Sunday, February 12, 2017

Fighters Spring Training in Arizona 2017 Part 3

Another day in paradise.  Err, Peoria.  Paradise is elsewhere in Arizona.

Also -- this entry is about camp on February 7th but I'm finishing it up a lot later.

I had to miss the morning's workouts due to having some work meetings that I have to be at (I've been trying to get work done in the evenings and such when I'm not on the field and not posting photos).  I got to the field as quickly as I could in the morning but the pitcher practice had JUST ended and everyone had already gone to lunch.  That was sad because I knew that meant I wasn't going to have a chance to take any more decent photos of Kagiya.

On the other hand, just as I arrived, Ohtani was brought out to do some kind of throwing, possibly so that the TV shows could get footage of him?  It didn't look like he was doing anything strenuous.

I got bored of that pretty quickly and wandered around a little.  I think they must have had fielders eat a very early lunch, because those guys were starting to filter out for "afternoon" practice already at that point.

Some of the pitchers did throw BP for the afternoon batting practice, but it was only one of the groups -- Katoh, Saitoh, Ishikawa, and Takanashi.  So at least I got to see some of them pitch a little, but it still wasn't the same.

I talked to a few team staffers about the situation with the line jumping and the racists and they said they'd see what they could do, although it wasn't likely to be much.

Also in talking to some of the front office guys I found out that Shota Tatsuta sprained his ankle during the second day of camp or so, working out in the bullpen -- he went to catch a ball and rolled his ankle in a hole.  Oops.  (Of course nobody was making a big deal out of this given that Ohtani was also injured, which is probably just as well.)

Matt Winters introduced me to one of his other scout friends, Andrew Lorraine.  That was pretty interesting -- I forget how it came up exactly but I mentioned I used to be a Mariners season ticket holder before I moved to Japan, he mentioned having pitched in Tacoma in 2005, and I was feeling like such a dork because I utterly don't remember him being there (despite that I totally remembered that being the season where I was joking about calling this blog "Hunter Brown for Third" to counterbalance the "Leone for Third" blog that eventually became Lookout Landing).  Andrew had a lot of entertaining stories to tell, since he's been all over the place.  Only later when I looked him up did I also realize he's a coach for Israel's WBC team -- how cool!

Dani never showed up through the day, though my friend Dave was there again.  A semi-silly thing happened in that I wanted to get a photo with Brandon Laird, and Dave is from Texas, and my brain had a blip -- I mean, I remember that Laird's brother played for the Rangers and Laird himself played for the Astros but in reality their whole family is from California.  Anyway, when it looked like Brandon was done with practice I went up and asked Mizuhara to make sure, and then asked Brandon if I could get a photo with him.  Sure, no problem.  Then I was like "And this is my friend, he came from Texas and wanted to meet you too!" And after that, my friend whose camera lenses I envy dearly, mikaotx, also wanted to get a photo with Laird so I was like "Oh, and this guy is from Texas too!".  A few minutes later I was like "...why did I just say you're all from Texas?  I'm from California, dammit!"

One of my new friends was a Japanese college student girl who's been living in San Diego for the last few years, so she showed up decked out in Padres gear.  She was originally from Atsugi and was with a guy who played high school baseball at Atsugi Kita HS, but naturally they were Kanagawa prefecture fans in general, and she had Yokohama HS gloves that she brought with her.  Her goal for the day was to meet Takahama, Kondoh, and Asama.  When she told me that I was like "Well ok, Takahama is RIGHT THERE..." as he seriously was walking by the field at the moment so she ran over and got him to sign her gloves.  But Kondoh was ignoring everyone as usual, and Asama was pretty much nowhere to be found.  (She wasn't the only person asking where the hell Asama was -- even Matt Winters asked me at one point "Have you seen Asama anywhere?" and I was like "Only for about 5 minutes the first day I was here...")  Every time I saw her she was like "HAVE YOU SEEN ASAMA?", to no avail.  On the other hand, her father had been in the baseball club at Joso Gakuin high school and she brought a JG cap that she got Makoto Kaneko (also from Joso) to sign and she was super happy about that.

I spent a while talking to the security guards at one point.  I learned a few things from them that were interesting, namely:

  • Normal spring training autograph hounding is a bazillion times worse.  The fact that people were waiting in line at all for Ohtani was somewhat short of a miracle, apparently.  They told me stories about children getting crushed at Autograph Alley and things like having to tell Mike Trout to stop signing in order to avoid any fans getting injured.
  • Normal spring training in general is much harder for them!  One of the guards said how "I love having you Japanese baseball fans here.  I tell you to do something, and you do it!  Like, 'Oh, you can't stand here,' and you guys go 'Sorry!  My bad' and go away, but during normal spring training if we don't have fences up we can't keep anyone out of forbidden areas."
  • With respect to me telling them about the racist stuff the hounds were saying in line, the older guard said how "It's only gotten worse since our current president got elected."  I had a bad impression of Peoria last year being a bit of a redneck racist area, and of my non-white friends there getting treated poorly, but I was surprised by the anti-Trump sentiment I heard from some of the locals this year.  Arizona only went 49% for Trump, so maybe there's hope for them yet.
  • Oh, and John the security guard (who apparently found my blog, hi!) was showing me Ebay listings for Ohtani baseballs -- and funnier, in some of the listings were photos of him as Ohtani's escort, since people would post "proof" photos of the player signing whatever.
That last point turned into something sad later that evening, though -- remember I mentioned a guy on Saturday getting a sideways off-the-number awkward Ohtani autograph, that I sort of wished I'd taken a photo of because it was so ridiculous-looking?  Well, turns out I didn't need to take a photo of it to see it again, as he is currently listing that uniform, stupid as it looks, on Ebay for $899 or best offer.  I showed that to some of my friends who were waiting in line that day and boy, were they pissed.  One was even like "That jerk!  I lent him my shikishi!  I'm never trusting any non-Japanese in camp ever again.  No, not you.  You don't count, you're pretty much Japanese."

Also, you know, I didn't think Yuya Taniguchi understood much English, but at one point he finished practice and called to one of the security guards I was talking to to drive him back to the clubhouse.  I saw him get into the cart and joked, "Don't let him drive!  He's crazy!" and Taniguchi looked at me with a scowl and said something (in Japanese) like "Wait, WHAT did you just say about my driving?" and I said "Umm... your driving yesterday was... interesting..."

Just like morning practice ended early, afternoon practice also ended early.  I originally intended to just come over for a little while at the end of morning practice and thought I'd go back to my hotel and eat lunch and get other stuff for camp, but instead I never left, so by the end of the day (by which I mean 2:30pm or so, super early) I still hadn't eaten lunch and also had absolutely nothing with me to get signed -- I didn't even have a pen or a marker in my bag at all.  That was totally fine with me though.  I'm still not much of an autograph person.

I was supposed to help my friend T find rookie Kazunari Ishii since I know his face pretty well after watching him play at Waseda for four years, but first I really needed to get lunch.  Dani showed up around then, so she and Dave and I piled into a car and went over to MacAllister's (I thought there was a Subway in the shopping center right by the PSC, and we even went there last year, but it seems to have closed since then) so I could get something quick, so I got a sandwich to bring back to camp.  I introduced Dani to the Yokohama HS girl and then I went up to where T was in line, and I spread out my Fighters fan club vinyl sheet a few feet away from the line and started eating my sandwich.

Ishii actually came out super-early and I took a picture of T with him.  So after that T was like "Ok, you don't need to hang out here anymore if you don't want to" after that, but I was like "Today's my last real day in camp, so I really want to talk to everyone even though I have nothing to get signed..."

Mostly, I was trying to find out who was pitching at the game in Mesa.  I wasn't sure when the list would be posted, so instead I just asked every pitcher that I got to talk to, "Are you pitching tomorrow?  I'm going home after the game in Mesa so...".  Yuki Saitoh said "Not tomorrow, the day after tomorrow."  Uwasawa said he wouldn't be either.  Arihara just pretty much entirely ignored me as usual.  Enoshita, who I asked in English, said "I'm a reserve for tomorrow's game, so probably not."  Toru Murata came out wearing an Oakland Raiders sweatshirt so I asked him about that before also asking if he was pitching (and he said "No, and I'm not sure when either.")

I waited for Kagiya forever, and he also said he wasn't going to be pitching.  I told him I was going home after the game and he was like "Oh, that's too bad," and I said "Yeah.  Well, see you in Japan again then!"  And then he ran off.  I barely got to see him this year at training, which is too bad.  Last year I talked to him almost every day, which was great.

Of course, I later discovered that the Mesa game lineup had been put in the hotel lobby around that time and that Uehara, Yoshida, Tanaka, Iguchi, and Hakumura would be pitching.  Oh well.

I unfortunately also missed getting a photo with and saying goodbye to Tatsuya Morimoto because of the Ohtani line.  I saw the autograph sellers jumping the line again, and this time the Japanese guard was my buddy Yohei (not Kagiya -- a translator for the team who I first met at the 2013 WBC when he was studying in California), so I went up like "I'm not getting anything signed, how about I go stand in back now and you'll know when the line ends?"  So I did that -- but a whole bunch of players came out in the time while Ohtani was signing and I didn't get to say hi to any of them, and Tatsuya was in that group.

It was a little bit awkward because when Ohtani got to me, expecting to sign something, I just said in Japanese, "Oh, I have nothing.  Thanks for coming out."  He looked at me funny for a second before Yohei told him that meant the signing line was over.

I also didn't get to talk to Good Guy Taishi Ohta again either for the same reason.  Alas.  Tatsuya is a little more special to me though because he was super-friendly to me at Kamagaya and I'm really hoping he has a breakout year this year.  He was the #2 pick in the 2012 draft, between Ohtani and Kagiya, but he's just a big goofy kid who hasn't really found his place on the team yet and has never made an appearance in an ichi-gun game, which is a little ominous after four years, really.  Anyway.

I went back to sitting with people by the sidewalk area.  Most of the Ohtani hounds left at that point, though a few of them stayed around for a while because they had WBC baseballs and wanted to get Shota Ohno's autograph since he's on the WBC team.  (I knew Ohno was unlikely to come out through the main line -- the day I caught him, he came out of the parking lot and a few of us recognized him and ran over).  They kept looking at me angrily and Dani told me how "Oh, those guys were saying how 'that fucking bitch is out there doing her thing again'."  Those guys were still there waiting when I left, even.  I'm sorry, guys, but you took a lot of the fun out of the few days I got to spend with my team, so I can't feel too bad denying you a second or third (or in the case of that guy who brings his wife and kids, fifth) autograph on any given day that you're just going to go try to sell for $300.

I got a photo with Yushi Shimizu.  I probably should have asked more players, but honestly I was kind of exhausted by then anyway.  Plus, looking at the list of who was in Arizona camp, I do have a photo with every player at some point, except for Ohtani.  Most are in Kamagaya and such, but whatever.  I don't have a few of the coaches like Kawana, Atsuzawa, and sadly Johnny Kuroki, but dude, I got to meet Ryohei Endoh, so that was pretty awesome.

Speaking of photos, as usual, since you read this far, here are a whole bunch:

Like I said, he was out there just playing catch, presumably for the media.

Kengo Ohta laughing at something one of the coaches was saying.

So many bats!

Tatsuya Morimoto talking to one of the batting pitchers.

Takayuki Katoh throwing batting practice.

Pitching coach Masato Yoshii

All-around cool kid Ryo Ishikawa

Yuki Saitoh also was pitching batting practice

Yuto Takahama doing bunting practice

There was also a toss batting area in the back.  Here's Go Matsumoto taking swings.

The most special coach of all, Makoto Kaneko

Brandon Laird

Pitching coach Kazuyuki Atsuzawa

Recently retired and now batting pitcher Yutaka Ohtsuka

Former fan favorite for the Fighters and Swallows, Takehiko Oshimoto (also BP pitcher)

Shinji Takahashi and Hichori Morimoto chatting -- 10 years ago these guys wore #2 and #1 for the Fighters

I actually caught Hiromi Oka smiling, is that allowed?

Ryosuke Kishisato getting ready for BP

Kazunari Ishii, Kengo Ohta, and Yuto Takahama leaving fielding practice

Yushi Shimizu looking particularly ominous (he is a big kid for a catcher)

Makoto Kaneko throwing batting practice

Kazunori Yamamoto throwing batting practice


Manager Hideki Kuriyama just hanging out and looking cool.

And two-shots.  These are all taken with my phone because my little camera broke so they do kind of suck, but whatever.  I'll probably get a new IXY or whatever the equivalent is now next time I'm in Japan.

Brandon Laird!  Not from Texas!

Kenshi Sugiya finally wasn't too busy to hang out for a second!

Makoto Kaneko is still so cool

I said to Yamamoto, "Can we get a photo together for nostalgia's sake?  My friends at Kamagaya will get a kick out of it."

Yushi Shimizu really is a big kid!  Always so quiet and serious but I think he's going to be a fantastic player in the future.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Fighters Spring Training 2017 Part Two - A Cold Day in Peoria

Today was actually a pretty fun day overall, but it was tainted by one or two awful people who kind of ruined all the fun for us.

Weather today was supposed to be sunny and in the 70's, but it was cloudy and never got out of the low 60's, so most of my photos I took today aren't that great.  I went back to my hotel to get a jacket during lunch, even.

Also, there were Padres players working out on some of the nearer fields!  I had no idea they'd be there, although I also had no idea who any of them were anyway.

Camp menu for the day (honestly they look almost identical every day aside from which players are in which practice groups):

I ran into a group of fans who I'd met at Kamagaya a few years ago -- they remembered me because I caught one of the postgame photo shoot passes that day and gave it to them so I could go stalk rookies outside the clubhouse instead.  I also accidentally made friends with a woman who I thought was one of my Twitter friends.  She wasn't then, but she is now!  They were having a lovely little mini-picnic with Japanese food prepared by one of the locals and invited me and Dani to partake, which was nice.

My real goal for the morning was to get photos with the non-Japanese players.  Specifically, I hadn't met Edwin Escobar before, and I knew that once those guys finished their morning routines that we weren't going to see them again for the rest of the day.  But Chris Martin and Luis Mendoza are such super nice guys anyway (Edwin was nice too!) that I ended up getting photos with all three!  Dani was wearing her Ikemendoza t-shirt, and Luis was like "Cool shirt!" so she got him to sign it.

I wasn't able to actually watch the bullpen session though because they have it blocked off from sight.  The place is full of media and team staff, but fans are stuck on the other side of an opaque gate.  I snuck one or two shots in while a security guard pretended he didn't see me sneaking up to the side, but that was about it.  Matt had been telling me to watch Edwin's bullpen session, and of course I couldn't see it.

An absolutely crazy thing that happened during the morning was that Dan Evans was around in camp again (we've been Twitter friends for years and met during last year's camp), and the folks from HTB wanted to interview them.  However, since the non-Japanese players had left, none of the interpreters were around.  So they asked *me* to interpret for him.  Yikes!  Their interview was very very Ohtani and WBC centric though, and Dan was very specific that he was there to see *every* player, that he tries to understand who everyone is in the NPB and KBO.  He also said that he expects Japan to do just fine in the WBC.  The only part that was super hard to translate was that he said he has a lot of respect for Japanese baseball and for the Fighters as a team, and that he thinks their biggest strength is their fresh way of thinking.  I know what he means -- bringing the team to Arizona, signing people like Toru Murata, etc.  But it's sort of a tough concept to explain in Japanese, and I felt very awkward.

On the other hand, a little while later, Dan introduced me to Ryohei Endoh, who I've wanted to meet absolutely forever.  He was Todai's ace in the late 1990's, and he was the 4th player to ever go pro out of Todai, being drafted by the Fighters in 1999.  He's basically a legend to anyone who cares about their team at all.  He's been working for the Fighters front office ever since he retired as a player.  Of course, I don't think I said anything remotely intelligent to him, but I did gush about how I cheer for Todai and all.

The fields cleared out pretty quickly this time at lunch, so we headed out, but at the kiosk we ran into my friend Dave who I hadn't seen in person in around 10 years, and we also ran into Dan Evans again, with one of his students from his baseball course, and ended up talking to them for a while.

I came back in the afternoon, but it was still cloudy and cold.  We watched batting/running practice for a while (they were practicing hit-and-run and sac fly plays) and chilled out.  I did get a photo with Naoto Inada, since he was hanging out inbetween his TV shoots.  (We saw Inada, Tateyama, and Nishizaki all filming for various TV programs.)  It was exciting to meet him since he was such a funny part of the 2006 championship team.

Anyway, things started winding down with fielding practice, so we (at this point me, Dani, and Dave) headed out to the clubhouse to go stalk players.  My goal for the afternoon was to get as many signatures on my shinkansen jersey as possible, and also to hopefully meet rookie Ishii, and maybe ask Arihara for a photo again, and anyone else I hadn't gotten yet.

But of course there was yet another insane line of people trying to get Ohtani's autograph outside the Peoria clubhouse.  There were so many people, and even the media was into it; I got to talking with two guys from Nikkan Sports and from Doshin Sports, like "I'm not in the Ohtani line, I'm going to take pictures of the craziness with you guys."  I made a point of staying over to the other side of the area.

Something funny: I was trying to get my jersey signed, and at one point Konsuke, Morimoto, and Taishi Ohta came by on their way to the hotel, and I asked if they'd sign.  Tatsuya was like yeah, but Konsuke was like no, we're too busy, come on.  Taishi said sure, but on the way back.  On their way back, I asked again, Konsuke ignored me, Tatsuya apologized and promised he'd get me later.

Taishi asked me, "What the crap is with this huge line of people here anyway?"

I'm like "They're here to get Ohtani's autograph."

"Really?  That's all just for Ohtani?  What are you doing over here then?"

"Well, I'm here to meet the whole team, not just Ohtani, so that's why I'm over here."

He laughed and motioned me to give him the jersey, and he signed it.  I think Good Guy Taishi Ohta is winning over a lot of us who were pissed off about Shingo Ishikawa getting traded.

Lots of other guys came out in the meantime.  Tatsuta, Katoh.  Hakumura.  Even Uehara and Yagi signed my jersey, and then Kumon, Kagiya and Arihara (and Arihara actually took a photo with me!!!1!!1)

(Though a sad thing is that my friend dropped my IXY point-and-shoot camera after I got a photo with Kumon and now the lens is totally stuck, so the rest of my photos were with my phone.)

Yoshida and Iguchi came out together, and Shota Ohno came out separately and a bit further away from where everyone was, but a few people stopped him and then a line formed.  I hadn't spoken to Ohno yet so I got him to sign my jersey and I thanked him for coming to the US again this year too.

Oh yeah, it was Naoyuki Uwasawa's birthday.  So I gave him the card I got him, and Dani gave him a present, and many other people gave him presents too, and one set of people had a huge HAPPY BIRTHDAY banner so they put that out and everyone sang happy birthday to him!  That was kind of crazy.

Dani and I ran over to talk to Enoshita.  He speaks pretty good English (his wife is a nisei from California I believe) and it was funny because he said to Dani how "Hey, I remember you, you came to Nago?" and all, and then I was like "Wait, you don't remember me?  I used to annoy you at Kamagaya all the damn time," and he said "Oh... like 3 or 4 years ago?" "Yeah." "Oh, okay, sure."  Dani mentioned later that she used to tweet at Enoshita a lot back in the day so that's probably also why he remembered her better.

Got Taniguchi and then also our rookie Ishii!  Yay!

At this point I was basically standing at the back of the Ohtani line, and that's about when Ohtani and his entourage came out, at 5:30 or so.  Dani and Dave came over and brought my backpack and jacket over too so that I didn't have to leave them sitting at the other side of the parking lot.  Probably a good thing given that the non-Japanese people were likely to just take off afterwards and also likely to steal something like that.

As mentioned in Saturday's entry, protocol this year has been that that Ohtani will sign for everyone in line. I'm not sure how they handled this on Saturday, but, today a bunch of the autograph hound dudebros were getting one thing signed and then trying to get back in line to get a second thing signed. So a group of Japanese women were pissed off about this and basically ran to where we were at the back of the line, made a group together behind us, and said "We're the end of the line. Anyone behind us is trying to get seconds."

So this one guy -- the one who left his folding chair out on Saturday and came back to get it today, even -- he first tried to cut back in line, and when people were like "No cutting, you already got an autograph," he tried to give a second ball to somebody who was still in line. And the group of Japanese women were like "What the hell are you doing?" And even I was like "Dude, do you not understand how this works? He only signs for everyone because we're in an orderly line without people pulling this kind of shit.  He used to be on a signing limit, and you guys are lucky that limit has become 'everyone in the line' because he's injured right now."

The guy said "Oh, I'm just asking this guy for an autograph here. See? Why are you so angry about that? Mr. [friend], will you sign my ball?"

I'm like "Yeah right. You're so full of shit."

He's like "You just don't understand a joke."  Then to his friend, "C'mon, sign this."

His friend takes his pen and slowly and deliberately writes on the cardboard ball box,


and he and his cronies crack up and high-five and stuff.

Meanwhile I swear to fucking god Ohtani is still making his way through this line and signing for these assholes anyway.

Fortunately, I've become buddies with Ohtani's security guards (no, seriously, I got to talking with one of them before I even knew that was his assignment, last year at camp) so when they got up to me I told the guard, "Some guys are causing trouble by getting back in line once they get one signature. Those Japanese ladies here are the end of the line, and anyone behind them is cheating."

He was like "I thought some of these people looked familiar. Thanks for telling me."

The Japanese women also were saying in Japanese, "Ohtani-kun, these people already got your signature, please don't sign anymore, we'll see you tomorrow".

And they cut off the signing there.

Those guys were really angry at us, but seriously, WTF? They're the ones invading our little family just so they can get something signed and put it on Ebay for $300 or whatever. They don't even say "please" or "thank you" or anything when he signs for them, and they don't care about anyone else except for him. It's awful. The only good part is getting to hang out with the rest of the team AFTER they all leave (which they do immediately after Ohtani stops signing).

We stayed out there a bit longer and I got Takanashi, Konsuke, Shimizu, and even Sugiya to sign.  I wanted a photo with Sugiya but he said he was too busy.

A crew from NHK was doing a special about Ohtani and so they filmed Dave (who gave them good answers) and then gave up on filming me (because I was like "Ohtani is great, but I mean, one man does not a team make, everyone else is important too, you know...")

The three of us decided to go get dinner, although as we were preparing to leave, Tatsuya Morimoto finally came back out, like "ok, now I can sign for you," so he did.  And we chatted with him a bit.  He was asking Dani why she has purple hair and things (though he said he thought it was cute).  But he also said he was super duper tired and we were like "dude, go back to the hotel and sleep!" and so he was like "okay!  I sleep!  SEE YOU TOMORROW!"

Anyway, again, if you read this far, here, have a few more photos from the day.

Padres players warming up on one of the other practice fields.

At first we thought Tateyama was coming over towards us but it turned out he was just getting a good angle to do his TV broadcast from.

Edwin Escobar

I'm still amazed anyone lets the players drive, but here is Taniguchi driving and everyone else holding on for dear life.

During batting/fielding, this sign was up -- each player gets 5 hits.  They had to hit to the opposite field, then they had to do a hit-and-run, then a sac fly, then free shots (swing away!)

Good Guy Taishi Ohta

Grumpyface Haruki Nishikawa

The Elusive Daiki Asama

Nishizaki-san was also very busy reporting from camp

Shinji Takahashi is like "Why are you taking my photo?"

It was Uwasawa's birthday, and some people brought a big Happy Birthday banner and we all sang for him!

My friend Dave gets interviewed by the NHK crew doing a special on Ohtani.

And of course because you clearly haven't been subjected to enough two-shots of me, here's some more!

Todai legendary pitcher and Fighters front office man Ryohei Endoh.  I've wanted to meet him forever.

Chris Martin

Luis Mendoza

The new guy Edwin Escobar!

Naoto Inada, still makes us all laugh

Matt Winters was so super-helpful to me in camp this year again

Kohei Arihara (still hates me)

Yodai Enoshita!  His English has gotten so much better over the years, I can talk to him for real now.

Katsuhiko Kumon (the pitcher we got in return for Yoshikawa from the Giants)

Kazunari Ishii, the only rookie in camp!  (And former Waseda captain.)

You know, I think maybe people were right about getting the uniform signed with the wide side of the marker instead of the thin side... :(

...because as you can see these are awfully faint.  Though it looks fine in person.