Friday, June 26, 2009

From the Vault: Nippon Ham vs. Shonan Searex @ Fighters Stadium 05/16/09

Hello again everyone. With the rainy weather continuing here in
Japan and me feeling a lot better these days, I’m getting caught up with things here on the old blog. Honestly though, with me trying to get back into shape and staying at school until 5pm or later every night, it’s hard to put forth the energy to write about Pro Yakyu. I’m trying to create a schedule for my activities everyday but it just doesn’t seem to be working. But nonetheless, I’m going to keep at it and hopefully I’ll be able to get these posts up at decent times rather than a few weeks after the fact. But also, I guess the purpose of my blog was to get the word out about Japanese Baseball so I guess it’s the experience that counts in the end. So with all that being said, I’ve decided to create a new “series” of sorts called “From the Vault”. These will be the games that I either: A. Never got around to posting or B. Just plain forgot to write about. I think these game reports will also have more of a commentary feel to them, as I will talk more about my opinions on things related to the teams rather than focusing on the actual games themselves.

Ok, with my opening out of the way, let’s get down to business. On Saturday May 16th, I took a “little” trip to Kamagaya, Chiba to attend my first Nippon Ham Fighters 2-gun or minor league game. Now in my opinion, Fighters Stadium is one of the best stadiums for a minor league game but it is also very inconvenient because of its location. But still, you can’t help but admire what the Fighters have done in terms of making Kamagaya into its own little separate brand. I think that my minor league team the Shonan SeaRex and the Fighters have many things in common in this aspect. Both teams have their own mascot, their own ouendan (cheer groups) for home games and merchandise and they play in an actual stadium and not some baseball ground like other teams do. But unlike Shonan, I get the impression and the feeling that the Fighters 2-gun fans are more dedicated to their team. Now don’t get me wrong, I know and often sit next to people who only go to Shonan games, but usually the people I see at the games are the same people I see at BayStars games and they only go if there’s something important happening or if the BayStars are out of town. Yes, geography has something to do with it (the Fighters are based in Hokkaido and their farm team is based in Chiba), but you can’t help but notice again, how great of a job the Fighters have done in making their 2-gun team into a separate brand of sorts. Cubby (their mascot) is on posters and buses and just about everywhere in the Kamagaya/Funabashi area and quite honestly, it’s really cool. Plus, those green Kamagaya jerseys are some of my favorite Japanese baseball jerseys and again are really cool.

Fighters Stadium mascot Cubby. Seriously, I've never seen a mascot actually partake in the actual performance of ouenka before. This was very cool to see.

As for the game itself, I was quite disappointed in the way that Shonan played. They didn’t hit and were completely sloppy on defense. The starters for each team were Kentaro Kurihara for Shonan and Mitsuo Yoshikawa for the Fighters. Yoshikawa only went five innings despite pitching pretty good and only giving up one run which was a solo homer to Shonan shortstop Takayuki Kajitani. Kentaro Kurihara on the other hand was lousy giving up 7 runs and nine hits through 5 1/3 innings. But to his credit, not all of those runs were his fault and some of them were also due to Shonan’s lousy defense (Keijiro Matsumoto and Shingo Nonaka in particular). So actually, only about 4 runs or so were his fault due to bad pitching but regardless, the Fighters took advantage of Shonan’s faults and made them pay for it in what was a totally one sided game for them.

Nippon Ham starter Mitsuo Yoshikawa.

Shonan starter Kentaro Kurihara.

Also too, before the game, Nippon Ham wunderkind Sho Nakata received his April farm league MVP award and another award too I think (I forgot what it was though). This would be the last time to date that I would see Nakata at a 2-gun game as he was called up to the main squad a few weeks later and has been there ever since (as of 6/24/09 he has been demoted to 2-gun again). I can now say that I saw Nakata when he was just starting out and when he becomes this big star that everyone sees him becoming, I can brag about seeing him in 2-gun when he was just starting.

Sho Nakata receiving his April MVP award for 2-gun.

Nakata bowing to the fans on the first base side after receiving his award.

Nakata hitting a single that bounced off the outfield wall.

Oh yeah, and after the game I received some more Shonan autographs of the following players:

Takayuki Kajitani

Atsushi Kita

Shoma Sato

Hiroaki Ohnishi

A really nice haul for the game (especially Ohnishi) that added to the collection nicely.

Hiroaki Ohnishi warming up before the game.

Ohnishi after the game heading to his car. Great matching hat and shirt ensemble too "Hiro".

As always, here’s the box score for the game:



Wednesday, June 17, 2009

2009 Interleague Madness: Rakuten vs. Yokohama in Sendai A.K.A. Totallly Owned

Hello again everyone. This past weekend, Saturday June 13th and Sunday June, 14th, I took a trip to Miyagi Prefecture in north Japan to see the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles take on the Yokohama BayStars at the ever famous Kleenex Stadium Miyagi. Now despite the name of the stadium as possibly being on of the worst ever, the stadium itself is a really nice place and Rakuten has done quite well in terms of marketing and really capturing the attention of the people in Miyagi and the surrounding areas. They drew 20,000+ crowds for the two games this past weekend and it was great to see people supporting the Eagles. The Rakuten eagles have only been in existence for about 5 years but already they are pushing themselves as a force to be reckoned with in the Pacific League and quite frankly, the team has gotten my attention and I’m listening. I can’t explain it but there’s a charm about the Eagles that makes them attractive in my opinion and I think I’ve somewhat become enamored with them as they are my second favorite team along with the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters in the Pacific League, who both are behind Seibu of course. Maybe it’s their young stud pitchers Hisashi Iwakuma and Masahiro Tanaka, or maybe it’s the manager, Katsuya Nomura (highly doubtful on this one), but I like the Rakuten Eagles and really when I can’t cheer for Seibu , I can see myself putting on some maroon and pulling for the Eagles.

This is MR.CARRASCO, one of Rakuten's many mascots. He is known for doing crazy things such as stunts on a dirt bike and literally climbing the very small wall in the outfield and jumping into the stands. He totally rocks.

But before I go on, I’d just like to say thank you to Michael Westbay from for the camera advice he gave on one of my previous posts. I’m still learning the ropes with my new camera so to speak and hopefully, as time goes on, this blog can serve as sort of a personal history to showcase my improvement in picture taking.

But enough joking aside, this weekend totally sucked for Yokohama. Now we all know that the Stars aren’t having the best season this year but after this weekend series, I can now officially say that they are content to be bottom feeders in NPB. I mean seriously, totaling 7 hits and 0 runs in two games just means utter fail. Yokohama is serving up its fans a double order of fail fries with a triple order of weak sauce every time they take the field seriously. It’s gotten to the point where I just don’t care enough about the team enough to pay attention to them aside from reading the sports news everyday to see how they did. And while I will always be a BayStars fan as they got me though some hard times a few years back, I absolutely refuse to be “a carp in a pond that eats whatever is fed to him” and I feel that that’s what many BayStars fans are as they just keep blindly following the team and hope that the team can win. They could learn a thing or two from the Chiba Lotte fans. Yeah, believing in your team is one thing, but when your team is in a tailspin and going downward with no end in sight, surely you must question what can be done to fix the team right? As a consumer, I want to get the most bang for my buck and am using this as a chance to explore other teams and take my interest in NPB to the next level. So basically, I use Yokohama as an excuse to go on road trips as I’ll be going to Mazda Zoom Zoom Stadium in late July to see the new stadium when the Stars have a series there.

Dan Johnson or "DJ" as he likes to be called. I don't know what happened but he isn't playing that well these days.

Yokohama centerfielder Tatsuhiko Kinjoh. Honestly, I like Kinjoh but it seems like this may be his last year in Yokohama.

New lead-off man Yuki Yoshimura. I admit, while the concept of Yoshimura as a lead-off hitter is intriguing, he strikes out way to much for my taste and shouldn't be batting lead-off in my opinion.

Seiichi Uchikawa trying to be gangster in left field before the game. All kidding aside though, I really like Uchi and honestly, I think that Tashiro-kantoku should give him a shot to lead-off again.

As for the games themselves,
Yokohama was totally outclassed from the start. The starters for Game 1 were Ryan Glynn for the Stars and Satoshi Nagai for the Eagles. This was a typical start for Glynn as he gave up runs early in the game and didn’t receive any run support whatsoever from the offense. Rakuten needed little effort to win this game as they mainly used Glynn’s erratic control against him to do so.

After a fly out to left by Daisuke Kusano to start the bottom of the 2rd, Tsuchiya Teppei walked and then advanced to third on a single to right by Kenshi. Yosuke Hirashi also walked to load the bases and then Rakuten catcher Motohiro Shima walked to make it 1-0 Rakuten with the bases still loaded. Then, leadoff hitter Naoto Wantanabe singled to center to make it 3-0 Rakuten and that’s where the score stayed until the bottom of the 8th where Daisuke Kusano would add another run on an RBI double to make it 4-0 Rakuten. Again, Rakuten didn’t need all that much to win the game as they only had 6 hits total and 5 of them were singles.

But Satoshi Nagai on the other hand, totally handcuffed Yokohama by throwing a complete game while allowing 2 hits and striking out 8 while walking 4. Perhaps this will make Rakuten manager Katsuya Nomura appreciate what pitching he has instead of grumbling about how Iwakuma and Tanaka ore the only good pitchers there are and how he can’t send them out everyday to start. I guess I’m a spoiled Yakyu fan as earlier in the week, I saw Hideaki Wakui of the Lions also go the distance against Hanshin. Two complete games in one week is a great thing.

But to Yokohama’s credit I did see some things I liked. While I get on Ryan Glynn a lot, he did pitch great after giving up those 3 runs there’s no denying that. And also, I like what Tashiro kantoku did in mixing things up with the starting lineup. Now frankly, while having Yuki Yoshimura lead off and Dan Johnson bat second is not such a good thing in my opinion, he did something different and I think that deserves a little credit. But even that is stretching it out and can’t hide that fact that things were not so good in Sendai this weekend for the Stars.

Now, I had hope for Game 2 to be honest with you because Yokohama’s ace, Daisuke Miura, took the mound for Game 2 against the brick wall known as Hisashi Iwakuma. But alas, even “Hama No Bancho” was not enough to overcome defeat as he got hammered. Miura wasn’t his normal self as his control seemed a bit off and besides that, one of my friends told me that he hurt his leg or something during his last start so it’s also quite possible that he has been playing hurt as well.

Yokohama Ace Daisuke Miura warming up before starting the 1st inning.

Miura just before throwing his first pitch of the game.

Miura looking cool in his shades and practice uniform before the game.

Hisashi Iwakuma right before throwing a pitch.

Hisashi Iwakuma right after throwing a pitch.

Hisashi Iwakuma yet again.

Rakuten exploded and did most of their damage in the 5th and 6th innings by scoring 7 runs and totaling 9 hits in those two innings as well. Rakuten DH Takeshi “Hulk Smash” Yamazaki went 3 for 4 with 2 home runs and 2 RBIs and 3 runs scored and catcher Akihito Fuji went 3 for 3 with 2 RBIs and 3 runs scored. Seriously, if the Japanese were to ever make their own version of “The Hulk”, Takeshi Yamazaki would be the perfect guy to fill the role as he’s not only a decent sized guy, but he has the temper to boot.

Rakuten outfielder Teppei touching up first base during a pickoff attempt by Ryan Glynn during Game #1.

Teppei advancing to third on a single by Rakuten first baseman Kenshi during Game #1. It was the same play as the picture above too ironically.

Catcher Akihito Fuji standing on first base after recording his third hit of the day during Game #2.

Rakuten left fielder Masato Nakamura just after hitting a single in the 5th inning of Game #1.

Daisuke Kusano stealing second base.

But despite
Yokohama continuing its losing ways, Sendai was great as always. Kleenex Stadium Miyagi is a gorgeous stadium and Rakuten has done a lot to improve it, although those Lawson “Group Seats” in the right field stands are totally stupid and messed up part of the charm of the stadium which were the little hills in the outfield where you could sit and lay your blanket out just like in the countryside stadiums (left field still has the hill where people sit). So, if you ever get the chance to go, please do as you won’t regret it.

And finally, I leave you with this photo:

BayStars veteran pitcher Kimiyasu Kudoh. When it comes to this season, the look on Kudoh's face pretty much sums up how I feel when I think about the BayStars. I think this is going to be my mandatory introduction photo for all BayStars related posts this year.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Interleague Madeness 2009: Hanshin vs. Seibu @ Seibu Dome or A G'DAY for baseball

Hello again everyone. On Wednesday, June 10th, I went to the Seibu Dome for another rare weeknight game against none other than the Hanshin Tigers. I attended this game with my friend Mike, who lives in the general area nearby and honestly we didn’t know what to expect other than there would be a lot of Hanshin fans at the stadium. We had both wanted to see either Hideaki Wakui or Takayuki Kishi pitch and we got our wish when the starters for the game were announced as Hideaki Wakui going for the Lions and Minoru Iwata for the Tigers. Now, I believe that this was Iwata’s first start of the year as he had been hurt to start the season. I really didn’t know what to expect from him but he went way above and beyond the call in my opinion as this game was a total pitching match and it was pitching ironically that ended up deciding who won the game. This was also my first time seeing Hanshin live this season so, I was pretty pumped about that. And even though I detest most Hanshin fans because of their attitudes and manners, you cannot help but admire and appreciate the atmosphere of a ball game whenever and wherever Hanshin plays, be it on the road or in Kansai.

Hanshin got things going in the top of the first when 3rd baseman Takahiro Arai hit a home run to deep right field to give Hanshin an early 1-0 lead. But, in the bottom of the first, Seibu responded when Takumi Kuriyama doubled to deep right center and promptly after that, Hiroyuki Nakajima blasted a 2 run home run to center field to put Seibu on top 2-1. But Hanshin wouldn’t stand idle for long as Tomoaki Kanemoto would give Hashin the lead again in the top of the 3rd on a two run RBI single to center allowing Keiichi Hirano and Norihiro Akahoshi to both score. Both batters had been walked previously by Wakui and interestingly enough, those were his only two walks of the game. And for the next few innings, Kanemoto’s RBI single would stand as the difference maker until the bottom of the 6th when Yasuyuki Kataoka doubled to right to start off the inning. After a sacrifice bunt by Takumi Kuriyama moved Kataoka over to third, Hiroyuki Nakajima grounded out to short allowing Kataoka to score which tied the game at 3-3 and from there the game got interesting.

Hanshin 3rd baseman Takahiro Arai crossing home plate after hitting a home run in the top of the 1st.

Arai standing on second after getting a hit in the 6th. Feel free to add your own caption.

Arai swinging at a pitch.

Arai swinging at another pitch.

Yasutuki Kataoka after swinging at a pitch.

Tomoaki "Aniki" Kanemoto striking out in the top of the 8th.

Kanemoto taking a short breather in between pitches.

Kanemoto getting ready to swing at a pitch.

Norihiro Akahoshi not looking happy after a called strike.

Shinjiro Hiyama fouling off a pitch.

Seibu infielder Hiroshi Hirao. Hard to believe Hirao is a 15 year veteran.

Hirao coming up to the plate.

Both pitchers had dominated the game each giving up 3 runs a piece and limiting their hits and walks. But 2/3 of the way into the 8th inning, Mayumi kantoku decided it was time for a pitching change when he brought in Scott Atchison to replace Iwata. I’m not so sure I agreed with that decision, as it was good for the end of the 8th when Atchison got out of a jam with runners on first and third with two outs by getting Nakajima to ground out to end the inning. But it was Atchison and later Jeff Williams who blew it for Hanshin. After striking out “Okawari” Nakamura to start the bottom of the ninth, Atchison walked Hiroshi Hirao, who was then lifted for pinch runner Haruki Kurose. Kurose then advanced to third on a GG Sato single to right. Tomoaki Sato was then intentionally walked (why Mayumi did this, I’ll never know) and Atchison was pulled in favor of lefty Jeff Williams. Catcher Tsumitani Ginjiro was lifted for pinch hitter Yutaro Osaki and Williams walked Osaki on four straight pitches to bring home the winning run for Seibu, giving them a 4-3 victory over the Tigers. Hey, it wasn’t the way I’d prefer to win but I’ll take it, as a win is a win after all.

Saitama Seibu ace Hideaki Wakui.

Wakui again.

Hanshin starter Minoru Iwata.

Iwata after throwing a pitch.

Iwata waiting for a ball after throwing a pitch.

The conference in the top of the 8th and the Iwata's finish.

Wakui got the win for Seibu and Iwata took the loss for Hanshin. As I said earlier, both pitchers were outstanding and their numbers were pretty much the same (see box score below) but, I have to say that Iwata impressed me more because he was more “economical” with pitches having only thrown 99 pitches by the time he was lifted in the bottom of the 8th whereas Wakui ended up throwing 141 pitches by going the distance. I really love Wakui as Seibu’s ace and think the world of him but I can’t help but think in the back of my mind how much damage these complete game/high pitch counts will do to him in the future.

Game hero Yutaro Osaki addressing the crowd after the game.

Also as a little side story, former Saitama Seibu Lion Craig Brazell made his return to the Seibu Dome but ended up going 0-4 in the contest. It’s great that Craig was able to get another shot to play in Japan after being let go by the Lions after the end of last season. For the time being at least, he seems to getting along nicely and has become an instant hit with Hanshin. Hopefully, he helps the team and has a productive season. And as a treat for all the readers out there, here are some shots of Brazell in his new uniform. Not bad pictures if I do say so myself. I think these are the first in game shots of him in a game but I’m not really to sure if they are or not.

Craig Brazell shot #1.

Craig Brazell shot #2.

Craig Brazell shot #3.

Craig Brazell shot #4.