Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Games 104-105: Sapporo adventures

After all of the ups and downs in the last week or two with the Pacific League race, with the Rakuten Eagles charging into the fray and the Fighters having their losing streak a few weeks ago, a lot of people were expecting the Fighters to finally clinch first place this weekend. (I had a bunch of friends who went to Fukuoka last weekend thinking they'd clinch there too, though.)

Thanks to the generosity of the Netsuenkai, a Fighters cheering group in Hokkaido, I got to go to both games over the weekend (October 3rd and 4th) and sit in the Fighters cheering section in left field. They buy a whole bunch of season passes all together and then switch them between people for different games and all just sit in the same general area, so they just lent me one of the passes for the two days.

UNFORTUNATELY, thanks to the Rakuten-Softbank game on Friday night getting cancelled due to rain, the Fighters COULDN'T possibly clinch 1st place on Sunday. After the wins on Saturday and Sunday, the "magic number" was reduced to 1, but no, I didn't get to see the victory doage (throwing people up in the air), which was really too bad.

So, one of my goals for the weekend was to get the rest of the Fighters metal pin set. I've talked about it on here a few times before as "collecting pinbadges" -- this year's set looks like this. Going into the weekend I was missing, of the normal regular players, Hayashi, Miyanishi, Masaru, Yamamoto, Nakajima, Oda, Satoh, Nakashima. Of the not-normal player pins I was missing Jimenez, Nashida, BB, and Cubby. However, the Jimenez pin is apparently super-rare (I never even saw one until this weekend), and Nashida and the mascots are also considered rare pins.

You may be wondering how one acquires these pins. Well, it happens in the following ways:

- (normal) When you come to a Fighters home game, you can present your fan club member card at a specific place and they give you a random pin just for coming to the game, for free. (It's called a 来場ピンバッジ.)
- (normal) At a Fighters home game, if you are a fan club member, you can buy up to 5 gachapon (capsule machine) coins, for 200 yen each, and then you go to the capsule machines, where you put in your coin and turn the crank, and then a staff member takes out the capsule and opens it for you. (Not sure why, maybe just to make sure the capsules get recycled.) These are also random.
- (kind of normal) Trading with your friends, if you have other friends who collect them.
- (normal if you live in Sapporo) Trading with total strangers at the Trading Area in the Sapporo Dome before a Fighters game.
- (not normal) Having people randomly give you a ton of their extra pinbadges.

In other words, I went to Sapporo with around 10 pins, wanted to come back with 8 different pins, ended up coming back with around 60 pins as a result of the above -- not only did people give me a ton of extra pins, but I also went around trading like a madman. I got my remaining normal pins pretty quickly -- then it took me forever to get Nashida and BB and Cubby, because people had written out complicated conditions for what they would trade various pins for. There seemed to be three categories: Rare pins, which they would only trade 1-for-1 for other rare pins, Popular pins, which they would trade mostly for each other or for several commons, and Common pins, which nobody seemed to really care that much about. Popular pins were basically most of the starting members and ichi-gun regulars, and commons were mostly ni-gun players that half the people in Hokkaido have never seen play anyway.

This area is pretty much in the lower floor, under the right-field stands, and at least before weekend games, it's insanely crowded. Some people sit there with their pins and other stuff out on display, and others walk around trying to haggle with these people. There's no money involved, it's all trading stuff for other stuff that people are collecting.

I don't even know if this area is official or not, but it's been there every time I have been, so at least this time I knew what to expect.

The traders might be young people or old people.

Some of them have very organized displays of what they have and what they want.

Some guys even have pins dating back to 2004 when the Fighters first moved to Sapporo. I got an Imanari 2006 from this particular guy... for a Sledge 2009.

People will also trade other things like baseball cards and other Fighters collectibles like figurines and the helmet keychains and whatnot.

I don't know which is worse: that I spent around a half an hour a day trading pins or looking at people's pins and other stuff, or that I'm actually good enough at Japanese now to hit the trading floor successfully.

It is also kind of interesting to see the obvious disparity in which fringe players are popular in Kanto vs. Sapporo. For example, for the most part, you will not see a lot of Naoto Inada jerseys in the Kanto area. Yuji Iiyama has much the same status, though with a few more fans only because he's been around with the team a bit longer. Toshimasa Konta, on the other hand, has a decent chunk of fans in both locales. And Tomochika Tsuboi might actually be more popular in Kanto than in Sapporo.

The way this becomes obvious is by which pins and collectibles are rated as more valuable than others. It surprised me quite a bit to see Inada pins considered valuable, while Ejiri pins weren't considered much at all. (Shintaro Ejiri has a lot of fans in Kanto, he goes back to the Tokyo Dome era plus a lot of us watched him rehab and retool himself at Kamagaya last year.)

And in Sapporo, pretty much nobody cares that much about players who have spent almost their entire career at ni-gun. I met another girl with an Imanari jersey with his name in kanji like mine, and we were both pretty shocked of the other's existence. (She gave me an Imanari pin just for the heck of it -- "No, I don't need anything in return, I have about ten of them, people always give me their pins too.") I got a Yohei Kaneko 2007 pin for free too -- I'm really, really bummed that he isn't going to be with the Fighters next year. REALLY bummed.

Oh yeah, this is some other thing that was going on -- you could get some kind of special stuff by aiming your cellphone cameras at barcodes all over the stadium, as part of the au/KDDI promotion going on, but I didn't have time to do it because I was so busy talking to people or trading things or whatever.

See, that was one of the really crazy things about going to the Sapporo Dome this time. The first time I went there was early in the 2008 season, and I knew nobody and ended up sitting in the infield for two games and mostly had people looking at me like "Why is there a white girl here?"

This time, almost anywhere I went in the stadium, I ran into people I know from my Fighters trips all over the country. I said hello to a few ouendan members, who are now so used to seeing me all over the country that it wasn't a huge surprise for me to be in Sapporo. The friends that arranged to lend me a season pass for two days introduced me to almost everybody in the vicinity of Aisle 99, several of whom said "Oh, I've seen you on TV before!" and seemed to regard me as some kind of minor celebrity, which was kind of odd.

Worse, people kept giving me presents. I got an Inaba flexboard, a bunch of chocolates, some oranges, some other snacks, some Fighters mini-helmet keychains, the aforementioned pinbadges, a red baseball cap that was part of the "hot final series" promotion, a Netsuenkai hand towel ("Now you're one of us"), etc. I felt terrible because all I had brought with me from Tokyo was a single box of Tokyo Banana cookies to give people. I did give some people pins of their favorite players if I had them, but considering I had received the pins as a present in the first place, I'm not sure that counts.

As for Saturday's game itself, the Fighters started tearing into Yuta Ohmine in the first inning. Sledge hit a 3-run homer to put the team up 3-0, and in the second inning, Makoto Kaneko hit a 2-run homer to go up 5-0. Ohmine came out of the game with the bases loaded after that, and Hiroki Ueno (!!!!!) took over on the mound for him. Ueno allowed all of Ohmine's runners to score, but none of his own scored, so it was 8-0 by the end of the 2nd inning.

The Marines got a run off of Fighters starter Tomoya Yagi in the 3rd inning; it was actually scored during a bases-loaded double play. But that was all they would score for the day, and Yagi eventually pitched a perfect game.

Shingo Ono threw 5 innings for the Marines, and Makoto Kaneko hit a 3-run homer off him, his second of the day, as the Fighters won the game 11-1.

Kaneko and Yagi were the game heroes.

Also, there was of course quite a bit of a post-game party on both sides of the field. Before the hero interviews, everyone yelled "BOBBY!!", and Bobby came out to bow to the Marines fans in the right-field stands... and then the Fighters fans also yelled to him so he walked towards us and also tipped his hat to the Fighters outfield. Nashida came out and they shook hands as well.

After the hero interviews (during which Kaneko even said, "You know, Sledge hit the go-ahead homer in the first inning, why am I out here instead of him?") we got to do the ouenka exchange again, just like in Chiba!

This time, I think the Fighters ouendan was a lot better prepared. Unfortunately, there was a stupid loudspeaker guy talking for half of it so the sound quality isn't really that great, but you can still see the wackiness of Fighters fans singing Marines songs, of course.

After the first round of "Let's go Marines" and "Ganbare Fighters", we started yelling "BOBBY! BOBBY!" They responded with a cheer of "NASHIDA! NASHIDA!" So we... started doing Fukuura's cheer song. From their side of the stands, we heard the strains of the Tsuboi fanfare ("PL.. Aogaku...") and the Tsuboi cheer song. So we responded in kind with Iwao Ohmura's call ("Old McDonald" but with a chorus of "I-WA-I-WA-OOHHHH"). They replied with the Inaba Jump.

So we were doing the Tsuyoshi Nishioka cheer song, and the responding tune from the right-field stands was the Yukio Tanaka cheer song. We came back with a "Let's go Marines", waited for a bit, and then they started playing our Fighters "sanka". And the space on my camera ran out, which is why it doesn't go that far into it. Oops.

Seriously, the Marines seem to be the only other team that we were doing that with this year. I was at the "last game" for the Hawks, Eagles, and Lions, and none of them did anything at all like this. Whether it's just because our fanbases are closer, or our ouendans are cooler, who knows, but either way, it was a lot of fun both times.

After the game I went to Hillman's Hangout with a few other fans. We ate nachos and drank beer and, well, hung out.

Onwards to Sunday...

I showed up at the Dome at around 11am, and spent a bit of time shopping for souvenirs and whatnot. Lined up with my friends a little before noon. We managed to be fairly far back in line, but we were right outside the indoor line waiting area, so when BB came by, one of my friends insisted on taking a photo of me with BB (I protested, saying I had several photos with him already, but I guess they didn't believe me.)

Then I went into the Dome and spent an hour or two doing the normal pre-game stuff like saying hello to people and trading pins and whatever. (This was the day I was given two huge bags of pins, and also the day I managed to do most of my better trades.)

I remembered that Inaba bento boxes actually sell out, so I also bought one early. It seems to have changed a bit from last year, but was still pretty good (especially the wide noodles, which were delicious).

A little bit before the game, we were, uh, "treated" to a pregame concert by Miho Fukuhara, the girl who sings "La La La Fighters". The song has really not grown on me at all this year, and I hope they go back to the Hayami Kentaro stuff next year, seriously.

Kensuke Tanaka went and gave her flowers afterwards. How cute.

Anyway, the Sunday game featured Kenji Ohtonari starting for the Hawks, and Masaru Takeda for the Fighters. While the Hawks scored the first run in the 3rd inning, the Fighters came back with a 4-run 4th inning, most of which were unearned. Sledge grounded to the mound with 2 outs and Kokubo dropped the ball at first so Sledge was safe on the error. Koyano singled, Nioka walked, and so the bases were loaded -- and Tsuruoka also walked, scoring Sledge for the tying 1-1 run. Kaneko hit a single to center which scored Koyano, 2-1, and then Kensuke Tanaka hit a single which scored Nioka and Tsuruoka, making it 4-1. Akio Mizuta came in to pitch and got a groundout to end it.

The Hawks would put one more run on in the 7th inning as Munenori Kawasaki (batting 9th?!) singled and then Matsuda hit a ball to left which went off Koyano's glove and ended up being a double, moving Kawasaki to third. Kawasaki scored on a squeeze bunt by Honda.

And that was it. The Fighters won the game 4-2, and Masaru Takeda was the game hero.

I ended up riding a bus to the airport with two other Kanto fans after that, since we were all flying back to Tokyo that evening.

In the airport, we got Jingisukan, or "Genghis Khan", another kind of Japanese food where you prepare raw meat at your table, but this is on a dome-shaped metal griddle instead of a normal grill or griddle. It's very popular in Hokkaido, enough so that the Hokkaido-only Fighters chance music is to the tune of that "Dschingis Khan" song, even.

It was really good, anyway, and a pretty sweet way to end the weekend.

Well, aside from us spending most of dinner lamenting that we came all the way to Hokkaido and didn't get to see them clinch 1st place, and whining about how hard it is to get tickets to the postseason. :)

But other than that...

No, it was a great weekend all around. I love Sapporo.

No comments: