Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Liveblogging: Eagles @ Fighters

I don't get terrestrial TV but I do get BS1, and tonight they have the Eagles vs. Fighters game in the Sapporo Dome on. Hooray!


Naoto Watanabe SS Kensuke 2B
Kosaka 2B Itoi CF
Masato Nakamura LF Inaba RF
Kusano 3B Shinji 1B
Takeshi Smash DH Sledge LF
Teppei CF Koyano 3B
Norihiro 1B Jason Botts DH
Hiraishi RF Tsuruoka C
Shima C Kaneko! SS

---------- ----------
Hasebe (4-5, 4.19) Itokazu (0-3, 6.08)

The Dome looks kind of empty. I really have to plan a trip there sometime in August... shame almost all of their games then are weekends though.

First inning, top:
The TV broadcast comes on just in time to see Kosaka ground out for the second out of the first inning... Nakamura also grounds out and that's three.

First inning, bottom:
Kensuke walks, Itoi bunts. Hasebe's control doesn't look so good... Inaba jump, the camera is shaking. Inaba walks, runners at first and second for Shinji... who grounds to third. Ball to second, Inaba out on the force but Shinji is safe at first. Kensuke to third... and Sledge singles to right! Kensuke scores, Inaba makes it all the way to third. 1-0. Koyano strikes out.

Second inning, top:
Kusano hits a pop fly up, up, up, down down down into Koyano's glove right by third. And just as I'm talking about "hey, Takeshi Smash is DHing today" with a friend on IM... Takeshi smashes a homerun into the leftfield stands. And this is no small homerun, it went about 2/3 of the way up the seats. 1-1. Teppei hits a fly to shallow right-center, and Kensuke, Itoi, and Inaba all run in, and it's not clear who has it but then Inaba lunges out and makes the catch. Norihiro comes up to bat and... grounds out to Kensuke.

I have just realized that both starters wear #20 and are still young unproven college-star types.

Second inning, bottom:
Jason Bottsu! ...grounds out to short. Tsuruoka watches a bunch of pitches go by way in or way out and walks. Kaneko... long fly ball to right. Kensuke walks again, so runners at first and second. Itoi... hits a grounder to first that even Norihiro has no trouble getting and running to the bag in time.

Third inning, top:
Hiraishi (dare aitsu?) hits a long fly ball to Inaba. One out. Shima comes up bunting or not bunting or who knows, but he walks. Naoto Watanabe lunges for a pitch way the hell outside, drags it to Kensuke, who flicks to Kaneko at second and makes the relay to first in time for a double play. Whoosh.

Third inning, bottom:
Inaba and Shinji ground out and Sledge strikes out and I barely see it as I'm adjusting my TV and stuff.

Fourth inning, top:
Little Makoto Kosaka (awww) slaps a single into centerfield. Masato Nakamura bounces one to short, and Kaneko charges in, gets the ball coming down from a bounce, throws to first, and beats Nakamura there by like, half a stride. Kusano goes down on a called third strike just in the inside corner at the knees. This time Takeshi does not smash but instead grounds out.

Whee, time for BS News to cut in.

Fourth inning, bottom:
Koyano hits a pop fly foul to right and Norihiro, Masato Nakamura, and Kosaka run in for it.. and I believe Kosaka makes the catch. Jason Botts singles to center pretty quickly. Really long at-bat for Tsuruoka... WHAT was that? I think Tsuruoka struck out but Jason Botts managed to steal second since he was off running on the swing and Shima missed second on the throw and chucked the ball into the outfield instead. Weird. Okay, so runner at second and two outs. And.. Kaneko singles to center! Botts kind of tries to run home but only gets a little way before he's stopped and waved back to third. Fighters ouendan strikes up the Genghis Khan chance music, which starts vaguely wreaking havoc on the cameras. And Kensuke singles to right! Botts scores easily and Kaneko makes it all the way to third! 2-1. Itoi strikes out.

Fifth inning, top:
I'll admit - this inning was so fast I didn't actually see it, as I'm kind of falling asleep. I woke up hearing the Fighters fans singing the 5th-inning sanka.

Fifth inning, bottom:
Inaba hits one off the end of his bat down the left-field line for a double. Shinji gets a single to center, Inaba going to third. (Inaba kind of was waiting for a split second to see if it was caught, I think.) Sledge hits a low fly to right... caught, but Inaba tags up and scores. 3-1.

And that's it for lefty Kohei Hasebe. Pitching change to righty Koji Aoyama, who is actually from Hokkaido (Hakodate). Interesting.

Koyano kinda reaches out for a low one and grounds to short.. Shinji slides into second safely but Koyano is out at first. Two outs and here's Jason Botts (I swear the TV angle makes it look like Botts's strike zone is bigger than Makoto Kosaka)... and Botts strikes out. Ok.

Sixth inning, top:
Shima grounds out to second. Watanabe grounds out to second. Kosaka... grounds out to short. That was fast.

Sixth inning, bottom:
(huh... YMCA before the top of the sixth, La La La Fighters before the bottom? Also a cut to "PL History" on BS1 where they show Nomura as a playing manager for Nankai in the 70's)
Tsuruoka strikes out. Kaneko grounds towards first -- Norihiro Nakamura goes in and gets the ball, throws to first where he expects the pitcher to cover but Aoyama isn't there so the ball goes soaring past first. Kaneko is safe and Shima has to back up the play. And.. WOW. Kensuke hits a grounder to third. Kusano runs in for it but misjudges and rather than getting the ball the ball bounces past him, so Kensuke's safe at first and Kaneko at second. Itoi grounds to first, Norihiro throwing to second to get Kensuke on the force, but Itoi's safe at first, so runners at the corners. Inaba jump! ...Itoi steals second base on the first pitch and is totally safe, and the crowd does ANOTHER Inaba jump... AND and and and they are INTENTIONALLY WALKING INABA. Whoa. Nomura has this look of "I am clever, don't mess with me" on his face. Here's Shinji Takahashi... who, crap, grounds to short. Inning over.

Seventh inning, top:
Ok, pitching change to Masanori Hayashi.
Masato Nakamura grounds to short, a bit deep. Kaneko fields the ball and throws to a totally stretched out Shinji Takahashi at first... and the runner LOOKS safe but the umps call him out. (I actually thought he was safe or close enough to a tie that I'm surprised he didn't get the call.) Nomura comes out to argue but to no avail. I don't blame him for arguing, though, that was a super-close play. Kusano goes down swinging, two outs. Takeshi Smash comes up and... singles to left, through a running Kaneko. Then during Teppei's at-bat, Hayashi throws the ball into the dirt and it bounces away from Tsuruoka, so Takeshi Smash gets to lumber on over to second base. But... it all works out okay as Teppei strikes out.

I'm beginning to think Hayashi could work out for us kinda like Okajima did (ie, lefty relief dude to come over from the Giants in a WTF trade, only we get Hayashi for many more years.)

Lucky Seven, bottom:
Shinichiro Koyama takes over on the mound for Rakuten and Sledge immediately singles to left. Pinch-running for him at first is Hichori! Ok. Koyano comes up bunting and... well, a few failed bunts, a failed pop-up (but he's sure giving catcher Shima a workout), etc later, he ends up hitting a pop fly out to right. Next is DH pinch-hitter Tsuboi! A couple of pitches go by but the most dramatic thing to happen is a pitchout where they try to get Hichori going for second -- catcher to second to first, but Hichori dives back into the bag and is safe. Eventually Tsuboi walks. Tsuruoka's at-bat also drags on for a while and he eventually singles to center, loading the bases. Genghis Khan chance music starts as Kaneko comes to the plate... and Kaneko is out on the infield fly rule! Whoa, long time no see that one. Looks like a pitching change, probably to a lefty.

Yup -- Kanehisa Arime comes out to pitch to the lefty-heavy top of the order. And sure enough, he gets Kensuke out on a pop fly to left. Boy, that was a long inning.

Eighth inning, top:
Fighters pitcher switches to Kazumasa Kikuchi.
Kenshi Kawaguchi pinch-hits for Norihiro Nakamura... and grounds out to the mound. Hiraishi grounds to first, unassisted... and Ryo Hijirisawa pinch-hits for Motohiro Shima. Hijirisawa grounds to second. Quick inning.

Eighth inning, bottom:
Fujii's catching, Kenshi's in at first, Arime is still on the mound.
Itoi, first pitch, breaks his bat (he's holding the handle and the rest of the bat goes flying). Eventually he succeeds in grounding to second, Kosaka throwing to first, and... same close call like Masato Nakamura earlier only this time the ump calls Itoi safe. I think it was about the same as the other one -- kind of ridiculous, and Nomura comes out for a token WTF argument but doesn't stay long. Inaba strikes out, though Itoi steals second on the third strike (Itoi's second stolen base tonight).
And another pitching change -- Marcus Gwyn takes over on the mound.

Shinji grounds out to second but Itoi ends up at third. Now Hichori gets an at-bat. But he also basically only succeeds in grounding out. Oops.

Ninth inning, top:
Hisashi Takeda, the Little Closer, comes out to pitch for the Fighters. Iiyama is in defensively at third. Naoto Watanabe is at the plate... and he grounds out to short. One down. (They keep showing Itokazu in the dugout because if this game holds together, it'll be his first professional ichi-gun win.) Little Makoto Kosaka is at the plate, and he hacks at a few curveballs before grounding one back to the mound. Two down. It all comes down to Masato Nakamura, who has grounded out to short three times today... but this time, no dice. Hisashi gets up to a full count before walking him on a pitch slightly in and slightly low. Daisuke Kusano comes up to the plate -- he's just the PL batting champ right now, no big deal, right? Kusano hits a low liner out to right field... it's going... it's going... it is CAUGHT by Inaba. WHEW.

Fighters win the game 3-1 and Itokazu has a huge smile on his face and everyone's alternately eithehr hugging him or smacking him in the head or whatnot as they do their big line of high-fives. Someone (Inaba? Takeda?) gives him the game ball... and yes, he is the game hero.

Game Report: Fighters @ Marines - Swingin' in the Rain

Despite that on Saturday evening the forecast for Sunday said it would be cloudy and humid, by Sunday morning it was raining and the forecast said it wasn't likely to stop any time soon. You have to love tsuyu, the rainy season -- just ignore the weather forecast and assume it will either be pouring rain or it will be horribly hot and sunny, and not very much inbetween.

Unlike the other two games in this series, I went to this one with the enemy, by which I mean Steve, who writes a Marines blog. Thanks to Bobby, we got to sit behind home plate, in Row 26, which is the most awesome place in the world to watch a rainy game from, because it is the only row in the lower deck that is covered by an overhang. Even better, we were randomly joined by the inimitable Larry Rocca.

Before the game was also exciting -- while walking around outside I saw a blonde lady with two kids standing there, and was thinking, "That has to be Brian Sweeney's family!" (I recognized them from a photo the Fighters had up last year when Brian signed a new contract.) While I was trying desperately to think of something to say to Brian's wife that didn't sound crazy and stalkerish, she actually turned around and recognized ME! Which made it lot simpler, and she turns out to be a really nice person too.

But yeah, it started raining as we were walking to the stadium, and it pretty much never stopped. We got our Bobby Burgers and settled in to see if the game would even be played, as groundskeepers dumped dirt on the bases, and eventually, sure enough, players took the field.

Here you can see Bobby walking by a tarped-up home plate after receiving flowers before the game.

This is what it looked like from our view.

Shingo Ono started for the Marines and Brian Sweeney started for the Fighters, and the game got underway as the rain sprinkled down on the field.

The Marines took a fairly early lead during the second inning when Saburo hit a fly ball way out to left field which didn't clear the wall but did hit the wall for a double. Right after that, Tasuku Hashimoto hit a ground ball towards first base which was going straight to Shinji Takahashi until it took the CRAZIEST bounce ever and suddenly bounced over Shinji's head and into right field, so while Inaba was retrieving it, Saburo scored. 1-0. Benny walked after that, advancing Hashimoto to second. Two outs later, Nishioka hit a ball down the left-field foul line which happened to land fair. Hashimoto was off running and scored; 2-0.

The rain continued to fall and several slippery plays happened. Between almost every inning, ground crew came out to the mound to work on it...

And here's Brian Sweeney trying to pitch from the mudpile.

In the top of the 4th inning, Hichori singled and then Inaba hit a home run into the right-field bleachers! That tied the score at 2-2.

If you are counting, which I am, Inaba has hit 10 home runs this year, 9 of which I've seen, 7 of which I've seen in person. The Sapporo Dome is scary.

Inaba and Hichori high-five back at the plate.

Things carried on for a few very wet innings, and then in the bottom of the 6th, Benny Agbayani led off with a double to left, running and running and eventually taking a headslide into second base, safe. Gary Burnham grounded out, moving Benny to third, and so I started focusing my camera on home plate. "Ohno-kun... be careful, a large Hawaiian man is about to come barrelling into you..."

Sure enough, that is exactly what happened. Imae hit a squeeze bunt and WHOOOSH, Benny came charging home:

So that brought the score to 3-2.

To start the 7th inning, they actually did announce the Fighters Lucky 7, and they played the Fighters song and showed the Fighters fans on the big screen, and announced Akira Ohtsuka as a defensive replacement in left...

...and then a bunch of people came out and started covering up the field with tarp, as we went into a rain delay.


The Fighters ouendan started the traditional Old Ouenka Game out in the left-field stands, even including Ogasawara's and whatnot, and the crazy Marines fans sitting next to us even sang along for Yukio Tanaka's. But well, 20 minutes later or so, the game was called, since the field was pretty wet and there was no end in sight to the rain.

Sadly, there was no big display of headsliding after the game -- one of the Marines mascots, Ma-kun, came out and ran around the bases and slid into the wet tarps, but it wasn't really anywhere as exciting as having coach Morozumi come out and do it.

At any rate, it was still a fun day at the game, and I'm really glad we got to sit in row 26 under the cover. I didn't even need to get out a plastic bag or an umbrella or anything.

I have a few other photos from the day that I wanted to post but that didn't really fit into the story:

This is the Fighters ouendan cheering for Kensuke Tanaka. There's a guy waving a big orange flag, which actually belongs to the Fighters Fukuoka ouendan group. Why is he waving it? Well, first, because Kensuke Tanaka is from Fukuoka... but second, because that particular ouendan guy is also from Fukuoka and happened to go to the same high school as Kensuke.

Ono (小野) is pitching to Ohno (大野). You could say that "ours is bigger than theirs", I suppose.

And last... I posted a photo of this a few years ago but I'm not sure I ever got a photo of myself in front of this thing before, so...

...this is outside Kaihin-Makuhari station, the big flowerball declaring that Chiba is a flower capital. Or something like that.

Overall, anyway, it was a fun weekend.

Now I'm finishing this up on Tuesday afternoon, and maybe if I get home on time I'll try to even liveblog the Fighters-Eagles game tonight, since it's on BS1 and I can watch it. We'll see.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Game Report: Fighters @ Marines - Karaage-kun Gets Fried

Walking to Chiba Marine Stadium on Saturday morning, I couldn't help but notice the breeze blowing in off Tokyo Bay. It was probably around 90 degrees Fahrenheit outside, but actually didn't feel that bad thanks to the wind. My thought, though, was that it was going to be a really tough day for anyone to hit a home run with that wind blowing in off the bay.

Boy, was I wrong.

But this story doesn't actually start with the 5 homeruns hit during the game. This story starts with the pre-game. I can shorten 90% of my interactions to basically "Saw [name], my Fighters-cheering friend that lives in [city that isn't Tokyo] who I met in [some other city]. Gave them Carp cookie omiyage from last weekend and they gave me [something yummy that comes from where they live]." Though you'd be surprised by how many people fit that, and the wide variety of yummy stuff they brought. The best was probably the coffee-cream daifuku from Kobe.

As I was staring at the Fighters out in the field during batting practice, I was surprised to see a guy running around wearing #42, since Brian Sweeney wasn't on the active roster as far as I knew, but sure enough, he was there, and just as I saw him, my friend Akki grabbed my arm like "Hey! Come translate for me, I wanna talk to Brian since I'm his biggest fan ever but you know I can't speak a damned word of English."

(This is not entirely an exaggeration. Akki has a signed Sweeney jersey and always cheers for him as much as possible.)

So I go down to the field, we yell for Brian, and being the super-nice guy he is, he actually comes over to chat for a few minutes. Akki gave him a Carp Katsu omiyage package and Brian's like "Can I eat this?" and I'm like "Yeah, you can," and Akki told me to tell him that he also gave some Carp omiyage to Brian's family in the infield the day before. And then he said, "Tell Brian that he has to be the game hero when the Fighters play at the Tokyo Dome and throw me a baseball in the stands!" and I'm like "Eeeeh?" but I went ahead and translated anyway. But Brian actually knows who Akki is, and even asked why he wasn't wearing glasses that day, which made Akki really happy.

Oh! But important info that I gained from the exchange is that Brian's pitching on Sunday! I should be sitting in the infield for that game, so I hope I'll get to see him pitch a good game from there! I told him I'd blog about it, so he better kick butt :)

Anyway, one other thing I discovered while waiting for the game to start is that there's actually a huge concessions stand behind the centerfield scoreboard with a patio. I'm not sure why I'd never wandered out there before, but one of my main complaints about sitting in the outfield in Chiba was the lack of decent food choices out there, and now it turns out I just never found them. I still prefer Bobby Burgers from the infield, but it's still nowhere near as dire a situation as I thought.

So, today's starters were Tomoya Yagi for the Fighters and Yuki Karakawa for the Marines. Karakawa's 20th birthday is next week on July 5th and he'd said he really wanted to win another game as a teenager. Yagi, on the other hand, really just wants to spend another year up at ichi-gun if possible, after being the Rookie of the Year in 2006 and then immediately having a terrible second season.

The Fighters got off to a stupid start, Kensuke walking and then the count getting up to 3-0 on Koyano, who was batting second. This should have led to great things, but instead it led to Kensuke getting caught stealing and Koyano hitting a pop fly out a few pitches later. Oops. But, in the 2nd inning, Sledge hit a one-out double to right field and another out later, Tomohiro Nioka, who was DHing and batting 7th, hit a fly ball to right field that happened to actually land inside fair territory, surprising everyone, most of all right-fielder Ohmatsu. Sledge scored, making it 1-0.

In the top of the 4th, Shinji Takahashi singled, and then Sledge hit a fly ball that we thought might be a home run... but was caught at the left-field wall, which had a No Homeruns Shield on it. So fortunately, Yoshio Itoi hit the ball to RIGHT field, where it cleared the wall for a 2-run homer. 3-0. And, amazingly, Tomohiro Nioka followed that up with ANOTHER homer to right, making it 4-0. I can't remember the last time I saw Fighters back-to-back homeruns, to be honest.

Shoitsu Ohmatsu took advantage of the home run magnet in right field to hit one there himself in the bottom of the 4th, making it 4-1.

But well, much as Karaage-kun really wanted to get that final win as a teenager, it was not destined to happen at this game. Koyano led off the 5th with a single, and Inaba walked, and Shinji bunted them up to second and third... and then Sledge ALSO walked, loading the bases, and so it was curtains for Karakawa.

Koji Takagi took over on the mound ("Uniform number 48? Or age 48?" joked one of my friends), and much to the chagrin of the Fighters ouendan guy I think of as "Shaggy", we struck up the Kanto Chance Theme Music, aka Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Yoshio Itoi didn't hit another home run, but he did hit a single to right, scoring Koyano to make it 5-1. Another pitching change brought Taiki Nakagoh out to the mound again, and he struck out Nioka. Tsuruoka hit a sharp liner to left... caught by Tadahito Iguchi to end the inning. Whoops.

Speaking of old dudes on the Marines, Koichi Hori hit a 2-run homer in the bottom of the 5th to make it 5-3. It was a monster shot straight to dead centerfield -- it bounced in the crack between the centerfield wall and fence and then went over. I like Hori and all, but I'd rather see him hit home runs against teams I don't like, like Seibu.

Yagi finished 6 innings and then Shintaro Ejiri came in to pitch the bottom of the 7th. Hooray, I like Ejiri. Unfortunately, he got to two outs pretty quickly and then BAM, a pinch-hitting Gary Burnham Jr. sent yet another homerun over the right field wall, making it 5-4.

Then there was a bit of Musical Chairs going on between the mound and the plate. Left-handed Tasuku Hashimoto pinch-hit for right-handed Koichi Hori, so the Fighters took the right-handed Ejiri off the mound and replaced him with the left-handed Masanori Hayashi. So Bobby replaced pinch-hitter Hashimoto with the right-handed Akira "Go Go Ohtsukakira" Ohtsuka, who hit a big, big foul ball.

I spent that inning talking to some other gaijin way out on the fringes of the cheering section, who are perhaps nominally Fighters fans, by which I mean I've seen them at games once or twice before and they claim to be Fighters fans, but they don't know any of the cheer songs or who most of the players on the team are. They were super-disappointed that Darvish wasn't coming in from the bullpen, and asked me "who the heck is this guy?" when Nioka came up to bat, and it made me wonder if maybe I'm the weird one for having so much baseball in my head. But in reality, no, it just made me remember that why I love Japanese baseball fans so much is that they all know the roster so well and live and die by the team so much, which is a passion I just don't find enough of in the US. (It also might be why I get along with Japanese baseball fans better -- I'm as crazy as they are.)

Anyway, something pretty odd happened after that inning -- Gary Burnham, who'd pinch-hit for the DH, entered the game as the first baseman, so Tadahito Ogino, who entered the game as the pitcher, was inserted into the lineup batting 7th. It's been a while since I've seen a PL team lose the DH. But anyway, Ogino wasn't too awful aside from hitting Makoto Kaneko with a pitch. Grrr.

Kaneko, for the record, hit two doubles today, three singles yesterday, and is 5-for-6 on the weekend. Seriously. Welcome back to the Pacific League, kaicho.

Kazumasa Kikuchi took over on the mound for the Fighters in the bottom of the 8th, which caused quite a stir, because it was his 27th birthday:

Very cool, a whole bunch of people orchestrated this one, and held up their signs for the entire inning he pitched, which was a 1-2-3 inning.

Hisashi Takeda closed out the game, and he had us a bit worried when he suddenly seemed incapable of throwing a strike, but it all worked out okay in the end and the Fighters managed to pull it all together, winning 5-4. Whew.

Nioka was the game hero for the go-ahead RBI back in the 2nd, and once again we didn't see him on the screen, only heard him.

I guess it was another day for kids to run around the bases, so while we were still doing our after-game cheers, people started filling up the field, which was especially odd as several of them started taking photos of the Fighters cheering section...

Anyway, good times. Our post-game cheering wasn't quite as crazy as Friday, but it was still a lot of fun.

Onwards to Sunday, where Brian Sweeney will take on Shingo Ono, and Deanna will take on the summer sun and try not to get burnt too badly.

Game Report: Fighters @ Marines - 360 Beer Stadium Night

I can't believe I almost decided I didn't feel like going to this game. What was I thinking? "Oh, Chiba is so far away." "Oh, people will just be there for the beer and not for the baseball." "Oh, I can see Darvish start any time."

See, I'm an idiot.

First of all, if I hadn't gone down to Chiba on Friday night, I would have missed seeing this sunset:

But even moreso, I would have missed one of the more fun games this season.

I showed up at the end of the first inning, because getting to Chiba Marine Stadium by 18:30 from where I work in the north end of Tokyo is pretty much impossible. I hadn't actually made plans with anyone for this game, so my idea was just to walk in and find the first people I recognized and sit with them. Which took all of about 5 seconds, as the group of people I went out for okonomiyaki with in Hiroshima spotted me immediately and waved me over, and they had a free seat or two in their area.

The first thing they told me was, "You missed Hichori hitting a home run in the first inning! If only you got here a little earlier!"


So the Fighters were already up 1-0 when I arrived, and Darvish was on the mound. Hiroyuki Kobayashi was starting for the Marines, and for the record, he pitched WELL. Really seriously WELL. He was striking out Fighters batters left and right, and even had two 3-strikeout innings. It's just that Darvish pitched better -- every inning after about the 4th, people were like, "Wait a minute, there hasn't been a Lotte hit yet, has there...?"

It's true the Chiba wind probably helped Darvish quite a bit, as there were a LOT of fly balls out to center, that might have left the park in other places. But it all worked out okay, and the 1-0 deadlock continued for quite a while. There were fireworks after the 5th inning, and they announced that tomorrow's starters were Yagi and Karaage-kun. And still no hits from Lotte.

Eiichi Koyano led off the Lucky 7 inning with a double to right that basically took a weird arc and came down THROUGH Ohmatsu, and Itoi bunted him up to third, and then Tsuruoka botched a bunt attempt for the second time that day, this time grounding out to third -- good thing Koyano wasn't doubled off. Makoto Kaneko came through for the Fighters with a single to right to make it 2-0.

The Lotte bullpen took over in the 8th, starting with Tatsuya Uchi, and Glasses Dude took over for the Fighters ouendan, which meant something interesting was bound to happen (it always does when he's up there). He started his inning by saying things like "Have you all drunk enough beer yet? Do you want to go drink more? If we score some runs, everyone can go get another beer!"

Hichori led off with a walk, and we were doing the normal cheer for Inaba until Hichori stole second, so with no outs and a runner at second, Glasses Dude said, "Crap, can't be helped... OKAY, INABA JUMP!" And everyone laughed, and jumped, and we didn't even get through the first round of Inaba's song by the time he just hit this beautiful line drive to left, scoring Hichori! 3-0.

Shinji grounded out and then Koji Takagi took over on the mound... and Terrmel Sledge came out and BAM, he hit a home run to right-center! This brought the score to 5-0. Taiki Nakagoh took over on the mound a few batters later, and finished out the game.

Naturally, Darvish didn't actually pitch a no-hitter or you know I would have started off by mentioning that. Saburo got the first Lotte hit of the game in the bottom of the 8th, at around 9pm, and Hashimoto followed it with another hit, and we were all wondering if Darvish would come out of the game immediately, but no, they let him finish the inning out, with two more strikeouts and a fielder's choice. Whew.

Naoki Miyanishi started off pitching the bottom of the 9th, and walked Tsuyoshi Nishioka, so they switched to Shintaro Ejiri (yay!) and Ejiri retired the next three batters to complete the shutout, though Nishioka made it all the way to third by stealing and advancing on a wild pitch during Ohmatsu's at-bat. But when Ohmatsu hit a pop fly to center, Itoi fired the ball in fast enough that Nishioka (!) wasn't able to tag up and score. Yay.

Darvish was the game hero, but for some reason we could only hear his voice during his interview, and couldn't see him on the screen...

And then we did our normal postgame cheering, including silly things like "Good luck at ni-gun, Luis", and "Leave it up to the bunt, Itoi" and "Hit more than one home run this year, please, Hichori". You see, Hichori's home run was not only the first one this year, but also the first one for him in two years! Not that he's a power hitter or anything, but...

For my part, I had a good time cheering, and hanging out with my new friends, and visiting some old friends, and seeing the Fighters win. I always feel slightly bad rooting against the Marines, but well, as they say in Japanese, shouganai. Maybe next year after they kick out Bobby I won't feel so bad. Yeah.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Friday Foto: Mazda Zoom Zoom Stadium Hiroshima, part 1

(click to see larger version)

I took 1000 photos in two days in Hiroshima.

Wait, correct that. I didn't really go to Hiroshima so much as I went to Mazda Zoom-Zoom Stadium Hiroshima. I mean, I spent 27 hours in the city and around 13 of them were spent at the stadium.

If I wait to finish cropping/etc all the photos I took, it's going to take even longer for me to post anything about it, so here's at least a little bit of an intro...

When you exit the station, by which point you have already passed by a ton of Carp goods tables anyway, you start walking east and immediately get some positive reinforcement that you're heading the right way:

On your left, in front of the train tracks that you walk along, you see several boards with information about Carp players, starting with manager Marty Brown:

You approach the stadium along a walkway which goes up towards what they call the "main gate", entering in left field.

If you turn to the right and walk over to see the "Front Gate" behind home plate, this is what it looks like:

So, assuming you go in through the "main gate", this is what you see when you walk forward to the field. It's more than 2 hours before gametime, so nobody on the lower level is allowed to go to their seats yet.

Let's walk around the concourse a bit, shall we?

Here we are walking along the concourse behind the left-field stands. You can see the train tracks behind the stadium and the hills of Hiroshima in the background:

The outfield scoreboard as seen from center-leftfield, as well as the "Carp Performance Seats", which are a suspended entity above the right-field stands.

What's behind the scoreboard? Some food stands and a wooden picnic restaurant area...

This is the back of the scoreboard with the stadium name. I assume you can see it from the other side of the stadium or from the train tracks.

View of the infield from right-centerfield. The black specks on the field are the Nippon Ham Fighters and the big red cushiony things right in front of me were actual seats -- they're big lounge chairs that are intended for two people to stretch out on during a game.

Continuing around to the infield concourse -- it's big and concrete and really feels like an MLB stadium in many ways.

One of the stands, which sells sweets (donuts and so on):

Here's the requisite Player Bento Cart. The Carp are marketing player bento boxes for Kurihara, Higashide, Kan Ohtake, and Kenta Maeda, with each player's "favorite food". (I got a Kurihara bento because it had yakiniku, as opposed to the Kenta Maeda one with takoyaki...)

Almost all of the food stands have random Engrish. Seriously.

Behind home plate are some glass displays with stadium information:

Here's one with some team history:

Above the concourse there is also some history of Hiroshima city, the Hiroshima Carp, and of the Mazda car corporation...

I ducked down to get a shot of the field from the concourse behind home plate (I wasn't allowed in, of course, since I didn't have a ticket for that area my first day there)...

After getting my photo taken with Slyly, the Carp mascot who happened to be hanging out by the "Main Gate" for a while with the Fighters mascot BB, I went up to the "Visitor Performance Area", which is where I was sitting for Saturday's game.

Looking towards the infield, I could see another picnic area that is above the 3rd-base stands, between the main 2nd floor and the visitor area (which is really another quarantined 2nd floor area separated from the rest of the stadium):

Here is a sign posted inside the visitor's area basically telling people to please not wear or use Carp goods while they are sitting there:

The Fighters' ouendan set up at the far side of the area, but the flag wavers and cheer leaders spread out along the entire area...

And finally, this is a panorama I stitched together from a few photos taken from my seat at the edge of the visitor's performance area:

I'll try to post some more soon -- this covers the main floor, but I took other photos of the shop and various other stuff there, as well as spending time down by the field before Sunday's game taking some player photos in the rain.

But for now, off to 360 Beer Night at Chiba! Whee.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

That Was Then, This Is Now

I'm in Hiroshima for the weekend to watch the Fighters-Carp interleague series. I find that my life has come full circle in perhaps an odd way...

Me, in my early threes

Me, in my early thirties

(If you don't know, the latter one is Slyly, the Hiroshima Carp mascot, who I joke is "the Philly Phanatic's half-brother".)

Mazda Zoom-Zoom Stadium Hiroshima is FANTASTIC. Seriously, this is going to sound funny, but it reminds me of Citizens Bank Park in many ways. There is definitely a real "major-league" stadium influence to this place, and at the same time, it is completely and utterly Japanese. It's a little hard to explain. I'll post photos for real when I get home. But if you are looking for a good baseball trip in Japan, I seriously recommend Hiroshima, though you want to plan in advance and make sure you get tickets, since I hear a lot of the games here do sell out.

Saturday's game was also fantastic. We had Darvish starting for us, and of course he won the game, with Shinji Takahashi stepping up and also batting in a ton of runs, the final score being 5-1. The only downers were that first, the Carp starter was Yuki Saitoh (the one I'm a fan of, not the Waseda pitcher) and of course it was a shame to see him lose, especially since yesterday was his birthday. The other downer was no Takuro Ishii appearance... this was my first Carp game this year and I'm hoping to see him again at some point.

One other downer is that they let people in 4 hours before the game, but you can't go down to the field level unless you have a ticket for that area, even during BP (not a surprise, this is still Japan after all) but even if you DO have a ticket for that area you can't go down there until 2 hours before game time. I'm going back for Sunday's game and will show up fairly early in the hopes of taking some more photos, but don't expect to be too successful partially due to those restrictions and partially due to the fact that it's raining right now. It was raining during the game too, and obnoxiously, the wind blew away my big plastic bag that I was going to put over my tote bag or scorecard. Sigh.

Also, the way this stadium is, the "visitor's performance area" is actually an entire section... quarantined from the rest of the stadium. It's a balcony, kind of like a disconnected second floor area, but over the far infield way past third base, rather than being in the outfield. So it's kind of good in that you are in a section full of your team's fans (theoretically -- there was an old guy Carp fan sitting behind me and he was yelling obnoxious stuff for the first two innings until a bunch of people basically said "You are in the VISITOR area, SHUT UP.") but it's bad in that it's really far away from the field and also in that it's reserved seating, which makes it really annoying to plan to go there with your friends because you all have to buy tickets in advance together, etc. As a result, I knew several people at the game, but ended up sitting by myself far away from them because that's where my ticket was.

On the other hand, a bunch of people that I didn't know before, but who said they always see me at the Tokyo Dome and Seibu Dome, and who were astounded that I travelled all the way down to Hiroshima by myself for the Fighters game (apparently this is weird enough for a Japanese female to do, let alone for a foreign female) invited me to get okonomiyaki after the game, and so I can categorically say, now that I've eaten real Hiroshima-yaki in Hiroshima -- it really IS the best thing ever.

Also, today is Father's Day. If your father is still alive, unlike mine, please call him or send him an email or take him to a baseball game or something. My dad took that top photo of me with the Philly Phanatic, and I know he would have gotten a kick out of the photo with Slyly.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Game Report: Marines @ Swallows - Infinite Improbability Drive FAIL

You know, the only really annoying thing about sitting through a game for four and a half hours only to see the Marines lose, was that Shohei Tateyama didn't get the win. I was perfectly prepared to yell my lungs out with the Marines cheering section and see Tateyama win, believe it or not. Sometimes it's just better to go into these things expecting the worst and hoping for a weird twist of fate to bring you the best.

I went to this one with Steve, who writes the We Love Marines blog. Rather than being a leech, I actually went and bought a ticket for the outfield for a change and met Steve in the left field stands approximately 5 milliseconds before the game began.

The Tsubamegun guys already wrote about the game, though they weren't there. They've covered most of the game action, so I'm just going to try to add my own observations and whatnot.

First and foremost, the Lotte cheering section really is even weirder than the Fighters cheering section when you take away the drums. Something about the entire soccer-song style makes it really hard to keep everyone together on just lyrics alone, which was most noticeable during chance music and a few of the bouncing songs, where you had to watch the stands to know when to stop rather than watching the field, which is no fun.

But, to my credit, I did all of the cheers, including the jumping, and I have a witness. I was also wearing my Bobby 2010 t-shirt, even though the petition has already been submitted:

Shohei Tateyama was really pitching like Yoshinori Tateyama, anyway, walking people and giving up home runs and all that kind of stuff. When he came out of the game in the 5th inning for a pinch-hitter the Swallows were actually down 5-2, though they managed to tie the game by the end of it, so it was a weird realization that he could not win or lose the game at that point. Also, weird to see Ryosuke Morioka not playing for Chunichi, but that's ok.

Hisao Heiuchi came into the game as a defensive replacement in the 8th, which was exciting because he's one of my favorite 1.5-gun guys in Japan, and I was even telling Steve how Heiuchi has a lot of guts and refuses to stay injured, after last year when he was nearly decapitated by a broken bat and was back on the field 5 days later with a bandage on his neck... and then Heiuchi got hit in the knee by a Chang-Yong Lim fastball in the 1oth inning. He crumpled to the ground and had to be carried off the field on a stretcher. I was almost ready to cry.

Oh yeah, and it would have been really exciting to see Akira Ohtsuka get his first at-bat of 2009, except we didn't because he was immediately pulled for a pinch-hitter.

(I find it somewhat amusing that basically almost all of my favorite Marines players are guys who spent a significant amount of time at ni-gun last year.)

But overall, despite that sometimes it felt like maybe the game would deviate from the norm, in the end, all of the following typical things came true:

1) Lotte fans are nuts
2) Shohei Tateyama didn't lose a game
3) Chang-Yong Lim didn't give up a run
4) Aaron Guiel hit a game-winning home run (off of Brian Sikorski, sadly)

And the Swallows won 6-5 in 11 innings in 4 and a half hours, and I had been awake since 6am, didn't get home until midnight, and thus didn't have a chance to write about the game until now... as it is Saturday afternoon and I am actually on a shinkansen hurtling through the Japan countryside towards Hiroshima, which is why this is a little incoherent/brief.

But I did have a decent time at the game hanging out with Steve -- it's actually not so bad to cheer for Lotte when you're actually there with someone.

I'll be back down in Chiba next weekend for most of the games, though I'll be in the left-field stands most likely due to the opponents being the Fighters and all. Friday night is 360 Beer Stadium, where almost all seats are unreserved seating, beer costs 300 yen and soda costs 200 yen, so kind of a modern-day version of Nickel Beer Night. I'm not really a beer drinker, but I still think it'll be amusing to go to.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Game Report: Tigers @ Marines - Takehara Gets Lucky (and To-Lucky)

I don't know why on earth Pau ever wants me to go see Tigers games with him, as every time we watch them or plan to watch them, they lose. Seriously.

But Sunday afternoon we headed down to Chiba together for the first time and for the last time, to catch the Hanshin Tigers taking on the Chiba Lotte Marines. Pau was decked out in his Hiyama t-shirt and Akahoshi towel and Tigers noisesticks and all that stuff, and I was wearing my Satozaki t-shirt and Marines towel and so on. I'm sure most people who saw us thought we were just a bunch of confused gaijin wearing random baseball crap. Little did they know, of course.

The first order of business was actually to get my Bobby 2010 t-shirt from Declan, and to make Pau sign the Bobby 2010 petition. I would be surprised if they didn't hit the 100,000 signatures mark this weekend, given that there should have been around 20,000 Tigers fans around that hadn't been to Chiba yet this season, who are just as crazy as the Marines faithful. They're supposedly presenting the petition to the front office this week. I doubt it'll make any difference, much as I wish it would. Mostly, I hope Bobby stays in Japan since he's been such a great ambassador for Japanese baseball (and he kicks my ass at learning kanji).

The next order of business was to get into the stadium and get Bobby Burgers. We were successful on both counts. It was also amusing that 90% of the people in line at the stadium Lotteria were wearing Tigers gear.

After that, we were just going to sit around and cheer our respective teams and try not to trash-talk too much.

There was some sort of "Let's go to Kyoto!" promotion going on this weekend, which was appropriate given the opponents. As a result, the ceremonial first pitch was thrown out by a representative of the Kansai region...

(However, unlike certain other women who have become representative of baseball in Kansai, this one didn't have a particularly good knuckleball.)

The Marines mascots were also visited by some new friends for the pregame festivities:

Lucky seemed to get along with Rine-chan just fine, but To-Lucky was getting abused by the rest of the mascot squad. They stole his hat and tried to eat it.

For the real game on the field, we had Hiroyuki Kobayashi starting for the Marines and Yuya Andoh starting for the Tigers. I was a little surprised that Kobayashi was starting given that I thought he was still doing the bullpen thing, but hey, whatever works.

Both pitchers and both teams seemed eager to win this one, which was a sign that it'd be a pretty good game, and for the first three innings neither team was able to put a run on the board. Andoh was actually perfect through three as well. The first Hanshin hit was actually almost by accident -- Hirano was trying a safety bunt, popped it up in the air as Imae ran in to catch it... and it sailed OVER Imae, amazingly enough.

The second Hanshin hit of the game was Lion-turned-Tiger Craig Brazell, who hit a home run into the right field stands to make the game 1-0 in the top of the 4th. Brazell's shot was so loud and was a line drive sailing upwards that you could pretty much tell from the crack of the bat that it was going to be gone. The entire Tigers lineup came out of the dugout and lined up to high-five him on his way back, and the camera well emptied to take photos of it, too. (No, I wasn't down there for this game.) I've rarely seen that happen, where everyone actually comes OUT of the dugout.

Katsuragi followed Brazell's shot with another line drive to right, though this one was only a double. After a fly out by Lin, Toritani singled to right, but Ohmatsu (Ohmatsu!) threw the ball in so fast that Katsuragi had to stop at third, and Kanoh grounded out after him.

Before the bottom of the 5th, we saw an interesting sight on the scoreboard screen...

Apparently a couple got married, I assume before the game, and had their reception at Chiba Marine Stadium in one of the big party rooms down the 3rd base line. That's pretty cool. I've been to a wedding at a game once before, but I don't think I'd ever seen such a thing in Japan before. (We were also noting how you don't get the proposals on the big board here like you do in the US, although the Fighters matchmaking seats is kind of similarly embarrassing in a way.)

I was thinking it was a shame that the Marines were losing during their wedding reception though, so conveniently Tomoya Satozaki decided to hit a home run to right field a few minutes later and tied the knot game at 1-1.

And well, 1-1 is where it would stay for a few innings, not for lack of trying on the Marines part. In the 6th they got runners to first and third with two outs but couldn't bring them in, and in the 7th they got runners to first and second with two outs, and Koichi Hori singled to left, and Saburo tried to score from second, third base coach Nishimura waving him in, and well, Saburo was totally out. I'm really not sure I agree with the choice to send him given that the ball wasn't hit that far out to left, Saburo isn't THAT fast a runner, and Fukuura was up to bat next, but I guess when you really want to get a run ahead, sometimes you make risky choices.

Speaking of the 7th, this is what happens when you get the two craziest fanbases together in Japan...

A bunch of Hanshin Tigers fans (must be around 50 of them!) coordinate putting up the lyrics to Rokko Oroshi, the Tigers' song, one letter per person.

And in the right-field stands we have the Marines fans sending an important message as well - 26をナメるな! or "don't mess with Team 26!" I'm not sure whether this is aimed at the Tigers and their fans, or at the Lotte front office, to be honest.

The Tigers started off the 8th inning with Keiichi Hirano taking a headfirst slide into first base after hitting a grounder off Hiroyuki Kobayashi's leg (which bounced to second base). Hirano was safe, but Akahoshi tried to bunt and hit a short pop fly to the mound, which Kobayashi caught and threw to first in time to double off Hirano, who was preparing to run to second on the sac bunt. Arai also grounded out to the mound.

Jeff Williams came out to pitch the bottom of the 8th, and from the get-go he just ran into some control problems. Masahiko "Gingiragin" Tanaka pinch-hit for Lotte, and basically almost every pitch to him was inside. Tanaka broke his bat on a foul and eventually walked. Ohmatsu hit a pop fly out to center, and then Iguchi also walked. (Ohmatsu is a lefty batter so the ball was going outside for him, but for the righty batters it was inside all the way, almost hitting them a few times.)

Naotaka Takehara, a righty batter, came in to pinch-hit for DH Tasuku Hashimoto, a lefty batter. So Scott Atchison, a righty pitcher, took the mound in place of Jeff Williams, a lefty pitcher.

And Takehara hit the ball to right field! It went out to the warning track, and as the outfielders chased it down, Masahiko Tanaka and Tadahito Iguchi scored, and Takehara made it all the way to third base! 3-1. The crowd went wild -- and on the very next play, Tomoya Satozaki laid down a squeeze bunt. Takehara was off on the play and made it home safe before anyone could get the ball home, but for whatever reason, Satozaki DIDN'T run at all to first, so he was an easy out. Oops. Still, 4-1.

Brian Sikorski closed out the game, and aside from one wild pitch he had everything under control as the Marines won the game 4-1.

It was no real surprise that the game heroes were Hiroyuki Kobayashi for pitching 8 innings of 1-run ball, along with Naotaka Takehara for hitting that huge go-ahead 2-RBI triple.

After the game, I dragged Pau through the Marines museum since I hadn't been through there this year yet, and he had never been there at all. The thing that was new for me there this time was a bunch of ticket displays -- they had things like tickets for a Lotte-Giants 1981 Japan Series that never happened because the Fighters beat them in the playoffs, back in the 1st half 2nd half format era. There were game tickets from the 1970's and 1980's which were pretty neat to see though, and also a whole bunch of old posters that I hadn't seen before, including one from the early 1990's of a "young up-and-coming" infielder named Koichi Hori.

The weird thing is that the "visiting team goods" section seems to have disappeared from the big Marines store in the museum building, to be replaced with more throwback Orions stuff and whatnot. I was a little surprised by that, maybe it was just for interleague time, but I'm not sure.

Steve Novosel was also at this game and wrote about it on his blog, and unlike me he bothered bringing a real camera and sitting somewhere that wasn't behind a net. I kind of hurt my elbow at volleyball on Saturday night so wasn't really up for lugging my big camera to the stadium.

In other news, Hosei did win the college tournament, I still haven't finished cropping photos from the Fuji-Soka game, I may go to Jingu tomorrow for the Yakult-Lotte game if it doesn't rain too much, and I am heading to Hiroshima on Saturday for the Fighters-Carp series at the brand-new stadium! I'm psyched! (I also watched the Fighters-Tigers on TV last night, and if you are counting, which I am, Inaba has now hit 9 home runs this year and I have seen 8 of them.)