Thursday, October 08, 2009

Game 106: Bobby Valentine's Final Home Game in Chiba, vs. Rakuten

If I had to sum up Bobby's last game in Chiba in one word, it would be: Wet.

With a typhoon on course to head through Tokyo on Thursday, it started raining here on Monday night and never quite stopped until the typhoon passed. This means that the entire game was played in the rain, and the entire postgame was also in the rain. The stadium was packed anyway, with almost 30,000 people sitting through the rainfest.

The good part about the pouring rain was that nobody had to be ashamed of crying during Bobby's speech. You couldn't TELL who was crying, Bobby included, because EVERYONE was soaking wet.

If it hadn't been raining, the evening would have been pretty much an absolute perfect evening for everyone (except the Eagles, of course). I mean, you can't WRITE better stories than this. The Marines starter was Yoshihisa Naruse (jokingly dubbed the "co-star" of The Zen of Bobby V movie), against Hisashi Iwakuma, one of the best pitchers in Japan. The Marines went down 2-0 in the 2nd, but then Saburo hit a home run to half the gap, and they tied it up in the 3rd on a Koichi Hori single. Shunsuke and Ogino pitched in relief, Imae and Satozaki hit the RBIs necessary to put the Marines up 5-2 in the 8th inning... basically, it was like all of Bobby's Boys were determined to bring the game home for him no matter what.

Even better, Brian Sikorski came out to pitch the 9th -- and with two outs, Bobby went to the mound and made his last call to the Chiba Marine bullpen ever -- for Satoru Komiyama, who was having his retirement ceremony after the game. The stadium went absolutely crazy. And in true Komiyama style, he threw one pitch to get the final out of the game, as pinch-hitter Seguignol hit a fly ball to right.

This was not only Komiyama's first save in 4 years, but it also made him the oldest guy in NPB history to record a save.

So, a few minutes later they started Komiyama's retirement ceremony. Komiyama made a really nice speech about how all he'd ever really wanted to do was to play baseball, and how lucky he was he'd been able to do it for so long, and how much he appreciated his time with the Marines. He also said he hoped he'd be wearing a Lotte uniform again sometime in the future. Komiyama, for those that don't know, went to Waseda University by actually studying for 2 years and passing the real entrance exam there, and then becoming the ace of their staff, rather than being one of those guys who gets in on baseball credentials. I believe he even earned a certficiation license to teach math! He's a pretty smart guy and very well-spoken.

You can see Komiyama's ceremony here on Youtube. One of the best parts was when his three kids came out to give him flowers, and he redirected them to give the flowers to Bobby instead.

After Komi-chan's ceremony ended, there was a bit of a pause, and then all the lights in the stadium went off briefly as they announced Bobby's entrance.

Bobby gave a speech in Japanese, with his interpreter Shun Nakasone translating into English. I'm not going to transcribe it; you can either see to the speech here or see Gen's translation of it here. The speech was fairly simple and thanked the management, the players, the fans, and had a short poem about how he felt the sights and sounds of Chiba would be forever in his heart.

What I think was so great about the speech, and perhaps accounts for all the people sniffling around me, was, infact, that Bobby did it in Japanese. I was reminded of something singer Angela Aki said once, that Japanese is a more emotional language than English, by far, and you can say so much more in so few words, just letting your heart hold the pencil. For his one last time to connect with the fans, Bobby did it perfectly. And to make sure he connected with all the people there, he still had it translated into English.

I remember thinking that perhaps it was the kind of thing where you'd have to have actually met Bobby to get why he did it, except the thing is, almost everyone in the stadium that night probably HAS met Bobby at some point or another. That's WHY he meant so much to the fans.

Something that's pretty fundamental in Japanese culture is the concept of "doryoku", which means "making a great effort". A lot of Japanese people seem to love to see other people doing their best and making the best effort they can. If you do something half-assed, you can't expect other people to repay you with their full effort, and the same goes the other way. And I think what people saw in Bobby over the last few years was just the total effort he made to fit into Japan and to make the team as good as he could, and make the fan experience as good as possible. They saw him out there at BP, or signing stuff in the stands, or adding all the cool new features to the stadium, or opening his window and letting the fans come talk to him, or even doing ballroom dancing routines before a game a few years ago. I know that just keeping a smile up on my face for a few hours a day in front of students is draining enough -- how crazy is it that Bobby's been doing that in front of hundreds of thousands of fans, day in and day out, for the last 6 years?

That is effort, and that is why an entire stadium full of cold, wet, tired baseball fans stayed for a full hour after the game was over, to listen to Bobby and watch him walk around the stadium and to wave goodbye for one last time, laughing and clapping and shouting and crying. 最後まで、よく頑張った, they were probably thinking -- "he did his best until the very end".

I know that I certainly owe a lot to Bobby, and I'm just a random blogger who happened to be lucky enough to get to talk to him a bunch of times over the last two years.

Anyway, I went to Chiba after work on Tuesday, and because of the rain I didn't have my big camera or my scorecard, and actually didn't even get to my seat until literally three seconds before Saburo launched his home run that made it 2-1 in the bottom of the 2nd inning. But I did snap a few photos with my itty-bitty camera, and while you can undoubtedly find better ones elsewhere, here's how things looked from my viewpoint...

There were NO BOBBY BURGERS. I was not happy about that.

This is one of the information boards outlining the day's event schedule.

In the Marines store, they were selling the "Thanks, Bobby" farewell merchandise. Most of it was already sold out by the time I got there, except the t-shirts.

Somehow, in the midst of the pouring rain, they still had fireworks in the 5th inning.

Final score as Komiyama records the last out.

Scoreboard explains that it made Komi the Oldest Saver Ever.

What the Komiyama speech looked like from my vantage point.

Komiyama making his speech as shown on the big board.

The totally darkened stadium for Bobby's speech.

Bobby, on the big board.

It was so ridiculously rainy that this is about the visibility I had for seeing the right-field stands. (This is when Bobby and crew were making the rounds of the stadium, post-speech.)

I should mention, by the way, that Bobby's crew included Bobby, coach Frank Ramppen, stathead Paul Pupo, players Benny Agbayani, Chase Lambin, and Gary Burnham, interpreter Shun Nakasone, and Satoru Komiyama as well. The right-field stands guys even had a "Ramppen #83" banner for him, and they gave a yell for "NAKASONE! NAKASONE!". In addition to the Komiyama 14's, a third group of people also had a "Komiyama 17" banner, paying homage to when Komiyama was on the Mets.

When he got back to the dugout the entire team ran forward in a big crowd and threw Bobby in the air. They also threw Benny in the air, and Komiyama as well.

For the record, another great thing about this game was, when Rakuten lost, that clinched 1st place for the Fighters, who were playing in extra innings at that point (they did eventually win). So I was overjoyed for more than one reason -- and I could even justify to my Fighters friends why I was in Chiba instead of at home watching the Fighters-Seibu clinching game. ("I was cheering for Lotte to beat Rakuten, so we'd get the championship that way!")

Oh, one more funny anecdote:
Chase Lambin and Gary Burnham were at the game, but in street clothes since they're not on the active roster. I think they were even sitting one section over from me, but I was too wet and cold and tired to leave my seat at all during the game; the only time I even stood up was when Imae hit the go-ahead RBI. So I didn't actually go try to say hi to them, because I am lame. Oops.

In the bottom of the fourth inning, Shoitsu Ohmatsu was leading off, but for some inexplicable reason the ouendan were playing "Here We Go Chase Lambin", and then "Let's Go Gary Burnham". Everyone was like "WTF?", until on the big board, they actually showed that Chase and Gary were out there with the fans in the right-field stands. That is pretty awesome and I think it's great that they went out and did that.

I'm still a little stunned that the Bobby era is over again in Chiba. I kept thinking during the game how it was going to be my last one seeing it like this, with those people, with that ouendan, with everything as it is. No matter what, things next year will be different. Fortunately, though, most of the Lotte players that I totally adore are in ni-gun, so I'll be able to still go see them at Lotte Urawa and at Kamagaya, even if I don't end up at Chiba Marine outside of Fighters games anymore.

On that note, I'm going to leave you with what was one of my favorite moments this summer:

(It's actually from a few weeks ago -- I didn't actually see Bobby on Tuesday. At the time, I wasn't supposed to tell anyone I'd been in Bobby's office watching him sign a bazillion thank you cards that he was going to give to the fans, so I also didn't post this photo then. And in case you were at the game over the weekend where he gave out thank-you cards to the fans, with a signature on it? That signature was real. It probably took him a month to sign them all. Next time someone says Bobby didn't really care about the fans and was just putting on a show, I'm going to punch them.)

Seriously, how lucky am I? I think that's the best thing about Bobby -- he always made me laugh, except for this last time, when he made me cry.

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