Friday, April 29, 2011

Kokoyakyu: Welcome to Koshien, Meet Nichidai San (Part 2)

Part 2 in a series. See Part 1.

Due to time constraints, I only managed to get through the first 4 batters in the lineup for today's photopost. Sorry.

I started to write an introduction to this post but then found that captain Sho Azegami had clearly written it for me already. This is from page 35 of the spring 2011 Kagayake Koshien no Hoshi magazine, the "Captain's Team Check":

戦力的には、去年のチームと比べ、長打力では少し劣ります。 でも、去年になかったタイプの谷口が、足を絡めたプレーをしてくれたり、今年は9人全員で一点を取りにいく野球ができます。 1番の高山が出塁して、谷口が送って自分と横尾がかえす。
そのパターンが秋はうまく機能しての優勝でした。 でも、もう少し走塁を絡められたら、ラクな展開で勝てました。 冬は、走塁練習にも力を入れています。 エースの吉永も成長し、自分が抑えるという気迫であふれています。 昨年、なしえなかった優勝に向け、全員1つになって戦います!

(And my translation:)
"If I compare this year's batting to last year's, our power numbers may be a little smaller. But, last year's team also didn't have a speedster type guy like Taniguchi, who has caused our team to play more of a running game. This year our play style is more like, any guy of the 9 in our lineup can score a run at any time. Leadoff man Takayama gets on base, Taniguchi moves him up and then either I or Yokoo bring him in. That was the pattern we used to earn our championship in the fall. But, making our baserunning a bit better, that also helps us win in general. This winter, we put a lot of effort into baserunning practice. And our ace Yoshinaga has also gotten better, his mound presence is amazing. (lit: his self-control and determination is overflowing) So, coming back to the Senbatsu crown we couldn't quite win last spring, this year our team fights together as one to win it!"

He's not kidding about the "winning formula". The top of this lineup is certainly one of the best in Japanese high school baseball, currently.

Leadoff man Shun Takayama
(draftrepo HS meikan)

Takayama lists his favorite baseball player as being the Fighters' Atsunori Inaba, and it's not surprising -- Takayama himself is a very similar player, a guy who can hit for a combination of power and speed from the left side, and has a decent arm and glove in the outfield as well. He became the leadoff man and regular right fielder for Sanko as a sophomore, already standing almost 6 feet tall.

Takayama was my introduction to this Sanko team, as a matter of fact -- I showed up at the Jingu Taikai slightly late, the first time I was seeing them play in person. I found a seat as Takayama was coming to the plate for the second time of the day, and no sooner had I sat down than he was launching a 2-run homer into the right-field bleachers. At least it was an easy at-bat to write in my scorecard.

Koshien no Hoshi mentions that he's the #1 モテる man on the team, meaning popular/well-liked: "Takayama has a lot of fans -- he sure fills out a baseball uniform well!"

Number 2, Speedster Yuta Taniguchi

Everyone agrees that Taniguchi is not only the fastest runner on the Sanko team, but he very well might be one of the fastest high school baserunners out there in the current field. He's not a particularly flashy player, and hasn't been written up in the draft notes like most of the other regulars on the team have (although check out this draft repo page -- look at stolen bases). But clearly he's been a contributor to the team both in his fielding and his hitting, and apparently he and captain Azegami have worked out together for their entire time at Sanko ("Azegami called out to me when we first joined the team as freshmen, 'Wanna practice together?' Now, two years later, we just always practice together. It's our habit. If team practice was cancelled, we'd probably still go out and run together or something.")

An interesting side story about Taniguchi is that he has one sister 4 years older than him, and she went to Koshien before him with her high school as a team scorekeeper/assistant).

The Heart of the Team: Captain Sho Azegami
(HS meikan draft repo)

I started talking about Azegami, a rare non-catcher captain, in my last post a little. Basically, when I was sitting behind Sanko's dugout at Koshien, from the minute he emerged from the dugout before the game, I immediately saw him and was like "Ah! That's Azegami, the captain." He somehow manages to carry this air of authority; a somewhat serious, almost professional attitude, but at the same time he's shouting at his teammates with a smile on his face like "Come on guys, it's time to PRACTICE! Up and at 'em! RUN RUN RUN! We can't win today if we don't get in a good pregame!" You could see the other guys kinda laugh like "Yessir!" and fall into line around him.

One scout's report calls him "自主練習の量も自他ともに認めるナンバーワン", or "the team's number one guy when it comes to personal training", basically. In other words, the dude works his butt off and inspires others to do the same. Which makes it no wonder he's in sync with Ogura-kantoku and the team slogan of "practice makes perfect".

Azegami tied a Senbatsu record with 6 hits in one game against Kakogawa Kita, and was overall 11-for-16 for a .688/.722/1.000 line for the tourney. So far in the Spring Tourney he's already 6-for-13 with 2 homeruns as well.

What else can I possibly say? He lists math as his weak subject. Guess that means he's not overly concerned with figuring out his exact batting average, though I'm guessing he can certainly count to 6.

The Okawari Wannabe: Cleanup Man Toshitake Yokoo
(HS meikan draft repo)

If you look up the word "akogare" (憧れ) in a Japanese-English dictionary, the definition it'll probably give you is "yearning", which will sound a little bit weird. The word, when applied to a person, usually actually means "I want to be like them" or "I look up to them".

The first time I heard of Yokoo was from one of my JHS students, who basically used that exact phrase to describe him: 三高の4番横尾はすごい!憧れます! Even after said JHS student enrolled at a rival baseball high school, when we chatted a bit about Senbatsu and Sanko, he was still like "You saw Sanko? Cool! Did you see Yokoo play? He's the man. I wanna be like him. I'm gonna be a cleanup batter and hit a bazillion homeruns someday just like Yokoo too."

A guy who inspires that in his peers is a little frightening.

Yokoo started playing baseball at a very young age; both his older brother and his father also played. Apparently even as an elementary school student, his father put a lot of pressure on him; supposedly they'd be riding back in the car from his little league practice and his dad would recap the day and berate him for mistakes he made in the game and then make the brothers do more baseball practice at home afterwards as well. Weekday evenings, when his father got home from work, they might also go to a batting cage and practice together as well.

As a result, when Sanko manager Ogura tagged Yokoo as a sophomore and basically said, "You're our cleanup batter. If you don't hit, we don't win. Got that?", Yokoo was already used to such pressure and responded in kind by hitting.

Yokoo's hero is apparently Takeya Nakamura of the Seibu Lions, otherwise known as "Okawari-kun", the man who eats way too much and hits way too many homeruns. As a result, I think Yokoo is already starting to get kinda big, and maybe he'd be better off not continuing that path. Though, in the games I saw him play, he moved just fine over at third base. I wouldn't say he's an astoundingly good fielder (and he got a lot of heat for making a big error at last year's Senbatsu that allowed Konan to win the game) but he's not terrible.

The only thing is, his hitting was kind of on the downturn at this year's Senbatsu. Last year he mashed for a .458/.480/.708 line, and this year was .200/.333/.200 instead. I think I saw 2 of the 3 hits he managed to get. He walked a few times too, but still, the real batter at Senbatsu was Azegami. I read that Yokoo got a slightly heavier bat over the winter to improve his power swing; maybe he's still adjusting to that. In the Tokyo spring tourney he's managed a 5-for-13 average with a homer, although that's against weaker pitching than he faced at Senbatsu.

Amusingly, as a 2nd-year Yokoo wrote his future dream as "major leaguer", but as a 3rd-year, he wrote just "pro ballplayer". Coming down to earth, maybe? He also lists English as his strong subject and math as his weak subject.

(This is proving more difficult to write than I thought it would be, because I keep getting sidetracked reading through Koshien magazines and websites. So, Part 3 will be coming in a day or two. Hopefully by then I can tell you all how Sanko won the Spring taikai...)

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Kokoyakyu: Nichidai San (Part 1) - Practice Makes Perfect

First part in a series, I hope. I've wanted to make a monster Nichidai San post since a month ago when I sat behind their dugout at Senbatsu (or since the Jingu Taikai last fall), but didn't really have time.

Your first question might be, "...what the heck is a Nichidai San? Why do you call it Sanko half the time?"

The full name of the school is 日本大学第三高等学校, or Nihon University Number Three High School, usually shortened to either 日大三 ("Nichidai San") or 三高 ("Sanko", and their school seal is a stylized version of that latter abbreviation, which is also what's on the baseball uniform). The 2-character abbreviation 日大 "Nichidai" is short for 日本大学 "Nihon Daigaku". Many universities in Japan have one or more affiliated high schools, which either end up numbered or named after the type of school or the location the campus is in. For example, "Nodai Niko" (numbered), "Waseda Jitsugyo" (type), "Tokaidai Sagami" (location).

Nihon University is the largest university in Japan (something like 70,000 undergraduates spread among all of their campuses), which kind of makes sense, given that it's kind of "the University of Japan". Though the university's baseball team has produced several solid pro players in recent years (Shuichi Murata, Shohei Tateyama, Mitsuru Manaka, Eiji Ochiai, Hirotoshi Kitagawa, Takumi Nasuno, Naoyuki Shimizu... and that idiot Hisayoshi Chono), in general they actually haven't been THAT great in about... 50 years. Heck, in my 4 years of watching college ball in Japan, Nichidai was only in the top division of the Tohto League for 2 semesters, and promptly fell back out of it.

But bizarrely, the Nichidai high schools are pretty much almost always in Koshien -- you'll rarely see a tournament that does not involve at least one high school with 日大 attached to it, kids wearing uniforms with "NIHON" across their chests. And I've been told that how closely attached they are to the university itself also depends on whether the Nichidai comes first or last in the school's name -- that is, the ones that are Nichidai 1, 2, 3 are the highest, then the ones like Nichidai Tsurugaoka, Nichidai Fujisawa, etc, and then after that, Ogaki Nichidai, Sano Nichidai, Nagasaki Nichidai, etc. What this really means is how much more of a chance a student has of getting into Nichidai itself based on attending a Nichidai high school, really. (Unlike how supposedly with Keio high school, if you manage to graduate, you'll just get into the university automatically.)

Sanko in particular has been a Tokyo high school baseball powerhouse in recent years -- they've consistently managed to end up Best 8 or higher in most regional tournaments for the last decade or so; if they're not representing West Tokyo at Koshien, they're making it awfully hard for someone else to get there. When they do go to Koshien, they're a force to be reckoned with. It was almost unfair in 2010 when the first two teams they faced were 21st Century teams -- schools invited for reasons other than stomping all of their opponents. "Welcome to Koshien. Meet Nichidai San. It won't hurt for more than 9 innings, we promise."

Since 1997, the Sanko team has been under the leadership of this man:

Masayoshi Ogura, born in 1957, went to Nichidai San HS, was an infielder in the baseball club but never made it as a regular. He continued on to Nihon University, but didn't even join the baseball club there, instead working towards becoming a teacher so he could coach high school baseball. After graduating, he became the manager for Kanto Daiichi HS, and took them to several Koshien and Senbatsu tournaments in the mid-80's. Eventually, in 1997, he became manager at Nichidai San, which was his life's goal, and he's been there since. In that time they've been to Koshien 10 times and compiled a 19-10 W/L record, winning it all in summer 2001 (behind Kazuki Kondoh, who now pitches for Orix).

One of Ogura's slogans as a baseball coach is 練習はうそをつかない, meaning loosely "Practice makes perfect". Other things he teaches as a coach and social studies teacher are for self-restraint and to have a caring heart; that is, to put others before yourself (you can go see his lectures on the subject if you want to, in mid-June). One of his comments about this 2011 team is that they were just an unusually solid unit as a team, working together very well, and not only that, they'd built a solid 1-9 lineup where all of the batters were strong, behind a real ace in Yoshinaga. Which is definitely what I saw last fall and what drew me to this team in particular. No weak links. A well-oiled machine. Welcome to Koshien, meet Nichidai San.

Every year in the Koshien magazines, they ask the players various questions, like their favorite food, favorite baseball player, future dream, etc. Most of the answers are predictable; a lot of "pro baseball player" for future dream, some AKB48 member as favorite celebrity, etc. But two of those categories are always also "person I most respect" and "favorite word or phrase". You can actually kind of guess how united a team is and how much they follow their manager by how they answer these questions. The 2010 Nichidai San team had 10 out of 18 players put Ogura as the person they most respected, and 4 put "練習はうそをつかない" as their "favorite phrase". With 2011's team, FIFTEEN of them have Ogura as their "person I most respect". And 10/18 have "練習はうそをつかない" as their favorite phrase.

In recent years, Sanko's team captains have mostly been catchers. In 2006 it was Shuhei Ikenaga (incidentally my favorite Meiji University player, a super-likeable bespectacled catcher), in 2007 it was catcher Yohei Kurosaki, now at Meisei University. In 2008 they took a break and had an outfielder, Kenta Nakashima (now at Nihon Taiiku University). That didn't work so well, so back to a catcher captain in 2009 with Yuta Yoshida (now at Rissho Univ). 2010's team had catcher Kazuki Ohtsuka as their captain (who just entered Nihon University).

Oddly, despite that catcher Takahiro Suzuki seems like total captain material, the captain is centerfielder Sho Azegami. Who is even MORE captain-like:

(Suzuki and Yokoo are the co-captains, actually. Suzuki describes Azegami as being "a natural leader type with a booming voice in the dugout that you can't help but follow." and Yokoo adds, "The three of us work together to make sure the team runs smoothly. So far we haven't had any disagreements.")

It doesn't hurt that Azegami is one hell of a hitter, in addition to being one hell of a leader. He hit well as a sophomore, continued it with a 5-for-11 run in the Jingu Taikai, tied a Senbatsu record when he went 6-for-6 in one of the games this spring, and has continued his assault in the Tokyo Spring Tournament now.

Speaking of which, the final game of the Tokyo Spring Tournament (tourney brackets) is on Sunday -- May 1st -- at Komazawa Stadium.

And said final game pits Nichidai San against Kosei Gakuen HS... whose campus is right by the Salvation Army headquarters out in Suginami. (I only know that because I was out there donating stuff from my house before I left Japan, bizarrely.)

However, as far as I can tell, Kosei hasn't won a game against Sanko for at least the last 4 years. I hope I'm not jinxing anything by pointing that out.

Hopefully I'll get the second half of this post up tomorrow as a Friday Foto, before the final game starts.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Tokyo Big 6 University League Spring 2011 Baseball Card Set

I guess I'm kinda sniping NPB Card Guy here, but I got this set 2 weeks ago, right before Opening Day.

I have to admit that I'm overjoyed this set exists at all, as people were really iffy on whether Tokyo Big 6 merchandise would exist at all after Yuki Saitoh graduated, and several players even told me last winter that they were fairly sure there wouldn't be anything this year. Bizarrely, however, that is not the case at all, and you can get a whole variety of goods at Jingu and from Mizuno's shop. (It's even spaced out around Jingu almost like a treasure hunt -- one stall sells towels, another sells t-shirts, another sells cellphone straps... and there's no overlap, so you have to look around.) The only thing that seems to have actually been discontinued is Nikkan Sports's college version of the "ai" magazine series, College Base Heroes. Which is a SHAME, because it was AWESOME.

Anyway, this is the first Tokyo Big 6 set in three years to not have Yuki Saitoh in it at all. Hooray? (Thanks to my sniped card friend for the correction.)

What they seem to be making a big deal of in this set is "Get Nomura and Itoh's cards before they get drafted... and by the way we've put in insert cards of a whole bunch of NPB stars when they were in Tokyo Big 6!" Even BBM's official page only seems to show the alumni insert cards.

As before, I'd still be happier if they did 9 players per team instead of 5 per team and insert cards, but I guess that's what they think sells. (I kind of felt in the past that they did this because they don't want to waste 9 cards on Todai's team, though they could have easily added Katori, Utsumi, and maybe Hiraizumi and Yamakoshi to this set to make 9, and then other teams would get some more players that really deserve cards, like Hosei and Meiji's captains Nanba and Takeda, for a start, as well as guys like Meiji's Shimauchi and Uemoto, Rikkio's Naga and other Hayato Saitoh, and much as I hate to admit it, Waseda's Matsumoto.)

Card list (the number is the card number in the set, plus school year and position, and * denotes team captain)

1. Kensuke Ohno (4, P)
2. Daisuke Ichimaru (4, C)
3. Yuya Watanabe (4, IF)
4. Shota Sugiyama (3, IF)
5. *Shohei Habu (4, OF)
6. Waseda Team

7. Daisuke Takeuchi (3, P)
8. Koji Fukutani (3, P)
9. *Hayata Itoh (4, OF)
10. Ren Yamasaki (3, IF)
11. Ryuta Iba (4, C)
12. Keio Team

13. Tomoya Mikami (4, P)
14. Kazuki Mishima (3, P)
15. Yusuke Hasegawa (4, IF)
16. Hiroshi Taki (3, IF)
17. Kanji Kawai (2, IF)
18. Hosei Team

19. Yusuke Nomura (4, P)
20. Kenji Kawabe (4, C)
21. Toshiki Abe (4, IF)
22. Yosuke Kobayashi (4, IF)
23. Masataka Nakamura (4, OF)
24. Meiji Team

25. Hayato Saitoh (4, P)
26. Kenya Okabe (3, P)
27. Masato Komuro (3, P)
28. *Keisuke Okazaki (4, IF)
29. Koichiro Matsumoto (3, IF)
30. Rikkio Team

31. Shota Suzuki (2, P)
32. Atsushi Tanaka (4, C)
33. *Shuhei Iwasaki (4, IF)
34. Yohei Tachi (3, IF)
35. Hisanari Takayama (4, OF)
36. Todai Team

Insert Cards:
(It seems that you get them paired by university. I got 2 Waseda cards. Dave got 2 Keio cards. Another friend of mine got the 2 Rikkio cards.)

"Heroes" (current student cards)
SP01: Shohei Habu (W)
SP02: Hayata Itoh (K)
SP03: Kazuki Mishima (H)
SP04: Yusuke Nomura (M)
SP05: Keisuke Okazaki (R)
SP06: Shuhei Iwasaki (T)

"Legends" (NPB alumni cards, so I'll list where they're from and where they are)
SP07: Tsuyoshi Wada (W) (Hawks)
SP08: Yoshinobu Takahashi (K) (Giants)
SP09: Atsunori Inaba (H) (Fighters)
SP10: Kenshin Kawakami (M) (MLB Braves AA)
SP11: Daisuke Hayakawa (R) (Baystars)
SP12: Takahiro Matsuka (T) (Fighters)

And here's a few photos of my set:

Front of the box. The pictures are a very weird combination of alumni and current players; 3 cards on the left are alumni but 3 on the right are current, and the 6 guys pictured are Wada, Yoshinobu, Inaba, Nomura, Okazaki, and Iwasaki.

Inside the box -- this is from the November 3rd playoff game, where Waseda and Keio were tied for the final record after Keio won Soukeisen and forced a playoff game for the first time in 50 years.

These are the insert cards in my box, the Waseda set of Wada and Habu.

I picked out my favorite card from each team: Rikkio's Saitoh, Keio's Fukutani, Waseda's Ichimaru, Hosei's Kawai, Meiji's Kawabe, and Todai's Iwasaki.

There are others I like -- actually I like all of the Keio cards and the Rikkio ones aren't bad either. They did a pretty good job with the photography in this set, IMO.

I hope it sells well enough that they still make an autumn set and continue to make these in general. It's funny, I stopped collecting NPB cards in general after the 2008 season except for an occasional box set here and there and of course the Fighters team sets, but I've always gotten the Big 6 cards because they're special to me, almost like having a beloved favorite set of minor-leaguer cards, really.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Two Weeks In

Well, who on earth would have expected this kind of start...

Central League
1 Yakult 11 6 3 2 - 10
2 Hiroshima 12 6 4 2 .5 4
3 Yomiuri 8 4 3 1 .5 6
4 Hanshin 11 5 5 1 .5 4
5 Yokohama 11 4 6 1 1 15
6 Chunichi 9 2 6 1 1 5

Pacific League
1 Softbank 11 7 3 1 - 9
2 Nippon Ham 11 7 4 0 .5 11
3 Rakuten 12 6 6 0 1.5 7
4 Lotte 11 5 6 0 .5 6
5 Seibu 11 4 7 0 1 11
6 Orix 12 4 7 1 0 6

Crazier still: the top batter in the CL right now is Yakult's elder statesman Shinya Miyamoto with a .436 average, and the PL's top batter is Seibu rookie (he played a few games at ichi-gun last year but) Hideto Asamura with a .450. WTF? Asamura was a year behind Sho Nakata at Osaka Toin; maybe he can get in some good trash-talking.

The home run numbers are a little easier to figure out: Sledge had that 3-HR game and has 6 total on the season now, and Brett Harper has 3, so that's where most of Yokohama's gaudy total comes from. Hatakeyama (5) and Balentien (3) make up most of Yakult's. Similarly over in Pacific-Land, Okawari-kun is leading the HR total with 6, accounting for half of Seibu's, and the Fighters have gotten 4, 3, and 2 out of Hoffpauir, Itoi, and Koyano respectively.

I'm guessing that Yakult's doing well because I moved away! I guess we'll see how things continue. I've watched a few of their games over the internet because they're at a decent time for here in Seattle (day games in Japan start at 9pm for me here) and there's a guy on who's a big Swallows fan and broadcasts them all. So I saw Shohei Tateyama pitch a gem against the Dragons the other day, and then last night saw Tatsuyoshi Masubuchi face off against the Carp and Yuya Fukui. (Fukui, now that he's no longer at Waseda, is someone I'd like to see succeed, especially since he turned down the Giants in the draft back in 2005 and then got his first pro victory against them last week.) So Fukui came out of the game with the Carp down 0-2 to Yakult, and then Masubuchi ran into a roadblock and suddenly loaded the bases and then BAM, next thing you knew Tracy and Kurihara had hit the Carp up to 3-2, and Fukui would get the win if they won, except then Yakult's Hatakeyama decided to hit a 2-run homer and make it 4-3, with the Swallows eventually winning 8-3.

I've joked for ages that Hatakeyama sucks whenever I'm at the stadium watching him and is awesome otherwise, so he'll probably have a monster year, it seems. On the other hand, Yasushi Iihara got taken off the active roster a few days ago and is now playing in ni-gun alongside Miyade, making me really wish it was still just a bike ride away to their minor-league facilities.

As an aside, the guy who pinch-hit for Fukui was none other than my former favorite Baystar Takuro Ishii, who apparently played a full game the night before and went 3-for-3 with a walk and a sac bunt. He walked in this game too and is thus still 1.000 for the season with an OBP of 1.000 as well. Takuro turns 41 this summer and it's nice to see him still have some success down there in Hiroshima.

I couldn't sleep the other night and caught a Fighters game against the Eagles at the Stadium Formerly Known As Skymark. Though even from the start of the game I was like "Yagi doesn't look so good out there", and he even gave up an oshidashi run by hitting Toshiya Nakashima with a pitch. Leave it to former golden rookie Sho Nakata to tie the game up, though, before they eventually lost on a sayonara home run by Randy Ruiz.

Just as I feared, Yuki Saitoh won his first two starts for the Fighters, so his "Golden Rookie" status is only escalating more and more by the day. Would you believe that when I went looking for baseball cards before I left Tokyo, they were already selling his Rookie Edition card for 1000 yen? This is the first time in years that I didn't buy the Fighters RE set.

I suspect it'll take a few years and hopefully some hype dying down before I can accept him. (I made the mistake of re-watching the Waseda Jitsugyo vs. Nichidai San high school West Tokyo finals from 2006 the other night, a nailbiter that Saitoh won in 11 innings; I wonder how different things might be had Sanko won that game and gone to Koshien instead?)

On another note, I am happy that Ryota Imanari is sticking with the top team -- I was hoping that the team would get to a point where him and Shota Ohno were the team's regular catchers, but so far Ohno's doing the majority of the work behind the plate. We'll see, I guess. Tsuruoka's going to be out for a while, so the other two really have a shot to prove themselves.

I've been following Tokyo Big 6 but haven't gotten a chance to actually watch the back games yet, so haven't written much. The most interesting thing so far, IMO, is Keio's decision to convert Koji Fukutani into a closer role, sort of along the lines of what Waseda did with Tatsuya Ohishi. I think it's a great idea since Fukutani is actually a very Ohishi-like player, and this way he can get even more gaudy strikeout ratios and still wow people with his ability to hit 96 mph on the radar gun. Hopefully both him and Daisuke will make it to the Japan-USA college tourney this summer!

(Well, also interesting was the Battle of the Koryo Aces yesterday, as Koryo 2007, Meiji's Yusuke Nomura, took the mound and won against Koryo 2010, Waseda's Kohei Arihara. I suppose you could say that the Keio-Hosei game was between two former Chukyodai Chukyo teammates who are both captains of their respective college teams now, Keio's Hayata Itoh and Hosei's Masashi Nanba. Nanba was team captain when they were both in high school, but Itoh has unquestionably had the much more successful college career...)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Photopost About An MLB Game For a Change -- Mariners vs. Tigers, Matinee Madness

In a measure of solidarity to my friends in Tokyo who can only go to afternoon games, I also went to an afternoon game today at Safeco Field.

(Just kidding. Actually, I went to it because it happened to be convenient. But, for the record, as I write this post, I'm watching the Swallows-Dragons game over the internet, which is happening in the afternoon in Tokyo, and a bunch of my friends are there, and I can't tell you how wholly homesick I am for Jingu.)

Anyway, I got there about an hour and a half early, which gave me a lot of time to just look around. I'm amazed by "The Pen", the new bullpen area, mostly in that they have such wacky food now (a creperie? REALLY?) and they've taken down the screen between players and fans at the bullpen itself, so you're just that much closer to the guys warming up or hanging out in there. I was surprised that despite the "no autographs" sign, several fans got autographs from Aardsma and Pineda out there, and probably others. I do have to wonder whether anyone considers it dangerous not to have a barrier between fans and players -- I suppose they're operating on the Reasonable Person Principle, and if anyone DOES try to throw something at an opposing pitcher or something, there'll be a huge smackdown? Who knows.

I'm also amazed by how they've still managed to raise the prices of food even more around Safeco. It's like... $15 as a "combo" for a hotdog, popcorn, and soda? Really? I think that'd still only run you like $8 in Japan without a "discount".

So in the pre-game time, I watched the Tigers take BP, I watched Pineda throw in the bullpen, I got my ticket signed by Phil Coke and Brandon Inge (he's so delightfully dorky!), and then I watched Rick Porcello and Erik Bedard do their pre-game bullpens as well.

One surprising thing that happened was another fan stopped me in the bullpen like "Hey, were you allowed to bring in your dSLR? I was under the impression we can't anymore -- they say any camera with switchable lenses..." and I'm like "I have no clue. I haven't really been around here much in the last few years; the policy used to just be 'don't piss off the fans around you with your big clicky camera, or stick your big lens in their faces'..." So we talked for a bit and it sounds like basically, it's possible I wasn't supposed to have it, but since I didn't piss anyone off and this was a low-attendance afternoon game (there were apparently 13,339 people there), I guess I got away with it. I didn't really take many photos during the game, anyway, just beforehand, for the most part. Though the idea of not being able to bring my big camera makes me pretty sad.

Also, this entire bullpen thing makes me wonder: does anyone know where Brandon Buckley is now? The old A's bullpen catcher from a few years ago? He was a riot.

We got to see Carlos Peguero's first MLB at-bat in this game. Unfortunately, as I realized later, the reason why is because he was called up to replace Justin Smoak, who is on bereavement leave since his father just died of lung cancer yesterday. There was a moment of silence before the game today for him. I know from personal experience that having your dad die of lung cancer really truly sucks, and so my heart goes out to Justin and his family. It's not an easy thing to deal with by any means, even when you're prepared for it.

This game was pretty boring overall, to be honest, though. I think that part of it is just that I don't know what to do during MLB games anymore, since there's no organized cheering, so I just keep score and watch. Erik Bedard started for the Mariners and kind of sucked (LOTS of walks, plus giving up a homerun in the 2nd AB of the game). Rick Porcello started for Detroit and did not suck. I was already intrigued by Porcello as being a young up-and-coming star type of player (the Tigers seem to always have a few of those around), and so he didn't disappoint, at least.

Ryan Raburn hit a homer off Bedard as mentioned, to make it 1-0, and in the 3rd inning Austin Jackson walked and was batted in by Miguel Cabrera to make it 2-0. The Mariners halved that lead in the bottom of the 3rd when Jack Wilson singled and moved up on a groundout, and then Ichiro singled to right to bring Wilson in (and made it to 3rd base himself on a throwing error from right field), 2-1. Raburn walked in the 5th and came in on a Brennan Boesch single, 3-1.

Actually, the odd thing about the 5th inning was that it was the Chone Figgins Blooper Reel. I'm still not sure how he didn't get charged with any errors given that he did things like drop grounders, not throw the ball, etc. As if the shoddy fielding wasn't enough, the booing around me definitely hammered in that I wasn't in Japan anymore.

David Pauley pitched a fine final 4 innings after Bedard, though, aside from a few wild pitches.

Jose Valverde came in to close out the game in the bottom of the 9th and the most improbable thing ever happened: Adam Kennedy (!) hit a home run off of him, a neat little 354-foot shot into right field. 3-2. But that's pretty much all the Mariners got -- well, Michael Saunders hit a double, but everyone else that faced Valverde, including a pinch-hitting Milton Bradley (!?) struck out.

I still don't quite get how people think this is more exciting than Japanese baseball, but that's neither here nor there. You know what else was ridiculous? I saw a little boy get a baseball from a ball girl, which he came back up and showed off to his family like he was the hottest thing on earth for getting it. And then the ball girls changed in the 5th inning, and would you believe it, that same little boy went up there and got a SECOND ball from the other ball girl, edging out a bunch of other little kids who wanted them. How selfish is that? I realize that all's fair in love and ballhawking, but seriously, WTF? Half of me wonders if the kid decided to do it or if his parents told him to.

I stopped in at the team store after the game and bought an Ichiro birthday card that I'm going to send to my Hosei birthday doppleganger Kazuki Mishima, and tell him he better come play at the Japan-USA collegiate tourney this summer because I miss him and everyone else so much.

Anyway, photos...

Michael Pineda

David Aardsma, who I thought was supposed to be in Tacoma. Apparently not...

Erik Bedard

Rick Porcello

Thanks to commenters for pointing out that this is Tom Wilhelmsen. I'd actually read about him a little but just didn't know the face yet... I don't know the Mariners bullpen very well anymore now that they don't have cool former Fighters players.

More bullpen guys.

Brandon Inge signing for people.

My ticket. Whee.

Seriously, these prices! I was amazed when I asked a vendor walking by how much it was for a soft pretzel and he told me $4.75. Really? Shishkaberries are apparently up to $7 or $8 now, too? I'd give anything for a 1000-yen bento at this point.

Raburn's Tale of the Tape.

Peguero's "First MLB at-bat!"

Kennedy's Tale of the Tape.

Ichiro at 3rd base.

Jose Valverde.

Final score.

Well, the Swallows beat the Dragons 2-0 as Shohei Tateyama pitched a complete-game win because HE IS THE MAN! Apparently the Tsubamegun guys were up at the top of section D, but I didn't see them on TV. It's nice that I can watch some NPB games during the evening here, since they're going on during the daytime there. I'm annoyed, however, that the Pacific League TV thingy still won't let me pay them money so that I can watch games over their service.

I've also been following my normal college ball and high school ball circuits and keep meaning to write some posts about those; maybe I'll get to those soon. I had a whopping Nichidai San post in the works and the Spring Taikai finals are this coming weekend too.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Signing off from Japan

Hopefully I'll be back in the US without any problems, in about 17 hours, but I have to admit to being kind of nervous about this trip due to the recent earthquakes and all.

EDIT> Made it here okay. Heading to Pittsburgh on Thursday. Good times. Anyone got any good software-related job leads for me in Seattle? I'm a rusty programmer and decent tech writer. :)

Friday, April 08, 2011

Friday Foto: Takahiro Fujioka

I'm the happiest girl in the world. I've now managed to get photos with 3 out of the 5 college seniors on the front cover of this semester's Shube college baseball magazine. (The other two being Sugano and Itoh. I doubt I'll ever meet Nakaushiro, and Nomura hates me.)

No, seriously, so Takahiro Fujioka is a tall lefty senior at Toyo University this year. And I've been a pretty big fan of his for a few years. I still remember the first time I saw him pitch, he was a sophomore, I was hoping to see junior lefty Masahiro Inui, I got Fujioka instead, and was like "...this guy is ninety times BETTER than Inui..." He pitched Toyo to the All-Japan victory last summer, too.

And well, I went to Hosei's field again on Thursday for their preseason game against Toyo. I hoped Fujioka would start, and I was delighted when he did, though I felt slightly guilty since I was ostensibly rooting for Hosei, yet taking a bazillion pictures of the opponents' lefty starter yet again (like I did for Shimabukuro when Chuo was there).

Toyo beat Hosei 4-2. Hosei starter Kazuki Mishima, who I also like a lot, had a pretty rough start, though I'm not really sure what exactly was wrong; he didn't look that different than I remember him. There were a whole bunch of scouts there watching Fujioka though, so maybe Mishima was also nervous, who knows.

So, some photos:

Fujioka in action.

Hosei starter Kazuki Mishima.

Ryoto Yoshikoshi finished out the game for Hosei.

Takuya Uchiyama (4th year, Urawa Gakuin, #18)

Junki Fujita (3rd year, Hamada, #15)

Kosuke Suzuki (4th year, Toyodai Ushiku, #16)

Shinko Gakuen's Ryosuke Itoh.

Here's Itoh sliding into third base after walloping a ball into the left-field wall. I thought it was a home run but apparently not.

Hideharu Satoh. The last time I saw him, he was wearing #9 for Teikyo HS and was their team captain at Koshien in 2009.

Yusuke Hasegawa getting tagged out at the plate.

This is probably the best photo I got of Daichi Suzuki, the Toyo captain, the shortstop on the left.

Catcher Shotaro Oka. Formerly from Nichidai San!

Hosei captain Masashi Nanba.

Crowd of people with radar guns and whatnot.

Final score.

Final bow between both teams.

And a bonus thing that I thought was cool:

This is that nice scoreboard, from the back. Can you see a little gold plaque on it? Let me zoom in for a second...

Yes -- the money for that scoreboard was donated to the club from Kazuhito Futagami and Hisashi Takeuchi. How cool is that?

I really enjoyed my day out at the Hosei ground this time! And after the game I hung out with a friend outside the Toyo side bullpen until Fujioka came out; in the meantime we ended up chatting with a bunch of Hosei players and a few of the Toyo players as well. Good times!