Tuesday, January 27, 2009

My Family is the Phillies Anti-Curse

In 1980, the Phillies won their first World Series. My grandfather died of cancer three weeks before they achieved it.

In 2008, the Phillies won their second World Series. My father just died of cancer this weekend, about three months after they achieved it.

Much as I hate to say it, if this is what the Phillies winning the World Series does to my family, I hope they never do it again.

I'm heading back to Philly this weekend for the funeral. At this rate, I'm going to have enough frequent flyer miles to go to Jupiter soon.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Mariners Fan Fest 2009

Hey, I'm still alive, I've even been doing some baseball stuff over the last month or two and taking photos of things, it's just that I'm also... busy with more important things while back in the US. Last time I managed to get a blog entry in, I was still in Philadelphia spending time with my father for what might be the last time ever, and after that I managed to end up in NYC, Pittsburgh, and Chicago for a few days at a time until finding my way back here to Seattle; on Feb 3rd I'll be heading back to Japan. In the meantime, I'm trying to see a bazillion people and take care of a bazillion things, so baseblogging hasn't really been a priority.

However, today I went to Mariners Fan Fest, and took some photos, so I figured I'd put a few up here for fun. They're at the end of the post. I really don't entirely know who's on the team anymore, and I've already been to enough Fan Fests that I've done most of the activities around the stadium already, so I pretty much had four goals for today:

1) See someone I knew from the blogosphere
2) Listen to new GM Jack Zduriencik talk
3) Get Aaron Heilman's autograph
4) Get my photo with the Mariner Moose

And I managed to accomplish all four.

Goals 1 and 2 were achieved at the same time -- I woke up fairly late and didn't manage to get to Safeco until 12:30pm, which was just in time for Zduriencik's dugout panel. I made my way down to the dugout, and immediately spotted PositivePaul and his brother-in-law (and their cameras) there, so that was goal #1. And when I arrived, Rick Rizzs was interviewing Zduriencik, so that was goal #2.

As for GM-Z, or Z-man, or whatever -- Paul even asked him, "We have trouble spelling your name in the blogosphere, do you have a nickname?" -- he was very entertaining and candid with the crowd. He told some funny stories about how guys like Scott Boras will sell you old players or young players and go on about how great their age is, and also about player evaluation. It was also great to hear him say outright, "We work for you guys -- the fans are the ones paying our salaries, if you don't like the product on the field, then we're not doing our jobs." But at the same time he said that he's still sticking it to the players to get out there and get it done; all the front office can do is provide the talent to hopefully make it work.

After the Z-man was Lee Tinsley. I kind of wandered off after about 10 minutes of him, since the questions were getting kind of boring ("What do you do as a first base coach?" "How do you tell guys to steal second?" "Was Edgar the greatest player ever?").

Got some food, wandered around a bit, and came back in time for the panel with Gutierrez and Heilman, which was bookended by Dave Sims and Mike Blowers. It was overall pretty entertaining, although I'm not sure I learned much aside from that Heilman has a subtle sense of humor. Gutierrez got asked a lot of questions about being an outfielder and how he feels about the Mariners outfield ("it's great! I'll be between Ichiro and Endy Chavez, how cool is that?") and mentioned that Andres Galarraga was his baseball hero, and so on. Heilman said that he's a huge rock fan and loves Pearl Jam and so hopes that he'll fit in well with Seattle. Someone also had to ask him, "You look like such a nice boy-next-door type of guy. How can you make yourself be menacing on the mound?"

After that, since despite being super-late I'd managed to get autograph session vouchers when I came in, I wandered up to the Suite Level and waited in line for about 15 minutes for Heilman's autograph. I hadn't brought anything to get signed, but they actually provided photo cards, so that was pretty cool! I thought I'd end up being the super-lame person bugging him to sign my ticket. So, that was good. It was about 2:56 at that point, so I ran back around the stadium to the Terrace Club and also managed to get through the line for Gutierrez's signature, and they also had photo cards there. Cool.

I did wish both guys good luck and welcome to Seattle. Back when I was still living in the US and playing fantasy baseball, I often had Heilman on my rosters. He had the right combination of talent and a killer smile that fit into several of my teams, you see.

So, while waiting in line to achieve Goal #3, I asked one of the staff members where I could find the Mariner Moose, and it just so happened this lady was like the Moose Boss or something, so she radioed a few people and told me to head down to Section 103 when I got out of the autograph session and I could surely get my photo with the Moose. I did, and it wasn't a joke, the Moose had come back to the Moose Den. I felt kind of lame waiting in line along with families with kids and all (by this point I was going around alone), but I seriously had never gotten a photo with the Moose in all the years I lived here, so it seemed like something I really needed to do.

Having achieved all of my goals, and having no desire to sit around in the Last Fan Standing trivia room getting frustrated that I never get called up to the stage and yet always know more crap than the people up there, I headed to the Mariners Team Store and then home.

I think I'm glad I went, though I really wish they'd had Jeff Clement there, dammit.

Here are a few of the photos I took:

Announcer Rick Rizzs shares a laugh with general manager Jack Zduriencik. Or maybe they're sharing some Z's.

Lee Tinsley... I think he was reacting to a question like "Would you tell Ken Griffey Jr. to steal if you were coaching him?"

Dave Sims.

Franklin Gutierrez.

Aaron Heilman had his sunglasses on for most of the panel.

Then he woke up.

Mike Blowers was standing off to the side making weird faces for most of it, I swear.

Fanfest view from centerfield. You can see the onfield activities and the colored tags in the seats for people interested in season tickets.

Me and the Moose, in the Moose Den. Yay.

These were the photo cards I got autographed. Mostly because I want to make Metsgrrl jealous.

I will tell you one thing, after thinking about it today quite a bit: I don't hate the Putz trade anywhere near as much as I despise the Bedard trade. Sorry, but it still hasn't really sunk in with me that George Sherrill is really gone. Sigh.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Apology to Jason Botts and other Fighters stuff

Nikkan Sports reported today that the Fighters ouendan have been officially asked not to sing the Jason Botts 'Ponyo' song, even using the "hits a big big homerun" ending.

Despite that I'm probably just being paranoid, I feel like I may be partially responsible for this, since I happened to be at the game where they invented it, and I blogged about it and put videos on Youtube of the song explaining the lyrics in English. I felt pretty bad about it, but at the same time, it was just such surreal, silly, unexpected behaviour from the fan group -- like Phillies fans booing Mike Schmidt when I was a kid.

At the time, Botts was batting .120 and was swinging big and not hitting big. The fans were frustrated, and I'm sure Jason was frustrated too.

However, that was the low point, and around then was when Botts started really adjusting to Japan, it seemed. A few days later, after being benched for the week, Botts made a start in Osaka on August 15, and for the remaining month and a half of the season he put up a BIG BIG line of .379/.467/.632, with 4 homers and 8 doubles; I got to see when he and Ryan Glynn were the game heroes at the Fighters' "home game" in the Tokyo Dome on August 19, even.

In the postseason he continued to hit well, if streaky, going .400/.470/.866 in 5 games, including a shot in the Osaka Dome that never actually landed, but hit the right-field stands while still rising.

So in that sense, you could say that the Ponyo ouenka actually sparked his ascent!

I guess the problem is that too many people saw the batting average in the low 200's and didn't realize how much he'd really been bashing in the last couple of weeks. I was certainly one of those people guilty of it as well.

So, if Jason wants to put the Ponyo theme, and the first month of his career in Japan behind him, and continue beating the tar out of the ball next year, I will be more than happy to not only never ever sing the Ponyo song again, but to yell at anyone in the stands who does. And if I caused any problems in this entire thing, I'm sorry. I tend to write about everything I see, whether it's good, bad, funny, or all of the above. GO FIGHTERS!

I suppose this might be a good time to mention that Ryan Glynn signed with the Baystars, which is a good move on both parts; I think he can improve Yokohama and I think having some big bats like the Mura Monsters supporting him will help him, as long as he can keep the ball in the park. I wish he'd be able to stay with the Fighters, of course, but they're always looking at things like OMG 14 LOSSES instead of OMG 17 QUALITY STARTS (thanks to Michael Westbay).

The foreign players on the Fighters roster for next year will be Brian Sweeney, Ryan Wing, Jason Botts, and Terrmel Sledge (signed a 2-year contract last year). I don't think they have any plans to add anyone else, though who knows. The team did hire Al Hargesheimer to be a foreign scout, which indicates they expect to want to add another foreign player mid-season like they have the last few years. We'll see.

In the wake of The Nioka Trade, it does appear that Hisashi Takeda is poised to become the World's Smallest Closer (he's seriously the same height/weight as me) in the wake of Micheal Nakamura leaving (which, by the way, still sucks). Hisashi actually successfully used an agent to get a higher salary, which is fairly uncommon in Japan.

All of the Fighters draftees actually signed this year, finishing with Shota Ono, after he got back from some big tournament in Taiwan (which is why he had to miss the original New Face party). If you are in the Kanto area and want to see the new kids, they'll be working out at Fighters Stadium Kamagaya most days in January, and there's actually a meet the new guys welcome ceremony on January 18th. I'd go if I was in Japan, but I'm not going to be back in the country until Feb 4th. Have no fear, Kamagaya Ojisan will certainly have photos up of the new kids (he already has some of 3rd-round pick Toshiyuki Yanuki warming up; I already foresee Ono and Yanuki being my Kamagaya stalkees next year, so that's cool with me)


So anyway, I'm looking forward to blogging the Fighters again this year, and I'm especially looking forward to seeing how our lineup shakes down. I'm kind of seeing it as:

CF Hichori
2B Kensuke
RF Inaba
DH Botts (Which was the whole point of this post! :)
3B Nioka
1B Takahashi/Sledge
LF Sledge/Koyano
C Imanari/Tsuruoka
SS Kaneko

but there are a lot of things that could change that, especially what happens with Sho Nakata, OR with Shota Ono, OR with Tsuruoka. Plus I keep thinking Suguru Ichikawa can't go on bashing the heck out of the Eastern League forever.

Either way, things look bright!

...we're gonna finish fifth.

I say that every year, and we keep making it to the playoffs, so why stop?

Friday, January 02, 2009

The Asahi Shinbun Nails It

You rarely see me do a post here that is just a link to an article elsewhere, but this one had to be done:

From Your Friendly Neighborhood Sports Desk: 2009 as we'd like to see it

Seriously, this article completely and totally nails the silliness of the Japanese sports scene and media. Go read it. A few highlights:

"A much-heralded Japanese high school baseball phenom effectively states, "It's been a dream of mine to play for the Rakuten Eagles--I really hope the Yomiuri Giants don't draft me."

The next sports phenom in Japan does not get hung with the "Prince" moniker. We've had the "Handkerchief Prince" (pitcher Yuki Saito) and the "Shy Prince" (golfer Ryo Ishikawa). Time to come up with a new silly obsession.

Speaking of Buffed sluggers, we'd like to see the recently retired Kazuhiro Kiyohara stay retired. Athletes these days seem to be a little confused on the whole concept of retirement, with the likes of NFL quarterback Brett Favre announcing they are quitting, only to "un-retire" when overcome by the urge to strap on the pads again. Anyway, we think Kiyohara is well past his sell-by date and should have retired four or five years ago--those that read the daily box scores probably think he did.

I have to say, as an aside, that I've been really delighted with the way the English newspapers in Japan covered Japanese baseball this past year. The writers are a really nice group of guys, too.