Monday, November 17, 2014

Draft Photopost (of actual draftees! ha!)

You know what?  It turns out that photo posts are a lot easier to do once you already know who's been drafted!  I went and dug around my last 3-4 years of photos to see which of this year's draft class I might have (the number keeps dwindling as I no longer live in Japan and can't go as many games, of course, but)...

Anyway, here are photos I took over the last few years of some guys that were drafted last month. I meant to get this out a lot sooner, but well, between work and other things I've been swamped as usual.

Sachiya Yamasaki, Meiji University LHP/1B (Nichidai Sanko HS), 1st Round, Orix Buffaloes

I not only expected more colleges to go after Sachiya, but I also expected the Fighters to try.  His dad Akihiro was a mostly-minor-league catcher for 11 years, mostly for the Giants, but also for the Fighters for 2 years, before retiring and becoming a minor-league coach for the Fighters for 12 years; he was infact coaching for the Fighters when Sachiya was born.  Now he's the manager of the Hyogo Blue Thunders after spending the last decade or so bouncing around as a coach for various indie league teams like the Kochi Fighting Dogs and the Kobe 9 Cruise.

(Sachiya's brother Fukuyuki, for the record, is a LHP for Sega Sammy.  They both do have names starting with 福, the kanji for luck.)

But I digress.  Sachiya not only comes from a super baseball family, but his baseball pedigree is also pretty solid, as he was a pitcher/1B at Nichidai Sanko (one year ahead of my favorite team ever, but I saw him play there too) and oddly, a pitcher/1B at Meiji University as well (Big6 career stats here; there was a point where he seriously both had enough innings and a good enough ERA to be on the Top 5 pitching list for the league but also enough ABs and AVG to end up in the Top 10 batters for the league.  Meiji was kinda just letting him and Hiromi Oka do both things; but in all honesty I still think Sachiya's a better pitcher than Oka and better batter, both for being taller, throwing the ball faster, and being left-handed. But I guess I'm pretty biased.)

A story I only heard much later is that right before he entered Sanko, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor and had a 6-hour surgery.  He apparently had a very successful recovery and despite that, entered Sanko and was a regular on their roster by the fall of his freshman year, and pitched at Koshien in the summer of 2010.  The Winter 2010 issue of 輝け甲子園の星 had an interview with him and his mom and how she took care of him all through his playing career, it was very sweet.

Anyway, whatever.  I am a pretty big fan, incase that wasn't obvious.  Even though I'm often cheering against Meiji in recent years (having become more of a Rikkio-Todai supporter in addition to my usual Hosei), most of my friends know I was a big Sanko fan and a big Sachiya fan and I did get to meet him once during his sophomore year and he was kinda very incredulous like "WTF the white girl is a Sanko fan?" but I did get a photo with him and he was pretty bemused about it.

Yasuaki Yamasaki, Asia University RHP (Teikyo HS), 1st Round Baystars

Something really funny is that despite that I have been following this guy since 2009ish, I have nearly zero photos of him whatsoever.  There is a good reason for this:

The reason I was following him in the first place is that he's from Arakawa, the part of Tokyo I taught JHS English in, and he went to the junior high school next to ours (Ogu Hachiman).  One of my students, his older brother had played baseball with Yamasaki on the Nishi-Nippori Glitees, even.  Plus, Teikyo is one of the schools I've followed for a long time thanks to Hichori Morimoto (who, much like Yamasaki, is also from Arakawa and non-full-Japanese, although Hichori's family is Korean and Yamasaki's mom is Filipino).

So, summer of 2010.  I planned my schedule around Teikyo's bracket in the East Tokyo tournament.  I saw them at Edogawa on July 18th, where they beat Nichidai Tsurugaoka.  Bizarrely, Michiori Okabe pitched the first 3 innings of that game, a kid named Hagiya pitched the rest, it was called in the 8th inning on mercy rules anyway.

July 20th, Yamasaki started for Teikyo against Kokushikan, a whole bunch of scouts showed up to see him, and... he totally got pounded.  I think the eventual game score was 14-6.  It was ridiculous.

It worked out okay because instead of seeing Teikyo in the semi-finals I saw Shutoku beat Kokushikan and that was pretty awesome, but... yeah.  I never actually managed to be at a Teikyo game in person that Yamasaki was pitching at.

So then he went to Asia University, and there's two main reasons I never really saw him pitch there...

1) he didn't get a ton of time pitching when the guys in front of him were Nao Higashihama and Allen Kuri.  You may have heard of those guys.
2) Asia seriously won the Tohto League championship SEVEN SEMESTERS IN A ROW and so I actually found it pretty boring to watch them play because they were always winning.  Plus they look like a bunch of robots when they're practicing.  Like, they all stand in lines really orderly and shout and turn and all this other stuff.  It's kinda freaky.

I did go to try to see him pitch twice this year actually, and he didn't start either of the Asia games I showed up for.  Go figure.

Kohei Arihara, Waseda University RHP (Koryo HS), 1st Round, Fighters

I first saw Arihara play when he was a freshman in 2011 and he was facing off against Yusuke Nomura (Meiji University, but also Koryo HS, so people were making a big deal about it).  I still basically think he's a big ugly dude who throws a baseball pretty fast and I don't quite know why the Fighters had to go in on the sweepstakes for him but at least I have a feeling it'll work out better than Yuki Saitoh did, anyway.

Arihara in his 4th year.

Arihara in his sophomore year.

Kona Takahashi, Maebashi Ikuei HS RHP, 1st Round, Seibu Lions

The really stupid thing here is, I actually saw Kona Takahashi play in person at Koshien in 2013, and I'd even been sitting in the 2nd row and taking photos of the first two games of the day.

The third game of the day was Joso Gakuin vs. Maebashi Ikuei.  I was on the Joso side and they were the expected winners as they're a long-standing powerhouse school, but just like the rest of that tournament, expectations were NOT coming true, and their ace pulled a muscle and had to come out of the game in the 9th and the replacement literally had the game down to one or two more pitches and then BAM, a routine 4-3 play became a runner reaching on error, and then a double, and then Kona Takahashi, the sophomore ace pitcher for Maebashi Ikuei, slammed a TRIPLE that tied the game, and Ikuei won in the 10th inning. Talk about drama.

However, from my standpoint, some guys set up a gigantic tripod by the fence between the 2nd and 3rd games, and so my view became blocked not only by the gibbering old men who had been there the whole time but ALSO two dudes with a tripod, so I wasn't getting many good photos AND it was 97 degrees out AND all my ice was gone by the 3rd inning AND that Takahashi kid wasn't even pitching, so I gave up and moved to the shade of the upper part of the stands, which was a generally good call as I could tell I was having the start of heatstroke issues.

Of course, Takahashi came out to pitch in the 6th inning and I regret not being there to get better photos of him because he is AWESOME. Just this big tangle of arms and legs that somehow throws a baseball really fast. I left after Game 3 because I was quite sunburnt and exhausted already.

I watched the Koshien finals a few days later from my living room back in Tokyo and I was pretty happy for Maebashi Ikuei and even happier that I was sitting in a nice air-conditioned room.

Kona Takahashi pitching (photo taken from way up in the stands)

Takahashi standing on 3rd after his bases-clearing triple.

Shogo Nakamura, Waseda University IF (Tenri HS), 1st Round, Chiba Lotte Marines

This is going to sound dumb, but I've been watching Shogo Nakamura play baseball for four years and really don't know a damn thing about him.  When I still lived in Japan and could go to all the Big6 games I would at least know all the players from afar if not more personally, but I have to prioritize which teams I see and interact with, and you can't easily talk to Waseda players for the most part anyway, so I focus less on them.  Sorry.  So this is at least a photo I have of Nakamura at bat -- he was Waseda's captain this year even. His college record speaks pretty well on what a solid player he is.

Onto the next rounds.  Let's see...

Kenta Ishida, Hosei University LHP, 2nd Round, Yokohama DeNA Baystars

The funny thing about Ishida is that I actually got to know him a bit during his freshman and sophomore years.  I moved back to the US in 2011, which is when Ishida started at Hosei, but I was still going back to Japan for long periods of time and still knew a lot of the guys on the Hosei team so I was still always going to their games and hanging out with the team afterwards.

Ishida started pitching regularly in the fall of his freshman year, and even went 3-1 that semester, and one week I brought some photos and got him to sign one, and would you believe... the next week I ended up sitting next to his dad and siblings at a game (he looks like him, but I figured it out for sure when Arihara came out to pitch and his dad went batshit crazy talking about Koryo, so I'm like "aha!  You're Ishida's dad!  You know the Hiroshima baseball scene pretty well, right?" and he laughed and we got to talking, and sure enough they'd all come up to see Kenta pitch, and it was a big deal to see him face off against Arihara since they'd been rivals in HS too).  He complimented me on both my Japanese and my photos since it turns out he'd seen the photos I gave to Kenta the week before!  So the next time I ran into him I just gave him a bunch of photos since I figured he could bring them back for the family.

So the really funny thing is, the picture of me and Ishida here was actually taken by his dad.

The sad part is that I haven't talked to Ishida OR his dad in like 2 years at this point, beyond maybe just saying hello in passing.  It's mostly that I haven't been able to get to many Hosei games due to scheduling and weather recently on my trips.

Still, I am really amused that the Baystars now collected Kagami, Mikami, Mishima, and Ishida, all the Hosei aces of their respective years.

These are actually all photos from Fall 2012.  I can see Kanji Kawai in the background behind us in the shot together :)

Taiga Egoshi, Komazawa University OF, 3rd round, Hanshin Tigers

Funny thing about Egoshi is that I remember him showing up as a freshman and immediately playing as a regular at Komadai, and he's been there all along, but since I don't really know their team that well, I literally have nothing to say beyond that he's always looked like he had the build to go pro for as long as I remember.  Plus it's great that a guy named Taiga got taken by the Taigas, so to speak.

Masayoshi Fukuda, Chuo University OF, 3rd Round, Rakuten Eagles

Fukuda is a player that I feel extraordinarily sad I never got to meet. I've been watching him for years and when looking through photos I noticed I had a ton of him bowing to the field, smiling with teammates, things like that, the habits I pick up on subconsciously on players. I haven't met a ton of Tohto players in general though and just a handful from Chuo so it's not that weird, I guess.

Daiki Tanaka, Kokugakuin University LHP, 4th Round, Yomiuri Giants

Shun Ishikawa, JX-ENEOS IF, 4th Round, Chunichi Dragons

Ishikawa has a pretty interesting history. He was a slugger in high school and had scouts interested in him back then, but then he got hit by a pitch and had his wrist broken during his senior year. So he went to Meiji after deciding not to go pro. I saw him in a few of the Rookie tournaments and thought he looked pretty good but then he disappeared again due to injuries, he had a knee problem and basically during 4 years at Meiji only had 1 productive semester in league games, and had another problem his senior year. So, he didn't go pro then either but instead went to ENEOS, which is currently one of the most competitive corporate teams (they regularly beat up on professional minor-league teams and I actually think they could regularly beat some of the pro teams if they tried). And the scouts still like him, so here you are. He's from Shiga so it's even close to Nagoya, and we'll see how he does, I guess.

Takuma Katoh, Aoyama Gakuin University C, 5th Round, Chunichi Dragons

Yosuke Shimabukuro, Chuo University LHP, 5th Round, Softbank Hawks

If you don't know who Shimabukuro is, you haven't been following Japanese baseball for a while. He was the ace pitcher for Konan HS's high school team in 2009 and 2010, when they represented Okinawa in the spring and summer both years. Shimabukuro first made splashes in his first game in 2009 when he struck out 19 batters (19 batters!!!) and STILL LOST in the 10th inning on an (well, his) error because Konan couldn't score any runs. He also has a pitching motion that people were calling the "left-handed Tornado" like Hideo Nomo.

They lost again in the first game of the summer 2009 Koshien, and that was the last time Shimabukuro would lose a game at Koshien, as Konan went on to become the 6th team in history to sweep Spring and Summer Koshien in 2010, and the first Okinawa team in history to win summer Koshien, period.

Despite all of that, almost all of the core Konan team ended up going to college (much like the Nichidai Sanko team in 2011), and many graduated this year. Ganeko, Shimabukuro, and Agena were all college captains this year, and Ohshiro is likely to be next year.

Anyway, I went to see Shimabukuro both in the preseason in Spring 2011 and at his very first college game at Jingu. It was pretty crazy -- a ton of people clustered around the bullpen to watch him warm up, which I hadn't seen at a Tohto game in a very long time, and hadn't even really seen at Big 6 since Yuki Saitoh's freshman year. It was a big, big deal. Of course, he ended up going 4 2/3 innings and losing on an error by the first baseman. But still.

Later that fall I got up the nerve to talk to him after a game once the craziness about him had settled down. I asked if we could get a photo together, he said sure, we actually ended up having another player take it because I was there alone. I told him I was a huge fan of his during Koshien and hoped he'd do well in college and thought he seemed like a really nice boy.

Unfortunately, his college career was not entirely stellar, although that partially has to do with the fact that Chuo has been pretty awful lately relatively, and partially due to some elbow/shoulder pain. I watched Yohei Kagiya lose a ton of games due to the lack of run support and a ton of errors behind him as well, which is really weird because Chuo always has a few fielders/batters that are stellar and end up going pro as well. I really don't get it. Anyway, let's hope that Shimabukuro has a good pro career (except for when he plays against the Fighters). At least he shouldn't be given the Yuki Saitoh treatment, given that he wasn't hyped during college and wasn't drafted in the first round.

These two are from a preseason game at Hosei.

Shimabukuro in the bullpen before his very first game playing for Chuo.

Koki Yamashita, Kokugakuin University IF, 5th Round, Yokohama Baystars

Masataka Iryo, JX-ENEOS OF, 6th Round, Chunichi Dragons

Iryo has been playing for ENEOS for as long as I've been following them and he's been in the draft magazines for almost that long too. I don't entirely understand the story there.