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.

No comments: