Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Game Report: Buffaloes vs. Lions @ Seibu Dome - The Kiyohara Conundrum

I went to the Seibu Dome tonight for the Lions' final home game of the season. It was cold and rainy and terrible outside, and I was kind of sick this weekend, but thanks to being informed and encouraged by a particularly awesome Seibu staff member, I decided to journey out to Tokorozawa anyway. I invited Simon to come with me since he's got a flexible schedule and can actually go to games on Mondays, plus he grew up watching the Lions so I thought the Kiyohara ceremony would be interesting to him.

Unlike most normal weekday Lions games, this one was not only close to sold out in advance, but people actually WENT to it. By the time I arrived at 4:30pm, it was already difficult to get up to the fence to watch BP, because people were standing there all the way out past the baselines. Crazy. I kind of assumed they wanted to see Kiyohara, and I also assumed he'd already taken BP by that point.

After the Buffaloes finished BP, a bunch of Lions went out to take infield practice, and you know who I saw out there tossing with Nakajima? TORU FREAKING HOSOKAWA, THAT'S WHO. So for those of you (read: Christopher) who are up in arms about how Benny injured him so badly... I don't think it could have been THAT bad if he was out there throwing, laughing, and even playing in tonight's game, where he went 1-for-3 with a walk. I'm just saying. I was really surprised to see Hosokawa, but I'm glad he's okay. Or at least, I will be until he hits a grand slam against the Fighters in the playoffs.

How I spent the rest of the time before the game is a bit of a blur. I bought a Kataoka bento for dinner because it was the only player bento available inside the stadium (but it has a lot of cool stuff inside!), and then I took some photos while waiting for Simon to show up. I caught Oze and Hamanaka and Shimoyama running around in left field, and then I sat by the bullpen to watch Orix starting pitcher Mamoru Kishida warm up, sitting in the second row to avoid the strict ushers. Simon arrived and I ran off to the entrance to go get him, and shortly after that the game started.

Kazuhisa Ishii was starting for Seibu, and he spent the first inning getting three strikeouts and giving up a HUGE 2-run homer to Alex Cabrera. 2-0. Seibu made up one of those runs in their half of the first between a Kuriyama single and Nakajima double off the wall. 2-1. Kishida, to his credit, got three strikeouts himself in the bottom of the 2nd, after an errant pickoff throw to first base on Yoshihito Ishii.

It looked like the Lions were going to break open the game in the 4th inning, when Taketoshi Gotoh led off with a double to right, RF Shimoyama falling over on the play, and then Gotoh stole third as Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura struck out. Then Yoshihito Ishii grounded to short... and Keiji Ohbiki fired the ball to home plate, and I don't even know why the heck Gotoh was running at all, as I blurted, "You are SO out." And he was, by a mile. Yutaro Osaki got his first hit of the year after that, a "double" to "center" where the ball really fell down in the middle of a triangle between the CF, 2B, and SS, and so Ishii stayed at third, and that's where the inning ended as Hosokawa struck out.

In the top of the 5th I finally got to point out the cool Towel Chance Dance that the Orix fans do, but it didn't help them much as Alex Cabrera was intentionally walked to load the bases and Ishii struck out Tuffy Rhodes on a checked swing. As it is, Takeshi Hidaka (?!) hit a home run in the top of the 6th to make it 3-1.

But the Lions weren't having any of that. I was looking at the scoreboard and noticing Taketoshi Gotoh had hit 11 homeruns this season, and just as I was mentioning that I had watched him hit about half of those, he chose that moment to hit ANOTHER one, over the left-field wall into the visiting ouendan. 3-2. Teammate Okawari-kun came up to bat and took the second pitch he saw and not only hit a home run, but he hit a home run CLEAR OUT OVER THE LEFTFIELD STANDS.

"Man, Okawari-kun must be hungry," I remarked, "That homerun ball was aimed straight for the KFC stand." 3-3.

After giving up a double to Yoshihito Ishii, Mamoru Kishida was finally taken off the mound, and between Shogo Yamamoto and Hidetaka Kawagoe, they got out of the inning with the tie intact.

The Lucky 7 inning saw the Lions put Koji Ohnuma on the mound, who promptly threw about ninety billion super-inside pitches at Orix second baseman Mitsutaka Gotoh until he eventually hit him with a pitch on the wrist. It looked bad, but after a delay, he came back. Then in the bottom of the 7th, Kataoka led off by lining to second, and Gotoh made this fantastic diving snag catch of the ball.

"Nice play," said Simon.

"Even nicer is that it was just done by a dude who just got hit in the wrist!"

Then Takumi Kuriyama hit a grounder up the middle and Gotoh didn't make a perfect play on it, so they called it an error. Huh. Nakajima hit a fly ball out to center and Sakaguchi made a long run to make a fantastic catch, and then threw the ball in. Kuriyama was already halfway across the galaxy by the time the ball came down, so Sakaguchi's throw to first seemed to have gotten there in time for a tagout, but the umpire called Kuriyama safe at the bag before the play was even finished. First baseman Alex Cabrera was PISSED, and a small argument ensued, with manager Ohishi coming out to talk at the umpire long enough to let Cabrera cool down a bit. Kuriyama stole second a few moments later; I joked that he "wanted to get away from the big crazy dude at first base".

Anyway, we get to the top of the 9th inning, and I turn to Simon, and say, "I sense a BIG problem here."

"What's that?"

"Umm... Kiyohara?"

"Oh... YEAH."

"Does it make any sense at all to pinch-hit him?"

"No, it doesn't."

"But isn't Ohishi pretty much OBLIGATED to pinch-hit him? Or face a riot from the fans in the stands who came here to relive their childhoods?"

"He'll do it if they score a run, I think..."

So Keiji Ohbiki comes to bat, and he walks on four straight pitches. People are craning their heads to see who is in the on-deck circle, but it is... Tomotaka Sakaguchi. Who sac bunts Ohbiki up to second. More neck-craning, but Shinji Shimoyama's in the on-deck circle, and he singles to left, moving Ohbiki to third.

There are chants in the stand. "KIYOHARA! KIYOHARA!"

But no, Ohishi has slightly better things to do today, like win a baseball game, so the next batter is Mitsutaka Gotoh. The chants continue.

"Uhhh, who the heck is he going to REPLACE? What are these people thinking?" I ask.

"Yeah, and after this the heart of the order's coming up, do they really think he's going to pinch-hit for Tuffy Rhodes?" replies Simon.

So yeah, Gotoh tries for a suicide squeeze, and he bunts to the pitcher, and the pitcher throws to third base, and Ohbiki becomes a trapped rat between third and home... he runs, there's some baseball throwing, and eventually Hosokawa makes the putout, while the other batters move to second and third... where they remain as Alex Cabrera hits a big towering fly ball to right field.

Being as I'm usually a good-luck charm for Seibu, I figure they're just going to win it now. Earlier we'd been betting on which Seibu guy was going to get the walk-off home run, so when Hosokawa led off the bottom of the 9th, I kept shielding my eyes. "I can't watch," I said. "Let me know when the ball goes flying, okay?"

But Hosokawa only singled to left... was replaced by Kenta "No, not that one" Matsusaka as a pinch-runner at first. And then Craig Brazell grounded out into a 3-6-3 double play, and Kataoka popped out to center.

So, extra innings. They put a sign up on the centerfield scoreboard reminding everyone that games only go to 12 innings, and also that you are not supposed to use trumpets or drums for cheering after 10pm.

"DAIJIROOOOOOOO!" yelled a guy behind us, "BRING OUT KIYOHARA!"

And some others took up the chanting again. But Tuffy Rhodes came out to lead off the inning, and he doubled to right. Makoto Moriyama replaced him as a pinch-runner. "Hey, it's Moriyama," I said. "Pinch-runner, Morimoto," the loudspeaker said, then repeated correctly, "Pinch-runner, Moriyama". Heh.

Kitagawa (NOT Kiyohara, much to everyone's chagrin) executed a sac bunt properly and moved Moriyama to third, and then Hiroyuki Oze did another sac bunt, down the first base side, and Moriyama slid in at home plate before Ohnuma even got the ball. 4-3.

(Going through my photos later, I realized I not only had a photo of Oze and Moriyama warming up together during BP, but of Oze practicing bunts in the BP batter's cage, which I thought was odd at the time, but maybe should have seen as foreshadowing.)

Now that Orix had a run, who came out to the plate to bat but...

...Takeshi Hidaka. Hee hee. And there was absolutely no signs of any 41-year-old big slugger guys anywhere. We were joking, "Do you think they're going around in the dugout doing janken to decide who gets pinch-hit for?"

Hidaka struck out to end the inning. And in yet another "Huh, Ohishi makes interesting choices" move, he left Ryota Katsuki out there to finish the game, instead of bringing in closer Daisuke Katoh.

And well, it worked. Two quick outs, and then a Gotoh walk (preferable to a Gotoh homerun, I suppose). Then Okawari-kun and his 45 home runs came to the plate, and he grounded to short, where Ohbiki had to go deep for it and a pinch-running Tomoaki "Not GG" Satoh got to second safely before the throw came in. Two runners, and Yoshihito Ishii at the plate... but this time Ishii ended up striking out on a checked swing. Or not a checked swing. I don't really know, but either way, the Orix Buffaloes won 4-3 and this marked the end of a special game for several reasons:

1) it was the first time I had EVER seen the Lions lose a game at the Seibu Dome
2) the Buffaloes clinched a playoff spot by winning this game
3) there WAS no pinch-hitting Kiyohara after all (I have mad respect for Ohishi for doing this, actually)
4) it was the final season home game for the Lions and
5) it was the last time Kiyohara would step onto the field in uniform at the Seibu Dome.

Which is precisely what happened next. After the game ended, the players high-fived and all that, and rather than announcing a game hero or any such normal stuff, the fans started yelling "KIYOHARA! KIYOHARA! KIYOHARA!"

And so, Kiyohara stepped out onto the field. And the cheering grew.

I don't really know exactly what he planned to do, and it seemed like neither did he. He kind of just... walked out there. And the fans cheered. He walked to the first-base stands, walked to the mound, walked towards the outfield... he stopped at first base for a second and stood there. And the fans cheered. He went to the outfield and bowed to the fans out there, and the fans cheered.

He stopped at home plate, stood in the batter's box, and kicked the dirt a few times as if he was getting ready to play, and the fans cheered.

"Thank you, Kiyohara-player!" was displayed on the big screen as the cameras followed his every move around the stadium.

Then he went over to Lions manager Hisanobu Watanabe, who had a big bouquet of flowers and gave it to him, and they hugged, and you could see that Kiyohara -- always notorious for crying a lot -- had tears on his face as he accepted them. The entire Lions team was out there in a line applauding him.

I don't know if it was planned or not, but after that Kiyohara went to first base, and the entire Lions team surrounded him to prepare for a doage, a celebratory throwing-in-the-air. And then they were joined by most of the ORIX players as well! Just a gigantic crowd at first base, and then, a flying Kiyohara. Kiyohara was thrown into the air by his current and former teammates. The crowd cheered, the camera flashes went off.

My view of the Kiyohara doage.

Even though I'm not a Kiyohara fan, I could suddenly see what he really meant to a lot of these people who have been following his baseball career for the last 25 years now, since he stepped into Koshien fame as part of the PL Gakuen powerhouse with Kuwata, the K-K combo. Like him or hate him, it is true he's another one of these guys who is likely to be part of the final wave of retiring Japanese baseball players who actually spent their entire career here, of the players whose careers spanned more than one generation of fans.

And then something even crazier happened: after the doage dispersed, and a lot of Orix and Seibu players were shaking hands and saying hello and goodbye -- I actually saw Alex Graman and Alex Cabrera hug each other in the shuffle -- Hiroyuki Nakajima, who currently wears #3 for Seibu, came up to Kiyohara... and started taking off his uniform jersey. Kiyohara did the same. They switched jerseys.

("Do you think it's going to FIT him?" said Simon.)

And then Kiyohara put on the current Seibu #3 jersey, to an even LOUDER round of fan cheering... and he took back the flowers, and bowed to the fans again, and waved again... and then he was gone.

After that, they had the Seibu "Final Game" ceremony. The entire team stood in a line behind home plate and Watanabe-manager gave a speech, and then Shogo Akada gave a speech as player leader (I'm like "Since when is Shogo-kun senshu-kaicho?" before realizing that CRAP, he's 28 now. When did that happen?), and then the players all threw signed baseballs into the crowd. No, we didn't catch any.

And then we left. What a night. It was already 10:25pm by the time the game actually ended, and it was pushing 11pm when we got onto a train.

In the meantime, I stopped by the Seibu ticket booth and got tickets to a playoff game on October 19! So, I WILL finally go to a postseason game! Yay!

I'm going to edit this post later and throw in photos, or maybe I'll make a separate one. I just knew that if I didn't braindump it all out now, it was going to get thrown on the backburner this week with all the things I have to do for work.

So, more later. And... I never thought I'd say it, but thanks, Kiyohara. I'm happy I got to witness a special moment in your life.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Game Report: Marines vs. Buffaloes @ Osaka Dome - It's Always Shunsuke Day

Just like I've never seen Seibu lose a game at the Seibu Dome, I have still never seen Orix WIN a game at the Osaka Dome. I kept my streak intact when I went to the Marines-Buffaloes game last Tuesday.

Tuesday, September 23rd, was a national holiday in Japan for the autumn equinox, so several games were held in the afternoon, including the one in Osaka. This was good for me, because I could see the game and then return to Tokyo in the evening, rounding out a nice 3-day 3-game trip. Because it was the Marines, I was also able to take advantage of the kindness of their coaching staff, namely Frank Ramppen, and bug him for a ticket to the game. I promised that the Marines would win, because it was Shunsuke Day. (Amazingly, both times this year I have gone to see Marines away games outside of Tokyo, they have been Shunsuke Days. How do I get so lucky?)

I got to the stadium really early in order to have time to get my ticket and wander around. The nice thing about being super-early is that you also get a chance to run into wandering mascots:

I also took a while wandering around the "mall" that kind of circles the basement level of the stadium, or maybe it's the first floor, I'm not sure. There are a lot of shops and restaurants down there, including a Buffaloes shop, and the Bs Club, and several restaurants that you can eat at and watch the game from the outfield. (I don't know how; I'm going to research that later. I assume you need a ticket for them, but maybe not.) It's pretty neat. There's really a lot you can do with these newfangled dome stadiums, and it's nice that they have done so.

Eventually I figured I should probably go into the stadium, so I did. The Marines were taking batting practice. Even though my ticket didn't technically let me go all the way to the front row, I told a security guard I just wanted to take a few pictures and say hello to the Marines staff. I don't think she believed me, so when I got up front I managed to yell hi and thanks to Frank, and then Marines Statsmaster Paul Pupo even came over to the fence and talked to me for a few minutes. I took a photo of the field and the warmups by putting my little camera up to the fence, and then ANOTHER security guard came up and told me I couldn't do that, and I would have to return to my seat... despite that he saw me standing there talking to a Marines staff member.

So I said goodbye to Paul and walked up a ton of stairs to the walkway... and then walked down again behind home plate. Stuck my camera up to the fence and finally got a good shot:

I was going to yell hi to Bobby, and I swear, ANOTHER security guard ushered me and some other fans away from the fence. I really have to wonder if that's normal treatment or if they were just picking on me for being a foreigner. I mean, we're talking an hour and a half before the game, here. What's the harm in taking a picture of the field that doesn't have a big fence in the way?

By the way, the seats behind home plate are really nice. They even have little airconditioning vents in EACH SEAT:

I went back to my seat, pausing on the way to note all of the people hoping to get autographs. They had apparently arrived quite early, and were all lined up with their shikishi (autograph boards) and markers stuck under the netting. I think these people seriously just sat there for about an hour or two waiting to see if any player would come over and sign; someone DID come over and sign some of them at the very end of batting practice, though I couldn't tell who it was.

Anyway, given that I wasn't going to hang out around home plate and get yelled at by security any longer, I decided to see how much of the Osaka Dome I could actually explore without invoking the ire of any other security staff.

The answer? All of it.

Really, if you have a ticket for infield seating in the lower level, it seems quite possible to go pretty much anywhere in the stadium to look around. I walked around all of the lower level and looked through the concessions and whatnot, and then found an elevator to the upper level. (The ramps to the upper level seemed to be closed.) There was a stadium staff girl standing by the elevator, but as I went in, she didn't check my ticket or really do much more than smile, so I figured, what the heck, and went up to the 5th floor, which seemed to be the upper seats. There was a semi-helpful diagram of the floors by the elevator... and as it turns out, the only buttons I could press were for 3, 4, and 5 anyway:

I believe the 6, 7, and 8 floors are those box seat levels, and 9 is the Sky Hall", which is a space that can be used for meetings, concerts, etc... there's actually a separate entrance to the Osaka Dome just for the Sky Hall, with a big escalator snaking up the side of the building. I'm actually not sure what level 4 is; I saw a bunch of staff-looking people there and got the vague "you shouldn't be here" vibe from it, so I went back in the elevator and went up to the 5th floor, the upper deck.

Wandering around the upper deck was interesting.

No smoking, no throwing, no jumping, and no getting hit in the head by foul balls.

(I wonder, does that mean the Inaba Jump is outlawed at the Osaka Dome? I doubt it, because the Chiba fans were doing their usual bouncing.)

If you want to smoke, you can go into your own little cigarette box:

Actually, in general, the upper level is not particularly exciting. The food places are few and far between and a lot of the hallways are narrow. I can't help but wonder what kind of disaster it becomes during an actual CROWDED (read: Hanshin) game. During this game, all the seats were unreserved as far as I know, so you could just kind of go sit anywhere you felt like up there.

Here's some perspective on the place, four-part photo a la Zack Hample:

From top left, clockwise: from lower-level infield unreserved 3B, from upper-level infield 1B towards outfield, same place towards infield, and from upper-level infield unreserved 3B.

After walking around the stadium several times, I realized I was HUNGRY, so I stopped by a bento cart, where I wanted to get a cool player bento, but the only cool player bento they had were an "OSAMU UMASO" bento of Hamanaaaaaaka, and a Tuffy Rhodes Katsu Meshi bento. They actually had an acronym for UMASO with each letter standing for some kind of food in it, but when it came down to it I decided I'd just go with the simple katsu bento. It was good.

I've been to all of the stadiums in Japan this year (scary, I know), and I have to say, the best variety of player bento were at the Yahoo Dome, by far, although the Fighters bento in general were pretty great at the Sapporo Dome too.

Right after I finished my bento, and was chewing on some mint Mentos and debating getting up to throw away the box, there was a tap on my shoulder. "You're Deanna, right?"

It was Nadya, who comments on this blog from time to time; I'd told her where I was sitting, just in case "big gaijin girl wearing Watanabe #31 t-shirt and gray Marines towel" wasn't going to be descriptive enough. She talked the security guard into letting her come over (note a theme for the day?) and we chatted for a while, about high socks and scary Tigers fans and wacky Kansai people and whatnot, before she went off to go find a seat in unreserved seats. Hopefully I didn't scare her too much, and maybe we can actually go see a game together next year, with some better planning on my part. (I could do a better job of warning people when I'm going to other cities, I suppose, although this month has been hell on me for various other reasons, and the storm is nowhere near over.)

Really, one of the best things about this season has been getting to meet and talk to so many people who love Japanese baseball.

Before the game started, they had two kids come up and give a little "good luck Buffaloes" speech in English; I think it was some promotion from ECC, the English school that has a lot of branches in Kansai. I saw this on Sunday too; the kids just came up to say "My name is ____, my favorite player is ___, hit a home run for me!" or something to that effect.

Of course, the girl said "Hamanaka, hit a home run for me," but Hamanaka didn't play that day. Poor kid.

As I mentioned, it was a Shunsuke Day. What I didn't mention is that I hadn't seen Shunsuke pitch in a month. When last we left our hero, he hadn't lost a game in two months, and had just become 11-4 on the season. Then he went 1-3 in his next four starts, so he was 12-7 coming into Tuesday's game.

Orix's starter was Mamoru Kishida, owner of one of the three coolest first names in Japanese baseball (the other two being Rui Makino and Kyuji Fujikawa).

Orix's announcer had a severe case of 2<->5 English dyslexia and kept introducing someone whose uniform number is 22 as "number fifty-two", and vice versa.

I started off the game cheering for the Marines during their innings and counting Shunsuke's pitch count during the Orix innings, until I realized that the Osaka Dome scoreboard has an overabundance of something most stadiums in Japan don't have: USEFUL INFORMATION. Pitcher stats! Batter stats! Wow!

No, really. I mean, they HAVE the pitch count, and even have it by balls and strikes. I'm not sure I've seen anywhere else in Japan that displays that information consistently. The Tokyo Dome sometimes displays the pitch count, but no breakdown, and they don't always show it. I can't think of anywhere else. Usually, when I want to know pitch count, I either get out my cellphone and look it up on Yahoo, or I go nag my Fighters friends who keep a much more meticulous scorecard than I do.

(I will note that this wonderful abundance of information is somewhat nullified by the fact that you can't SEE the outfield scoreboard from the main cheering seats at the Osaka Dome, though. That's why this was the first time I saw it.)

So, you might note in that picture of the score, it was 2-0 Marines, in the second inning. Hashimoto led off with a single, moved to second when Julio Zuleta grounded out, and then Shoitsu Ohmatsu, RBI man, hit a clean single to right, scoring Hashimoto. Benny singled to center, moving Ohmatsu to second, and then when Daisuke Hayakawa hit a shot up the middle through a diving Gotoh, that scored Ohmatsu, to make it the 2-0 score... before "K is for Kishida" went back to his 2-strikeouts-per-inning pace and got Hosoya and Nishioka.

It was around that time that I realized there were basically two other actual vocal Marines fans sitting nearby, because we were all doing the claps and cheers for the players, in what was a mostly silent infield. One was a nondescript salaryman-type sitting to my right, and the other was a big Chiba fanguy decked out in an Ohmatsu jersey and everything.

Shunsuke ran into a bit of a problem in the bottom of the 2nd, with the bases loaded after he hit Hirotoshi Kitagawa in the arm with a pitch, and Gotoh and Kitagawa pulled off a double steal, and Keiji Ohbiki walked. But, Hiroyuki Oze, he of the aforementioned high socks, popped out to third base to end the threat.

Satozaki managed to not only get himself out by lining to the pitcher in the 3rd inning, but also got Jose Ortiz doubled off first base. Oops.

Somewhere around the 5th inning, while the Marines were in the midst of adding another run to their tally (a Hayakawa double followed by a Hosoya-kun single, 3-0), I started talking to this American couple sitting a few rows in front of me. I had noticed them walking in and out of their seats from time to time, and they also had a camera and a videotape and were constantly shooting photos, and I had noticed they were wearing nametags that said something like "M's Style", so I wondered if they were filming for something Marines-related; it wasn't a bad assumption to make given that I was sitting in a kankeisha area. The woman turned around with her camera pointed my way and I kind of put my hand in front of my face so I wouldn't end up in any shots, but she was like "Hey, can you take a photo of us?"

So I said "Sure, no problem," and took a picture. Then, "What are you guys filming for anyway?"

"Nothing in particular," she said, "We're just camera-happy tourists!"

Turns out they were visiting Japan on their honeymoon and really wanted to see a baseball game while they were here, and are friends of friends of Bobby's, so they got the special Marines Guest Treatment and all. Naturally, they thought I was a tourist too, until they asked where I live, and I gave my normal deadpan answer of, "Saitama."

"Where's that?"

"It's like the Hoboken of Tokyo."

Anyway, we were still chatting for a while, as they shared some of their stories of their travels so far with me, and I babbled a bit about baseball and answered questions, and in the 6th inning Ohmatsu walked, and while I was still talking to Mike and Rachel (the honeymooners), Benny chose that moment to launch a home run into the left-field stands, which was mostly funny because I stopped mid-sentence to stand up and watch where the ball was going, then cheer when it was a homerun, then high-five the dude in the Ohmatsu jersey across the aisle. 5-0.

I returned to my seat a bit after that, telling M&R that they should at least stay long enough to see the balloons in the 7th inning. They did, and then they had to leave -- busy travel schedule. By now, I think they should be in Bali, from what they said.

Shunsuke kept his shutout until the 8th inning, when Tuffy Rhodes singled in Tomotaka Sakaguchi (5-1), and after 121 pitches, relief lefty Yusuke Kawasaki came in to deal with Gotoh and Hidaka, finishing out the inning.

I was actually kinda psyched to see Daisuke Katoh pitching the top of the 9th -- I'm not an Orix fan but I do like Katoh. However, perhaps because it wasn't a save situation as his team was LOSING, he ended up giving up a run to that dreaded Hayakawa-Hosoya combination, as Hosoya hit a double into the gap. 6-1.

Ogino pitched the bottom of the 9th, and while Hirotoshi Kitagawa was at the plate, suddenly there was a huge commotion and everyone in the stands started bolting towards home plate again, because, naturally, there was some big dude in the on-deck circle taking practice swings...

Yeah, it was time for the Daily Daida Kiyohara. He took like the first or second pitch he saw and hit a biiiiiig towering pop fly to right field which was caught for an out. Shinji "Shimoyaman" Shimoyama pinch-hit after that as well, hit a big pop fly out to third base, and that was the game.

Shunsuke was game hero for the Marines, and he gave a short speech and then went out to wave to the fans in left field. PR-guy-Kajiwara ran out there and had him hold up "Imae" as well:

And that was it.

I made the mistake of going back to the Buffaloes store after that, and nearly got crushed by the horde of people who wanted to buy Kiyohara goods. Me, I got a sheet of "Kiyohara Security System" stickers and a little keychain... even if I'm not really a particular Kiyohara fan, it seemed like it was the appropriate souvenir to bring back from Orix in this particular time and place. Plus the stickers made me crack up.

And well, it was about 5pm at that point, and I had a train ticket back to Tokyo leaving Shin-Osaka station at 7:37pm, which seemed like an awfully long time, and there was only so long I was going to spend wandering through the undermall of the Osaka Dome, so eventually I gave up, went back to the train station, and got them to move my train up by half an hour... and then I pretty much slept the entire way back to Tokyo rather than doing anything productive with the 2.5-hour ride.

I'm not exactly planning to go back to Osaka any time soon, though if Orix hosts First Stage of the playoffs and I can get a ticket, I'm TOTALLY there. I haven't been to a postseason baseball game since 1983 and I'm really hoping to change that this year.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Don't Mess With Benny

After three Marines players were hit by pitches in five at-bats, Benny Agbayani showed that he can throw baseballs AND throw catchers equally well.

Photo from Jiji.

See, Seibu had a magic number of 1 going into today's game. And for the first three innings everything was level at 0-0, but then into the top of the 4th, Shoitsu Ohmatsu hit a 2-run homer, and then there were a whole ton of hits, and then... and then Wakui hit Tomoya Satozaki on the elbow with a pitch... with the bases loaded. That made it 4-0. They switched pitchers to Koji Mitsui, who struck out Hashimoto before hitting Julio Zuleta on the elbow with ANOTHER pitch. Ohmatsu came up and hit a double for yet another 2 RBI (how often does a guy get 4 RBI in one inning without a grand slam, I wonder?)

Anyway, they switch pitchers to Ming-Chieh Hsu, who hits Benny in the left hip with a pitch. And well, Benny is PISSED OFF, with good reason. I don't know what Toru Hosokawa said to him, but a second or two later Benny just grabbed him and threw him to the ground, a perfect judo move, and a brawl started.

Here's a pretty good Youtube video of it. Go to 4:04 if you want to see the at-bat.

I feel bad that this had to happen on the same night as Sadaharu Oh's retirement speech and doage, Kenshin Kawakami's first appearance on the top team since the Olympics (and subsequent win PLUS getting hit PLUS Tatsunami finally crossing the Mendoza line), and the continuation of the deadlock between Hanshin and Yomiuri as both teams won their respective games today, plus a shout-out to Hiroshima for having awesome throwback uniforms.

But yeah. Don't mess with Benny.

Unfortunately, Seibu heads up to Sapporo after this and will play games against the Fighters on Friday and Saturday. I'm not sure of the exact numbers, but I think even if Seibu loses, if Orix loses too, Seibu clinches anyway, so it seems they'll be doing their beer-kake party with a ton of Sapporo beer.

(EDIT: I have been informed by Simon in the comments that Hosokawa will be out for a while with a dislocated shoulder. That actually sucks a lot. I know I joke all the time about hating on Hosokawa because all of his career grand slams have pretty much happened while I was watching him beat the Fighters, but this could actually be pretty bad for Seibu. Last time Hosokawa sat out with an injury, they got plastered 16-0 by Lotte...)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Monday Adventures in Osaka - Card shops, Tiger shops, Skymark and Koshien

I went all over the Osaka-Kobe area on Monday (9/22) doing baseball-related stuff. I'm sure you are all completely surprised by that.

Mint Card Shop Umeda

Over the winter I got to know a sports memorabilia chain called Mint pretty well in the Tokyo area, going to pretty much all of their nearby locations. (I've posted about it a bit.) I figured it couldn't hurt to hunt down one of their shops in Osaka, especially since I'm still looking for a G.G.Satoh Bikkuriman 2008 sticker, plus maybe they'd have some interesting Hanshin stuff. The Mint Umeda page has a map saying they were in the basement of the Shin Hankyu building.

The thing is, if you have ever been to the Osaka/Umeda station area, you'll note that finding a "Shin Hankyu Building" is a royal pain, as there are about ninety buildings labelled something Hanyku, a bunch called Shin Hankyu, and naturally there's a whole ton of Hanshin buildings as well to mess with your brain.

So, here: what you need to do is find the BIG HANSHIN DEPARTMENT STORE south of all the train stations and then go to the building behind it with the Book 1st shop, and go into the basement:

Go into the basement of the Shin Hankyu building...

...and wander around until you find the big Ichiro cardboard outside.

Sadly, they had exactly 3 bikkuriman stickers and actually NOT that much in the way of special Tigers goods. They DID have the new Hawks and Baystars historical sets out in singles so I could look through them -- that was really neat -- but other than that, eh. Oh, and they had Calbee binders going back to 1973, including one special one of Hanshin cards, so if you want a 1985 Randy Bass card, you can get one there for 3000 yen.

Moving onwards...

Tigers Shop in the Hanshin Department Store

So, noting the building I said to go behind... that's the Hanshin Department Store. If you go in there and go up to the 8th floor, they have a huge Tigers store. So you don't even need to go to Koshien to buy stuff! Of course, the Tigers store is located in the middle of a women's fashion floor, so if you take the escalator to get there, you have to walk through the lingerie section to get to the Tigers merchandise. I wonder if that's on purpose.

Anyway, once you get there, you can buy pretty much anything Tigers that you ever could possibly want. Seriously. (Except, perhaps, for Jeff Williams stuff. WTF? I seriously wanted a Williams keychain or pen or something, but couldn't find one.)

The Hanshin Tigers Store. 8th floor behind women's underwear...

...though naturally they also sell Hanshin Tigers women's underwear too...

...and enough omiyage to shake a stick at. A lollipop stick, of course.

I thought this shirt was unique when I saw someone wearing it, but naturally no, it's a new design in the Tigers store.

Also, in case you have a real tiger at home needing an outfit, or just want to dress up your dog...

And you can decorate your bathroom in Tigers stuff as well.

Seriously, there's a ton of stuff there. It's unreal. I got some omiyage for my students and a few special things for people.

Then, I headed out to Kobe.

Skymark Stadium

I got to Sogoundokoen station and, surprisingly, I could hear baseball sounds coming from inside Skymark. I figured it had to be high school or college, since all of the player's names had "kun" appended after them, but I wasn't sure. First I figured I'd take a walk around the stadium and see what I could see...

Here's a view of the big stadium name from the parking lot.

I was standing on a fence outside the left field gate when I took this one.

And here, uh, I basically slid my camera through a slot in a closed entry gate wall and managed to take a photo without dropping it. I just wanted to see what was going on.

Approaching the home plate gate.

Welcome to Ball Park!

I had seen a few people going into the stadium earlier, though it appeared there was only one gate to the main stadium area open, so I went up that... passing by what looked like some college ball players, and some guys in school uniforms, or at least, white button-down shirts, and gray pants. At first I ignored them and just walked around to the 3rd base side, where there wasn't much.

Came around back past home plate again, and heard one of the guys making a comment like "there's that weirdo gaijin again, what the hell is she doing there?" so I figured I'd go talk to them.

"Excuse me," I said in Japanese, "What kind of baseball game is going on here today? High school? University?"

These three guys look at each other, then one gets a pained look on his face and says in slow and broken English, "This is Kansai Roku -- jaa, Kansai SIX League!!"

I continue in Japanese, "Oh, okay, university ball, I see. What university are you from?"

The kid answers in English again, "We are Ryukoku Daiga... Ryukoku University."

I blink and say, "You are very good at English!!" while still speaking in Japanese, "I've never been here before and wanted to see the stadium, how much does it cost to enter?"

The two other guys are by now completely giggling at their third friend who's speaking in English for no apparent reason, but the third guy continues anyway, in English, "It twelbu hundred en. Berry byootifur stajium!"

"Hnmm. Expensive," I say in Japanese. "I just want to take photos. Thanks anyway!"

I smile and nod and continue on towards the first base side. I hear the other two guys making fun of their third friend as I walk off. Whatever. I wonder how they would have reacted if I said I didn't understand English either, or looked at him blankly like "なんでやねん?"

(When I got home later I looked it up, and yeah, sure enough, the games WERE going on for the 関西六大学野球連盟, or Kansai Six University League. I guess a few famous players have gone to Ryukoku, though I only recognized a few from the Wikipedia list, like ex-Fighter Kimoto and current Hawk Yanase.)

Anyway, the first-base side of the stadium is a LOT neater, and even outdoors there was plenty of interesting things to look at and take photos of. For example, there was a whole bunch of floor murals painted:

Nice painting of players going off into the sunset towards Tomotaka Sakaguchi.

By a children's sliding board/play area, a cute Blue Wave rainbow.

The old name for the park was Green Stadium Kobe, before the naming rights went all over the place.

As you can see in that last photo, there was also a Blue Wave Wall of Fame (which also includes their old Hankyu Braves stuff). Many interesting players, but I was obviously most interested in a particular pair of them...

Hisashi Yamada, the legendary submarine pitcher from the Hankyu Braves (who I just saw throwing out a ceremonial first pitch at an industrial league game a few weeks back)

Some Ichiro guy. I thought it'd be funny to try to take a self-portrait of myself with him and had a somewhat inspired pose.

I pretty much could not see into the stadium at all -- I guess that is by design -- and so I decided to just go ahead and leave. I stopped by the Kobe Sports Center info booth, since Skymark is in the middle of a big sports complex, and talked to a lady who used to be part of the Seattle-Kobe Sister City association. Though, she seemed a lot more surprised that I came down from SAITAMA than from SEATTLE per se.

If I had paid more attention to the schedules for the complex, I would have noticed that Orix's minor-league team had practice going on somewhere on a spare field nearby, but alas, I didn't realize it at the time. Not like I am that familiar with their minor league players these days anyway...

Koshien -- A Speck of Blue in a Sea of Gold

I got on a train and headed to Koshien at that point, even though it was only around 4pm. I figured it'd give me a chance to wander around a little, except that due to the Koshien Renewal Project, the scenery seemed a lot less interesting than it did when I was there two years ago:

The fake greenery looks more tacky than anything, to me. I guess it's better than plain old scaffolding, but...

The one thing that does seem to be brand new and nice everywhere is the Tigers Shops, of which there are a bazillion, and yet they are all always crowded no matter when you enter.

The separate Tigers Alps shop seems to have been moved across the highway from where it used to be, too.

I walked around the entire stadium once, because last time I was there I didn't have time to find the Babe Ruth plaque, and this time I simply couldn't find it. I briefly wondered if it was hidden behind some fake ivy somewhere.

Finally, I figured, what the heck, might as well go in. It was about 4:40pm at that point. I went in, climbed up from the front of the outfield to the visitor's ouen seats -- yes, I planned to cheer for the Baystars, and had specifically bought a "visitor's cheering seat" ticket -- and immediately noticed two main annoying things:

1) The section appeared to actually be mostly Tigers fans, even down to like the 3rd row, and
2) There was a big honking outfield light obstructing me from actually being able to see the lineup part of the scoreboard.

I guess I shouldn't be too surprised about the first part. I had a seat in the fifth row and had been a little worried that even there wouldn't be safe, but by the time the section filled up, the front two rows were all Yokohama fans, the third and fourth rows were about half and half, and from there on back it was Tigers fans with some spotty Yokohama fans. I'm really curious what it looked like from afar, to be honest.

Here's my view of the infield, complete with Baystars ouendan guy.

Here's the sunset over right field, and you can see how the board is obstructed.

I snuck out to centerfield to get a different view, and this is what I saw.

Here's that damn light, viewed from centerfield.

I went to get food and use the bathrooms, both of which were vaguely traumatic experiences. Infact, if you are a Hanshin fan or Koshien fan, I advise you to skip reading the next few paragraphs. I realize that perhaps people think it's sacrilege for a huge baseball fan and history nut to say the following, but let me just put it out there:

I hate Koshien Stadium.

No, really. I honestly can't find much to like about it. It's not just that it's an old stadium, because it's really only 3 years or so older than Jingu, and I am rather fond of Jingu, all things considered. At least at Jingu, the management realizes that they have to bother making an effort to get fans to come to the stadium, whereas I'm pretty sure the Tigers management knows that they could essentially print "Hey Tigers fans, SCREW YOU" as a slogan on the tickets and they'd still have sellout crowds every night.

First, the seats are really small and cramped. I had enough trouble with this when sitting in the infield two years ago, to the point that I seriously lost circulation in my legs from having them crushed under my seat, but in the outfield, it's even worse, if that's possible, plus if you suddenly move your legs at all you will most likely end up kneeing or kicking someone in front of you, since there are no seat backs on bleacher seats. I was really lucky that the two young women sitting to my left wearing Tigers jerseys apparently decided that despite buying "visitor's ouen" tickets, they didn't REALLY want to sit next to a pesky foreign Baystars fan, and went off to... somewhere. I don't know where, but they never came back, so everyone else in the vicinity swarmed on the free space like vultures; me and two other people put our bags on the seats so we'd have some leg room. And I still regularly got elbowed by the kid next to me, and hit in the head by balloons and cheersticks from people behind me. (As usual the kid next to me was a huge freaking Kanemoto fan as every 9-year-old in Kansai seems to be, and he was actually a good kid and asked me about my scorecard and other stuff, but he was a little overly hyper as well.)

Second, the food is terrible. There's not much variety and most of what there was didn't look all that appetizing, mostly along the lines of overpriced izakaya food. I ended up getting yakisoba because that seemed safe enough, and it was easily the worst yakisoba I've ever had in my entire life. Getting a non-alcoholic beverage from your seat during the game is nigh impossible.

The bathrooms are disgusting. I realize that it's not REALLY a valid complaint to mention that there simply seem to be NO western toilets, but still.

I have no clue whether the infield is any more accessible for people unable to climb a bazillion stairs, but in the outfield area it's pretty much a nightmare. I was also somewhat astounded to note how far you really are from the field when you're out there; you can't even actually go up to the outfield wall because the area behind it is a walkway. I suppose this is actually perhaps by design, but I think it is neat to be able to yell down to players and say hi in other stadiums, which is simply not an option at Koshien. And taking photos from out there is not really an option either. Maybe from the infield seats, I dunno.

I realize the "atmosphere" of having the entire stadium cheering for Hanshin is a bonus if you are a Tigers fan, but if you aren't, it's actually another downside of the stadium. A drunk Tigers fan came up and started an argument with one of the Baystars ouendan, and eventually they had to be separated by policemen, and the cops actually hung out around the visitor's ouenseki for the rest of the game. To protect us or to protect against us? I'm still not sure.

And last, once you've managed to survive the entire game, you have to survive the trip back. Which means either finding something else to do (read: drinking) in the area for an hour or two, or trying to get into Koshien Station with the other 50,000 people who are trying to do the exact same thing. Note: I bought my return ticket when I arrived at the park, and I urge you to do the same.

At least I had the sense to take off my Baystars jersey before leaving the park...

Uh, anyway, Koshien rant over. I think I do want to go back there for the high school tournament someday, but I doubt I'm ever going to go there for a Tigers game again on my own.

So, there was a game, and surprisingly, while the Baystars lost, it didn't involve them getting TOTALLY crushed or anything. Yuji Yoshimi started for Yokohama, and Shunsuke Ishikawa started for Hanshin. Ishikawa was just drafted last year out of Jobu University, and this was actually his first professional start (though not appearance). Again, the Baystars have been a nice opponent for teams to use to ease their rookies from starting in the minor leagues to the major leagues here.

I was overjoyed that Takuro Ishii was in the Baystars starting lineup, since I showed up with my Ishii jersey and towel, but he kind of had a bad day.

The Tigers got off to a quick 1-0 lead in the first, mostly aided by the fact that Saeki was playing left field for the Baystars and he is really slow. I think I counted four foul balls to left field that I am fairly sure any other team's fielder would have managed to catch, but that Saeki didn't. Akahoshi started the game off singling, and Sekimoto should have been out on one of those fly balls, but instead ended up walking, and Makoto Imaoka singled in Akahoshi after that. A bunch of easier fly balls after that ended the inning.

Bottom of the second inning, Asai singled, was moved up by pitcher Ishikawa's sac bunt, and then Akahoshi walked, and Sekimoto doubled to left, and have I mentioned lately that Saeki is slow? Yeah? And that he throws like a girl? And that I love him anyway, but it's still painful watching the Tigers get two runs off of that, to make it 3-0? Yeah.

Finally, in the top of the 4th, Murata got a single off Ishikawa, and then BOOM, Yoshimura hit a towering fly ball to left field, which was coming back, back, back, GONE! 2-run home run for Yoshimura, and 3-2 score for the game.

In the bottom of the 4th I finally got a video of Kentaro Sekimoto's at-bat intro. I kept trying for the rest of the game, but that pesky bugger Akahoshi kept getting on base right before he came up.

Everybody say - Sekimoto!

I thought it was really cool. I used to really like Sekimoto a year or two ago.

Infact, really, aside from Sekimoto's at-bat music, I did appreciate three things about being at Koshien and the Tigers fans:

1) seeing the ENTIRE stadium doing the Kanemoto right-field wave cheer thingy
2) seeing the entire stadium doing the Wasshoi chance theme, annoying as it may be
3) Kyuji Fujikawa entering the game to "Every Little Thing Every Precious Thing" by Lindberg. It still cracks me up. I would LOVE it, if he someday does become a closer in MLB, if he kept that as his intro song. It's very Kyuji. I can't explain why, it just is (besides that the band wrote it for him, I just mean, it suits him).

The Baystars put some pressure on the Tigers in the top of the 5th, loading the bases with Shuuichi THE MAN Murata at the plate, but... but... but he got called out on strikes. That sucked. I almost think that kind of took the steam out of the Baystars for the rest of the game.

Oh, but hey, Yukiya Yokoyama came into the game to pitch in the bottom of the 6th, with runners on first and third, and those runners DIDN'T SCORE! YEAH! Even better, he struck out Imaoka! Whee!

Sometime around the top of the 7th, the scoreboard showed the out-of-town scores. They put up the Giants-Carp one, where we all saw that the Giants were beating the Crap out of the Carp, and so the Tigers had to win this game in order to avoid falling to second place.

So all of the Tigers fans were like "ARGH!!"

...then they mentioned that Ramirez hit his 41st homerun of the year, tying Yokohama's Murata for the lead.

And all of the Baystars fans were also like "AARRGGHH!!!"

For a minute or so, we were all united as one, like "DIE GIANTS DIE DIE DIE!!!"

Then we came back to our collective senses, turned to each other like "You guys suck, I hope you lose" and went back to cheering our respective teams.

Not that it mattered. Scott Atchison and Kyuji Fujikawa held down the fort for Hanshin, and amazingly Yuya Ishii and Shun Yamaguchi held down the fort for the Baystars.

In the top of the 9th, the first two outs came fairly quickly, and the Tigers fans blew up their balloons, and Takehiro Ishikawa grounded to second... Hirano made the throw... a bunch of fans released their balloons... and the throw was HIGH and Ishikawa was safe at first and he and Sekimoto fell to the ground. Oops. But eventually they got up and play continued. Ishikawa stole second, then they intentionally walked Kinjoh after a 2-0 count or so, and then backup catcher Toshio Saitoh hit a pop fly out to second, which Hirano didn't make a mistake on this time, and the final score was the same 3-2 that it had been for the last two hours or so.

The rest of the Tigers fans released their balloons then, and sang Rokko Oroshi and whatever else, as the few Baystars fans packed up their stuff. The game heroes were Shunsuke Ishikawa and Kyuji Fujikawa, and in the interview Ishikawa kept calling Kyuji "sempai", though I'm not entirely sure why, besides just being on the Tigers staff.

A few more pictures from the late game:

Naturally, I can't go to a Baystars game without stalking Sign Guy.

Blue Baystars flag towards the 8th or 9th inning.

White Baystars flag after Ishikawa got on base... note all the Tigers fans holding up their balloons below.

Oh yeah, and like the moron I am, I stopped in the Tigers Alps store for a second on the way out because I thought I saw a cool t-shirt. I was right:

Wei-tzu Lin t-shirt.

New t-shirts that started selling THAT DAY for Scott Atchison and Aarom Baldiris. But I wanted a Jeff Williams shirt, dammit!

I realized that a flood of Tigers fans were coming out of the stadium, so I figured I'd just start making my way through the sea of people and hope to escape in one piece. It worked, mostly, although for a while there I could barely breathe while being pressed into a gigantic crowd of people trying to move through a small hallway up to the train platform. Eventually I got onto a train, and even got a seat, so I was happy enough.

And I was even happier when I got back to my hotel, watched the sports highlights, and saw Darvish get the win for the Fighters, and Hisashi Iwakuma got his 20th win against Seibu. Yeah!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Game Report: Fighters vs. Buffaloes at Osaka Dome -- Two Big Innings, One Big Win

So, yeah, I'm in Osaka now, here until Tuesday evening. Yay. Went to the Fighters-Buffaloes game yesterday afternoon -- I woke up at 6:30am in Saitama, got on a shinkansen in Tokyo around 8:30, and pretty much went straight to the Osaka Dome when I arrived in town around 11:30, for a 1pm game.

I saw some of my Tokyo Fighters friends but they didn't have space for me to sit with them, so oddly I ended up sitting with a lady I had met here at the Osaka Dome two years ago. Don't know how she remembered me, but yeah, same place, same people, even same crazy dude from Nagoya, only this time he had a USA flag instead of a Panama flag.

Yelled down to Brian Sweeney on the field, he said hi. I guess he's not angry at me for being bad luck at Seibu two weeks ago :)

I didn't keep score at this game because the Osaka Dome outfield is impossible to see the big board from, only the little boards on the side. (Before the game, actually, they had this thing where they focus on fans and ask them to hold up signs for particular players, and I guess they thought it'd be funny to focus on Fighters fans, so they had me, like "do you have any Darvish stuff?" The guy next to me said "hey, look, you're on the board!" and so I held up my big Tadano sign. So there.)

Ronald McDonald threw out the ceremonial first pitch. I'm not joking. The guy in front of me was asking me about McDonald's in America and I was like "It's just like McDonald's here, but the food is worse. Really."

The Fighters did score the first run, but then the 3rd inning sucked and the Buffaloes scored a lot more, culminating in a Mitsutaka Gotoh 3-run homer which made the score 5-2. Tadano was finished after that; Yataro Sakamoto took over on the mound for him and held down the fort until the 6th inning.

In the 6th inning, Crazy Glasses Guy was the ouendan leader and he had us yelling "OI! FIGHTERS! ORETACHI WA MADAMADA AKIRAMETENAIZO!" really loudly, which means "Hey, Fighters, WE haven't given up on you yet!" The Fighters responded with a huge rally. Kensuke got a hit, Hichori was hit by a pitch (btw, in Osaka when a guy is walked or HBP the Fighters fans yell "aho! aho! [pitcher's name]").

So first pitching change from RHP Katsuki to LHP Shimizu, for Inaba. Inaba hit what looked like a single but the secondbaseman actually made a nice snag but the throw wasn't in time at either base so the bases were loaded.

Second pitching change, to RHP Motoyanagi. We started up some chance music for the occasion. And Shinji Takahashi singled and Kensuke and Hichori scored, 5-4.

Third pitching change, to LHP Kikuchihara. Sledge struck out, and then Jason Botts pinch-hit for Yoshio Itoi, and got another hit! Inaba scored, tie game 5-5!. Takahito Kudoh pinch-ran for Botts. And Naoto Inada struck out. Kikuchihara was still in there pitching and then E-I-I-CHI Koyano hit a big fly ball to left field, and we couldn't see from where we were what happened to it, but from the crowd noise it was easy to figure out that the ball had landed, and so, double for Koyano, and everyone else (Shinji, Kudoh) scored! Gyakuten, 7-5!

Makoto Kaneko hit Kikuchihara with a grounder back to the mound and the ball went flying up, so Kaneko was safe at first, Koyano at third... and Kensuke Tanaka grounded to third to end the inning.

All in all Orix used 8 pitchers on the day. Koyano hit a home run off Yamaguchi in the 8th inning, and then the Fighters ripped into Hidetaka Kawagoe in the 9th for 2 more runs, winning the game 10-5 with 22 hits. I have only been to one other game at the Osaka Dome, and it was September 9 2006, and the Fighters ALSO murdered the Buffaloes that day, getting 10 runs and 20 hits. Funny how that works. I should go there more often?

Kazuhiro Kiyohara had a pinch-hitting appearance in the bottom of the 9th inning and it was funny because the minute he came out to take swings in the on-deck circle, you could see half of the infield RUSH over towards the dugout to try to take photos. And when he was at bat, a bazillion camera flashes went off with every pitch. And Micheal Nakamura struck him out anyway. So there.

The game hero was Yataro Sakamoto, but I thought it should have also been Eiichi Koyano for the go-ahead run and his home run later on. It's okay, though.

After the game we had a huge postgame ouendan singingfest in left field -- lots of cheers, lots of singing, and THEN we practiced EVERY player's song in uniform number order -- and I was really happy to realize that I actually know them all, EXCEPT for Sho Nakata's. Ha. Actually to be fair I had forgotten Satoshi Nakajima's since he rarely gets at-bats anymore, but today he was in the starting order and had two at-bats AND two hits so it refreshed my memory.

The Osaka ouendan leader asked who was coming to Fukuoka tomorrow, and naturally the entire Kanto gang raised their hands. I felt guilty, but... I can't really justify the expense, plus I want to go to Koshien.

A few pictures and videos from the game:

おい!ファイターズ!俺たちは!まだまだ!諦めてないぞ! (Hey Fighters, WE haven't given up on you yet!!)

北の国からより chance music for Jason Botts.

Adorable banner for Yataro Sakamoto that a lady behind me had.

Daida Kiyohara.

Outside the stadium afterwards.

Tonight I'm going to the Baystars-Tigers game at Koshien, and tomorrow I'll see the Marines vs. Buffaloes at the Osaka Dome again. Then back to Tokyo I go...