Hello once again everyone. I decided to branch out so to speak and go to my very first Eastern League Challenge Match at BayStars Kyujyo in Yokosuka, Kanagawa on Sunday April 12th, 2009. Now, what is an Eastern League Challenge Match you might ask? Well, simply put, it’s a minor league game with a bunch of special rules. You have one minor league squad which in this case was the Shonan SeaRex facing off against a team of assorted players from all the various teams in the Eastern League. So, no teams from the Western League i.e. Chunichi, Orix, Hiroshima, Softbank, and Hanshin participate in these special matches. It seems that all the Eastern League teams have these matches a few times a year, which is good for the young talent. Also, for this game, I was joined by JapaneseBaseball.com Administrator Michael Westbay. It's always a pleasure to catch a game with Westbay-san as our conversations usually spill over into other things besides baseball. And plus, it's great to talk about the BayStars in English with someone else and that's what we did and at great length too. And also, some of the photos from the game were taken by Westbay-san and he has given me permission to use them, so thank you Michael and I hope to see you again at the ballpark in the near future.
The Futures Team players themselves are mostly 育成選手 or developmental players but not all of them are. The developmental players have a triple digit number on their backs and can be usually seen playing in minor league or 2-gun games. This is their official team number and not their number on the Futures Team too by the way. They are on the roster but are not allowed to play in any major league or 1-gun games. Recently too, teams have began to recruit talent from overseas and sign them to these developmental contracts so that the players can take what they learn about baseball here in Japan back to their home countries which in turn will help promote the game of baseball in their home countries. Some examples of this are players such as Wei Chen (SeaRex #113) and Jin Chao Wang (SeaRex #114) who are from China and are on my team the Shonan SeaRex or people like Rafael Fernandez who is from Brazil and plays for the Tokyo Yakult Swallows (Swallows #115). Again, I don’t know much more about these players other than that there is a special draft along with the regular one in which teams can choose players and that there are cases in which these developmental players “graduate” to the top team and become contributors as was the case with Norihiro Nakamura and the Chunichi Dragons a few years back. Again, my knowledge about these players, the draft, and everything about this subject is limited, so if I made a mistake in reporting anything, please correct me and feel free to add whatever else you know about instructional players in the comments section below.
Yomiuri Giants catcher Takahiro Ijuin showing off his Futures uniform for me after I asked him to pose for a picture. Not really though, he was just going to buy a drink from the vending machine.
Yomiuri Giants pitchers Takanobu Tsujiuchi purposely looking down after buying a drink from the vending machine.
As I said earlier, the game itself was played at BayStars Kyujyo, which is part of a training complex for the Yokohama BayStars located in the Southeastern part of Kanagawa Prefecture in Yokosuka. For those that don’t know, Yokosuka houses a large number of military personnel from both the United States and Japan. The training complex is located right next to a Japanese Defense Force base next to the sea so there was a nice breeze at times throughout the game. The starting pitchers for the day were Shoma Satoh for Shonan and Da-Wei Zhu of the Saitama Seibu Lions for the Futures squad. Once again, please note that not all of the players on the Futures team were instructional players as Da-Wei Zhu is one of the exceptions. Now, from my understanding of the rules, the Futures team is supposed to be made up of players from every other team in the Eastern League. So, I was quite surprised to see that the entire starting lineup was almost entirly made up of Chiba Lotte and Yomiuri players with each team having 4 starting members in the lineup. The lone exceptions in the starting lineup were Shogo Saitoh and Da-Wei Zhu of the Saitama Seibu Lions. I only saw 1 Nippon Ham player at the game and that was pitcher Toshinori Asanuma and I don’t recall there being any Yakult Swallows or Rakuten Eagles players at the game either. So, in the back of my mind, I couldn’t help but feel that this was an exhibition match for Yomiuri and Chiba.
The field and training complex building in the background.
Futures pitcher Da-Wei Zhu went 4 innings, striking out 2 while giving up 1 hit and a walk. This was my first time seeing Zhu in action and I hope that if a slot opens up in the Seibu bullpen, that he will be considered. As a matter of fact, the entire pitching staff only allowed a total of 4 hits throughout the entire game and did a great job of holding runners when Shonan did actually put people on base.
Satoh too, pitched a great game early on in my opinion as he dominated the Futures team by striking out 5 and allowing only 2 hits in his first 4 innings of work. His only downfall however was his bout of “ippatsu byou” in the bottom of the 5th inning when he gave up a home run to Saitama Seibu outfielder Shogo Saitoh with Ryuji Otani (Chiba Lotte #125) on second to make it a 2-0 game. Seriously, can any pitcher within the BayStars organization not give up a home run in a single game or better yet go consecutive starts without giving up a home run? Or if they don’t give up any home runs, how about not giving up more than 3 runs in a game let’s say. I say let’s try to keep it low in terms of scoring. But, these days, that's asking too much from the pitching staff I guess (at least at the top level).
Shonan starter Shoma Satoh (Photo courtesy of Michael Westbay at JapaneseBaseball.com)
Former BayStars pitcher now Shonan pitching coach Takeo Kawamura looking on from the dugout. I'm going to assume that this picture was taken after Satoh gave up that home run. (Photo courtesy of Michael Westbay at JapaneseBaseball.com)
Futures starter Da-Wei Zhu. (Photo courtesy of Michael Westbay at JapaneseBaseball.com)
But anyways, after another quick inning by Shonan, pitcher Naoki Mitsuhashi came in to replace Satoh and when I heard his name over the loudspeaker, I knew we were in for trouble. Now, I don’t have anything against Mitsuhashi, in fact I like him a lot. But, it seems like every time I see him pitch at the ballpark, he seems to leave his control at home so to speak and give up a lot of runs. While he didn’t give up a lot today, he still managed to give up one. After 2 quick groundouts to start off the bottom of the 6th inning by Yuto Ikuyama (Chiba Lotte #130) and Masashi Yoshida (Chiba Lotte #133), centerfielder Kenji Sato singled to right and after that, Kazunao Yamamoto (Yomiuri #105) doubled to deep left to make it 3-0 Futures.
From there, the next few innings went quickly and then we came to the top of the 9th or Shonan's last chance to get some runs. It was weird that Shonan was the home team but yet they were batting at the top half of each inning rather than at the bottom. So, after Yuki Takamori flied out to right to start the inning, pinch hitter and local SeaRex rockstar, Yosuke Shimokubo, doubled to center and then Toshiyuki Kitagawa singled to center to put runners on 1st and 3rd. After that, pinch hitter Tatsuya Shimozono hit a sacrifice fly to left to make it 3-1 Futures but that's all Shonan could do as the next pinch hitter, Toshiki Kurobane stuck out to end the game for Shonan even though the Futures team batted in the bottom of the 9th.
Overall, the Futures team showed great promise by just doing the little things to keep Shonan off the bases. Hopefully, these players will someday grow into great baseball players and then I can tell people about how I saw them when they were just starting out. Minor League games are truly great folks as you can kick back and relax and enjoy a game of baseball and escape everything else. And finally before I forget, you can find out more information about the Futures team and Eastern League Challenge Matches here.
Guess who decided to show up at the training complex with the team? Yup, you guessed it, none other than Shuichi Murata himself. Hopefully, he can get back to full strength soon cause God only knows the BayStars need his offense more than ever now.
Futures outfielder Shogo Saitoh after hitting his 2 run home run. (Photo courtesy of Michael Westbay at JapaneseBaseball.com)
Yosuke Shimokubo rounding first base in the top of the 9th inning. (Photo courtesy of Michael Westbay at JapaneseBaseball.com)
Shonan first baseman Yuki Takamori tossing the ball to pitcher Noaki Mitsuhashi to get Futures second baseman Masashi Yoshida out at first. (Photo courtesy of Michael Westbay at JapaneseBaseball.com)
The final score of the day. (Photo courtesy of Michael Westbay at JapaneseBaseball.com)