Thursday, July 2, 2009

Lions Classic 2009 Game #1: Seibu vs. Softbank @ Seibu Dome 6/28/09

Hello everyone. Hopefully, you are all doing well and staying cool in this hot weather or dry in this rainy weather for that matter. So, on Sunday June 28th, I went to my first Lions Classic game of 2009. Now for those of you who don't know what Lions Classic is, it's an event or rather sets of games where Seibu breaks out their uniforms from the past or throwbacks. This year Lions Classic runs from June 27th until August 27th during select games and you can purchase special goods in honor of the bygone eras. Also too, Seibu offers ticket packages in which you can get tickets for multiple Lions Classic games as well as a piece of special merchandise only exclusive to that particular ticket package.

For this game or rather series against the SoftBank Hawks, Seibu donned the uniforms they wore in the 1980s so many players like Kazuhiro Kiyohara and Koji Akiyama (who ironically is now the manager of the SoftBank Hawks) wore these jerseys during their time with Seibu. Also too, Seibu will wear the throwback uniforms against all the Pacific League teams so if you are in the area, you should check it out as it's a really neat experience. Information about Lions Classic can be found here (all in Japanese of course).

Saitama Seibu 3rd baseman Takeya "Okawari" Nakamura modeling Lions Classic.

I got to the stadium right when the gates opened and after buying my Lions Classic goods, I was extremely disappointed to learn that my seat was in probably one of the worst locations to take pictures in the entire stadium which was in the upper "B" seats right behind the net and right next to the press box. And to top it all off, I was in the highest possible row there was so I did the best I could with the pictures I took. So yeah, I'm giving a big "finger of shame" to Seibu's lousy online "play guide" ticket shop for reserving such a bad seat for me (and I'm a Platinum fan club member to boot so go figure). But despite that, it was half price because of my fan club membership so I guess it wasn't all bad. Another weird thing too, there were heaps of foreigners sitting in the same area as me and it's quite strange that whenever I go to see Seibu in the reserved seats area, all the foreigners I see at the Dome usually sit in that area which strikes me as odd. I have no idea why this is the case but it was a nice change to hear the very monotonous MLB style "Let's Go Wasdin" chants while SoftBank was batting. Not really though, as it distracted me from watching the game and it messed up the vibe that the SoftBank ouendan was creating. Oh yeah, I'm a Japanese baseball purist through and through HA HA!

As for the game itself, the starting pitchers for the day were John Wasdin (Seibu) against DJ Houlton (SoftBank). Now honestly, I haven’t been that high on Wasdin this year as I think he is more suited to be in the bullpen rather than a starter. He was strong for the first 2 innings but by the time the third inning rolled around, he started to lose his control and he proceeded to give up 3 runs in the following 2 innings. In the top of the4th, Nobihiko Matsunaka walked to start things off for SoftBank. Then, Hiroki Kokubo singled to left which led to perhaps one of my most my favorite moments of the game. Now you see, once upon a time, I came across a team when I was starting to become a Pro Yakyu fan. I started to follow that team in 2006 and instantly became a fan of a certain player who I had only read about in a few online reports previous. At the end of the season, this player was traded to the Hawks for a young pitcher and I, like many others, were confused and kind of sad because the trade was so sudden and the player was a “native son” of sorts to the area in which the team was located. That player was none other than Hitoshi Tamura and of course the team was Yokohama. I still am a huge Tamura fan despite that fact that he is injury prone and has rotten luck with that over the course of his career. So naturally, I cheered when Tamura singled to right to make it 2-1 Seibu (Hiroyuki Nakajima had hit a 2 run homer to right center in the bottom of the 1st to give Seibu the early 2-0 lead). A little while later, Nobuhiro Matsuda hit an RBI single to center to tie the game at 2 a piece. But, the tie wouldn’t last long as GG Sato would hit a 2 run homer to right to put Seibu back on top 4-2. Softbank would then answer in the top of the 5th when Jose Ortiz hit a towering fly ball to left field which bounced off the foul pole and therefore was called a home run to make the score 4-3 Seibu. Softbank then took a 5-4 lead in the top of the 7th on a 2 run home run by Matsunaka. But again, it wouldn’t last as Takumi Kuriyama would hit an RBI double in the bottom of the 8th to tie the score yet again at 5-5. But, the game would ultimately be decided in what has been Seibu’s main weakness this year and that is pitching. Koji Mitsui came on to pitch in the top of the 9th and gave up an RBI double to Jose Ortiz and which made it 6-5 SoftBank and after that, Seibu reliever Koji Onuma gave up another RBI single to Hiroki Kokubo which made it 7-5 SoftBank and that’s where the score ended up.

Saitama Seibu starter John Wasdin and his leg kick.

Wasdin again.

Wasdin holding the ball.

Wasdin sharing a laugh with catcher Ginjiro.

Overall, a great game by both teams that ultimately ended up spoiling the nostalgia of the day because it was Lions Classic after all. But besides Lions Classic, the story of the day was the SoftBank Hawks. Now seriously, did any of you out there think that the Hawks would be playing at this level right now in the season after they experienced a number of changes during last off-season? After having the best record in the 2009 Inter-League Series for the second consecutive year, SoftBank looks poised for a playoff run this season and they are indeed playing like they belong there in October. Once again, a great and exciting game by both teams that ended up with a loss for Seibu. Lions Classic is not off to a good start this year and hopefully it can improve over the next 2 months.

Also too, the ceremonial first pitch was thrown by none other than Lions manager Hisanobu Watanabe. The batter was current SoftBank manager Koji Akiyama who was a teammate with Nabe-Q for a number of years. Akiyama managed to foul off Watanabe's pitch to the delight of the crowd.

Nabe-Q winding up for the pitch.

Nabe-Q after throwing the pitch.

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