Friday, August 28, 2009

Game Report: Marines vs. Hawks - 2nd Annual JBC Day in Chiba

(Would you believe, I never actually finished/posted my entry about last year's meetup at Chiba? I think I'm going to basically do that, backdate and all, and add a link here.)

Anyway, last year in mid-September, six of us took over a picnic table at Chiba Marine for an exciting long nailbiting Hawks-Marines game where the Hawks managed to tie the game in the later innings and then the Marines managed to squeak ahead 8-7 in the bottom of the 9th. It was Satoru Komiyama's birthday and he almost got a 4-pitch win. Alas.

This year, four of us took over a row in the upper deck and hung out for a similar Hawks-Marines game, only this time Naruse was awesome but the Marines couldn't score enough runs for him and the Hawks ended up tying the game 2-2 in the 9th and it stayed that way until the bitter end. We seem destined to have these long Hawks-Marines games for the JBC days for whatever reason.

Before the game, Michael Westbay (aka the Commish) showed up pretty early and was talking to players and hanging out on the field. I showed up at 5, around the same time as Steve from We Love Marines. We went into the stadium backstage as a gaijin brigade. I saw Jose Ortiz and said hello and told him I saw him hit the two home runs in Fukuoka. No, I didn't mention that I was in the Fighters cheering section.

Speaking of the gaijin brigade, by the way, when I woke up this morning and looked at Yahoo Sports, the big breaking news was that Jeff Williams has left Japan and the Tigers. I mention this only because one of my favorite moments at Chiba ever was getting to talk to Jeff last summer during interleague -- he's just an all-around nice guy who had a really good career here in Japan for a while. I wish the best of luck to him in whatever happens next, at any rate.

Back to the game at hand, half of the point of us being at Chiba for this game was for Westbay to get a last chance to chat with the Chiba crew like Paul Pupo and Frank Ramppen, and of course, with Bobby. He hadn't seen Bobby yet, so I suggested we just barge into Bobby's office, which worked wonderfully; we arrived at about the same time as one of his staff members who was carrying a ton of baseballs for Bobby to sign, so he had time to chat with us while signing the baseballs. One amusing thing that came out of the conversation was that apparently every time Westbay sees Tadahito Iguchi play, he's hitting doubles and RBIs, but Bobby knows the ACTUAL splits on Iguchi and gave Westbay some stats homework to do.

For the record, my question of the day for Bobby was: "It's my boyfriend Shunsuke Watanabe's birthday today, why isn't he starting?" (The answer, effectively: "I have a rotation, you know.")

We went back towards the dugout a bit, where we ran into Larry Rocca, and so Larry took Steve onto the field to say hi to people and whatnot. Westbay and I hung back in the hallway talking to a few people before heading to the upper deck, where Simon had already arrived and was saving seats for us. I kept an eye out for Shunsuke to wish him a happy birthday, but alas. I thought about taking a few photos of warmups, but then Takumi Kohbe stared right at me and I froze. Some things never change, I guess.

Oh, two notable things happened on my way up to the upper deck:

1) The Lotteria was out of Bobby Burgers. I was worried that they had simply stopped selling them, which would be a royal WTF, but the girls at the counter assured me that they had simply run out of pineapples for the day or something to that effect.

2) I saw this monument to the day the Marines scored 15 runs in one inning against the Carp, an NPB record:

It has the information about the game and the inning and bats from every guy who scored. What a cool way to remember a totally crazy game.

Anyway, we got to the upper deck, and Simon had saved us a really good row of seats, about 4 rows from the edge of the deck, behind first base:

I haven't watched a game from the upper deck in Chiba since sometime in late 2007, but this was a perfectly fine one to start with. The weather was fantastic and the stands weren't crowded at all, so it was possible to just stretch out and enjoy the game. Westbay and Steve had their big cameras with zoom lenses, and for once I didn't; I just had my Marines towel and flag and Bobby 2010 t-shirt and was prepared to yell for the Marines. (It's a lot easier when they're playing Softbank instead of the Fighters, you know.) I spent a while catching up with Simon and sharing travel stories.

In the meantime, Yoshihisa Naruse started for the Marines, and Shota Ohba started for the Hawks. Naruse's been remarkably good recently, while Ohba's been somewhat inconsistent, so it seemed promising enough.

The Marines were victims of some ridiculously good fielding by the Hawks -- a liner into Kokubo's stomach, an impossible basket catch by Nakanishi, a running catch by Hasegawa, a diving snag of a liner by Honda. The last one particularly was painful for me since it robbed Takumi Kohbe, getting a rare ichi-gun start, of what should have been a single to right but turned into a double play instead. And even worse, Ohmatsu got himself caught napping off second base and was nailed on a pickoff by Hawks catcher Hidenori Tanoue.

But the Marines finally put some runs on the board in the 4th inning, with a double to left by Ohmatsu and then -- of all people -- a double to right by Tadahito Iguchi, thus proving that Iguchi hits doubles and drives in runs when Westbay is watching. That made it 1-0, and Iguchi advanced on a groundout by Hashimoto, scoring on a sac fly by Kazuya Fukuura. 2-0.

Naruse REALLY stepped up for a few innings there -- he struck out 7 batters between the 2nd and 5th innings, and the Marines went into the Fireworks Fifth with a 2-run lead.

(They look so much better from the upper deck than from anywhere in the stadium, I swear.)

Naruse had 6 shutout innings going, but in the "Lucky 7th", Hitoshi Tamura, always a power threat when not injured, slammed a home run that was so far gone that left fielder Ohmatsu didn't even bother turning around or running at all -- he just sort of watched it sail over the fence, where it landed about 20 rows back. 2-1.

Nobuhiko Matsunaka made a pinch-hit appearance in the 8th inning -- we'd seen him taking practice swings before the game -- and he grounded out to third. As he ran past first base he took a weird stretch out and hit the bag at a weird angle, and ended up limping down the right-field line, eventually being walked off the field partway by the first base coach. I guess his knees are still having trouble.

With Naruse's total strikeout count for the day at 9, he stayed out there to pitch the 9th inning -- and the first batter Kokubo got a pretty solid single to left, so Bobby pulled Naruse and put in Sikorski. Steve was remarking that Sikorski was the only Lotte bullpen member to pitch in the last few games -- and as he was saying that, Tamura grounded out to short, pinch-runner Kidokoro forced out at second, but the relay wasn't on for a double play.

I said, "I have a bad feeling about this." Keep in mind that the last two or three times I've seen Sikorski pitch in person, he's blown a save, though the rest of the time he's been fantastic.

Brian then walked Yuya Hasegawa.

I started trying to basically not watch the game, was looking through my meikan for information about the various players, trying to remember where Akashi went to high school since I knew he was born in Hokkaido, things like that. I figured if I watched, I'd be a jinx.

And naturally, Akashi chose that moment to hit the ball to right field, into the corner, and as Takumi Kohbe chased it into the right field corner, I realized there was no way in heck that at least one run wasn't coming in, maybe two. Fortunately, it was only one as Hasegawa held up at third. 2-2. Brian struck out Tanoue (4th K of the day, ouch) and Kosai after that, but the damage was done.

Tadashi Settsu pitched the bottom of the 9th and aside from Iguchi singling by a weird bounce off the mound that went deep to short, the other three batters struck out. So at 9:25pm we went sailing on into extra innings.

Sikorski kept things under control in the top of the 10th, and Settsu was still out there for the bottom of the 10th. Daisuke Hayakawa singled, Kohbe bunted him up to second ("Big man, little bunt!" I laughed, having never seen Kohbe bunt before), and so Settsu intentionally walked Nishioka. Keisuke Hayasaka then hit this bizarre bloop hit that bounced out to shortstop and Munenori Kawasaki simply didn't have a play on it at all, so with no throw, the bases were loaded, and one out. A chance for Lotte! UNFORTUNATELY, Imae grounded out to second, the throw going home to catch Hayakawa from scoring, and then Ohmatsu struck out on a 3-2 pitch -- worse, a 3-2 pitch that looked kind of high and might have been an oshidashi winning run. Ouch.

There's not a lot to say about the last two innings. Tatsuya Uchi struck out 2 guys in the top of the 11th, then Takahiro Mahara came out to pitch for the Hawks and did his typical thing of giving up two hits but also striking out two guys to keep the Marines out in the 11th, and Itoh pitched the top of the 12th flawlessly (Tanoue reached base on his FIFTH strikeout of the day, though it was dropped, only to be erased on a double play a bit later).

Imae singled on a broken-bat awkward angle grounder to short where the throw drew the first baseman off the bag. Takehara pinch-ran and advanced to second on a wild pitch, but that's all there was as Ohmatsu grounded out to short to end the game with the final 2-2 tie.

Amusingly, every inning Heiuchi would come play catch with Kohbe in right field, so as the Marines cheering group was yelling the pitcher's name (ie, "Naruse! Naruse!") I started yelling "HEIUCHI! HEIUCHI!" Sadly, he never entered the game.

It was good to spend the game with Westbay and Steve and Simon, though. We're going to try to do this again sometime next month when Jan Blurr, our crazy German Koshien fan friend, comes to Japan for a few weeks. This time hopefully we can organize a bit better and get the word out more; I shouldn't be travelling halfway across the country, at the very least.

Steve and Simon and I took the bus back to the station and then it was a long journey back to civilization -- I didn't even get home until around 1am. But it was worth it to hang out with everyone again!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Game Report: Sea Rex vs. Fighters @ Sagamihara - See Rex Run. Run, Rex, Run!

Apparently I hadn't spent nearly enough times going to baseball games in the middle of nowhere during my trip across western Japan, because a day after returning home I found myself barnstorming into the western suburbs of Tokyo to watch a Fighters minor league game on Wednesday night. I figured that it was the last game at Sagamihara for the year, and I'd never been there, and maybe if I was lucky I could see Darvish or Sweeney or any of the other various Fighters who are currently hanging out with the farm team.

For the record, getting to this stadium is kind of a pain. It's adjacent to a bunch of junior/high schools and about a mile from Fuchinobe station, which is already kind of a stretch to get to. It took me about 25 minutes to walk there from the station, and I'm a quick walker. I could see the lights for a while, and even hear the announcers, but was still quite a walk away, which was really frustrating.

(Actually, to be honest, when I heard trumpets and drums accompanying the lineup, I was convinced for a few minutes that I was actually going to the wrong stadium, since ni-gun games on weekdays generally don't have those sorts of things, plus with the Baystars at home I figured most people would be down in Yokohama, but I'd forgotten that the Sea Rex actually have their own ouendan.)

Tickets were 1000 yen to sit anywhere in the park. This is a big enough stadium that they hold official top-league games there once or twice a year, so it was nice for me to be able to walk in and sit in the front row behind the Fighters dugout. Some players were taking practice swings, and people were taking photos. I yelled good luck to Yohei Kaneko, the starting DH, who smiled and nodded back at me.

The stadium is mostly bleachers with a dirt infield, not too different from most regional stadiums in Japan, actually; it pretty much completely reminded me of Omiya.

The Fighters starter was Hideki Sunaga, who's been struggling a bit lately both on the farm and on the top team. One of my friends loves Sunaga and he's from Arakawa and went to Urawa Gakuin, so on general principle I cheer for him.

Unfortunately, he gave up 5 runs on 8 hits in the first two innings alone. It started with an error and then with a couple of dubious "hits" where things happened like the ball bouncing suddenly over Nakashima at short, or the ball landing in what looked to be foul territory but was called fair, things like that. But Toshio Saitoh also hit a legitimate home run in there too. It was just kind of painful to watch all around.

The Sea Rex starter was actually one of my Yokohama ni-gun boyfriends, Atori Ohta. Atori is from Teikyo HS and has some ridiculously nasty stuff when he's really on. I love him, except when he's pitching against the Fighters, of course.

Naturally, Atori went 8 innings and gave up exactly one run to the Fighters, a home run to Atsushi Ugumori. 4 hits, 1 run, 1 walk, and 1 hit batter.

The hit batter was actually kind of sad -- it was Kenshi Sugiya, who was a year behind Atori at Teikyo HS. They were teammates at the 2006 and 2007 Koshien tournaments, and both played in that legendary 13-12 game against Chiben Wakayama. So a bunch of us were yelling things like, "Don't let your sempai defeat you, Sugiya-kun!" Atori hit him in the leg with a pitch, and Sugiya fell down and ended up half-limping, half-carried off the field. Ouch.

Sunaga lasted 5 innings, giving way to an inning each for the Fighters' bullpen of Naoki Miyanishi, Kazumasa Kikuchi, and Takayuki Kanamori. Kikuchi gave up another run, so after Sea Rex pitcher Tom Mastny closed out the game with his traditional high-kicking style, the Shonan squad won by a score of 6-1.

There were plenty more interesting things about the experience, anyway.

The Shonan ouendan did infact have drums and trumpets. 90% of their songs were totally different from the Baystars, but I did recognize a few familiar tunes, including "Winning Ball" and the melody they use for pinch-hitters.

Reck came out in the 4th inning to try to get everyone to do the Chicken Dance:

And a bit later I saw him wandering around in the stands so I cornered him for a photo. Unfortunately I had to wait until this older lady was done hanging on to him, and there were still a ton of kids trying to climb on him, so it resulted in one of the most bizarre mascot photos I've ever taken:

But that's okay.

They also did YMCA in the 5th inning, which is kind of rare for a minor-league game, and the announcers on the field actually picked "good dancers" in the stands and had ushers come give them some sort of prize. Despite my dancing debut on the Tokyo Dome field a few weeks ago, I'm still not a fan of YMCA, sorry. (I get the impression that Japanese people think it's still wildly popular in the US.)

Due to the stadium being so far from Kamagaya, I only recognized a handful of the fans there, but after the game we all went out to do "miokuri", which means "waving goodbye to the players' bus as it leaves", but in practice is actually "begging players and coaches for signatures as they're trying to get the hell out of the park".

During this time I found out a few important things, though, namely first that Darvish wasn't even IN Kamagaya this week. And worse -- my Fighters ni-gun boyfriend Ryota Imanari apparently broke his right hand during the Seibu series a few weeks ago! I was wondering why he didn't go with the team for the Hokkaido ni-gun games, and hadn't been playing recently. It seems he took a bad hit while blocking a pitch and is expected to be out for a month or so. Apparently I'm not the only one who was thinking that he had a really good shot of getting up to ichi-gun this month, so this is a huge setback, very sad.

Botts and Sweeney were around and I waved hi to Brian on the bus, so he came out to chat because he's a super-nice guy like that. Unfortunately, it turns out I'm missing him pitch by a day, as he'll be starting at Hiratsuka on Thursday night. Oops. (I'll be at Chiba Marine for a meetup, my one time of the year to get to see a game with Westbay-san.) So, I hope he does well; I told people to cheer for him tomorrow. I felt bad because when he came out to chat he immediately got stormed by a bazillion people wanting signatures. On the other hand, it sounds like his friends and family made it back to the US okay and with tons of great video of their adventures into the Fighters cheering section, so that was good to hear, although a little sad too.

The Fighters bus left and after that some Sea Rex guys were also signing. I ended up getting Keijiro Matsumoto's autograph on a shikishi -- bizarrely, I actually asked him in English, like "Mr. Matsumoto, sign please?" He looked at me REALLY weird. I still think he's a total jackass and I thought he was a jackass at Waseda too, but whatever. The other two guys signing were Kajitani and... Takamori! Except it was dark and I didn't recognize Takamori out of uniform in time to push my way up and get something signed from him. Damn. He's my other Sea Rex ni-gun boyfriend besides Atori. Crud -- I wonder if I'll have another chance to bug him again sometime. He's WAY too good not to make it to ichi-gun in the next year or so. I might have to start going back to Baystars games once he's up with the top team, seriously.

I ended up riding a bus back to Sagami-Ono station with a lady named Tomoko who's been a Fighters fan since the mid-80's. She told me stories and some more Kamagaya gossip since I haven't been there in a month or so, and made sure I got on the right train since I'd never been to that station before. Sometimes I regret that I stick out so much as a foreigner here, but sometimes it's really a good thing.

The Road To 100

My baseball-watching goal for this year was 100 games on all four major islands of Japan, in as many stadiums as possible. Going to the game in Kochi gave me the fourth major island (Shikoku), and my 15th stadium (which is my 22nd overall in Japan, I think)... and last night's game in Sagamihara gave me my 16th stadium this year.

I'll try to keep this list updated as I go along, and will also maybe add a "games I'm planning to go to" list too.

Also keep in mind this is only games I was actually at -- it doesn't count the other 30-40 games I watched on TV at home...

(Edited: November 22)

Deanna's Games Attended in 2009

122. November 22, U-26 NPB vs. College Players @ Tokyo Dome, exhibition game
121. November 5, Giants vs. Fighters @ Tokyo Dome, Japan Series 2009
120. November 4, Giants vs. Fighters @ Tokyo Dome, Japan Series 2009
119. November 3, Giants vs. Fighters @ Tokyo Dome, Japan Series 2009
118. November 1, Keio vs. Waseda @ Jingu, Tokyo Big 6 University League
117. October 27, Hosei vs. Meiji @ Jingu, Tokyo Big 6 University League
116. October 25, Meiji vs. Hosei @ Jingu, Tokyo Big 6 University League
115. October 22, Giants vs. Dragons @ Tokyo Dome, Central League Playoffs
114. October 18, Waseda vs. Hosei @ Jingu, Tokyo Big 6 University League
113. October 18, Meiji vs. Keio @ Jingu, Tokyo Big 6 University League
112. October 17, Keio vs. Meiji @ Jingu, Tokyo Big 6 University League
111. October 17, Hosei vs. Waseda @ Jingu, Tokyo Big 6 University League
110. October 12, Swallows vs. Giants @ Jingu
109. October 11, Swallows vs. Dragons @ Jingu
108. October 10, Meiji vs. Tokyo @ Jingu, Tokyo Big 6 University League
107. October 10, Rikkio vs. Waseda @ Jingu, Tokyo Big 6 University League
106. October 6, Marines vs. Eagles @ Chiba Marine
105. October 4, Fighters vs. Marines @ Sapporo Dome
104. October 3, Fighters vs. Marines @ Sapporo Dome
103. October 1, Toyo vs. Chuo @ Jingu, Tohto University League
102. September 29, Swallows vs. Tigers @ Jingu
101. September 26, Meiji vs. Waseda @ Jingu, Tokyo Big 6 University League
100. September 26, Hosei vs. Keio @ Jingu, Tokyo Big 6 University League
99. September 23, Giants vs. Dragons @ Tokyo Dome
98. September 22, Fighters vs. Marines @ Kamagaya, minor league
97. September 21, Rikkio vs. Meiji @ Jingu, Tokyo Big 6 University League
96. September 20, Buffaloes vs. Fighters @ Kyocera Dome Osaka
95. September 19, Buffaloes vs. Fighters @ Kyocera Dome Osaka
94. September 13, Fighters vs. Futures @ Kamagaya, minor league exhibition game
93. September 10, Lions vs. Fighters @ Seibu Dome
92. September 9, Lions vs. Fighters @ Seibu Dome
91. September 8, Lions vs. Fighters @ Seibu Dome
90. September 6, Eagles vs. Fighters @ Kleenex Miyagi
89. September 5, Eagles vs. Fighters @ Kleenex Miyagi
88. September 3, Marines vs. Fighters @ Chiba Marine
87. September 2, Marines vs. Fighters @ Chiba Marine
86. September 1, Marines vs. Fighters @ Chiba Marine
85. August 31, Honda vs. NTT Higashinihon @ Tokyo Dome, Toshitaikou industrial tournament
84. August 27, Marines vs. Hawks @ Chiba Marine
83. August 26, Shonan Sea Rex vs. Fighters @ Sagamihara, minor league
82. August 23, Kochi Fighting Dogs vs. Ehime Mandarin Pirates @ Kochi, Shikoku-Kyushu Island League
81. August 21, Hawks vs. Fighters @ Yahoo Dome
80. August 19, Nagasaki Saints vs. Kagawa Olive Guyners @ Sasebo, Shikoku-Kyushu Island League
79. August 17, Hanamaki Higashi vs. Yokohama Hayato @ Koshien, High School Tournament
78. August 17, Chukyodai Chukyo vs. Kwansei Gakuin @ Koshien, High School Tournament
77. August 16, Teikyo vs. Tsuruga Kehi @ Koshien, High School Tournament
76. August 16, Aomori Yamada vs. Nodai Niko @ Koshien, High School Tournament
75. August 15, Senkawa vs. Nihon Bunri @ Koshien, High School Tournament
74. August 13, Fighters vs. Buffaloes @ Tokyo Dome
73. August 12, Fighters vs. Buffaloes @ Tokyo Dome
72. August 11, Fighters vs. Buffaloes @ Tokyo Dome
71. August 4, Lions vs. Fighters @ Omiya
70. August 2, Swallows vs. Dragons @ Jingu
69. August 1, Fighters vs. Hawks @ Sapporo Dome
68. July 31, Fighters vs. Hawks @ Sapporo Dome
67. July 29, Marines vs. Fighters @ Chiba Marine
66. July 28, Giants vs. Dragons @ Tokyo Dome
65. July 22, Urawa Gakuin vs. Seibo Gakuen @ Omiya, Saitama Regional Highschool Tournament
64. July 15, Swallows vs. Giants @ Jingu
63. July 13, USA vs. Japan @ Tokyo Dome, Collegiate International Tournament
62. July 11, Marines vs. Searex @ Lotte Urawa, minor league
61. July 9, Lions vs. Fighters @ Seibu Dome
60. July 8, Lions vs. Fighters @ Seibu Dome
59. July 5, Fighters vs. Marines @ Kamagaya, minor league
58. July 4, Fighters vs. Marines @ Kamagaya, minor league
57. June 28, Marines vs. Fighters @ Chiba Marine
56. June 27, Marines vs. Fighters @ Chiba Marine
55. June 26, Marines vs. Fighters @ Chiba Marine
54. June 21, Carp vs. Fighters @ Mazda Zoom Zoom
53. June 20, Carp vs. Fighters @ Mazda Zoom Zoom
52. June 18, Swallows vs. Marines @ Jingu
51. June 14, Marines vs. Tigers @ Chiba Marine
50. June 13, Fuji vs. Soka @ Jingu, All-Japan College Tournament
49. June 13, Hosei vs. Kansai Kokusai @ Jingu, All-Japan College Tournament
48. June 8, Swallows vs. Fighters @ Jingu
47. June 7, Swallows vs. Fighters @ Jingu
46. June 6, Giants vs. Fighters @ Tokyo Dome
45. June 5, Giants vs. Fighters @ Tokyo Dome
44. June 1, Rikkio vs. Meiji @ Jingu, Tokyo Big 6 Rookie Tournament
43. June 1, Keio vs. Todai @ Jingu, Tokyo Big 6 Rookie Tournament
42. May 24, Hosei vs. Meiji @ Jingu, Tokyo Big 6 University League
41. May 23, Marines vs. Dragons @ Chiba Marine
40. May 19, Lions vs. Dragons @ Omiya
39. May 16, Keio vs. Hosei @ Jingu, Tokyo Big 6 University League
38. May 16, Waseda vs. Meiji @ Jingu, Tokyo Big 6 University League
37. May 9, Marines vs. Eagles @ Chiba Marine
36. May 8, Giants vs. Dragons @ Tokyo Dome
35. May 7, Swallows vs. Tigers @ Jingu
34. May 6, Marines vs. Fighters @ Chiba Marine
33. May 5, Marines vs. Fighters @ Chiba Marine
32. May 4, Marines vs. Fighters @ Chiba Marine
31. May 2, Fighters vs. Futures @ Kamagaya, minor league exhibition game
30. April 30, Toyo vs. Kokugaku @ Jingu, Tohto University League
29. April 29, Marines vs. Buffaloes @ Chiba Marine
28. April 26, Fighters vs. Buffaloes @ Skymark
27. April 23, Fighters vs. Hawks @ Tokyo Dome
26. April 22, Fighters vs. Hawks @ Tokyo Dome
25. April 21, Fighters vs. Hawks @ Tokyo Dome
24. April 19, Lions vs. Fighters @ Seibu Dome
23. April 18, Lions vs. Fighters @ Seibu Dome
22. April 16, Swallows vs. Giants @ Jingu
21. April 11, Keio vs. Rikkio @ Jingu, Tokyo Big 6 University League
20. April 11, Todai vs. Waseda @ Jingu, Tokyo Big 6 University League
19. April 8, Fighters vs. Marines @ Tokyo Dome
18. April 7, Fighters vs. Marines @ Tokyo Dome
17. April 4, Marines vs. Fighters @ Lotte Urawa, minor league
16. April 3, Marines vs. Lions @ Chiba Marine
15. March 29, Giants vs. Marines @ Tokyo Dome, preseason game
14. March 28, Giants vs. Marines @ Tokyo Dome, preseason game
13. March 26, Swallows vs. Baystars @ Jingu, preseason game
12. March 21, Baystars vs. Fighters @ Yokohama Stadium, preseason game
11. March 19, Giants vs. Fighters @ Tokyo Dome, preseason game
10. March 18, Fighters vs. Buffaloes @ Kamagaya, preseason game
9. March 17, Fighters vs. Buffaloes @ Tokyo Dome, preseason game
8. March 15, Fighters vs. Marines @ Kamagaya, preseason minor league
7. March 11, Baystars vs. Marines @ Yokohama Stadium, preseason game
6. March 9, WBC Finals, Japan vs. Korea @ Tokyo Dome
5. March 8, WBC Game 5, Korea vs. China @ Tokyo Dome
4. March 7, WBC Game 4, Korea vs. Japan @ Tokyo Dome
3. March 6, WBC Game 2, Korea vs. Taipei @ Tokyo Dome
2. March 5, WBC Game 1, Japan vs. China @ Tokyo Dome
1. March 5, Marines vs. Fighters @ Lotte Urawa, preseason minor league

I should try to add links to these and see how many I actually managed to write up on here. This year I've spent so much time going to games that I have no time to actually blog about them -- basically, I've had a few times where I've thought "Gosh, I'd like to go to the game today, but I'm so behind on blogging, shouldn't I spend the evening catching up?" and then said, "Deanna, what the heck are you THINKING? You are NOT going to sit at home at your computer when you could be at the stadium. Don't be stupid."

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Game Report: Hawks vs. Fighters @ Yahoo Dome -- Flu Fells Fighters Five, Jose Ortiz Launches Two

After a few days wandering around Nagasaki prefecture like a rebel on the run, I found myself at a slightly more familiar place to watch baseball on Friday night:

The Yahoo Dome is somewhat inconvenient to get to, but I always have a good time there, it seems, and this time was no different. Fortunately, being as this was a Friday, the visitor outfield seats were unreserved (apparently on weekends, they become reserved seats, which a lot of people are angry about), so my plan was, as always, to just go in and find some interesting people to sit with in the Fighters cheering section. I immediately ran into some friends from Tokyo, but they had no space, so I sat a bit further back, behind a lady wearing a Fighty jacket and a Pikachu hat. She and her friends turned out to be very interesting indeed, and even better, a bit later a friend of mine from Nagoya showed up out of nowhere and sat down next to me as well.

(I also ran into the people I sat with last year, as the "Yahoo Dome Obachan" came up to say hi. "I see you on TV all the time during games! I hoped you'd come back here someday!")

I had a Matsunaka bento for dinner this time. It was pretty good, kind of meat-heavy though.

The thing is, I figured this would mean that Matsunaka would definitely hit another home run against us. He's hit 8 (out of 20) homeruns against the Fighters this year, and I've personally witnessed 5 of them.

Fortunately, I was wrong.

Unfortunately, Jose Ortiz took it one further and hit TWO home runs against the Fighters instead, and that pretty much ended up deciding the game.

But let me back up a second.

Earlier in the week, several Fighters players were diagnosed with the flu, some cases actually being the dreaded "new type flu". Worse, Kensuke Tanaka was having trouble with a sore leg. So trust me when I say that everybody was laughing as they announced the following starting lineup:

LF Yoh
CF Murata
RF Inaba
1B Takahashi
3B Nioka
SS Kaneko
DH Nakata
2B Inada
C Nakajima
P Darvish

No, seriously, can we even count how many things are bizarre about that? Kaneko batting 6th instead of 9th, Nakajima getting the start at catcher (it was funny how several of us who go to 50 games a year still had to go look up his ouenka because we simply never sing it), Naoto Inada starting at second, Sho and Yoh and Murata all starting at ichi-gun... yeah. It was a really weird sight to behold.

At first, though, it seemed to be working, as Chon-so Yoh led off with a single off Hawks starter Kenji Ohtonari. Kazuya Murata had a failed sac bunt which only succeeded in getting Yoh out at second as Murata made it to first, but then Atsunori Inaba singled to right. Shinji Takahashi walked, loading the bases, and Tomohiro Nioka came through with a single to left, scoring Murata and Inaba to make it 2-0. Ohtonari struck out Makoto Kaneko and Sho Nakata after that to end the threat, though.

Jose Ortiz cut the lead in half in the 2nd inning with his first home run to make it 2-1. His second home run, in the 6th inning, was a 2-run shot that would put the Hawks ahead 3-2.

Darvish would end up pitching the entire game, all 8 innings and 132 pitches of it, and maybe that wasn't really for the best. The Hawks scored 3 more runs off him in the 8th inning from 4 more hits, which made it 6-2.

Yet in the 9th inning, with two outs, the Fighters started to get things going against closer Takahiro Mahara -- first a pinch-hitting Shota Ohno reached base on an error to third. Murata walked, and then Inaba grounded to second base for what I thought would be the final out, but Murata slid into second safe and somehow Inaba was also safe at first. I'm not sure how that happened, but it meant the bases were loaded for Shinji Takahashi. We sang the Genghis Khan chance theme, and he ran the pitch count up to full count. But just as everyone was thinking that it could be a tie game with a single good swing, the game ended on a CHECKED third strike. Ouch.

To nobody's surprise, the game hero was Jose Ortiz.

Anyway, despite the Fighters losing, and not even scoring anything past the first inning, I had a reasonably good time catching up with old friends and making new friends. There were some indoor fireworks after the game which we stuck around for, and then I walked back to Tojinmachi station with some of the people I'd been sitting with, and took the subway back to Hakata station.

On the way, we saw a whole lot of Hawks fans wearing the Otousan 0103 jerseys, which are really cute. The white dog is from a series of Softbank "family plan" commercials where the family is quite mixed racially, even so much that the father is a talking white dog rather than a human. Softbank as a cellphone company does various marketing campaigns with the white dog, so this is how it extends to the Hawks, I suppose. "Otousan" means father, but in the Japanese numbering system it also can be read as 0103 -- zero is "oh", 10 can be pronounced "toh", and 3 is "san". It's a clever little joke that most people can catch on to regardless of whether they're Hawks fans.

Sadly, the Fighters ended up getting swept over the weekend, and haven't won a game since August 16th (as I finish writing this, they've just blown ANOTHER game on a totally crazy 9th inning). I hope they can get healthy and back on track soon...

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Placeholder: People I Saw Today

I'm in Kochi for the day, heading back to Tokyo tomorrow after 10 days or so of my Great Train Adventure all over the western reaches of Japan. You'll have to forgive me for not writing more, but I only have so much downtime in the hotel to spend, and most of it has been spent watching Koshien when I can.

Anyway, I'll put more details later, but I was at the first game of the Kochi-Ehime doubleheader, and Hideki Irabu did infact start the game. He went 7 innings, allowed 3 runs (2 earned), struck out 3... walked 5, hit 1. Not a great outing, not a bad outing. The game ended up being a tie, 4-4.

There were definitely plenty of people there just to see him, and the team was even selling Irabu shirts and fans and stuff starting today. Also, he was signing stuff at a table for about 10 minutes after the game, so I chatted with him a little in English and got his autograph, too!

By the way, not that anyone cares, but I had a goal at the start of the year to see at least 100 baseball games this year, and to see games on all four major islands of Japan in at least 15 different stadiums. Today completed two of those goals -- I've just got about 18 more to get to 100.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Photopost: Nagasaki Saints vs. Kagawa Olive Guyners - Adventures in Sasebo

The next baseball-related stop on my Great Train Adventure was to go down to Sasebo on Wednesday, the 19th. Sasebo is a little port city in Nagasaki prefecture, famous for burgers and churches, and it also happens to be where a particular Seattle Mariners catcher grew up...

Yes -- I wandered out to the Kenji Johjima Baseball Museum. UNFORTUNATELY, it is closed on Wednesdays, so I couldn't go in. Oops. Much like the Matsui Museum, this is just a little place run by Johjima's family, right by their house, which is in the middle of nowhere in Sasebo. If I ever make it back out there, I'll try to stop by again.

After that I went down to the Sasebo Baseball Park, where I went to watch a game in the Shikoku-Kyushu Island League, or more specifically, I saw the Kagawa Olive Guyners come to town to take on the local Nagasaki Saints. Believe it or not, Nagasaki and St. Paul are sister cities, and the Nagasaki Saints use the same logo as the St. Paul Saints. At the same time, since Nagasaki prefecture is one of the most Christian areas in Japan, it makes sense as a team name in other ways as well.

I arrived around 5pm, and the stadium was EMPTY. I bought my 1000-yen ticket and a 500-yen yearbook, and went into the stadium. I think there were maybe around 10 other people in the stands, and 5 of them were members of the Nagasaki Saints Youth Baseball team.

The stadium, from the outside.

Saints players taking pre-game practice.

The seating behind home plate.

When the team finished their practice and came back towards the dugout, I was pretty much the only person sitting right behind the dugout watching, so a bunch of the players (and even the manager!) nodded or said hello to me. It was really strange to be there with my camera and really close up, but not to be able to surreptitiously take photos, because there just wasn't anyone else out there in the stands. I took the following photo of outfielder Shintaro Yasuda when he saw me with my camera and just stood there with his bat and actually posed for it.

"Did you take the photo yet?" he asked. I nodded. He started swinging again.

They announced the starting lineups around 5:30, and introduced the team -- every member -- at around 5:50. I amused myself in the meantime by taking photos and by reading through the Shikoku-Kyushu League yearbook that I'd bought, seeing where the players and managers were all from. Of course, some of the players aren't IN the yearbook since they were signed later.

For introductions, the Kagawa players lined up on the 3rd-base line and the Nagasaki players lined up on the 1st-base line and they said each player's name and what high school or college they went to, or team they played for before the Saints. There were a lot of interesting ones, though the most interesting by far is a guy named Yuji Nerei, who I'd really like to research sometime when I have spare time, as he's played baseball pretty much all over the world.

Starting lineups. The scoreboard had people manually putting boards in for the players' names. Also note that there is nowhere to show the starting pitchers on the scoreboard, nor do they tell you how many hits there are, just runs.

Yoshiyuki Honobe and Masayuki Komai, laughing during the introductions.

Manager Hiroshi Nagadomi, formerly of the Hiroshima Carp (and he even played for the Fighters in the mid-90's!)

Team captain and third baseman Yuki Matsubara.

Speedy young shortstop Daichi Mizuguchi.

Catcher Koshiro Yoshikawa.

The pre-game ceremonies, after the big introductions and the singing of Kimigayo, were mostly limited to having a kid throw out the ceremonial first pitch, and a bunch of kids from the youth team run off the field and high-five all of the players, and then the game got underway.

A guy named Yoshinori Fujioka started for the Saints. Fujioka was born in Hiroshima, played baseball in college in Osaka, and is now in Nagasaki. He's also one of those ridiculously tall and skinny guys (something like 6'3", 170 pounds) who looks like a big tangle of arms and legs when he's throwing:

The Kagawa starter was a guy named Takehiro Fukuda, who comes from Osaka but went to college in Kochi, and is on break from grad school to play baseball. Or something like that.

These were the lineups for the game:
Kagawa Olive Guyners           Nagasaki Saints
1. Yohsuke, rf Mizuguchi, ss

2. Kasai, cf Komai, cf
Keiyo, ph
3. Kanai, lf Matsubara, 3b
Yoshimori, lf
4. Tomosugu, 3b Suetsugu, rf

5. Chang, dh Yasuda, lf
Honobe, pr-lf
6. Nishimori, c Nerei, dh
Kanazaki, pr-dh
7. Kunimoto, 2b-1b Matsui, 2b

8. Fujii, 1b Hayashi, 1b
Kanaizuka, 2b
9. Shisa, ss Yoshikawa, c

P. Fukuda, p Fujioka, p
Takao, p Kamimura, p
Tsuchiya, p

The game got off to a good start for the Saints as leadoff batter Mizuguchi got on base as a grounder went through the Kagawa third baseman for an error. Komai bunted him up to second, and captain Matsubara walked. With the two runners on, cleanup batter Takaaki Suetsugu hit a clean single to left, scoring Mizuguchi to make it 1-0 for the Saints. Yasuda followed that up with a hit to second which bounced off the second baseman's leg and so everyone was also safe in this case, Matsubara scoring on the play to bring it to 2-0. Unfortunately for them, DH Nerei grounded into a 5-4-3 double play after that.

The Kagawa DH Chang led off the 2nd inning with a home run over the left-field wall. 2-1. Catcher Nishimori got on base as Saints shortstop Mizuguchi got the ball and threw it way OVER first base. Whoops. But they erased the runner one batter later as Kunimoto grounded into a double play, and then Fujii hit a pop fly out to second.

Komai bunting.

Chang at the plate, right before hitting his home run.

High-fives back at the Kagawa dugout.

The next few innings went by mostly uneventfully, aside from things like a dizzy-bat-running contest for some of the youth baseball kids between the 3rd and 4th innings. The ouendan also finally started really coming out in force around then; it wasn't a LOT of people as there were maybe only 500 people total at the park, but they had a guy with a taiko drum and they did have some sorts of rhythms down for cheering for the players, even if they didn't have actual ouenka.

In the top of the 5th inning, Kagawa batter Kunimoto got on base as Nagasaki third baseman Matsubara ate the ball on a grounder to third. Kunimoto stole second during Kanaizuka's at-bat and scored on a single to center by Shisa, tying the game at 2-2.

After that point, the game kind of stagnated for a while with a few scattered runs, but no particular exciting moments, so I took that opportunity to learn more about what was going on. See, a little bit before the game started, I was really surprised to hear two people speaking English behind me. Turns out they both work as teachers at the international school on the nearby Sasebo navy base; the one guy Yutaka is Japanese and teaches Japanese, and the other guy Cameron is American and teaches Spanish. Yutaka is a season pass holder for the Nagasaki Saints, and so he told me all about the various players as the game unfolded; I moved back from my perch behind the dugout to sit with these guys in the 3rd or 4th inning when it got too dark to take photos. It's always nice to talk to locals.

The team did a "Lucky 7" and everyone got up and clapped along to what I assume was the team song, and then Matsui led off the bottom of the 7th with a single. Hayashi bunted him up to second, and then... Yoshikawa grounded to short. Matsui should have been safe at third, but instead, he actually overran third base and got tagged out ON THE WAY BACK. Oops. It was particularly wasted as Mizuguchi hit a double into the right-center gap right after that which would have undoubtedly scored the go-ahead run. Alas.

Koji Matsui taking swings in the on-deck circle.

The Saints ouendan group up behind first base.

Around 8:30pm in the 8th inning with the score still tied, I began to panic because I needed to take the last MR train at 9:08pm to get my JR train out of Sasebo at 9:59pm, and the nearest MR station was about a 15-minute walk away. Fortunately, two things happened at that point: I learned that games in the Shikoku league never go into extra innings, and second, Yutaka said he'd give me a ride back to the station. That was a lifesaver, and I got to stay for the entire end of the game.

Nagasaki put in a 19-year-old kid named Mizuki Tsuchida to pitch the 9th, and he had a fastball in the upper 140's and got out of the inning with two strikeouts and one guy reaching base on an error. So at that point Nagasaki couldn't lose, and might win.

Kagawa put in a guy named Kenta Takao to pitch the 9th for them, but the game ended with Keiyo Nakagawa grounding to the mound with Daichi Mizuguchi standing at first, and the score still tied at 2-2.

Final score. Or you can see the score on their website.

After the game, all the players line up and say goodbye to people leaving the park. You can shake hands or just say hello, or bug them for signatures or to take photos with them. It's independent baseball and the team has financial problems, so they need to cater to fans as much as possible, it seems.

Heck, the players were even taking photos FOR fans.

So, I got my photo taken with a few of the players. Yutaka had never gotten a photo with any of the players before either, but he's a Nerei fan, so we both went up and bugged Nerei for photos.

Yuji Nerei. After we took the photo, he said in perfect English, "Hey, I like your t-shirt, that's really cool." I said "Thanks! I love baseball." I always get so idiotified around ballplayers. Nerei spent several years playing baseball in other countries, even Mexico and Canada, and also went to Hosei University, so he supposedly speaks several languages fluently. He's 36 though and will probly retire and become a coach soon.

Yoshinori Fujioka, the Nagasaki starting pitcher. I told him he pitched well and he kind of looked down at his shoes like "Not really..."

It was a really good day overall, and I enjoyed spending time in Sasebo. No idea if I'll ever go back there, though I'd like to someday. It's just a ridiculously beautiful area of Kyushu. I guess if the Saints are still around next year, maybe I'll try to catch them again, perhaps (but it sounds like there's a good chance they won't be. That's too bad).

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Deanna Goes to Koshien, Part 2 Photopost: Aomori Yamada vs. Nodai Niko, Teikyo vs. Tsuruga

A quick post before I skip town.

Sunday morning, the 16th, I woke up and went to Koshien early, getting there at 8am for an 8:30am first game start. Here's the crazy thing: I was actually LATE. Fortunately my friend bought me a ticket when he was there at 6:30am, so I could just go into the stadium when I arrived. I got a seat pretty much right behind the 3rd base dugout, like 3 rows back, on the inner side. It was raining in the morning until around 8am as well, so all of the seats were wet and the stadium wasn't particularly crowded when the first game started. Also, the teams were Aomori Yamada, from Aomori, and Nodai Niko, from Gunma, both pretty far away from Koshien.

It was actually a relatively good game all things considered -- very close, the Nodai Niko squad eventually won 2-1 in 10 innings. I was technically sitting on the Aomori side, but didn't really have a vested interest in either team, to be honest. Nodai had this catcher named Machida who's like 6'3" though, and he was also the team captain, and so I ended up secretly cheering for him instead. I kind of wonder if he could end up as a "tall power prospect" guy in the NPB eventually, a la Takumi Kohbe or Ryuji Miyade.

Aomori had a kid named Maike Magario -- at first I thought it was a typo for "Michael" in katakana, and maybe it is a shortened form, but it turns out he was actually born in Brazil. His last name was in kanji though, so I assume he's some form of 2nd- or 3rd- generation Japanese-Brazilian.

The second game was Teikyo vs. Tsuruga whatever from Fukui, which was the game I'd been waiting for. I realize that I don't usually cheer for powerhouses at higher levels of play, but when it comes to high school, it's a little different, especially since these are the kids who end up being drafted and I fall in love with them 3-4 years later, so I might as well find out who they are now. (Hichori Morimoto went to Teikyo. So did Hiroki Ueno. So did Atori Ohta. That's three team boyfriends right there, and there are bunches of other Teikyo OB that I like as well; I'm rather fond of the Fighters' Kenshi Sugiya already.)

Also, Teikyo is my local team, as local as any Koshien team gets for me -- the school is within bike-riding distance of my house, and I even taught a few Teikyo students at my last English-teaching job.

Teikyo has a heck of a team this year, too. The ace is a kid named Hirahara, who pitches and also bats 3rd in the lineup, he hit 2 homeruns in the qualfiers. But they've supposedly got at least 4 kids who can hit 145 km/h on the radar gun anyway. Kaneko and team captain Satoh also provide pretty good power and fielding in the outfield, and then there's a boy named Naville Ariga who is half-Ghanan and half-Japanese. People kept saying "Is that an exchange student?" and then being like "Wait, he has a Japanese name... but he's clearly not Japanese... HUH?"

Teikyo clobbered Tsuruga 5-1. I felt kind of bad for Tsuruga, they were pretty much steamrollered. Teikyo even ran itself out of some innings by gratuitously trying to steal bases when they didn't really need to, and got caught every time once they were already up 5-0. Or maybe the Tsuruga catcher Kubo finally got his act together, I don't know.

My favorite Tsuruga player was actually the pitcher, Yamada -- funny left-handed kid whose hat fell off after almost every pitch he threw. Talk about 一球入魂. He threw the entire game and never gave up.

I would have stayed for more, but it became ridiculously hot and sunny by the end of that second game. I put sunscreen on, but managed to get sunburnt legs and shoulders anyway. I bought a bottle of ice (that is, a frozen water bottle) near the beginning of the second game, and it was entirely melted by the end, that's how hot it was. Given the intense headache I had, I'm thinking I was having some kind of heatstroke, so I left about 10 minutes into the third game.

Here are some photos from the day...

Game 1:

The Nodai Niko team lines up after fielding practice.

Aomori Yamada starter Inoue.

Nodai starter Katoh.

Aomori Yamada's Maike Magario.

Aomori Yamada team captain Machida, who is a bazillion feet tall.

Final score of the first game.

Game 2:

Teikyo starter and 3-spot batter Hirahara.

Tsuruga starter Yamada, with his hat flying off.

Yamada again.

Yamada at bat, with the colorful ouendan in the background.

Teikyo catcher Haraguchi. Also great player.

Tsuruga mound conference.

Naville Ariga (in the middle).

Teikyo battery talking in front of the dugout.

He's SAFE AT SECOND! Except I forget who "he" was in this shot. I think it's actually Tsuruga captain and second baseman Lee.

Teikyo pitcher Itoh #18, who came in just to pitch to one batter at the end of the game. He hit 148km/h with almost every pitch though and eventually got a groundout.

Final score of the second game.

The two teams shake hands.

Game 3:
Two shots from before I left:

Shonan starter Sorachi.

Kyushu starter Yoshioka.

And that's about it, for now. Will post about Monday's games... later. I'm hitting the road yet again to go down to Kyushu shortly.

Actually, one bonus photo:

They had this table where you could get your photo taken with a big placard from the school of your choice, so I requested Teikyo. I'm thinking this year's team really could go all the way.