Friday, May 29, 2009

Interview with Terrmel Sledge

Before the May 4th Fighters-Marines game in Chiba, I had an opportunity to chat with Terrmel Sledge for a few minutes. It was coming off of the crazy weekend where the Fighters had three extra-inning games in a row, two of which involved walkoff home runs.

I realize the timing of posting this isn't so great as Sledge is currently rehabbing from a hamstring muscle strain, but he should be back up on the top team soon. He really has been one of the key guys in the Fighters' lineup in the past two years, and he's also a really nice guy, very easy to talk to.

It's odd, the first time I think I saw Terrmel Sledge play baseball was in Tacoma, in the 2006 season, and he hit a home run out of Cheney Stadium. He had great numbers in the minor leagues in general, and his talent combined with his attitude and personality actually make him a perfect guy to play baseball over here -- where a lot of what makes a player successful is not only their skill, but also their "wa" or whatever you want to call it -- the ability to adjust to the group and to fit in with the Japanese way, which Sledge is doing a great job of so far.

So let's start with the amazing series this weekend, every game going longer than nine innings. How was that?

It was pretty crazy, playing three extra-inning games like that, two walkoff game-winning home runs.

Was that your second hero interview on Saturday? I saw the first one at the Tokyo Dome a few weeks back.

Yeah, it was the second one. It's great, the way they do things here.

What do you think of doing hero interviews?

It was a little different at first, but I love it now. On the other side of the world, people leave the game in the seventh inning, but here they stay until after the hero interview. It's awesome.

Now that it's your second year here -- what do you see as the biggest difference about the game here?

They live, die, and breathe it, you know? It's not just what they do on the field, but also what happens behind the scenes. These guys, they just play baseball, it's more than a livelihood. It's their life, it's the way their heart beats.

Are you doing that too?

I'm trying, but it's a different style. These guys have been doing it this way their whole life. I just try to get my work done, not really to be like them. They do what they do, we do what we do.

Do you think it'd be better if people did it this way in the US?

Not better, just different. Here they take infield every day, batting practice every day, it's just their routine. In the states, we'll sometimes take a break no matter what the game is, not take batting practice once in a while. I just think it's a different way of doing things.

How are you adjusting? Did you have to change anything to your approach when you came here?

You have to learn to be a better breaking ball hitter over here. It's very different, you don't see a lot of straight hard pitches going side to side, you see a lot more balls breaking up and down. You don't see forkballs too much in the States.

That's true -- and they throw a lot more pitches here, too.

Yeah, a lot more pitches. The game is longer, so your focus has to be up to par.

Do you find yourself thinking a lot about the breaking balls? Whether to lay off more, or just see if you can hit it?

Well, it's still "see ball hit ball", but it just takes time to figure it out, you're not going to get it right away. There are guys like Tuffy Rhodes over here who gave me a lot of advice, and the biggest thing he told me is, "You're not gonna get it right away. This is different, you just gotta work on it."

Tuffy's got to be a great help to new players here. What do you ask him about?

Well, there's only one Tuffy. He's not like a Barry Bonds or whatever, he's just a TUFFY RHODES over here! There's no better foreign player here -- he's almost to 500 home runs, for someone to do that as a foreigner is amazing. I pick his brain a bit, mostly about the field stuff, the pitchers, what he does.

How long do you think you'll be here in Japan?

I like it here. I wouldn't mind finishing my career here. I don't want to think about the future TOO much, but I like it here, my family loves it here, I could really see staying here a while.

How about defense? Have they gotten on you about that a lot?

No, I get my work done. As long as you get your work done, as long as you give 110%, this management is fine. I only know this team, I can't speak for others, but that's all they want to see -- you give your 110% and you get your work in, it helps your game and it helps the team, that's all that matters.

Your defense has been fantastic this year -- everyone's been really impressed with it.

Thank you. Yeah, that's one of my goals for this year. Last year was disappointing, I was injured, I had to DH a lot. I think that's not really me, I want to be the best player I can be, so I want to show them I CAN play defense.

Where would you rather be playing? Left field? First base?

It doesn't matter.


Yeah, it doesn't matter. I just try to be prepared. Though right now I'm probably more comfortable in left field since I've been playing there most of the time. I'm DHing today. [laughs]

How do you like standing in front of the fans?

I love it! You can't really explain it unless you're a player in that situation. You kind of feel like a rock star in a sense, you know? Like you're on the stage, it's amazing.

What's it like hitting? Is it tough to concentrate with all the noise?

When you've been playing this game for a long enough time, you try to zone out, you try to focus out. You don't really hear the crowd. If you DO, THEN you're in trouble.

So the crazy cheering doesn't help, does it?

Oh, no, it helps! I'm big into bringing energy to the field. We want to perform, we're entertainers after all. We want to perform in front of the fans, we're not here to bore them, so whatever keeps them going keeps us going.

Did you know your cheer song says "North Carolina Power?"


Yeah -- the lyrics to your song go "North Carolina Power, Homerun Sledge" and all of this stuff about "heating up the hammer" and such.

That's amazing! I didn't know that!

Nobody ever told you? That's crazy!

Nope -- that's the first time I heard it.

But -- why North Carolina?

I was born there.

I think that's a Japanese thing -- your hometown is where you're born no matter where you go after. I thought you were from California.

Yeah, I AM from California. I was born in North Carolina, but I don't even remember it, I'm a California boy. I moved there when I was three or four years old.

A related question: did YOU choose "Sledge Hammer" or did they choose it for you?

It goes with my name, in that sense. It always has since the first time I picked up a bat -- you know, my name is Sledge, the first thing anyone thinks about is "hammer".

So after a year in Japan, what's been your favorite place to play here?

Sapporo Dome.

Heh, of course. Your second favorite?

On the field or off?


Hard to say. On the field, the fans are diehard fans everywhere. Japan is a nice place to play. Probably, though, the place that was most different for me last year besides Sapporo, was Hanshin.

The fans? Or the stadium?

The fans. The stadium was just big. It seats like 50,000 people, right? It has a different feel, kind of an American-Japanese feel. The fans, they're rowdy, you can't understand them, but you just feel that energy. Like they're true diehards... and you look out there and ALL YOU SEE IS YELLOW. That place was just big, open, really amazing.

What's your best memory here so far?

Probably this year, that walkoff home run in the Tokyo Dome.

Is the Sapporo Dome the hardest to hit home runs in?

This park [Chiba Marine Stadium] isn't easy either, with the wind! Sapporo is a big park, but it IS a dome, with pretty high walls, so you never know if it's going to be a home run or not.

What's the easiest place here to hit a home run in?

Oh, the Tokyo Dome. Definitely.

Who's been the best to work with here, of your teammates?

Everyone's been great to work with, pretty unbelievable. As far as professional hitters, I enjoy watching Inaba. He's just... well, he's the face of the franchise. And watching him play, day in and day out -- you know he's not a 21-year-old, but he PLAYS like he's a 21-year-old!

Who's been the most fun person to work with?

Oh, that'd be Hichori, he's probably the most fun, totally crazy guy.

Does he make you put a glove on your head?

Yeah, he's done that a few times. It was funny.

Have you tried to learn Japanese at all?

少し!日本語が少し分かります。 I'm trying, but Japanese is tough. My vocabulary's probably about 50 words now.

At this point, the chat turned into talking about Japan and Japanese a little, I recommended he talk to Bobby for Japanese language tips, and then thanked him for his time, and asked if we could get a photo together:

I was really surprised when Sledge said he'd like to spend the rest of his career here, but I honestly hope he can make it work out, and I hope he can spend a long time playing for the Fighters!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Game Report: Tokyo Big 6 Championship Game - Hosei wins!

Hosei's Ryo Imai launched a sayonara home run off Meiji's Yusuke Nomura to bring home the Tokyo Big 6 Spring 2009 league championship on Sunday afternoon, as Hosei won their final game of the season 5-4. Even the weather couldn't commit to being rainy or sunny, and the tides of the game flowed with it. Hosei dominated under a cloud cover, and as the sun came out Meiji found their batting stride, and then Hosei took control again as the sun hid behind the clouds. Given that the kanji in "Meiji" literally mean "bright rule", I suppose it makes sense.

Really, though, Hosei's team this season was just ridiculously dominant in just about every way. Two of their batters, Masatoshi Matsumoto and Shingo Kamegai, posted OPSes above 1, as did game hero and relative newcomer Ryo Imai. (Seriously, where did this kid come from? The last record I see of him actually playing for Hosei's top team is in Spring 2007.) And the pitching was of course also really strong, leading the league in WHIP, ERA, and BB/9 pretty soundly. They just don't really walk batters very much, and allowed less than one runner per inning on average, Well, less than one earned runner, I'm not sure how many reached on errors. As it turns out, the only thing Hosei didn't really lead the league in was defense, in theory -- Rikkio was far and out the worst at 23 errors in 13 games (1.76 per game) and Waseda was the best with 7 errors in 11 games so far (0.63 per game). Hosei was right in the middle, with 15 errors in 12 games (1.25 per game)... fully one-third of which (5) were made by freshman shortstop Hiroshi Taki.

As of May 24 (with all colleges finished except the Keio-Waseda games this coming weekend), here's the team totals for the Tokyo Big 6 teams:

Hosei 1.41 0.95 7.87 1.82
Meiji 2.13 1.24 8.91 3.90
Keio 2.51 1.20 4.44 3.19
Waseda 2.67 1.11 10.96 2.58
Rikkio 3.05 1.54 5.49 4.96
Tokyo 7.38 2.11 3.27 9.49

Hosei .300 .369 .410 .779
Keio .255 .335 .318 .653
Waseda .235 .319 .326 .645
Meiji .228 .321 .275 .597
Rikkio .227 .267 .308 .575
Tokyo .197 .254 .247 .500

You know, Tokyo's probably proud that they came so close to the Mendoza line this year as a team.

Anyway, I'm going to go ahead and write way more detail about this game than anyone besides me would ever possibly want to know, but I vaguely figure it's not going to be anywhere else in English, so why not?

First let's start with the boxscore (mine, transcribed):

Meiji 4 - 5 Hosei
Sunday, May 24, 2009
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Meiji 0 0 0 1 2 1 0 0 0 4 10 1
Hosei 0 0 3 0 0 0 0 1 1X 5 11 1

Meiji AVG AB R H RB K BB SH SB E 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
S.Yamauchi, 3b-ss-3b .286 3 0 1 1 0 1 1 0 1 S6 .. G1 G6 .. b1 .. BB ..
Toyama, 2b .257 2 1 1 0 1 1 2 0 0 b1 .. HP .. D7 KS .. b2 ..
Shashiki, 1b .333 3 1 1 1 0 2 0 0 0 HP .. G4 .. D9 F8 .. BB ..
Komichi, rf .225 4 0 0 0 1 0 1 0 0 KC .. G4 .. b5 .. G5 G5 ..
Tada, lf .269 2 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 G3 .. .. S8 .. .. .. .. ..
Chida, ph .167 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .. .. .. .. F6 .. .. .. ..
T.Kobayashi, lf .333 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 .. .. .. .. .. .. D8 .. ..
Y.Kobayashi, ph .000 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. G6
Ochi, ss .--- 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..
Araki, cf .250 3 0 2 1 0 2 0 0 0 .. F8 .. BB S8 .. BB .. S8
Yasuda, c .189 3 0 1 0 0 1 1 1 0 .. BB .. b1 .. F8 S7 .. F7
Uemoto, ss .129 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 .. KS .. .. .. .. .. .. ..
Komachi, ph .500 1 0 1 1 0 0 0 1 0 .. .. .. S7 .. .. .. .. ..
Abe, 3b .238 2 1 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 .. .. .. .. .. E4 KS .. ..
Matsunaga, ph-lf .--- 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..
Nanba, p .286 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .. G4 .. .. .. .. .. .. ..
T.Morita, p .250 3 0 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 .. .. .. KS .. S8 F7 .. ..
Nomura, p .154 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..

Hosei AVG AB R H RB K BB SH SB E 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
Kamegai, cf .429 3 1 3 1 0 2 0 1 0 S8 .. H9 S8 .. BB .. IW ..
Waizumi, lf .269 3 1 0 0 1 1 1 0 0 b5 .. HP G4 .. KC .. L5 ..
Imai, rf .400 4 2 2 1 0 1 0 0 0 BB .. S9 F9 .. .. G4 .. H9
M.Matsumoto, 2b .447 3 0 2 1 0 1 0 0 1 HP .. S7 .. S9 .. F3 .. ..
Sasaki, 1b .250 2 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 G4 .. b2 .. b1 .. F1 .. ..
Taki, ss .341 3 0 1 0 1 1 0 0 0 .. F7 IW .. KS .. .. S9 ..
Ishikawa, c .286 4 0 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 .. D7 G6 .. F8 .. .. S7 ..
Nakao, pr .--- 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..
Mishima, p 1.000 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..
Mikami, p .000 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .. G6 F4 .. .. .. .. .. ..
Y.Ueno, p .000 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..
Nishi, p .000 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .. .. .. .. .. F7 .. .. ..
Kameda, ph .250 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 .. .. .. .. .. .. .. S7 ..
Hasegawa, pr-3b .333 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..
Nanba, 3b .095 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .. F9 .. F7 .. G1 .. .. ..
Kita, ph .188 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .. .. .. .. .. .. .. E6 ..
Hiromoto, c .000 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..

Nanba 2.33 2 13 42 5 1 0 3 3 3
T.Morita 0.00 5.1 24 89 5 0 2 2 1 0
Nomura (loss) 2.51 0.2 2 5 1 1 0 0 1 1

Mikami 1.93 4.1 22 90 5 0 3 4 3 3
Y.Ueno 1.29 0.2 2 15 1 0 0 0 0 0
Nishi 0.00 3 16 49 3 0 2 3 1 0
Mishima (win) 0.00 1 3 12 1 0 0 0 0 0

(Official box score from the Tokyo Big 6 site but without line scores, and in Japanese)

And here's the play-by-play. Keep in mind that it was slightly drizzling as the game started, and continued for the first several innings. Infact, this is what the Hosei cheering section looked like...

First inning, top, Meiji offense (M 0 / H 0):
Shinnosuke Yamauchi started off the game with a whimper and not a bang, as he hit a ground ball to short, just deep enough that Hosei's Hitoshi Taki had to make too quick a transfer and throw, so the ball went over Sasaki at first base. Captain Yuta Toyama bunted Yamauchi to second base - one out. Shogo Shashiki (a former teammate of Sho Nakata's at Osaka Toin) barely took a 2-2 pitch to his forearm, and walked to first base. Things weren't looking so good for Hosei starter Tomoya Mikami, but then he managed to sneak a called third strike past cleanup batter Junpei Komichi for two outs, and get Hayato Tada to ground out to first base. Mikami threw 21 pitches in the inning (12 strikes).

First inning, bottom, Hosei offense (M 0 / H 0):
Shingo Kamegai led off for Hosei by singling to center, and chatterbox Shota Waizumi cleanly bunted him up to second. One out, runner at second. Ryo Imai swung at one pitch and let the rest go by to walk to first base, and then league batting champ Masatoshi Matsumoto was hit by a pitch, loading the bases. Meiji starter Gota Nanba took it in stride, though -- even when Yoh Sasaki hit a grounder back to the mound which deflected off of Nanba towards second base. Meiji 2B Toyama managed to grab the ball off the bounce, step on second base, and throw to first in time to catch Sasaki for the double play, so no runs scored. Nanba threw 14 pitches in the inning (6 strikes).

Second inning, top, Meiji offense (M 0 / H 0):
Fumiya Araki led off by hitting a liner into centerfield, that Kamegai ran in for a low catch. One out. Ryota Yasuda fouled off several pitches and eventually walked. Takashi Uemoto fouled off even more pitches before eventually striking out, though Yasuda stole second on the third strike, and it was a really close call at second (most people in the Hosei outfield started yelling about the umpire's eyes). Two outs. Gota Nanba grounded out to second, ending the inning. Mikami threw 26 pitches that inning, 18 of which went to just Yasuda and Uemoto, and he was up to 47 through 2.

Second inning, bottom, Hosei offense (M 0 / H 0):
Hitoshi Taki started things off by hitting a fly to left for the first out. Team captain Shuhei Ishikawa hit a scorcher up the left-field line past a diving Yamauchi, which went for a double. The first pitch to pitcher Mikami was a wild pitch and Ishikawa advanced to third... which is where he would remain for the resto f the inning as Mikami grounded out to short and third baseman Masashi Nanba followed it up with a pop fly to right. Hosei's Nanba is easily the weakest link in Hosei's lineup, notable in that he was batting 9th behind the pitcher, even. Kota Nanba, on the other hand, pitching for Meiji, threw 13 pitches that inning for a total of 27.

I noted at this point that several Hosei pitchers who had been throwing off the bullpen mound decided to retreat from the rain into the actual bullpen cage, and started taking off their shirts to hang them up to dry. Good thing for them that I didn't have my real camera with me.

Third inning, top, Meiji offense (M 0 / H 0):
Shinnosuke Yamauchi led off this inning by hitting an easy grounder back to the mound, and Yuta Toyama was hit by a 2-2 pitch that went a little too far inside. Shashiki grounded out to second, and Komichi fouled off two pitches before grounding the next one to second as well. Quick inning; Mikami threw 14 pitches for a total of 61 through three.

Third inning, bottom, Hosei offense (M 0 / H 3)
This is where things started actually happening for Hosei, as the rain got a bit stronger, and I think Nanba was having a bit of trouble because of it. The first two pitches to Kamegai missed the zone and the next one was straight down the middle and he slammed it to right field, where it went up, up, up, and over the wall, bouncing in the 2nd row of the outfield seats for a home run. 1-0. Waizumi got behind in the count, but then Nanba hit him in the leg with a pitch. Ryo Imai attempted to bunt Waizumi up to second, COMPLETELY FAILED, and with two strikes on him, rather than striking out bunting, he just swung away at the ball and singled to right instead; Waizumi was running on the pitch and made it all the way to third. With runners at the corners, Masatoshi Matsumoto hit the ball and accidentally lost control of his bat, throwing it way down the left-field line. Everyone thought the ball was foul, but it turned out to be fair. Waizumi scored, 2-0, and Imai advanced to second, and Meiji decided to spare Nanba of any further embarrassment and changed pitchers to Takayuki Morita.

Nanba threw a total of 42 pitches (25 strikes) through 2 innings plus 4 batters. 3 runs, no strikeouts.

Yoh Sasaki tried to continue the action, got up to a full count, and ended up bunting Imai and Matsumoto up to second and third base instead. One out. Then Meiji catcher Yasuda stood up to signal the next pitch -- yes, they were intentionally walking Hiroshi Taki. Maybe it was because Taki bats left-handed and catcher Shuhei Ishikawa bats right-handed, or maybe to hopefully set up for a double play, but either way it didn't work out. Ishikawa did hit a grounder to short, and Taki was out on the force at second, but Ishikawa beat out the throw to first. Two outs, 3-0. Pitcher Mikami hit a high pop fly in the infield, caught by the second baseman for the third out. Morita threw 17 pitches in the inning.

Fourth inning, top, Meiji offense (M 1 / H 3)
The rain finally started to let up at this point, which allowed Meiji to start scoring, apparently. Hayato Tada led off with a single to right, and then Fumiya Araki walked on four straight pitches. Ryota Yasuda bunted them up to second and third base, one out, and then Norifumi Komachi pinch-hit for Uemoto. Komachi managed a single to left, which scored Tada for the first Meiji run, 3-1. After that, pitcher Morita struck out and Yamauchi grounded out to end the inning. Mikami threw 21 pitches that inning for a total of 82.

Fourth inning, bottom, Hosei offense (M 1 / H 3)
Masashi Nanba continued to not get hits by hitting an easy pop fly to left. Kamegai continued to hit by singling to center, and advanced when Waizumi grounded out to second after fouling off three pitches. Imai almost walked, then hit a looooooooooooong low fly ball out to right field, which looked like it might go for a home run, and Junpei Komichi ran back, back, back... and made a sliding catch all the way back at the right-field wall, even earning him a round of applause from the Hosei faithful in the stands. Morita threw 21 pitches that inning for a total of 38.

Fifth inning, top, Meiji offense (M 3 / H 3)
As I mentioned before, Meiji's game waxed and waned with the weather. Yuta Toyama started off the inning with a double down the left-field line that looked foul but wasn't, and Shogo Shashiki followed it up with another double, down the right-field line, that also looked foul but wasn't, and Toyama scored. 3-2. Komichi bunted Shashiki over to third, and so with the tying run standing at third and only one out, Hosei took Mikami out of the game and brought in Yushi Ueno. Mikami threw 90 pitches total, 52 strikes.

I swear that at this point, while Ueno was coming out to the mound and throwing warmup pitches, the weather went from cloudy and a little chilly to SUNNY AND HOT. I'd actually taken off my poncho the previous inning, and even put away my umbrella because I didn't need to protect my scorecard from the rain any more -- and so at this point I actually took my umbrella BACK out because it was so sunny I couldn't see in the glare, and was worried about getting sunburnt.

Anyway, Takayuki Chida pinch-hit for Hayato Tada, and only managed a pop fly to short. Two outs. But then Fumiya Araki hit a clean single to center, finally bringing home Shashiki from third. 3-3. With a 1-2 count on Yasuda, Araki took off for second base, and got himself totally caught in a rundown, 2-6-3 for the out, ending the inning. Ueno threw 15 pitches to 2 and a half batters.

Fifth inning, bottom, Hosei offense (M 3 / H 3)
A quick inning. Matsumoto continued his hitting with a single to right, and Sasaki bunted him up, but Taki struck out and Ishikawa hit the 3-1 pitch for a fly ball... caught in centerfield. Morita threw 12 pitches for a total of 50 through 3 innings.

Sixth inning, top, Meiji offense (M 4 / H 3)
Hosei sidearmer Kohei Nishi took the mound for the top of the sixth.

The sun shined on Meiji even more this inning. Yasuda was at bat again, this time hitting a pop fly to center. One out. Toshiki Abe, who had come in at third base in the fourth inning, hit a grounder to second base which Matsumoto just completely dropped and couldn't pick up in time to make a throw, so it was called an error. Pitcher Morita tried several times to bunt Abe over to second and completely failed -- and instead, with a 1-2 count, he swung away at the ball and managed a single to right-center instead. Abe was off and running and made it all the way to third base.

With runners at the corners, one out, and the sun high in the sky, Shinnosuke Yamauchi executed a squeeze bunt, which pitcher Nishi charged, and he threw it to home in what seemed like plenty of time to get Abe at the plate, but somehow he was called safe? It was kind of weird. 4-3. Toyama struck out after that and Shashiki hit a pop fly out to center. Nishi threw 23 pitches that inning.

Sixth inning, top, Hosei offense (M 4 / H 3)
Pitcher Nishi batted for himself to lead off the 6th, and after two ridiculous swinging strikes, fouled off a pitch and then sent the next one flying out to left field. One out. Nanba grounded back to the mound, and then Kamegai walked on 5 pitches. Kamegai stole second on the 2-1 pitch to Waizumi, but it was all for naught as Waizumi eventually let a called third strike go by to end the inning. Morita threw 17 pitches that inning for a total of 67.

Seventh inning, top, Meiji offense (M 4 / H 3)
Komichi grounded out to third. Takuma Kobayashi, who came in to play left field after Chida pinch-hit, hit a pop fly up to centerfield, which Kamegai made a nice run for, and got his glove on... only to drop it, and they called it a double for Kobayashi. Araki walked after that on four straight pitches. Yasuda singled to left, and Waizumi charged the ball and threw it in fast enough that Kobayashi had to hold at third. I thought for sure that they'd take Nishi out with bases loaded and only one out, but they let him work his way out of the jam, and he managed to strike out Abe and get a first-pitch pop fly out of Morita. Nishi threw 13 pitches that inning for a total of 36.

Seventh inning, bottom, Hosei offense (M 4 / H 3)
A super-quick inning. Imai grounded out, Matsumoto hit an infield pop fly to first, and Sasaki hit an infield pop fly caught by the pitcher. Morita threw 6 pitches that inning for a total of 73.

Eighth inning, top, Meiji offense (M 4 / H 3)
It became patently obvious by this point that Nishi-kun had lost any control over his sidearm pitches whatsoever, as he walked Yamauchi on four straight pitches. Toyama bunted Yamauchi up to second, and then Nishi also walked Shashiki on four straight pitches. He threw two more balls to Komichi before Komichi managed to foul one off and then ground the next one straight to third base, where Nanba stepped on the bag and threw the ball to first for the double play to end the inning. Nishi threw 13 pitches that inning, 10 balls and 3 strikes, for a total of 49 over three innings.

Eighth inning, bottom, Hosei offense (M 4 / H 4)
Hiroshi Taki led off the inning by singling to right -- and then took such a huge lead off first that he got picked off by the catcher on the very first pitch to Ishikawa. One out. Ishikawa singled to left, and Takashi Nakao pinch-ran for him. Kento Kameda pinch-hit for Nishi, and also singled to left, Nakao advancing to second. Yusuke Hasegawa pinch-ran for Kameda.

Kaoru Kita pinch-hit for Nanba, and he grounded the ball to short. Only Meiji's shortstop, Yamauchi, kind of got his hand on the ball and then he fumbled it and it went into left field. Nakao scored and Hasegawa ran to third, and Kita even reached second on the play as the ball was thrown home. 4-4.

Morita intentionally walked Kamegai (I don't blame him, as Kamegai was the second-best batter in the Tokyo Big 6 League and was already 3-for-3 with a walk and a home run for the day), and then just to prove that Meiji was NOT MESSING AROUND, they took out Morita and put in Yusuke Nomura.

Now keep in mind that Nomura had thrown 9 innings and 148 pitches the day before, but well, when the championship is on the line, I guess you put in your best guy and hope he has something left in his arm.

And apparently he did, as the next batter up was Shota Waizumi, who LITERALLY lined the FIRST pitch he saw into third baseman Abe's glove. It was so quick that Abe was on the third base bag before Hasegawa could turn around and run back, so it was an unassisted double play. Nomura threw... one pitch.

Ninth inning, top, Meiji offense (M 4 / H 4)
Kazuki Mishima took over on the mound for Hosei. Yousuke Kobayashi pinch-hit for Takuma Kobayashi, and grounded out to short for the first out. Araki singled after that, and Yasuda hit a pop fly out to left field for the second out. Here's where the boxscore looks weird: Sanshiro Matsunaga came in to pinch-hit for Toshiki Abe. And then on the 1-1 pitch, for whatever unknown reason, Fumiya Araki took off running for second base, and well, he was out by a mile, caught stealing, third out. Mishima threw 12 pitches that inning, and Matsunaga was never credited with an official at-bat, but did remain in the game as the left fielder. Ryuuichi Ochi came in to play shortstop, and Yamauchi moved back to third.

Ninth inning, bottom, Hosei offense (M 4 / H 5)
The first pitch to Ryo Imai was a strike. The next was a ball. The next was a ball. The next was a strike, and Imai hit it over the right-field wall for a game-winning home run that bounced in the second row of seats. 5-4.

Meet your new Tokyo Big 6 Champions of the 2009 Spring season, Hosei University...

The student cheering section throws orange streamers onto the field.

Manager Koji Kanemitsu gives the first speech, about how proud he is for the team working so hard, and how he was looking forward to taking the team to the All-Japan college tournament next, and hopefully doing well there too.

Then they turned to the game hero, Ryo Imai. "What do you think of winning the championship?" "YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY!!!!!!"

Seriously, his hero interview was about as happy-stupid as they get. I'm not even sure he was listening to the interviewer, he just kept talking about how he was happy there were fans out there, and happy he had teammates, and happy about winning, and more "YAAAAY!!!" and stuff like that. I suppose I should cut him some slack being as hitting league-championship-winning sayonara home runs isn't all THAT common around here.

Kazuhito Futagami was also interviewed for being the staff ace this year. He was a bit more serious about the entire deal, and mostly said stuff to the effect of "I wanted to pitch well so that Hosei could win the championship and we could take pride in our university."

Team captain, catcher Shuhei Ishikawa. The interviewer asked him "So, how do you feel about winning the championship?" and Ishikawa replied, "Huh? What do you mean?"

The rest of the team were... patiently watching the hero interviews. Okay, not really -- they were yelling out and waving at their teammates being interviewed on the big screen, and also were doing things like getting out their cellphones and taking photos of themselves on the big screen.

I don't really blame them for being overjoyed, it was just interesting watching them all act like complete slap-happy idiots and completely not self-conscious at all for the most part.

I bought the Tokyo Big 6 Spring 2009 baseball card set this week, and it's kind of funny how they made cards for several guys who totally didn't contribute to the season championship (like Kajiya and Takeuchi) and didn't make any for some that did (like league batting champ Matsumoto). I guess it's pretty hard to predict how seasons will go in college ball, especially since there are different external factors that can affect how someone plays. (Naturally, I mean things like drinking parties. I doubt studying gets in the way of baseball for most of these guys.) The best card in the set is actually of Keio's Murayama, but I'm biased towards cool pictures of pitchers with funky deliveries.

Anyway, I believe Toyo University DID manage to actually take the Tohto League title from Asia University in two VERY close games -- both by a score of 3-2 -- so both Toyo and Hosei will be representing their respective leagues at the All Japan college tournament starting on June 9th. I'm definitely hoping to catch a few games of that! I've grown to love college baseball here so much over the last few years, as it's really a lot of fun to watch -- kind of the same spirit as high school ball, but with a higher level of play and less idiotic headslides into first base.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Things I Saw This Weekend

I spent all weekend watching baseball or talking about baseball, thus I had no time to blog about baseball. So in the next day or two I'm going to try to play some catchup, but wanted to mention a few things quickly...

Final score from the Meiji-Hosei game today.

Hosei beat Meiji to take their 43rd championship title in the Tokyo Big 6 University League. I was sitting in the right field stands, taking advantage of the whole free baseball thing, though it was pretty rainy. I'll write a lot more about the game soon enough -- but in short, it was really close. Hosei won it on a walkoff solo home run by Ryo Imai, whose hero interview speech basically consisted of "YAY!" The losing pitcher was Yusuke Nomura, who was brought into the game in the 8th inning despite throwing 148 pitches the day before -- really, I know he's the best Meiji has, but it's still no surprise that he gave up a home run like that (and there's historical precedent for this kind of thing, even).

Final score from the Todai-Rikkio game.

I also caught the last few innings of the most ridiculous landslide win ever. I hope Suzuki-kun can pitch again next season so Todai might actually win a game, since they didn't manage to win a single one this season. On the other hand, I still maintain that Todai has the best marching band in the entire league.

In the realm of crazy things I saw OUTSIDE Jingu...

Masaichi Kaneda was doing a signing session.

Yes, really. Masaichi FREAKING Kaneda. The Meikyukai Man himself.

I came out of the stadium after the final ceremonies for the Big 6 championship and all, and there were several huge crowds; some were waiting to get into the evening's Softbank/Yakult game, but there were also a TON of people around this little tent. I wondered, "What on earth is in THERE?" and then I saw the sign explaining that Kaneda was doing a signing session and my jaw dropped. I have NO clue how you could actually get into it, and I basically took photos with my little camera while on my tiptoes trying to see over people, but, WOW, I was standing like 15 feet from the winningest pitcher in Japanese baseball history! How cool is that?

In the category of things I saw on Saturday...

Final score from the Marines-Dragons game at Chiba Marine Stadium.

I guess this was the weekend for crazy walkoff games, because the Dragons-Marines game also was that way. The Dragons had a narrow 1-0 lead for most of the game behind Wei-yin Chen, but as soon as he came out of the game the Marines offense caught up with the Dragons bullpen, culminating in a walkoff hit by game hero Shoitsu Ohmatsu. The only sad part is that my boyfriend Shunsuke Watanabe (seriously, I still have a knack for showing up only when he pitches) didn't get the win, though he pitched really well regardless.

In case you are wondering:

So far, the people outside of Chiba Marine Stadium with the Bobby 2010 banners have collected 63580 signatures, which is approximately the same number of people who have attended Yokohama Baystars games this year. (Zing!)

I took my usual 800 photos and have barely been able to go through them, let alone crop/resize them, so I'll just post a random one that I really liked:

Koichi Hori breaking his bat in the 6th inning.

And another topic for this post should probably be "people I saw this weekend":

In addition to all of the usual suspects around Chiba Marine Stadium, I also got to meet the authors of two other Japanese baseball blogs, which is always fun, because I love being able to put a face to a name and just to geek out about baseball with people.

After the game was over, I caught up with Steve Novosel, who writes We Love Marines, a blog about the Chiba Lotte Marines that is all about the Marines and a lot funnier than my blog. Steve managed to end up on TV the other day cheering, so now he's also getting random Marines fans coming up to him saying "OMG! I saw you on TV!"

And for part of the game and for quite a while after the game I got to talk to Gen Sueyoshi, who runs SimCentral, and very specifically writes a blog called Japanese-American Perspectives which is mostly about Japanese baseball. He writes game summaries EVERY day and translates snippets of interesting news articles, kind of like what Gary Garland used to do on japanbaseballdaily before he got burned out. I'd say that Gen and I both spend the same amount of time being obsessed about baseball, only I spend a lot more of that time going to games and singing a lot, and Gen spends a lot more time actually doing useful things like translating articles.

OH! And before I forget, technically Friday was this weekend, so this sort of counts -- you may recall I got my Fighters jersey signed by my favorite Fighters ni-gun player, catcher Ryota Imanari, a few weeks ago down in Kamagaya. Or actually, maybe not, since I didn't write about that game! Crap, add another thing to my list of Stuff I Need To Post About. Anyway, the day before my birthday I dropped off my jersey at Sports Authority to get them to put his name and uniform number on it, and on Friday they called me to say that it was finished!

Watch, now he'll get traded. Or change numbers. Or both.

The guy at the shop also told me that it was the first time he'd ever seen a gaijin come in and order a jersey with kanji on it. I told him that well, I figured that if I was going to get a jersey made in Japan, I ought to get it with Japanese on it, right?

I'm psyched, though. I'm going to try to make it down to the Fighters game in Yokohama on Thursday, even though I know I can't get there until 6:30 or so, because when the going gets tough, the tough get ouen. Or something like that.

Speaking of everyone's favorite Fighters ni-gun players, that Nakata Sho kid got called up to ichi-gun last week since Sledge got taken off the active roster for a week or two to heal a hamstring strain. Sho-kun got to be the starting DH in Saturday's game against Yakult and he got his first ichi-gun hit, which I'm sure he's delighted about. Then on Sunday he made a pinch-hitting appearance and also got a hit. If the Fighters could just clear up the logjam at 1B/DH they'd have a spot for him, although to be fair, his defense is so bad that he's not even all that dependable as a first baseman.

I'll be honest -- I'm happier to see Shintaro Ejiri up at ichi-gun again and being productive so far with his new sidearm delivery. I'm a pretty big Ejiri fan and I really want him to succeed, plus the Fighters bullpen really needs it.

If I took over the Fighters, I'd keep Sho at ni-gun for the year, and then in the offseason make some moves to open up the DH spot for him at ichi-gun, and shift the foreign talent towards pitching rather than hitting. And I'd also invent a time machine and undo the Nioka trade. Though there was a big deal a few days ago about Micheal Nakamura getting sent down to the minors by the Yomiuri Giants because he hasn't been good enough for them; I think it's just that he's still resisting the Giabbits with their big pointy teeth attempting to devour his soul. Maybe I'll just pretend that the Fighters were REALLY trading for Masanori Hayashi all along.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Game Report: Dragons vs. Lions @ Omiya Stadium -- Fightin' the Battle of Who Could Err Less

To start off interleague play with a little extra kick, and channel some of their dreaded Saitama superpowers, the Seibu Lions hosted the Chunichi Dragons at Omiya Prefectural Stadium on Tuesday night, May 19th. (They have three games there this year, also on June 26th and August 4th.)

(my poor attempt at stitching a panorama of the view from where I was sitting)

Omiya is a rather old stadium. According to its Wikipedia entry, it opened in 1934 for the Babe Ruth Rockstar Japan Tour, and was remodelled in 1992. It has been used for a whole bunch of random stuff; mostly high school baseball, some industrial league baseball, some minor-league ball, and the occasional pro league ball. It seats slightly more than 20,000 people and has an all-dirt infield. You can see the lovely forests of Saitama in the distance from one side, and the NACK5 stadium used by the Omiya Ardija soccer team on the other side.

Most importantly, at least for this Seibu game, they had quite a festival atmosphere going on in the concourse behind the stadium. There were tons of colorful food trucks set up with a wide variety of food -- anything from Thai food to omurice to hot dogs to one tent selling Lions taiyaki, which was actually fantastic.

Concourse food trucks.

Brightly colored melon bread truck.

The aforementioned Lions taiyaki. (Taiyaki is usually shaped like a fish and has some sweet filling; these were shaped like the Lions logo. Perhaps they should have been called RAIyaki?)

Omiya Stadium lettering.

The Seibu Lions Japan Series and Asia Series victory flags on display behind home plate. You couldn't get TOO close to them or the guards would glare at you, though.

I ended up getting some yakisoba -- which for whatever reason had a fried egg in it -- and some of the Lions taiyaki. Yum. In general, the concourse behind the stadium was really pretty good, although perhaps I am mentally comparing it to Gifu Nagarakawa Stadium, which is simply not designed to support a professional baseball game. At Omiya, the bathrooms were reasonable and there were enough of them, the concourses had more than enough entry gates, and there were a ton of places to get food. (None of these facts were true at Nagarakawa. Also, why does it seem that I always see the Dragons in these countryside parks?)

Anyway, the starters for this game were Chunichi's Kenta Asakura, the only member of the Crazy Ken Trio (Kenshin Kawakami, Kenichi Nakata, Kenta Asakura, who were the top of the Chunichi rotation about 2-3 years ago) still on the staff, as Kenshin's busy being brave and Kenichi is Lost In Ni-Gun Hell or something to that effect. Seibu's starter was Takayuki Kishi, best known as That Kid Who Came Out Of Nowhere To Win The 2008 Japan Series.

And in general, the game was mostly a Battle of Who Could Err Less (yeah, Ben Folds would punch me for that pun). I kind of wonder about the field itself, to be honest, because the ball seemed to take several strange bounces through the infield. In the top of the 2nd inning, Tony Blanco led off by grounding to third, only the ball took a bounce over Okawari-kun's head and went into left field for a single. Wada lined out to third after that, and then Tomas Delarosa grounded to third... and this time Okawari-kun simply dropped the ball for an actual error. But the Dragons didn't capitalize on their chance then.

The Lions brought in a run on a fielding error by Ibata in the bottom of the 2nd. I didn't see it because I was out doing important things like investigating melon bread and buying taiyaki, so I can't tell you exactly what happened. 1-0.

Then they brought in another run in the bottom of the 3rd -- Hiroyuki Nakajima got on base via a Morino error at third, though really, the ball took a bad hop and Morino simply couldn't get it in time. It was just particularly frustrating because Morino's had such awful luck at the plate lately too. Nakaji moved to third base when Okawari-kun singled to left, and then Yoshihito "Saitama Native" Ishii executed a squeeze bunt, Nakajima scoring on the play. 2-0.

Tony Blanco led off the fourth inning with a HUGE home run to dead centerfield. 2-1. Then the Lions quickly added a run in their half of the 4th inning on a double by Yutaro Ohsaki followed by a Ginjiro Sumitani single. 3-1.

(For those wondering "Who the hell is Yutaro Ohsaki?", which at least encompasses most of the people who were sitting around me, apparently he has a decent baseball pedigree being from Joso Gakuin (same school as Makoto Kaneko and Toshihisa Nishi and such) and Aoyama Gakuin University (same school as plenty of people, notably Iguchi), but since I rarely went to Seibu ni-gun games last year, I didn't see him much. He does have some badass minor league stats though.)

Anyway, Morino lunged and imssed a ball in the 5th in the field, and then grounded into a double play in the top of the 6th, which Blanco followed up with ANOTHER HOME RUN, this one to left field. 3-2. It was really sad though, because if Morino had done ANYTHING other than GIDP, the game would have been tied. And I was wearing my Morino jersey and holding my Morino towel, so even the nice older lady sitting in front of me decked out in Ibata gear remarked to me, "Why is Morino so crappy lately?"

Okawari-kun Nakamura hit a foul ball that went straight out of the stadium in the 7th inning, and then he corrected his mistake and hit the next pitch out of the park, a home run to right field. 4-2.

Finally, in the 8th inning, the Dragons bats woke up.

Tanishige led off with a single to right which barely landed fair. Ibata tried to bunt him up, but Kishi smartly made the play at second to nab Tanishige instead, and narrowly missed making a double play. Then the craziness started -- Araki hit a fly ball out to right-center, and even Ibata was waiting for it to be caught. Only it wasn't caught, it fell for a single, and even better, GG Satoh was having one of his "What? I have a glove to pick baseballs up with?" moments, and only Ibata's initial hesitation kept him from scoring on that play. With runners at second and third, only one out, Kishi up to 125 pitches and the left-handed POWER THREAT MORINO coming up to bat (whatEVER), Nabe-Q decided to go to the pen and brought out Tomoki Hoshino.

We cheered for "Mr. 3-run" to "please hit a 3-run homer already", but instead, he hit a big fly ball out to right field, which gave Ibata plenty of time to score and Araki time to get to third. 4-3. Nabe-Q went to the bullpen again to change hands to the right-handed Koji Ohnuma, who... threw a wild pitch allowing Araki to score. 4-4.

Several rounds of "Misero Ochiai Nippon Ichi" and the "Nerai Uchi" chance theme later, Blanco was walking to first base, and then shortly after that, Kazuhiro Wada, who'd actually been having a decent night in the field but not at the plate, hit a home run into the Seibu cheering section. Gyakuten! 6-4. It didn't even really sink in that the game had totally changed tides when Tomas Delarosa ran the Dragons out of the inning a bit later, getting caught stealing second by a mile.

The only thing that sucked about that inning is, Tatsunami kept wandering in and out of the on-deck circle, and people were getting all worked up for a Tatsunami PH appearance, but then the Dragons kept scoring, so no Tatsunami for us.

Before I talk about the bottom of the 8th, I have to pause for a moment to mention that the giveaway at the gate was an Omiya Lions Game Series poster, with the Seibu Lions lined up in a row, only where the normal center man would be one of the stars like Okawari-kun or Nakaji or whoever, on this poster the center man was Hiroshi "Warera na Hira-OH-OH-OH!" Hirao. I couldn't figure out why until I looked in my meikan, and it turns out he's from Saitama and went to Omiya Higashi HS, which is literally less than 2 miles from Omiya Stadium, as the crow flies, so he's about as local as a local boy can possibly get for a game like this. Infact it's fairly likely that he played baseball at Omiya Stadium pretty often in high school, as his school was in Koshien or almost in Koshien several times around the period that he attended.

Anyway, Local Boy Hira-OH comes up to the plate with Pretty Boy Takuya Asa-OH pitching for Chunichi, and wouldn't you know it, he hit a home run to left field. It was not a huge home run, and barely cleared the wall in left-center at all, but it was still a home run and still counted for a point. 6-5.

We finally got our Daida Tatsunami in the 9th, as he pinch-hit for Kei Nomoto. Tatsunami walked, and Masaaki Koike pinch-ran for him, leading the people behind me to wonder, "Who the heck is that guy wearing #44 that isn't Tyrone?" Koike advanced on a sac bunt and then scored on an Ibata single a bit later. 7-5.

Chunichi closer Hitoki Iwase managed to retire all three batters in the bottom of the 9th, mostly by way of pretending to be a first baseman himself, and 7-5 Dragons is where it would end.

Kazuhiro Wada was the game hero. We couldn't hear him over the meager speaker system, though.

Final score on a really old scoreboard.

Strangely, the main "ouendan" were at the edge of infield seating. They don't have an official license to lead cheers here anyway.

And here I am, proof that I'd been to my... I think 20th stadium in Japan. Yikes.

In all honesty, I think the Lions should have more games at Omiya Stadium. The atmosphere is really great and it's nice to be outdoors for the game!

By the way, the Lions site says it's a 20-minute walk from Omiya station, but that's really only if you walk super-fast and there's no traffic, as far as I can tell -- it took me around 20-25, and I'm a fairly quick walker. The path I took was to leave the station and go left until I reached a highwayish thing, at which point I turned right and walked until I saw a sign for Omiya Park and a huge torii marking a temple road; walked up the temple road and it led to the stadium, basically, I just had to follow the people carrying Lions bags and all.

I get the feeling there is a more efficient way to go there if you are more familiar with Omiya, though. This was honestly my first time going more than 5 minutes from the station.

Tokyo Big 6 League S09 Championship Possibilities

So as it worked out, Soukeisen truly is meaningless this semester, as Meiji and Hosei have been neck and neck for the league title for most of the season, and even with Waseda winning on Monday, they have no chance at the league title.

(It's a little weird as the top 7 batters by average are 3 Waseda guys, 3 Hosei guys, and Keio's Urushibata... but the top four pitchers by ERA are Hosei's Futagami and Kagami, and Meiji's Nomura and Nanba. For all of the hype on Futagami, he HAS managed to strike out 35 guys and walk 1 in 36 innings, 4 complete games)

Anyway, the standings going into Soukeisen weekend are:

Hosei --- TWW WW LWW WW 10 8 1 1 4 .889
Meiji --- LWL WW WW WW 9 7 2 0 3 .778
Waseda TLL WLW --- LWW WW 11 6 4 1 3 .600
Keio LL LL --- LWW WW 9 4 5 0 2 .444
Rikkio WLL LL WLL WLL --- 11 3 8 0 0 .273
Tokyo LL LL LL LL --- 8 0 8 0 0 .000

SW, by the way, is "series win". I believe that Series Win is technically more important for the standings than strict W/L record -- though you need two wins to win a series. Last year, one series went four games as there was a tie in there too. And aside from getting trampled by Waseda last weekend, Meiji has been super-efficient in their series wins.

Anyway, this weekend -- the penultimate weekend of the season -- Meiji and Hosei play each other for the championship. From the Big 6 website:

法大が勝ち点       →    法大優勝
明大が2勝0敗で勝ち点 →    明大優勝
明大が2勝1敗で勝ち点 →    明大-法大で優勝決定戦(詳細未定)

Which means:
If Hosei wins the series (2-0, 2-1, 2-1-1, whatever, Hosei is the champion.
If Meiji wins the series 2-0, Meiji is the champion.
If Meiji wins the series 2-1, then Hosei and Meiji will have a playoff game for the championship (to be scheduled later).


If it doesn't rain, I'll be at Jingu on Sunday, since I'm not going down to Nagoya after all. Kagami's back on the roster and I kind of hope they'll play Futagami Saturday, Kagami Sunday. Also gotta see Todai try to win at least ONE game against Rikkio...

(If you're wondering, after Series Wins to determine champion, it goes to W/L, which is why even if Waseda wins Soukeisen, they don't have enough wins to catch whoever wins the Meiji-Hosei showdown.)

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Tokyo Big 6 Game Report: Waseda-Meiji and Keio-Hosei - Pitching Matchups and Showdowns

On Saturday May 16th, my two top choices for where to watch baseball were either Kamagaya for the Fighters-Searex game, or Jingu for the Tokyo Big 6 University League games.

I chose Jingu, because I expected that day to be THE best pitching matchups of the entire Spring 2009 season:

Waseda's Yuki Saito, the hero of the 2006 Koshien summer tournament, against Meiji's Yusuke Nomura, the boy who was 5 outs away from being the hero of the 2007 Koshien summer tournament before running out of steam.

Keio's Nobuaki Nakabayashi, who's big and left-handed and kind of reminds me of Mikinori Katoh, and Hosei's Kazuhito Futagami.

I had ACTUALLY hoped to see Hosei's Kisho Kagami, who had a monster season last fall (doing things like striking out 26 Waseda batters in one weekend, although perhaps throwing over 300 pitches in that weekend was not so brilliant). Except I apparently didn't get the memo that Kagami has been experiencing shoulder pain, probably due to throwing all those pitches, which is why he hasn't been so ungodly dominant this season, and had been taken off Hosei's roster. Oops. So Futagami replaced him. I realize Futagami is Hosei's ace this season and expected to go pretty high in the draft and all, but for whatever reason, I find him kind of boring to watch.

I forgot that the game was starting at 10:30 instead of 11am, so when I arrived at about 10:35, not only had the game started already, but the place was PACKED, with huge lines of people waiting to buy tickets and waiting to get into the stadium. I suppose half of Tokyo wanted to come see the Koshien heroes pitch as well. So guess what I accidentally discovered? Outfield seats for Tokyo Big 6 games are FREE for women! Seriously! I decided I didn't feel like waiting in the huge line for infield tickets so I asked a guy where I could buy outfield tickets and he basically said ", you're a girl, women get in for free in the outfield." "WHAT? Really?" "Really."

Note: Soukeisen games (the biannual Waseda-Keio deathmatch) are NOT free for women in the outfield. But all others are. I wish I'd found that out earlier. It does say it in the box on the right on the schedule page, but I swear I'd never noticed it before.

So I went in for free, and sat in the front row in right field for the first game. I would have sat on the Meiji side if I'd been taking photos for real, but the outfield was so far out that I decided to go sit as close to the Waseda bullpen as I could, for the sake of watching my favorite college baseball player, Tatsuya Ohishi, warming up. He usually finishes out the last inning or two of games that Handkerchief Boy starts.

The thing is, I missed the first inning of the game, so by the time I got into a seat, it was already 4-0 Waseda. I'd heard "Konpeki no Sora" being sung from outside the stadium, but had no clue how it happened. I chatted up a lady sitting near me with a scorecard and she told me that Nomura got two quick outs, and then somehow the floodgates totally opened. Shohei Habu, who'd been a teammate of Nomura's at Koryo, started the assault with a single, and then Hironobu Hara walked. Toshiki Yamada singled in a run, Shota Sugiyama singled in another run, and then Hiroki Kojima hit a bases-clearing triple to bring everyone else home.

Yamada singled home another run in the 3rd inning to make it 5-0, the last run off Yusuke Nomura. Hayato Narita pitched a scoreless inning, and then Aikodai Meiden alum Shogo Shibata pitched the next three innings for Meiji. He got himself out of a bases-loaded pinch in the 5th by striking out Takashi Gotoh - but in the 7th, with two on and two outs, centerfielder Hiroki Kojima hit a big single out to center which brought in two more runs, to make it 7-0 in favor of Waseda. And then Takashi Gotoh struck out to end the 7th inning as well -- he struck out four times that day AND made an error.

(Actually, it's a little weird that Gotoh, and to a lesser extent Koji Udaka, who make up the left side of Waseda's infield, are just kind of having a crappy year all around, it seems. I wonder if they just don't have any better options than Gotoh right now.)

In the meantime, as Waseda was piling up runs, Handkerchief Boy was keeping Meiji from putting any runs on their side of the board. He only allowed 6 base runners in his 8 innings, and two of them got on via errors.

As a result, I got to watch Ohishi-kun warming up in the bullpen from about the 5th inning to the 8th inning. Not that I minded, but I do sometimes wonder if these kids should be throwing as much as they are. When he actually did come into the game to pitch the 9th inning, he immediately gave up two legitimate singles, both hard-hit to the outfield. But then he struck out Naoya Matsumura and got Hayato Tada to ground into a double play, ending the game. Whew.

And here are a few shots I have from the outfield:

Tatsuya Ohishi, warming up.

Ohishi smiling AND facing the outfield vaguely. I feel like such a stalker sometimes. What can I say? I'm a fan.

And then there's this kid. Ayuki Matsumoto. I thought he looked vaguely familiar, but it turns out he's the younger brother of former Waseda and current Yokohama Baystars outfielder Keijiro Matsumoto. I've heard that he's not nearly as hard-working or talented as his brother, nor does it bother him that that's the case.

After the first game ended, I chose to go sit in left field instead, on the Hosei side, because I wasn't aware yet that Kagami wasn't playing. I stayed out there anyway, because I'd sat on the Keio side for a game a few weeks ago anyway, plus I knew Nakabayashi was likely to go the distance and the Keio bullpen would be boring.

As it was, just like last time I saw Keio, this turned out to be a very close one-run pitcher's duel game with Keio and Nakabayashi on the losing end. Go figure.

Hosei got off to a small but quick lead in the first inning when captain Shuhei Ishikawa hit a double to left and was singled in by Masatoshi Matsumoto, who is actually leading the Big 6 League with a scorching batting average of .452 this season so far. 1-0. Hosei threatened again in the second inning when freshman Hiroshi Taki led off with a single (really a pop fly to left that landed between the Keio leftfielder and shortstop) and was bunted up to second. Yusuke Hasegawa followed that with a single to short -- Keio shortstop Hitoshi Fuchikami simply not making a throw -- but then pitcher Kazuhito Futagami grounded into a double play to end the inning.

Nakabayashi walked four Hosei batters over the next three innings and somehow none of them scored. But the Keio batters weren't getting much of anywhere with Futagami either; a few scattered singles (among which was one where Nakabayashi grounded back to the mound, Futagami ran to 1st with the ball rather than throwing it, but he was a second late to make the tag). And Hosei left-fielder Tetsuro Matsumoto had a dramatic flair and made several diving or somersaulting or otherwise crazy catches out in the field.

Hosei put another run on the board in the top of the 6th when Taki singled again, Tetsuro Matsumoto bunted him up again, and then Hasegawa hit the most awkward single ever, a ball that looked to be an easy grounder and then took a really bizarre bounce past the pitcher's mound and ended up heading to right field instead, so Taki scored. 2-0. Futagami tried to bunt Hasegawa up, but instead succeeded in popping into his second double play of the game, as Keio catcher Gen Takahashi caught the bunt failure and fired it to first to double off Hasegawa. Seriously, Futagami might have won the game with his pitching, but at the plate he caused 6 outs in 4 at-bats, an impressive feat.

(There are WAY too many players in the Tokyo Big 6 League named Matsumoto, by the way.)

Keio finally put a run on the board in their half of the 6th when Kazuma Takeuchi singled and Hayata Itoh followed it up two batters later with another single, putting Takeuchi on third. Kazuya Onodera grounded out, which scored Takeuchi. 2-1. Not glamorous, but better than nothing.

The aforementioned batting champ Masatoshi Matsumoto led off the top of the 8th inning for Hosei with a HUGE home run to left field. It actually sailed right over where I was sitting, but much further back, bouncing in the back half of seats of section U. 3-1.

Keio matched that in their half of the 8th when Fuchikami led off with a double, moved up on a pop out by Takeuchi, and scored on a groundout by Kajimoto, again not particularly glamorous. 3-2.

And well that's basically where things would stay, though it was close. Onodera led off the bottom of the 9th with a double to right, and Hiroshi Aoyama bunted him up to third. Tatsuya Yumoto pinch-hit after that but grounded out to second after fouling off about 5 pitches, and Onodera couldn't score on the play. Ryoichi Yuasa pinch-hit for Nakabayashi at that point, and he smacked a line drive -- which somehow happened to go right into defensive replacement second baseman Seiya Ohyagi's glove for the final out, leaving the tying run on third.

You know, it occurs to me that I'd like to see Keio's Yuki Murayama pitch again sometime because he has a crazy sidearm motion, but for the most part, Nakabayashi and Junpei Komuro have basically thrown almost every inning for Keio this year.

Speaking of sidearmers, actually, while I was sitting in right field watching the Hosei bullpen from time to time, one of their pitchers also caught my eye. Kohei Nishi, a senior, and a sidearmer. He hasn't had much of a pitching career in Big 6, and is unlikely to ever, but he was fun to watch warming up:

Nishi's sidearm action.

While we're at it, here's two more photos from before the second game:

Yuushi Ueno, who was put on the roster in Kagami's place, and pitched against Todai last weekend.

Yudai Kajiya, who didn't play in this game. I just liked this picture.

By the way, if you watched the Carp-Giants game today, and you're into college baseball, you might have noticed a familiar face starting for the Carp: Hosei alum Takeshi Komatsu! He did fairly well, pitching 7 innings of one-run ball, the only run coming in on a homer to right by that weasel Wakiya. The Giants sadly won, but I thought it was really cool to see Komatsu pitch again, making his first start as a pro already!

Also, to sum up how Tokyo Big 6 is going this year:
Tokyo University still hasn't won a game, probably because Yuichi Suzuki blew out his arm last year and they just don't have anyone else who can pitch. They do face off against Rikkio University next week, and Rikkio hasn't won a SERIES yet, though at least they have won three GAMES, so maaaaaaaybe Todai can at least win a GAME against them. The weird part about Todai is that three of their guys are actually hitting somewhat well this year -- Utsumi's batting .290, Iwasaki's batting .286 and Furugaki's batting .276. Iwasaki even hit a home run. Last season, Iwasaki at .220 was the only guy who was both batting over .200 AND had enough plate appearances to count.

Soukeisen won't actually matter for anything this year as Keio has only won 2 series, and even if Waseda manages to beat Meiji tomorrow they'll only have 3 series as well. The real "for all the marbles" matchup is Hosei vs. Meiji NEXT weekend, May 23-24. Less people will show up for it than the Meiji-Waseda game on Saturday or than for Soukeisen, because Waseda is simply more popular, but whoever wins it will likely be the league champion. (And I kind of expect Hosei's batters to just pound the heck out of Meiji.)

On the other hand, Yuki Saito will most likely win the strikeout title for Big 6 this season -- it seems unlikely that Nomura or Futagami or anyone else will catch him.

Two other fun events will happen after the season finishes with Soukeisen:

Big 6 Rookie Tournament, starting from the day after Soukeisen and going for three days. Freshmen and sophomores can play in that tournament, which means that if we're lucky, maybe some of those awesome Keio kids from last year's Koshien tournament will make an appearance. I really want to see Kei Tamura pitch again. Sadly, I can't actually go to this series for the most part, though.

The All-Japan College Tournament is scheduled to be at Jingu and the Tokyo Dome between June 9th and 14th. I would joke that it'll be really neat to see Toyodai stomp everyone, except that since Asia-dai now has Okinawa Shogyo's Higashihama Nao, aka "Mr. Complete Game Shutout", tearing apart the Tohto league batters, and captain Ryoji "Okawari-kun Wannabe" Nakata eating up all of the pitching and everything else in sight, it may pretty much come down to whoever wins the Toyo-Asia final series, and signs point to Asia.

If nothing else, the marching bands should be pretty good.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Fighters Friday Foto: In Honor of Brian Sweeney

Brian Sweeney got his first win of the season on Thursday up in Sendai, throwing 6 shutout innings of a game the Fighters would eventually win 7-0.

These are not photos from that game.

These are photos from May 6th, where Brian got to start a game and pitch almost 6 rainy innings down in Chiba. I went there mostly to see him pitch and take some photos (and because I didn't want to sit out in the rain in Kamagaya). However, the day after that game was my birthday and I had to go back to work after a week of Golden Week and had no free time, and I didn't really feel like writing about him losing the game, so I didn't. Instead, now I can post some of these out of context and be happy that he won!

So, these are for the Brian Sweeney fans, friends, and family out there.

To make this a true Fighters Friday Foto, I should probably include some other Fighters, shouldn't I? Here's a few more from that same game...

Here's BB making some new friends.

BB waving around a Lotte flag.

Shota Ohno. I still love him.

Hichori! And that definitely is his name in Korean on the collar.

Inaba, marvelling that the rain is still continuing.

This is Minoru Nakamura, who was umpiring his 2000th game that day. He was a baseball player in high school (even hit a sayonara homerun at Koshien for Nagoya Denki HS), and was drafted by the Fighters, and never made it as an infielder, so he became a Pacific League umpire instead. (He's also umped for anything from Japan Serieses to All-Star Games to the World Baseball Classic.) I find it appropriate that this milestone came at a Fighters game. They took a minute or two after the 5th inning when the game was official to give him flowers.

But as an ex-Fighter he fits in nicely to this post :)

The Fighters need to come back to Kanto, and soon! I'm suffering withdrawal!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

First-place Fighters & Farm Fanpost

This week the Fighters and Eagles faced off for a three-game series, both going into it with a 19-12 record, tied for first place. The Fighters won two games and the Eagles won one, so the Fighters moved into sole posession of the top spot! Hooray! I've been meaning to make a post all week about some of this stuff but I've been too exhausted from dealing with obnoxious junior high school students.

Makoto Kaneko was the April Pacific League MVP. This was his first time receiving a monthly MVP award in his career -- after 16 years of playing -- which was the longest time ever for a player to receive their first monthly MVP award. But he totally deserved it given what a good April he had (batting .423, the record for hitting doubles in 7 consecutive games, etc). Kaneko, ever humble, suggested that he didn't really deserve the award, and just hoped to continue taking things one day at a time and working hard. He will receive the award in a ceremony before the game against Hanshin on May 30th.

Down on the farm, Sho Nakata also got a monthly MVP, for March and April. He hit a lot of home runs, and his comment was basically "I'm hoping to make my way up to ichi-gun as soon as possible". Sho-kun gets his award on Saturday the 16th before the game at Kamagaya.

I mentioned that the Fighters ouendan made a cheer song to use for Darvish during interleague, but the words didn't make sense. Fortunately, the words have already changed, and now it goes:

雄叫びあげて 唸るその剛腕 我らのエース 日本のエース
osakebi agete unaru sono gouwan warera no ACE nihon no ACE

Meaning roughly "we give a loud cheer for your strong arm, you're our ace, you're Japan's ace". I guess it's less confusing than random numbers for his uniform number...

Speaking of new songs, over Golden Week the Fighters unveiled their new pop song for the year, "La La La Fighters", sung by Hokkaido native Miho Fukuhara. If you want to hear it, there are several Youtube videos of her performance at the Sapporo Dome. In all honesty, something about the tune sort of reminds me of the song "Lucky Star" by Madonna. However, it's still nowhere as cool as Kentaro Hayami's "Fighters Tamashii" which usually gets played at Kamagaya games (and should really be played at more, since it has such awesome lyrics).

Through some miracle, the Fighters' minor-league team is ALSO in first place in the Eastern League. (See farm stats.)

I still need to post about Fighters vs. Futures on May 2. Hmm.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Game Report/Photopost: Eagles @ Marines -- Hisashi Iwakuma Is A Leading Cause Of High Blood Pressure

You know that I love telling everybody about the little crazy things that happen in the amazing world of Japanese baseball, especially the things off the field.

So to talk about Saturday (May 9th)'s game, I need to first talk about what happened afterwards.

Basically, on May 17 2007, World Hypertension Day, the Chiba Lotte Marines fans, with the help of some medical companies in Japan, set a Guinness Book of World Records record for most people having their blood pressure checked in one location in a 24-hour period, when 2109 people had their pressure checked at Chiba Marine Stadium. Japan is well-known for having a lot of stress and blood pressure issues, so this was a good way to raise awareness of hypertension prevention.

Well, some lady in the Phillippines went and broke that record in March 2008.

Naturally Chiba decided to take the record back, and not only that, to get all of the Pacific League in on it, so there was actually a tally of how many people got checked in Chiba, at the Sapporo Dome, and at the Fukuoka Yahoo Dome, all on the same day. I believe Chiba won, though I'll have to confirm the official numbers later.

So after the game, I was pressured into getting my blood pressure checked, pun intended.

People line up for the "Roll up Your Sleeves, Japan!" (ウデをまくろう、ニッポン!) campaign.

Look how happy I am to get my blood pressure checked! The guy sitting to my left is Larry Rocca, whose idea this all was in the first place.

Everybody who got their pressure checked got a certificate from Bobby thanking them for being part of the blood pressure campaign, as well as telling them to be careful for their health. (The other side is where they wrote your blood pressure numbers.)

For the record, my blood pressure was measured at 141/85, which is a tiny bit high, but on the other hand I believe that you are supposed to get your blood pressure checked when you are at rest and relaxed, not when you have just run out of a stadium because a Chiba Lotte Marines staff member has been pestering you to get your blood pressure checked for the Guinness Book. And you definitely shouldn't have it done after you've been watching Hisashi Iwakuma pitch. :)

See, originally Saturday was going to be a day off from baseball, as I'd gone to baseball games 5 days straight at that point, and 8 of the previous 10 days. Unfortunately, my plans got cancelled due to other people's work. I woke up and saw that Hisashi Iwakuma was going to be the Rakuten starting pitcher, and quicker than you can say "the REAL MVP of the 2009 WBC", I was on a train to Chiba with my camera and scorecard.

I got to briefly say hi to Fernando Seguignol, which was nice, he's a great guy. Seggy is having a kind of slow start this year, but the team is kicking ass, so hopefully he'll warm up as the summer progresses. If not, we'll have to figure out a way to send a truckload of bananas up to Sendai for him. I know I'm technically not supposed to cheer for him anymore because he's not on the Fighters, but whatever, I think there are plenty of Fighters fans who still consider him "one of ours", as it were, and want him to do well as long as he isn't playing against us.

I apologize in advance for the rest of this post, as it's mostly a Rakuten photopost. I did mention that I was going to this game mostly to see Iwakuma, right?

Shingo Ono started for the Marines, and put up 6 good innings of one-run ball, and then he and Yoshihiro Itoh kind of got blown apart in the 7th inning for 4 runs, with Rakuten ultimately winning 6-2. Hisashi Iwakuma, for his part, was pretty good, although he had a really shaky and scary second inning where he walked three straight batters, including walking in a run. But he recovered to have an otherwise decent outing, 7 innings of one-run ball. Shinichiro Koyama gave up a home run to Iguchi in the 8th, and that's all Lotte would put on the board.

What sucks for Lotte is that I do think they had several chances to win this game, and just couldn't get it done. Like in the second inning when Satozaki came to bat, there were runners on first and second, and then Iguchi made a baserunning blunder and got picked off in a rundown; had he not, the Marines might have actually managed to knock Iwakuma out of the game in that shaky second inning. And then there were two fielding errors by Lotte -- coincidentally, Ryuji Miyade (!!) reached base on both of them. One time was a throwing error from third to first where Burnham had to jump to get the ball and Miyade was safe in the meantime, and another time, Takuya Furuya simply couldn't get the ball in time. I do give Shunichi Nemoto credit for making a nice play from second base to catch Miyade at the plate in the 7th inning, though.

Itoh also walked in the Eagles' go-ahead run by walking Kenshi Kawaguchi, but it looked like after the game they were interviewing Daisuke Kusano as the "game hero", probably because Kusano followed Kenshi's walk with a bases-clearing double, scoring Hijirisawa, Naoto Watanabe, and a pinch-running Shiokawa. On the other hand, and I know I'm biased, if I was going to pick a game hero for Rakuten, I'd certainly go with the dude who pitched his way in and out of the bottle of glue, if you know what I mean.

Anyway, here's a whole bunch of photos of your tied-for-first-place Rakuten Golden Eagles. If these guys can keep it up, you'll certainly be seeing and hearing about them quite a bit more this year...

Do I need to say anything more about Hisashi Iwakuma? He is all levels of amazing, and the reason I went to this game in the first place.

Ryuji Miyade sliding into third base in the 5th inning. I was a huge Miyade fan when he was with the Yakult Swallows, so I also kind of wanted to see him with his new birds of a feather.

Miyade high-fiving everyone back at the dugout.

Miyade sliding into home plate in the 7th inning, but he was out.

Another guy I used to be a huge fan of, Makoto Kosaka. Kosaka was the shortest guy in Japanese baseball at one point, and I was always amused by the idea of there being professional baseball players shorter than me, being as that never happens in the US.

Little Kensuke Uchimura, who IS the shortest man in Japanese baseball at this point (at a whopping 163 centimeters). I've gone on about him a few times on this blog before, but he definitely was one of the best stories of 2008 Pro Yakyu, that's for sure.

Ryo Hijirisawa, who I saw a decent amount at ni-gun last year in his rookie season.

Daisuke Kusano, game hero.

Takeshi "TAKESHI SMASH" Yamasaki wielding the remaining shard of his broken bat when he popped out to second base in the second inning.

And just because it's unfair not to include any Lotte photos in this post...

Bobby Valentine at bat! (For the ceremonial first pitch, but still, I think this is the first time I got a shot of him at the plate!)

Another photo for the Bobby 2010 collection -- a group of women behind first base made a set of posters that when held together spelled out "We want to fight together with Bobby forever".

Final score of the game, along with the tally at that point for people in the blood pressure checking contest. It looked like Sapporo was ahead, but they also started their game earlier, so Chiba may have caught up with all of the post-game fans, maybe.