet people, but it would have been even nicer to watch baseball with them.

As for today... I wanted to go down to Yokohama for the Stars-Carp game, BUT due to all the rain up here I decided it wasn't worth it. Also, the reason I was going was because it's Takuro Ishii's birthday... and would you believe this, I just looked at the lineups and TAKURO IS NOT PLAYING. WTF.

I thought about going to the Tokyo Dome for the Giants-Dragons game, but the thing is, I looked at seat availability, and it seemed like basically I could either sit way the heck at the top of the stadium for about $20, or sit way out on the third-base line for about $35, and since I figured Morino wouldn't be back in the lineup yet, it just didn't seem worth it to go there and pay that much money to be stuck in the midst of Giants fans even though I'd be yelling "YOMIURI TAOSE O" at the top of my lungs. Though at least I heard that the Dragons ouendan are no longer broken. I think I'll plan to see them when they have a makeup day on Oct 5th.... and get tickets early.

So, I am sitting at home watching the Fighters game on Yahoo Douga on my laptop... and when the Giants-Dragons game comes on normal terrestrial TV at 7pm I'll turn that on too.

Wow, the Sapporo dome is EMPTY. I wish I was there!


Kataoka 2B Hichori CF
"NOT GG" Satoh RF Kudoh LF
Bocachica DH Kensuke 2B
Etoh 1B Koyano 1B
Gotoh LF Jason Botts DH
Okawari-kun 3B Itoi RF
Hirao 2B Naoto 3B
Hosokawa C Tsuruoka C
Akada CF Kaneko! SS

---------- ----------
Kishi (10-4, 3.92) Takeda Masaru (6-5, 3.03)

First inning, top:
Masaru Takeda pitching for the Fighters.
Kataoka grounded out to short, Tomoaki Satoh grounded out to third, and then Bocachica popped out foul behind home plate, easy catch for Tsuruoka.

First inning, bottom:
Takayuki Kishi pitching for Seibu.
Hichori hit a pop fly to right easily caught by NOT-GG Satoh. We can see Kaneko and Inaba and Hichori chatting in the dugout. Takahito Kudoh singles to right! Kensuke call -- KENSUKE!!! Wish I was there. Kensuke grounds to short for the force at second on Kudoh (who was already off running), and fortunately Kensuke is safe at first, no double play there. AND KOYANO HITS A HOME RUN INTO THE FIGHTERS FANS IN THE LEFT FIELD BLEACHERS!!!! Wow, that was smashed! Jason Botts follows that up by ALSO smashing a ball to left field but Taketoshi Gotoh jumps up to catch it against the wall (huh... he must be taller than I thought). That's the third out -- Fighters 2, Lions 0!

Second inning, top:
Akira Etoh strikes out swinging on a slider. Gotoh hits a big fly ball to right that OH CRAP GOES INTO THE STANDS. Really? Dang. Yeah, it bounced in like the first row and went back a bit. Fighters 2, Lions 1. Here's Okawari-kun Nakamura who also hits a huge pop fly, which Kudoh camps out under and makes the catch. Two outs. And Yahoo Douga dies on me for the first time of the evening. Joy. Hirao apparently struck out in the meantime, though.

Second inning, bottom:
Yoshio Itoi leads off with a double to left and Naoto Inada bunts him up to second. (They keep showing Inaba in the dugout cheering for the team and whatnot.) Tsuruoka comes up to bat... and ends up REACHING for a pitch way outside and strikes out. Two out. Kaneko comes up and Kishi puts a pitch in the exact same place that Tsuruoka struck out on, and Kaneko ignores it. Good boy :) But then he hits a big pop fly up to second and that ends the inning with Itoi still standing at third. Oh well. Still 2-1.

As an aside: Rakuten-Softbank game has been cancelled, but all others seem to be happening. Araki is back in the Chunichi lineup but Morino is not (lefty starter Hisanori and all). Murata is back in the Yokohama lineup. I think those are the only Olympics guys I see out there... Inaba is in the Fighters dugout after all.

Third inning, top:
Toru Hosokawa strikes out on three straight pitches. Shogo Akada (huh!) grounds out to second. Kataoka grounds out to short. Another "Who let the dogs out" inning.

Third inning, bottom:
Hichori grounds to third (or more like bounces) and is barely out on the throw to first. Kudoh hits a pop fly to center which is going, going, CAUGHT. And Kensuke singles to right past a diving Etoh! Yay!! Koyano walks, and here's Botts -- the announcers keep marvelling at how he is 198cm tall and weighs 113kg. Anyway, Botts strikes out to end the inning with two guys on. Still 2-1.

As an aside, while we're marvelling over the size of foreigners, I went looking for new sneakers today and got told by the store clerks, "Your feet are way too big for women's sneakers, and way too narrow for Japan size sneakers." That sucked.

Fourth inning, top:
Not GG Satoh pops out to center and Yahoo Douga dies on me again (seems to happen every 30 minutes). Seems like Bocachica was hit by a pitch while I was restarting IE, so I'm not sure where/how. Here's Akira Etoh... who... grounds into a double play! Kaneko to Kensuke to Koyano.

The Giants game just came on TV with the game tied 0-0 in the 4th inning.

Fourth inning, bottom:
Itoi comes up and hits ANOTHER DOUBLE, TO RIGHT! Naoto Inada, who must be feeling like This Year's Honorary Kensuke Tanaka Bunting Boy, comes up swinging... and goes down bunting of course, Itoi moving to third. Tsuruoka comes up and THAT WAS THE WEIRDEST THING EVER. Okay, so it was a squeeze bunt, right? Only like, Tsuruoka bunted this ball that catcher Hosokawa was already lunging for because it was so high up and out of the way. So Tsuruoka lunges for the ball too, bunts it, falls over on his knees, and Itoi comes home. Wow. Kaneko grounds out to end the inning but it is now Fighters 3, Seibu 1!

Maybe it's just me, by the way, but the Chunichi ouendan still sounds discombobulated and I don't hear trumpets.

Fifth inning, top:
Ugh, okay, so my curse of Watch Seibu, See Homeruns seems to be continuing as Taketoshi Gotoh hits a towering shot to center for HIS SECOND HOME RUN OF THE DAY. This is now the second time I have seen Gotoh hit two homeruns in a game, too. Fighters 3, Lions 2. Okawari-kun, again, follows it up with a big pop fly to left which Kudoh camps out under for the catch. Hirao singles through to right. Hosokawa grounds to second, Kensuke flipping the ball to Kaneko who turns the double play! Three out. 3-2.

In the meantime, Ibata hit in a run on a groundout and Olympics Returnee Araki hit a legitimate 2-RBI double to left which rebounded over Ramirez's head to put the Dragons up 3-0. (And make that 4-1 on a BG Lee RBI single while I was waiting for the inning middle to finish.)

Fifth inning, bottom:
Hichori... checks a swing on a ball that goes by for a called strikeout. Then, Kudoh doubles to left! Kensuke grounds out to second (not a bunt) and Kudoh moves to third. Koyano comes up to bat and Yahoo Douga dies on me again. It seems that he hit a popout to center, anyway. Three out and we leave a guy on third again.

By the way, through 5 innings, Kishi is up to 81 pitches and Masaru is up to 53. Just sayin'.

Sixth inning, top:
OH NICE! Shogo Akada grounds to second and Kensuke Tanaka goes way to his right, makes a dive for the ball, snags it and makes the throw out to first. He's awesome! Kataoka hits a fly ball out to Hichori. Tomoaki "Not GG" Satoh strikes out to end the inning.

On the other TV... you know, as always, I have to admit, I hate the Giants, but I have to admit that one of my favorite intro/theme/etc's in Japan, period, is when Tomohiro Nioka comes out to "Sky High" and the whole stadium echoes with the "whoaaaaa! GO GO NIOKA!"

Also, Hayato Sakamoto is cute. But much like Ma-kun and Karakawa-kun, he immediately triggers a "Dude, he's 19" response in my brain.

Sixth inning, bottom:
Botts grounds out to short. Itoi strikes out. Naoto grounds out to third. That was quick. This is what I get for saying nice things about the Giants.


Seventh inning, top:
Hiram Bocachica leads off the inning with a towering fly to right which Itoi camps out under for the catch. Etoh grounds out to short. Masato Yoshii comes out to the mound and he's like half a foot taller than Masaru, heh.

Oh, okay. Yoshii was coming out there to take Masaru Takeda out of the game despite only being up to 74 pitches in 6.2 innings, because uhh.. Masaru is left-handed and the next batter is RIGHTY MONSTER HOME RUN HITTING TAKETOSHI GOTOH. So uhh... hey, it's Yoshinori Tateyama! Is that a good idea? I dunno, we'll see.

In the meantime the Giants had bases loaded with one out and didn't score at all. Hahahahaha. Still 4-0 going into the 6th over there.


Aww, Yahoo Douga doesn't show the 7th inning stretch and the singing of the Fighters songs. And on TV I'm faced with a Nagashima family commercial for Mitsubishi UFJ bank. Whee.

Seventh inning, bottom:
Well, there goes Kishi. And there goes Yahoo Douga. Time to restart again.
Koji Mitsui comes out to pitch for Seibu. Kishi threw 91 pitches.
I didn't realize it until he went away for the Olympics, but I MISSED THIS GUY. おかえりなさい稲葉さん! And the CF camera shaking from all the jumping... yeah!
Uhhh... and Inaba struck out called. That sucked.
Kaneko grounds out to short and Hichori hits a popout to right.

Eighth inning, top:
Hisashi Takeda takes the mound for the Fighters. Satoshi Nakajima comes in to catch, I'm not really sure why and...
...while I am writing that sentence, HOLY CRAP OKAWARI-KUN HITS A HOME RUN. That was his 32nd of the year. Unfreakingreal. It went way back into the Fighters cheering section, too. I feel like I've seen this before. Seriously. Tie Game, 3-3. Hirao grounds out back to the mound and here's Urawa Gakuin's Yoshihito Ishii as a pinch-hitter for Hosokawa. Ishii pops out to left and then Shogo Akada grounds out to third to end the inning.

Tie game. Argh.
I should note, by the way, that it's only 8:15pm at this point. Fast game!

Eighth inning, bottom:
Chikara Onodera takes the mound for Seibu and Ginjiro Sumitani comes in as catcher.
Takahito Kudoh slaps at a pitch that's about to hit the ground -- seriously -- and ends up grounding it to second. Kensuke strikes out. Koyano gets a single to right, through a diving Ishii. Yahoo Douga dies on me again and will NOT COME BACK ARGH

Botts seems to have hit a pop out to left to end the eighth.

Ninth inning, top:
While Yahoo Douga was dead for me and I could not watch, Kataoka grounded out, Tomoaki Satoh doubled, and Hiram Bocachica was hit by yet another pitch. Then uhh... I got Yahoo Douga up in time to see Akira Etoh ground to third, and Naoto threw the ball to Kensuke at second, who tagged the base and went to throw to first just as Hiram Bocachica went sliding into second and literally KNOCKED KENSUKE OVER, his legs went flying and he collapsed on the ground, the throw going awry of first. Satoh scored in the meantime -- Seibu 4, Fighters 3.

After a pause to see if Kensuke was still alive, he eventually stood up, and then Haruki Kurose replaced Etoh at second as a pinch-runner. Gotoh struck out to end the inning.

Ninth inning, bottom:
Alex Graman, the Seibu closer, came in to pitch.
Yoshio Itoi led off the inning by singling to left! Naoto "I bunt as well as Kensuke" Inada bunted Itoi over to second. Shinji Takahashi pinch-hits for Satoshi Nakajima and... grounds out to third, but Itoi gets to third. Ugh... runner on third and two outs and the bottom of the ninth and here is Makoto Kaneko. I love Kaneko but this does not exactly look good for the home team.

Yeah, Kaneko grounds out to second to end the game, Seibu winning 4-3.
As usual, Seibu just goes ahead and bludgeons their way to a win. I suppose if there's a game hero it's got to be Gotoh for his two early homeruns.. or Okawari-kun for his game-tying homerun... or something.

Oh, no, it's Gotoh.
The Fighters game ended at 8:49pm, and by the way, it seems like the 7pm-9pm Giants broadcast is already over in favor of like 5 minutes of commercials to end it. Whaaaatever.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Game Report: Marines vs. Fighters @ Tokyo Dome -- Gaijin Power!

I took a day off from work so I could go see the Fighters play the Marines at the Tokyo Dome on Tuesday.

It was another one of those games where the Fighters were the home team in Tokyo, which means that the full fan club tables were there and a lot of the Hokkaido-only merchandise was available. I was FINALLY able to buy a WE LOVE HOKKAIDO series jersey! They only sell them for a limited time, and I think it's a really nice design.

The other good thing is that I could finally get that little bitty error fixed where I had a JUNIOR fan club member's card for the last 5 months and didn't know it. Yeah.

I went to do pinbadges, and ran into the Crazy Kensuke Fan that I met after the last Tokyo Dome game I went to. She was sitting there near the gatchapon machines with a TON of pinbadges in front of her, looking kind of like a flea market merchant or something. Anyway, she recognized me, and explained that she has TOO MANY PINBADGES so please, go ahead and switch mine for whatever ones I wanted. I forget what I originally got, but I came out with Interleague Chunichi, Interleague Baystars, and Sledge #10, Micheal #36, and Hichori #1. (A bit later one of my friends gave me another Hichori pinbadge, so now I have two, heh.)

As it turns out, due to me misunderstanding a bit of Japanese, two different groups saved me a seat. I sat with Kamagaya Ojisan and Hiromi and that gang, because they were in the very front row of the outfield seats, which you just can't beat; tons of leg room and an awesome view and perfect place to hold up signs and all. I went to talk to my other friends for a while. One of the guys said that his wife just gave birth to their first kid the day before, so everyone was like "congrats on becoming a father!" Me, I was like, "congrats... WHY ARE YOU HERE TODAY??? IS YOUR WIFE OKAY?" Baseball fans here really are pretty crazy.

I was a little worried about Ryan Glynn starting since he never seems to win games when I am there, but I also realized that Hiroyuki Kobayashi, the Marines starter, ALSO never wins games when I am there, so it seemed like luck was more likely to be on the side of the Fighters in a case like that.

Also, it should be said that the left field side was PACKED with Lotte fans in the outfield. They were crazy and loud and warlike and bouncing and never let up for one minute, to the last out of the game.

The Fighters got off to a quick lead in the first inning when Hichori ran out an infield single, and Kobayashi walked Kensuke and Koyano to load the bases and Jason Botts hit a sac fly to center to score Hichori, 1-0. Unfortunately, that's all the Fighters got out of their bases loaded opportunity.

In the 4th inning, Kaneko singled and was bunted up, and Hichori walked, and then there was a wild pitch to the backstop during Kudoh's at-bat, Kaneko and Hichori moving up a base. Kudoh hit a long grounder to short, and while Heiuchi made a decent play on it, it was a long throw and Kudoh went SLIDING HEADFIRST into first base, which would normally totally piss me off, but it was pretty dramatic here and it allowed Kaneko to score. 2-0.

JA-SON BOT-TSU hit a MONSTER shot home run in the 5th inning -- they measured it at being 140 meters, but it literally went all the way out to centerfield, PAST the scoreboard on the right, almost hitting the #34 uniform board for Masaichi Kaneda's retired number. It was huge! It was happy. It was 3-0.

Hashimoto grounded a ball off Glynn's foot in the 5th, but apparently it didn't do any lasting damage (thank god).

The mascots for both teams came out in the fifth inning for YMCA. The Fighters mascot B.B. walked up in front of our section and he was carrying a pink handbag. At first I thought it was some bizarre prank like when rookies have to wear pink backpacks sometimes in the US, but it turns out that no... he had STOLEN RINE-CHAN'S HANDBAG and came over to the Fighters side to show it off. Hee.

Minako got a text message from her mother up in Sapporo who was watching the game, "I just saw you on TV with Hiromi and a gaijin ojosan, all of you in green!" Heh.

My friends decided that I am apparently "shibui" because I brought age-sembei to share. Me, I'm just happy to not feel like a leech for once.

In the bottom of the 7th inning, with Koyano on base, and Jason Botts at bat, the ouendan struck up the Ponyo ouenka from the Seibu Dome, only singing "big big HOME RUN" at the end. Thing is, none of my friends had been at the Seibu Dome games, so they were like "huh? what is this?" So I whipped out my camera and showed them the words. I know there's got to be some weird full circle thing going on here; 6 years ago at the Tokyo Dome a bunch of Japanese people taught me the ouenka, and here we are now, with me teaching ouenka to some Japanese people.

Well, Botts walked and so we struck up the Kanto-only Chitty Chitty Bang Bang chance music for Itoi, who responded by singling to center, scoring Koyano. 4-0!

They switched to the Hokkaido-only Genghis Khan chance music for Shinji Takahashi after that, and he popped out to right. It was my first time hearing it and I'm not sure whether I like it or not yet.

Then, the "From the North Country" chance music for Kaneko, who walked. At this point Lotte pitcher Yoshihiro Itoh (who had taken over for HiroKoba after the 5th) came out of the game and Satoru Komiyama took the mound. Wasshoi chance music filled the pitching change, and then back to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang for Naoto Inada's at-bat, which resulted in him grounding out to second. Oh well.

Hisashi Takeda handled the top of the 8th pretty quickly; Kodai Matsumoto pitched the bottom of the 8th and managed to PICK HICHORI OFF FIRST BASE, and then Micheal Nakamura closed out the 9th and that was it! FIGHTERS WIN!

There's Ojisan and Minako up on the big screen with their signs.

Jason Botts and Ryan Glynn were the game heroes; Glynn for pitching 7 shutout innings and Jason for his monster shot and the 2 RBI. Ryan said that he was happy for Jason since he's been working so hard and it was good to see that pay off finally, and Jason said he was just happy he could help the team and all that.

And naturally, I missed Sweeney's pitching by one day yet again, since he threw a complete game win in Fukuoka on Monday. Figures. Also figures that I missed Hichori doing another crazy stunt by a day -- this time he dressed up as a frog during pre-game practice during Monday's game in Fukuoka. No idea why he couldn't save it for the home fans -- maybe Shinjo is there in Kyushu? Who knows.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Game Report: Eagles vs. Marines @ Chiba Marine - In with the old, out with the new

When I went down to Chiba Marine Stadium for Monday's game, I'll admit that I mostly was only interested in doing two things:

1) Taking photos of the awesome Lotte throwback uniforms
2) Watching Shunsuke Watanabe continue his undefeated streak

(I wanted to say hi to Seguignol and the other Rakuten foreign players again, but I got there a bit late, I guess.)

I hung out by the dugout after Rakuten finished BP, and waited for the Marines to come out and take fielding practice so I could get camera trigger-happy. Coach Kenji Morozumi came out and stood by the dugout too, and I told him I really admired his tarp sliding skills (from Sunday, when the game rained out, and Morozumi put on a performance sliding into soaking wet tarp-covered bases) and that it looked like fun. He laughed and said thanks, and that yeah, it was actually pretty fun to do.

Tachibana-trainer came out to do the pregame stretches with the team, and a bit later I went crazy taking photos. Unfortunately, I seem to have accidentally made a mistake with the white balance on my camera, which of course was made slightly worse by these off-white uniforms. But anyway, here is my photo set from the whole day, and here are a few of my favorites from the pre-game:

Staring over Morozumi's shoulder -- but look at the uniform details!

Toshiaki Imae might have actually shaved this week.

I have no clue what Ohmatsu and Ohtsuka were talking about but I bet it was pretty funny.

Takeshi Kanazawa ponders infinity.

Shunichi Nemoto + Throwback Uniform + High Socks = Infinite Awesome

Masahiko Tanaka (gingiragin!)

Bobby Valentine came out and said hi and asked where the heck I'd been. ("I was here yesterday! But I didn't see you! Too rainy?") You know, I had been feeling a little bit grumpy/sad before that, but I discovered that it is fairly impossible to be unhappy around Bobby. He was smiling and waving to fans and yelling hello to them and posing for pictures and everything. Maybe it's the Bobby Magic or something.

Larry Rocca encouraged me to go run after Bobby to the lineup exchange with Katsuya Nomura, one of the most notorious and celebrated figures in Japanese baseball history. So I did, lining up with all the other photographers trying to shoot the epic event. The only problem is, all the photographers followed NOMURA back to the RAKUTEN dugout and I didn't know how on earth to get back to the Marines dugout, so I just... ducked and ran, as fast as I could. Larry told me that I almost got killed by a throw between Hashimoto and Kanazawa. Whoops. I think next time I will skip that part of the pregame ceremonies :)

This guy terrifies me.

This guy is awesome.

I tried, but could not get a decent picture of Hisao Heiuchi and the gigantic bandage behind his ear. Last Tuesday, on the 12th, Heiuchi had to be carried off the field on a stretcher after a bizarre accident -- he was at third base running home as Saburo hit a double. Saburo's bat split and a big chunk of baseball bat went flying towards Heiuchi running home and ripped open a gash in his neck. He scored the run, holding his ear/neck in pain, and then was basically taken to a hospital where they found no serious damage done, thankfully. I am astounded that he was already back on the field two or three days later. Seriously. In the US I bet a guy with a freak accident like that would have been out for quite a while (although probably partially imposed by the 15-day DL rule, but still).

The field became crowded with pre-game festivities; mascots and Marines Dance Girls and other photographers and officials from the Chiba City Office were all on hand, as well as Tomehiro Kaneda (#17), a pitcher for the Lotte Orions in the mid-to-late 1970's, who threw out the ceremonial first pitch. I escaped after people gave flowers and speeches, and ran back to the press room, where I watched the first three innings of the game. Had a great conversation with a scout who was back there, and a damn good thing too, because the bottom of the second inning would have been a royal pain in the neck to figure out on my own:

Saburo led off with a single to center, okay.
Takehara followed that up with a double into the leftfield corner, fine.
Then Benny came to bat and also doubled to the leftfield corner. The other two guys scored to make it 2-0.
Hashimoto popped out to right, and then...
Okay, so Akira Ohtsuka hit a ground ball to third. But Jose Fernandez kinda took an odd twist with the ball and maybe threw it to first before he was aimed right, so the ball went sailing over Fernando Seguignol. And since Seguignol is THE tallest first baseman in Japan now, that's one pretty big target to miss. Benny went to third and Ohtsuka made it to second on the play. And then...
Alright, so I guess Masato Watanabe was trying for a squeeze bunt play, one out and runners on second and third, right? Except... he got up to two strikes and then struck out bunting, the bunt going foul. At least, I think that's what happened... except for whatever reason, the catcher had to throw to first, maybe? And somehow Benny scored from third anyway, and Ohtsuka ended up on third too? I know runners can steal bases on a third strike normally, and it appears that Benny and Ohtsuka were both credited with stolen bases, so I guess that's what happened, even though the third strike was a pop foul? I guess you learn something every day! 3-0.

We interrupt this game report with a brief "We Love Love Love Submarines" interlude, because the next few innings all kind of equate to "A whole lot of zeroes", and I snuck into the camera well so I could attempt to get some decent shots of Shunsuke:

And one of Rakuten starter Hiroshi Katayama. I was playing with the stadium lights angle for this one but I think it actually came out okay.

The Useless Statistics committee points out that:
Deanna has attended 11 Lotte games this year (not counting rainouts or minor league)
Shunsuke Watanabe started 7 of them, and Hiroyuki Kobayashi started the other 4.
In those games, Shunsuke is 3-2 with two no-decisions.
Shunsuke, however, is 11-4 on the season right now, because he is awesome. This August 18th game marked TWO MONTHS since the last time he lost a game, on June 18th in Yokohama. In the 8 games since then he is 6-0 with two no-decisions. (One of those no-decisions was, naturally, the game in Fukuoka that I went to, which he really should have won, and was almost there, with two batters to go...)
He is 6-3 at home and 5-1 on the road, oddly, and has won a game in every PL stadium this year except for Fukuoka Yahoo Dome, go figure.

By the way, his birthday is next Wednesday (August 27th). Unfortunately, the Marines play the Fighters that day, so I can't hope for him to win a game then :)

After my stint in the camera well I went and sat in the stands with the Murata family since I didn't get to watch a game with them on Sunday due to the rainout. We were about 10 meters away from where I was in the camera well, though, in the wing seats. I thought it'd be a better angle to get a shot of fans waving bananas during Seguignol's at-bats, but the lighting was worse. Alas.

With two outs in the bottom of the 7th, Masahiko Tanaka hit a single, and then Koichi Hori singled to center. Centerfielder Teppei bobbled the ball a bit, though, and was late getting it in; in the meantime Masahiko was off running as soon as the ball left Hori's bat, so he was able to score on the play, reaching home about a split second ahead of the ball. 4-0. Hori made it to second on the play and was replaced by pinch-runner Daisuke Hayakawa... and Nomura sauntered out of the dugout to inform the world that Katayama was done and would be replaced by Hisashi Kitani (who started the one inning of Sunday's game before it rained out). Kitani got a groundout from Imae to end the inning.

Shunsuke handled Rakuten easily in the top of the 8th (strikeout, popout, strikeout) and Saburo started off the bottom of the 8th with a walk. Kazuya Fukuura had replaced Hori at first base for the top of the 8th, so he was up to bat... and being a lefty (if you look at the Marines lineup it is basically all righties except Hashimoto) again, Nomura chose to switch from Kitani to Kenta Satake, the lefty one-out type of guy they got from Hiroshima last month when they traded Rui Makino.

Satake did get his one-out guy -- two outs even, as Fukuura grounded back to the mound for a double play -- but then Benny RIPPED a double off him to right field. Hashimoto, who Mitch pointed out to me has an apparent cheer song of "Michael Row Your Boat Ashore Hallelujah" or whatever it's called, ALSO ripped a double to right field, scoring Benny. 5-0. Akira Ohtsuka, who has a totally wacky hunched almost-Tanedaesque batting stance, walked after that. But with two guys on and two outs, Masato Watanabe struck out (for the third time that day) to end the inning.

Shunsuke took the mound to try for a complete game shutout, and the first batter of the 9th inning was Kensuke Uchimura.

I would love to sometime write an entire entry about The Adventures of Little Kensuke Uchimura, but the long and short of it, pun intended, is that he went through a pretty crazy path to end up as a pro player here, through the industrial leagues and the Hokushinetsu league and then Rakuten's taxi squad draft, and worked his way up through the farm team. At 5'4 and 140 pounds he IS the smallest guy in pro baseball here, even out-shorting Makoto Kosaka's 5'6 height.

Kensuke Uchimura before the game, with his high socks and his crazy old-fashioned thick-handle wooden bat.

To give an idea of how tall he is... you will note that this (somewhat crappy due to bad lighting) photo contains one normal-height American player, one normal-height Japanese player, one normal-height BAT BOY... and then Kensuke Uchimura. See for yourself where he fits into that scale.

So Uchimura led off the top of the 9th. The first thing he did was foul a ball right to our section, one aisle over from us. Unfortunately, It hit a guy right in the face. I think it actually split his lip open, he was bleeding pretty badly. The ushers took a while to come over and seemed kind of clueless about what to do when they did, and everyone around seemed to be in shock, so Mitch grabbed some tissues and wet wipes and ran over and was like "hey! you are BLEEDING, put this on the cut so you can stop the blood." Another guy had caught the foul ball on the rebound and gave it to the bleeding guy's son, and then guy and son were both escorted out by some ushers, ostensibly to seek medical care. I hope the guy is okay.

While all of that excitement was happening, Uchimura hit what I thought was a hard liner to Imae, but I guess it bounced, because Imae got it and then had to make a long throw to first, and Uchimura is a FAST LITTLE DUDE and so he beat the throw there for an infield single. Daisuke Kusano pinch-hit a popout to short, and then Shunsuke hit Fernando Seguignol with a pitch for the SECOND time that day, this time right in the middle of his back. (BTW, Shunsuke currently leads the league in hit batters with 11.) Jose Fernandez came to the plate with the two guys on, and BLAM he hit the ball out to left field for a double. Uchimura scored and Seggy went to third, 5-1, and with Shunsuke's shutout gone, and the game turned to a save situation, Bobby went to his closer Tadahiro Ogino to finish out the game.

Ogino got a groundout from Takeshi Yamasaki (scoring Seguignol -- 5-2), and then struck out Kenshi Kawaguchi to end the game. Marines win!

The game heroes were Benny Agbayani for driving in those first runs, and Shunsuke Watanabe for being Shunsuke Watanabe. I thought a few things were a little bit weird about the hero interview, though. You can see a transcript of it here in Japanese, but this is what Benny actually said in English and a rough translation of what Shunsuke said...

Interviewer: What were you thinking in the second inning before hitting your double?

Benny: It was in my mind just that I was gonna try to drive the runs in, and um, I did, and it was great!

Interviewer: I think those two runs gave Watanabe-pitcher a big push.

Benny: We're playing now, with the momentum we have, we have to take advantage of it, because it's coming down to the wire and every game's gonna count after this.

Interviewer: Today you were wearing the old style uniforms. Did that change how you felt while playing?

Benny: Yeah, I wanted to win a lot of games so Bobby Valentine would make us wear these uniforms, because these are *COOL*.

Interviewer: We hope you'll win in every uniform you wear. Can you say a message for the fans?

Benny: Sure, I'll send a message to the fans, but first I want to send a message to my daughter Ailana, today is her birthday and this doll is for her. To the fans, thank you very much, you are the best fans in baseball!

So then they turn to Shunsuke...

Interviewer: You almost got a shutout, huh.

Shunsuke: Winning is good enough for me. (deadpan laugh)

Interviewer: It was very nice pitching!

Shunsuke: It was sweet to finish it.

Interviewer: You haven't lost a game in two months and have 6 wins in a row. What's the secret of your success?

Shunsuke: Oh, well, Benny's hit today gave me a nice comfortable win, I think. (laughs)

Interviewer: There are 34 games left so your good pitching will be more and more important. Can you give a message to the fans?

Shunsuke: Today is Kajiwara-PR-guy's birthday, so this doll is for him! Umm... today is the last day to see the old uniforms, but I think you can still expect to see us win in our real uniforms. Please come cheer for us from now on as well. Thank you very much.

I guess the main thing I thought was weird was... I sometimes wonder if Shunsuke is being cocky or just has a bizarre sense of humor. His hero interviews often have this sort of weird mood to them, but I couldn't figure out why he was saying he'd give the doll to Kajiwara -- was he making fun of Benny, or just trying to be funny? I think it was the latter, because I would naturally always give my hero the benefit of the doubt. At the time it struck me as odd though. Maybe he also realizes how totally formulaic the hero interviews are and just wants to be a little different (because well, he IS different than all other pitchers!)

Anyway, fun game, and it's always good to see a Shunsuke win, especially a Shunsuke win in an awesome throwback uniform with high socks where he isn't playing against the Nippon Ham Fighters.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Rainy Days in Chiba

Well, I went down to Chiba to watch the game on Sunday, only it was raining. Not hard rain, but still, rain that didn't seem to be stopping.

Despite that, guys were out on the field taking batting practice. So I snuck into the Rakuten dugout. First thing I did was just talk to Jose Fernandez for a few minutes. I asked him about all the rain and he explained that the Chiba turf was a bit different than Rakuten's -- apparently Rakuten keeps replacing theirs, and Chiba's is a bit older, so it takes the rain a little differently. I asked him if he thought there was a logjam at DH/1B with Seguignol in the mix, and he said that it should be okay since he (Jose) could also play third base, so Yamasaki and Seggy could split time at first base, maybe. Sometimes teams sacrifice a little defense for more offense. He said that the team still considers themselves to be in the race, since the Pacific League is so close.

After Jose went off to take BP, I found Fernando Seguignol! As a long-term Fighters fan I have of course also been a big Seguignol fan, so I wanted to welcome him back to Japan. He was REALLY nice and friendly -- and he's really happy to be back in Japan! He loves it here.

I talked to Seguignol for about half an hour after he took BP, seriously. I just asked questions and despite still being jet-lagged, he was very candid and just talked about all kinds of stuff. Seriously. It was great to get his story on a lot of things (including his release from the Fighters -- his knees were fine, the team made that up). I'll write it up in a day or two.

As for the rest of the time, I took some pictures during BP, then a bit in the pre-game, said hi to the coaches, and... it was still raining, but they started the game. Hiroyuki Kobayashi started for Chiba, and Hisashi Kitani was starting for Rakuten.

However, it was just raining too much, and they called a rain delay after ONE INNING! The Eagles had gotten two base-runners but no runs, the Marines had one walk (leadoff Nemoto) and no runs.

I was sitting with the Murata family for this game again, and we were trying not to get wet sitting in the wing seats. After the delay we moved up to Bar Magic, and about 20 minutes later the game got officially cancelled.

Then there was a big head-sliding party on the wet field. Kenji Morozumi led off the festivities. Eh, I'll just let the pictures from the day tell the story.

Media people stay dry from the rain by holding court with Katsuya Nomura.

Seguignol taking some tee swings.

Jose Fernandez works out at third base with Daisuke Kusano and another guy I couldn't identify.

Jose Fernandez again.

Naoto Watanabe swings an... axe?

The Marines did a kind of shadow lineup of the Lotte Orions along with the current lineup. I saw this one of Yoshio Mizukami as the shortstop batting 9th and I'm like.. HEY THAT'S THE FIGHTERS NI-GUN MANAGER! Crazy.

Stadium staff takes off the tarp covering the field. The person pictured on the big screen, by the way, is Choji Murata.

I got a picture taken with coach Frank Ramppen modelling the Lotte throwback uniform.

Okay, this is the announcement for the wet tarp headsliding contest. They were trying to get Kenji Morozumi to come out of the dugout and do it and he was making a big show of how he was NOT GOING TO DO IT, but eventually they forced him out onto the field.

Morozumi-coach starts off at home plate and hits a mock single, amidst the ouendan even playing his cheer song and yelling "Kattobase Morozumi!"

He goes sliding headfirst into first base, causing a HUGE SPLASH. After that he pretended to take a lead off the base and dived back into the base, causing a BIGGER SPLASH.

Morozumi steals second, which results in another big splash and he goes sliding across the tarp into the outfield.

Morozumi runs home from second, rounds third, and does another huge splash into home plate.

The press can't get nearly enough of a totally soaked Morozumi lying motionless on the field.

Marines mascot Cool tries it too, but isn't quite as entertaining.

And then many other people go ahead and also play the sliding game, on some smaller tarps behind home plate.

It wasn't a waste of a day -- I was overjoyed to talk to Seguignol, really, and if I see Morozumi again I will have to try to figure out how to say "Sliding Master" in Japanese to tell him how awesome I thought his performance was :)

I'm heading back down today for Shunsuke Day today. No rain in the forecast, so it should be a lot better.

Also dear god this Koshien match is a landslide. I guess we all knew Toin was going to steamroll their way through everyone in their path, but still.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Game Report: Fighters vs. Lions @ Seibu Dome -- 4000 wins for the Lions, and 4200 losses for the Fighters

I had a pretty special day at the Seibu Dome on Monday (August 11). This entry is long and took me several days to write. I apologize. If you want, you can just scroll through and look at pictures and check out the bizarre statistic at the end.

Masanori, one of the marketing guys for the Lions, who speaks amazing English, had invited me to come see things behind the scenes a little at the stadium sometime -- perhaps as a further effort to have me stop calling it the Seibu Dump -- and so with the Fighters in town, I took the opportunity to see my favorite team a little more close up :)

It was also going to be Lisa's last baseball game in Japan before moving back to Canada. She came along as my "translator", which really meant "your perceived lack of language skill is no longer an excuse for being shy HA HA HA". Lisa is fearless and also fluent in Japanese and English. If you could combine my baseball brain and her social/speaking skills, you would probably have some sort of unstoppable creature. Baseblogtrix, Devourer of Worlds?

I arrived first, around 3:20pm for the 6pm game, and I was introduced to Taisei Takagi, who is one of the marketing/PR guys for the team. If that name sounds familiar to you, that is probably because he was an all-star first baseman for Seibu for ten years, out of Keio University. And I totally did not remember seeing him play, or anything about him, which made me feel TERRIBLE. Seriously. He was really nice about it though. (Can you imagine someone who played in the MLB for ten years in America being so forgiving of someone interested in baseball not knowing who they were?)

The guys ushered me down to the field almost immediately, and we sat down by the dugout and watched the end of Lions BP. To my credit I was, infact, able to name pretty much every [current] player that walked by -- even newer guys like Kurose and Gotoh. I suppose it helps that I saw them all in Chiba three weeks ago.

The stadium actually opened up at 3:30 that day as a "special service for fans" to see the Seibu batting practice. Apparently teams actually DO get a lot of claims or threats to sue them when fans get hit by baseballs during batting practice and the games, which is why they can't take down all of those silly obstructing fences everywhere. Lions BP (and Marines as well; I would guess maybe other teams too?) features TWO batting cages for the home team. Apparently that is REALLY REALLY dangerous because the fans can't watch both cages at once, so if anyone got hit by a BP home run ball they would sue the team. This seems very odd to me, of course.

As BP ended, the guys started walking off the field and Masanori said, "Hey, there's Bocachica-san, you wanted to talk to him?" and, I don't know where the courage came from, but yeah, I walked up to Hiram Bocachica and introduced myself and asked if I could possibly sit down and talk to him for a few minutes. He said sure, he'd be back in a minute or two after he put his warmup gear away. (I think the Lions guys were quietly giggling at how nervous I was about everything.) And so a few minutes later, sure enough, Bocachica came back out, and I got out my voice recorder, briefly explained who I am ("I'm a yakyuu blogger and I used to live in Seattle" sounds pretty lame, I admit), and chatted with him for about 5 minutes! (You can read the interview here.)

Afterwards I got them to take a photo of me with Hiram, and then Takagi got him to sign a baseball and gave it to me. Totally unexpected (kinda like my first time on the field at Chiba when I got a Bobby signed ball), but totally cool.

I got to go backstage behind the dugout and other stuff after that. We walked through the hallway behind everything, and I got to see the Control Room behind home plate, where they operate that lovely new scoreboard. It is apparently broken up into four parts that can be operated separately or together. During games they have one part for the lineup, one part for the overall score, and then the middle two parts for animations or replays.

Lisa arrived at the stadium just as we were walking out of the back hallway, so Masanori went to go get her, and Takagi took me up to see what the VIP restaurant area looks like. First, we got to walk up the "stairs of shame" as he called them -- when the Lions win a game they all walk up the upper set of stairs and high-five the fans, as a kind of fan service, to get to the clubhouse or whatever. When the team loses, they have to walk up this LOWER set of stairs, out of view from everyone, but it is still a BIG four-floor climb, not much fun at all, especially on a muggy summer day.

You take an elevator up to the VIP area, and it is basically a long row of... well, tables against a window, with these big plush benches. There's a really great view of everything, although it feels kind of far from the action. I was like "Is it really okay to sit down?" The airconditioning was on and it was actually really really nice in there, compared to the really hot humid weather outside. The only problem is, the Fighters were taking batting practice, so like the big dork I am, my eyes were GLUED to the field. Takagi must have thought I was completely crazy; they were offering for us to watch BP from a nice airconditioned comfortable chair and I was asking if I could go stand on the field in the heat!

Anyway, I did talk to him for a while, but I must have sounded like a complete idiot. "Oh, you played in the Tokyo Big 6 league? What college did you go to? Keio? You must be very smart... were you there at the same time as Yoshinobu? Oh, you are his sempai? Oh, also same high school as Yoshinobu? Toin Gakuen? Ahhh.. Toin... I know Osaka Toin... ohh... yeah, that is different, right? Ummm..."

I asked whether Seibu Dome was better than Seibu Kyujo, and he said definitely the old Seibu Kyujo... such nice trees everywhere, plus fireworks at night, and so on.

We went down to the concourse and met up with the others. Lisa and I got a picture taken with Takagi-san:

Then we went down to the field for Fighters batting practice! I was both really EXCITED and really SCARED TO DEATH to be standing ON THE FIELD with the Fighters all around!

So for lack of anything better to do, I took out my camera and started snapping photos. I mean, there was Tsuruoka! And Inada! And Imanari! Right there! Wearing high socks!

Lisa chatted with Takagi, since she's fluent in Japanese and can hold better conversations than me, and I chatted with Masanori, since he's fluent in English and can talk about the Philadelphia Phillies.

Eventually Micheal Nakamura came out to stretch and I don't know what possessed me exactly, but I walked up to him and introduced myself and asked if I could chat with him sometime. I probably did an extremely poor job of speaking because I was so nervous, but he said he'd come back after working out. Amazingly, he DID, and so he talked to me and Lisa for a while. I think Lisa was really delighted to meet a half-Japanese player who was half-whiteboy (as opposed to Darvish or Dass, or some of the Korean-descended players, etc), so they talked about being "half" for a while. I asked him directly why his name is spelled the way it is, and he said his dad did it to be different, and apparently it can be a pain a lot of the time with people mispelling it. He was born in Japan and did grow up in Australia, but he left when he was 18 to go to America for college and pro ball, and then ended up in Japan, so he barely goes back to Australia anymore, it seems.

We both asked him to let us take pictures with him. Here's me:

And I naturally have a bazillion questions to ask him someday. He asked me for a meishi so he could see my blog sometime, so for all I know he's already visited here and is going to run away screaming next time I see him. Who knows.

Makoto Kaneko came over and talked to Takagi for a while. I tried not to freak out. After he finished talking to Takagi and walked past me, I said ganbatte to him and nodded. He smiled and nodded back to me and said something of acknowledging! Wow! Kaneko is one of the only players left from my original time watching the Fighters, and has always been one of my favorites.

We had been keeping tabs on Hichori as he did fielding practice and batting practice and whatnot, and we saw him head to the dugout and a few reporters crowded him, so Lisa was like "Come on! It's your chance!!"

In the end, I was too nervous to say anything at all, so after people talked to Hichori for a bit and we were standing on the sidelines in the dugout, Lisa grabbed my arm and dragged me over and basically said to him in Japanese, "Excuse me, Mr. Hichori, but my friend is your BIGGEST FOREIGN FAN EVER and she's too shy to ask, will you pose for a picture with her?" I was so embarrassed, and completely starstruck and unable to say anything. But he smiled and laughed and was like "Really? Sure, of course!" So...

Good thing I was wearing green :)

(I have a feeling that if/when certain Fighters fan friends of mine see this they will totally freak out and I will have to figure out how to explain it all in Japanese.)

Anyway, I was kind of embarrassed and so I mostly just hung out after that. Took more pictures. Saw Jason Botts go by; couldn't decide how/what to say anything to him, especially because I was still feeling kind of guilty about the Botts cheer from the night before. Saw Ryan Glynn go by; waved and said a hello and good luck, but that was it. Sweeney was in the outfield the whole time I was there, so I didn't get to say hi.

Some of the younger guys (read: Imanari and Yoh) were in the dugout being goofy while the loudspeakers played the "Let's Go To The Stadium" song, they were waving their hands and dancing, it was really cute.

It should be noted that there were NO foreign press there, which was a little bit odd. In Chiba, there's almost always SOMEONE there covering things, which I guess makes more sense since Bobby is a popular subject for foreign fans to read about in English. BUT, this was the game that had the potential to be Seibu's FOUR THOUSANDTH FRANCHISE WIN. Why was nobody there? It didn't make any sense at all to me; there were NO other baseball games going on in the Kanto region; these Seibu guys are running away with the Pacific League title, the Fighters are the reigning PL champs and fighting for the playoff race, and such an important milestone? Maybe they were hiding in the press box...

Batting practice ended and we pretty much got dragged off the field. On the way up the stairs to the stands, we saw some American-looking guys sitting in the stands with clipboards and stuff. Lisa asks, "Are they writers?" and I'm like "No... those are scouts." "Who are they scouting?" "I... don't... know..."

We said goodbye to our excellent Lions hosts, and went to find our seats for the game.

On that note, here are some of the photos I took on the field. Keep in mind it was mostly an experiment with shooting at ISO 800 due to the lighting -- even when the sun is out in full force, the stadium is still fairly dark:

Catcher Shinya Tsuruoka.

Shortstop Makoto Kaneko.

Naoto Inada.

Hichori in the dugout, a bit before we approached him.

Ryota Imanari defies gravity and wears high socks!

Atsushi Ugumori.

Toshimasa Konta, having an extremely bad hair day one day before his birthday.

Kazuhito Tadano walked past us too.

Kaneko in uniform.

We hunted down food. Lisa really wanted a player bento, but the bento stand behind the 3rd base infield only had generic bento boxes, not even the GG Homerun one or the Kataoka Steal one. I personally really wanted KFC for some reason, so we ended up both getting KFC katsu sandwich comboes. I felt a little bad that it was Lisa's last day in Japan and she was eating freaking KENTUCKY FRIED CHICKEN for dinner, but I guess that's how things go sometimes.

After all of that excitement, we got to see a baseball game, too. Masaru Takeda was starting for the Fighters, and Takayuki Kishi for the Lions. As we watched the game start, Lisa told me about many interesting things she learned talking to Takagi, including that one of the Fighters BP pitchers had been a player whose career was ended by leukemia, of all things.

The Fighters kinda threatened in the top of the first, when Takahito Kudoh walked and then stole second base; Koyano singled to right and Kudoh tried to score, but he was thrown out by about 20 feet.

In the bottom of the 2nd, Taketoshi Gotoh led off with a single and then, probably because we were making fun of him, Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura blasted a home run out to center; Hichori climbed the back wall screen but to no avail. 2-0. Tomoaki "I'm not G.G." Satoh singled right after that, and Hosokawa bunted him to second. He stole third (Shinji Takahashi dropped the ball anyway) and then scored on a squeeze bunt by Haruki Kurose. 3-0.

(Side note: Before the game, I pretty much told my Seibu hosts that there would DEFINITELY be at least one Seibu home run, because I had never come to the Dome and not seen a Seibu home run. What I didn't realize was, not only that, I have NEVER come to the Dome and SEEN THE LIONS LOSE. Ever. Period. It's only a small sample size of 8 games or so over 3 seasons, but STILL.)

The Fighters tried again in the bottom of the 3rd; Makoto Kaneko led off with a single to short. Hichori was up two batters later and so they had a hit-and-run going when Hichori doubled to right. Kaneko was already off on the pitch, so he had no trouble getting to third on the play, but the coach waved him in, and in all honesty he beat the throw home by a hair but Toru Freaking Hosokawa was BLOCKING THE PLATE and so NATURALLY when Kaneko slid in he didn't have a shot at it; after the initial collision Kaneko grabbed for the plate and Hosokawa slapped him with a glove, and the umpire called Kaneko out. There was a brief "medical pause" while a bunch of trainers came out to take a look at Hosokawa's leg, and all I could think was, "Dude, if you didn't BLOCK THE DAMN PLATE you wouldn't have these problems with GUYS SLIDING INTO YOUR LEG."

We enjoyed the first 4 innings from our lovely seats 11 rows behind the Fighters dugout (thanks, Lions guys!!), but Lisa had to leave around 7:45pm in order to go home and finish packing for her sojourn across the Pacific. She wanted to yell and cheer in the outfield one last time, so we packed up our stuff and moved out.

The view we had of the game.

Masaru Takeda!

We got to the outfield stands towards the middle of the 5th; stood in back of the section singing for Kaneko and Naoto's at-bats, and one of the guys (who I recognized from several games, he always has a scorecard) saw us and was like "you guys wanna sit down? there's space over there", and pointed to a space on the bench up a few rows.

So we did.

And then Scorecard Guy realized that I ALSO HAD A SCORECARD, and nearly blew a gasket. "Look at this!!" he was telling the others around him, "this crazy gaijin girl ALSO keeps a scorecard AND she can WRITE KANJI!!!"

And then some of the other people were like "HEY WAIT A MINUTE. I've seen you before. You were in Sendai cheering for the Fighters last weekend too, weren't you?"

I admitted I was. "I saw you guys too! And in Fukuoka two weeks ago!"


Anyway, Lisa stayed for the top of the 6th, and we cheered for Hichori, and Kudoh, and Kensuke, and Koyano... and she had to leave to catch a train back to civilization after that. "I think you'll have no trouble making some new friends here," she said before leaving me alone in the outfield.

The only problem is, both teams had decent pitching and there were a lot of strikeouts and not so much in terms of runners on base or other things to cheer for or boo or whatever. Kensuke Tanaka did lead off the 9th with a single, and then the next three batters struck out. To our credit, rather than doing the "Jason Botts Hits A Foul" music from Sunday night, we continued with the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Kanto-only chance music, started during Eiichi Koyano's at-bat:

Ganbare bokura no Fighters, kimero hayaku!
Utte utte Jason! Ima da chance da Jason!

Well, anyway, Alex Graman struck out three guys in a row to end that 9th inning with Kensuke still standing on first base. The final score was 3-0, and it was the Lions' 4000th win as a franchise.

Infield board displaying the franchise 4000 wins broken down into Nishitetsu Clippers, Nishitetsu Lions, Taiheiyo Club Lions, Crown Lighter Lions, Seibu Lions, and Saitama Seibu Lions.

Game hero Takayuki Kishi, along with the big "4000 Wins" sign.

There were some history movies showing on the screen after the game, but I actually didn't really watch any of them at all. See, I had been talking to a group of guys for an inning or so -- after, for some reason I forget, the one guy made a "Kurose, korose!!" ("I'll kill you Kurose!" -- much funnier in Japanese) joke. So we were talking about random Fighters stuff. I asked where I could get one of the Hokkaido jerseys and he even offered me his jersey on to get an idea of size (which totally surprised me, given how most Japanese people have this attitude of "gaijin are too disgusting to even sit next to on the train", here's someone actually letting me WEAR THEIR CLOTHES, hence contaminating it for all eternity with my foreign-ness) and showed me where I could order it online on the Fighters keitai site. Super-nice guy. His friends and I talked about Yakiniku Erika and about last year's Fighters postseason and various other stuff. It was great.

Anyway, in what is probably one of the Weirdest Baseball Coincidences Ever, he was looking through my scorecard book and was like "Wait, you also write these at Kamagaya? And you were there on May 12?" He pointed to the date.

"Yeah, that was my first game there actually."

"I think that's the day I threw out the ceremonial first pitch!"

"You WHAT?"

"Yeah, I won a fan janken contest and got to throw out the pitch... I threw an overhand curve! Did you see?"

"I definitely saw, I probably even took a photo of you! Are you sure that's the right game?"

[looks through scorecard] "Definitely... Kikuchi-pitcher started.. Nakata-kun was playing, and Jones-player... the Fighters lost... I remember all of this!"

"Well, I am going to look through my photos when I get home and if I find you I will send it to you. Can we trade emails?"

So we traded email addresses and parted with a "see you next week at the Tokyo Dome in the outfield bleachers!"

(Sure enough, I looked through my photos the next day and I had one of him standing on the mound at Kamagaya. I nearly fell off my chair when I saw that. What are the CHANCES of going to my first Fighters minor league game on the day a fan throws out the ceremonial first pitch and then SITTING NEXT TO HIM IN THE BLEACHERS 3 MONTHS LATER IN TOKOROZAWA??)

I exited the stadium -- they gave us all "Seibu Lions 4000 Wins" postcards on the way out -- and go figure, the first people I see outside the gate are Scorecard Man and his friends. So I walked to the train with one of them, and then slowly our car acquired about ten more Fighters fans from their gang in the stands. There were these three guys who looked familiar that I hadn't seen in the stands, too, so I asked when we transferred at Nishi-Tokorozawa, and it turns out they were the guys who asked me and Lisa to pose for a picture with them at the Tokyo Dome last month. Go figure. Second bizarre coincidence of the day I guess.

I rode back to Ikebukuro with two other guys and didn't even notice how bloody long the stupid ride was because we spent the entire time talking about baseball and Olympics and Fighters and stuff.

I'm completely psyched for the Tokyo Dome Fighters-Marines game on Tuesday; I'm taking a day off work to go, and should get to see lots of Fighters friends new and old! Now I just have to hope they actually win the game :(

By the way, in case you are wondering, the subject of this post is NOT a joke. It was seriously the 4000th win for the Lions franchise, and it was SERIOUSLY the 4200th loss for the Fighters franchise -- I looked it up on Yahoo, the team had 3723 wins and 4151 losses through 2007, and their 2008 won/loss record after this game was 52 wins and 49 losses.

I guess that's the THIRD Big Weird Baseball Coincidence of the day, huh?