Tuesday, March 31, 2009

3/28 Seibu vs Yakult: Yakult Strikes Again

Hello again everyone. So, on Saturday, I decided to stay “close to home” and go to a Lions pre-season game at the Seibu Dome. It wasn’t really that close to be honest as the Seibu Dome is about an hour and ten minutes from where I live but still, it’s the closest stadium to where I live so I was happy not to have to go that far. The Saitama Seibu Lions faced off against the Tokyo Yakult Swallows in a brutal match up for the Lions as you will see in a minute. Last week on Thursday (March 26th) the Swallows made an example of the BayStars by pounding them 10-1 at Jingu Stadium and Yakult pretty much continued their dominating ways in this game as well.

But before I go on about the game, I’d like to point out that the Seibu Dome has a different look this year as the team (or whomever) has added some new seating areas to the stadium. This is a welcome change to the Seibu Dome in my opinion and was probably long overdue in the eyes of many.

The first area of seats are called the “Field View Seats”. Very catchy name I know but regardless, the seats are located right next to the bullpen area on each side of the stadium and are basically the same thing as the “Excite Seats” at the Tokyo Dome or better yet, they are the same thing as the "Field Reserved Seats" at Skymark Stadium in Kobe. They are 4000-4500 per ticket and will be hard to come by in my opinion as the Seibu Fan Club gets to buy tickets in advance and will probably purchase these seats almost always.

The second area of seats are the “Dugout Terrace” and are for groups of 5 people. They are pretty much the same thing as the "Picnic Boxes" at Chiba Marine Stadium but closer to the field. And also too, Seibu has added an area within the stadium itself too. This new area (1st and 3rd base side naturally) features new restaurants and daycare facilities among other things and it looks really awesome to be quite honest with you. Here's a link with some official photos courtesy of Seibu: Official Photos

Now, onto the game itself. The game was brutal for Seibu as they looked bad despite getting 7 hits in the game. Granted, Seibu didn't have Kataoka or Nakajima in the line up but still, they got beat really bad. The starting pitchers for the day were Takayuki Kishi for Seibu and Shohei Tateyama for Yakult. Tateyama pitched a great game for the Swallows whereas Kishi not so much. Ok, despite winning the MVP award in the Japan Series last year and probably putting on one of the best pitching displays I’ve ever seen, Kishi has looked not so good during the pre-season this year. He didn’t make the cut for “Samurai Japan” and has left me (and many others I assume) scratching their heads. The best way I can put it is that Takayuki Kishi is an enigma. Kishi ended up giving up 5 runs in the game yet somehow managed 8 strikeouts. I really just don't get it but that's Kishi for you.

Kishi managed to pitch the first 2 innings with ease but he ran into trouble in his next 2. New acquired Swallow Jamie D’Antona hit his 4th home run of the preseason with a solo shot to right. D’Antona really impressed me during these 2 games at the Seibu Dome as he hit well and played all around great baseball. He should be a great player for Yakult this year.

Then, in the top of the 4th with 2 men on, Aaron Guiel hit a 3 run home run to right to make it 4-0 Yakult and from there, the Swallows never looked back.

In the top of the 6th, Yoshiyuki Noguchi hit a sacrifice fly to left and Yasushi Iihara came in to score from third to make it 5-0 Yakult. Seibu managed to score their only run of the game in the bottom of the 6th when Taketoshi Gotoh singled to right to drive in Takumi Kuriyama from third to make it 5-1 Yakult.

Yakult, however, was not finished for the day as they added 3 more runs in the top of the 8th. Yakult managed to load the bases on a walk, an error by Seibu third baseman Takeya “Okawari” Nakamura, and a failed double play attempt by Seibu first baseman Takayuki Shimizu. After that, Yakult scored a run on a passed ball by Seibu catcher Kousuke Noda and after that, Hiroyasu Tanaka singled to left to drive in the other 2 runners which made it 8-1 Yakult and that's where the game ended up.

Shohei Tateyama picked up the win for the Birds while Kishi was stuck with the loss despite almost getting into double digit strikeouts. All in all, it was a great first game at the Seibu Dome for the year and plus, I got to cheer for the Swallows which is something I never do. Perhaps, in my free time I'll work on practicing their cheer songs a little more. Oh and if you want to find out more about the Swallows, you can go visit my friends Garrett, Chris, and Dave over at Tsubamegun Central as I like to call it. They do a good job of covering the Birds and their blog is well worth a look in my opinion.

Seibu fans going crazy at the start of the game.

Yakult fans cheering their team while some fans prepare to cheer for their local celebrity right fielder by holding Canadian flags.

Former Yomiuri Giant now Saitama Seibu Lion Takayuki Shimizu. The crowd loves him despite his past and I think he will help the Lions out this year.

Friday, March 27, 2009

開幕戦 (Opening Day) and other notes.

Hello again all. I hope everyone is doing well and preparing for the upcoming season. Just a few little notes on my plans for opening day here in Japan.

I will be heading to Nagoya to see the BayStars open their season (as is my custom)against the Chunichi Dragons. Also, I will be attending some interesting games at Nagoya Kyujyo (not the Nagoya Dome where the top level games are at) as well during the day seeing as the Dragons games are all at night. The first game is on Saturday where the Chunichi Dragons farm team faces off against Toyota (the car company)in an amateur exhibition match. And the next day, we have Chunichi facing off against the Toyama Thunderbirds of the BCL League. This is my first time seeing a company baseball team (Toyota) and a BCL League team so it's going to be a whole new experience for me. Also, come to find out, there's a BC team in Gunma out near where I'm at called the Gunma Diamond Pegasus whose website can be found here: Gunma Diamond Pegasus Baseball Club

Their season however, is a short one, so the opportunity to see games is relatively short but I'm planning to go to 2 games in early June and possibly one during Golden Week in early May.

Again, it's going to be a long couple of days next week and I'll be bringing my computer along and will try to get some blogs posted up ASAP after the games.

And with that, it's only one more week until the Pro Season officially begins.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Curse of Hiratsuka Continues

Hello again everyone. I hope everyone is doing great after a Japan victory at the WBC. I know I am and am looking forward to another great year of JAPANESE BASEBALL. Hopefully, people here in Japan will wake up and realize that maybe baseball in this country really isn't that bad and more people will come to the stadiums this season to support the teams and players. But, that's a rant for another time as I have a very interesting story on hand that I need to blog about.


So, last Sunday, I decided to skip the game at Yokohama Stadium and I ended up giving my ticket away to a friend whom I met at Yokosuka Stadium the previous day. I decided to make the trek to Hiratsuka in Kanagawa for the finale of the opening series between the Shonan Searex and the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters in the Eastern League. Now, what is it about this place that has me spooked you might ask?

Well, Hiratsuka Kyujyo (Ballpark) is used mainly as an alternate home stadium for Shonan as they have a handful of home games here throughout the year. For 10 years from 1986 till 1996, it was their home stadium until they moved to Yokosuka in 1997. The Yokohama BayStars also host one regular season home game every year at Hiratsuka Kyujyo to give the local people a chance to see a game at the top league level as well as one preseason game as well. Before this, I've only been to this stadium once for a BayStars game against Chunichi 2 years ago. The weather was really bad and I got really sick afterwards so can you guess what happened this time around as well? The weather was really bad and I got really sick again. I have this really bad cold and killer sore throat that is drving me up the wall, but this is the price I have to pay for being a baseball fan and watching a game in the cold.

Which brings me to the summary of the day. I got to the stadium around 9am. My friend the "Searex Ojisan" was already in front of the gate waiting to get in and I said hello and chatted with him for a little bit. I met this guy last year at Lotte Urawa Kyujyo in Saitama during a weekday game and got to know him a little bit. He follows Searex almost everywhere and is a "godfather" of sorts. Almost everyone knows who he is and he knows the team from head to toe and can just rattle off stats like nobody's business. He also knows all of the cheer songs for Searex as well. Yes, the Shonan Searex have their own cheer group (they usually only play at games in Kanagawa and don't follow the team everywhere)and cheer songs for the players. It's almost like a seperate team from the Baystars to be quite honest with you. Now, I'm not talking about random fans getting together and doing cheers from the big league squad, this is a registered cheer group who can be found here (web page is in Japanese only of course): Official Searex Ouendan Site. Now, other teams may have their own cheer groups as well but I'm not to sure.

The game was played despite the fact that the winds were consistent and very strong and it was very rainy.

The starting pitchers for the day were Yuji Yoshimi for Shonan (didn’t I just see Yoshimi last week at Yokohama Stadium) and Kenji Tsuchiya for Nippon Ham.

Yoshimi got into a bit of trouble in the first as Kazuya Murata singled to center and right after, Ryuichi Wantanabe doubled to deep left to score Murata and put Nippon Ham on the board first. Sho Nakata then singled to center which allowed Wantanabe to go to third. And while the next batter Suguru Ichikawa was batting, Yoshimi threw a wild pitch and Wantanabe came in to score from third making it 2-0 Nippon Ham.

After this, Yoshimi settled down and pitched 5 more effective innings and ended up pitching 6 innings total for the day. Meanwhile, Nippon Ham starter, Kenji Tsuchiya looked flawless as Shonan could only manage 3 hits through 6 innings. I honestly thought that he had a shot at winning the game but Tsuchiya’s last inning of work in the 7th would ultimately prove to be his undoing.

But before I get to the 7th inning, I have to point out that by this time, I had left the ballpark because I couldn’t handle the cold weather any longer was coughing nonstop. So what follows is what I could piece together from the official stats on both teams websites (huge props to both their respective pages to btw).

In the top of the 7th, Nippon Ham managed to score again after the last couple of innings were just “blah” so to speak. Yoshihiro Sato doubled to right to start things off. Then, after Sato advanced to third on a Takahiro Imanami groundout, Takuya Nakashima hit a sacrifice fly to left to give Nippon Ham a 3-0 lead.

But, Shonan decided they could no longer take this weather and being held down and exploded in the bottom of the 7th. Right fielder Yoshiyuki Kuwahara (Kuwa-Chan) walked to start off the inning for Shonan. After Wang, Jing-Chao struck out looking Shigenori Kuremoto popped out to second, Takayuki Kajitani singled to right. Atsushi Kita then singled to left to bring Kuwahara in to score which made it 3-1. After that, Tatsuya Shimozono hit a 3 run home run to right making it 4-3 Shonan and that ended up being the final score and also gave Shonan a 3 game sweep of the Fighters in their first series in the Eastern League this year.

SeaRex pitcher Naoya Okamoto picked up the win in relief and Kenji Tsuchiya was tagged with the loss for the Fighters. Yasuhiro Oyamada also picked up his first save of the season for SeaRex as well. The game itself was great despite the weather and both teams played well. Nippon Ham had 2 errors in this game which wasn’t as much as the previous game on Saturday but still, defense is something they need to work on a little bit more on in my view.

My next 2 games will be at the Seibu Dome on Saturday March 28th and Sunday March 29th which will see the Saitama Seibu Lions the Tokyo Yakult Swallows do battle. But, due to my stupidity (and not reading the website and information when I should have), I bought tickets for the right field area. From this season, Seibu’s side is now the third base side and not the first base side anymore. Just a little reminder to those of you going to the Seibu Dome this year and wanting to cheer for Seibu. So, I will be cheering for the Swallows for 2 games this weekend but more importantly, I will be evaluating the Lions for the upcoming season as I will be seeing a lot more of them this year. The Lions have been not so good in the pre season so far going only 4-8-1. But to be fair, they have been on the road exclusively for all their games and have been missing Nakajima and Kataoka and Wakui who were off at the WBC for the past few weeks. So, I’m expecting big things this weekend from Nabe-Q and the guys as the regular season approaches quickly.

Hiratsuka Stadium. The infield kinda reminds you of a few other more famous ones here in Japan eh?

Hiratsuka Kyujyo Scoreboard

Nippon Ham's Ouendan for the day. Seriously, these 2 guys made it seem like there were at least 20 people near them.

Searex Starter Yuji Yoshimi

Nippon Ham Starter Kenji Tsuchiya

The official mascot of the Shonan SeaRex: Recks

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Let's go Shonan Searex!!! Never a dull moment at Yokosuka Stadium.

Hello all. So, with the recent 3 day weekend here in Japan, I decided to go on an adventure. It was back to Kanagawa for me, more specifically I went to Yokosuka Stadium to catch the Shonan Searex vs. the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters. This was a game between the minor league teams of the Yokohama Baystars and Nippon Ham Fighters (二軍 or ni-gun in Japanese) but ironically too, the top league teams (一軍 or ichi-gun in Japanese) also were playing at Yokohama Stadium on the same day. If you ever get the chance to attend a 二軍 Japanese Baseball game, I highly reccomend it. The atmosphere is much more laid back than that of a normal game and most often you can even get autographs and pictures of the players after the game. I've started quite a collection of signatures and today, I probably landed one of my biggest catches as I was able to get Sho Nakata of the Fighters to sign one of my sign boards (色紙 or Shikishi in Japanese).

As I said earlier, this game was and up and down game. The game probably went a little longer than it should've as it took 3 hours and 5 minutes to complete. But, again, it was well worth it as it was an exciting game. The starting pitchers were Toshiyuki Yanuki for the Fighters and Yoto Kosugi for Searex. The one thing that you should all know is that errors played a huge part in this game and ultimately decided the outcome of the game as well. Oh, and both starters today were rookies for each of their teams. So, who would come out on top? Let's find out, shall we?

Nippon Ham wasted no time getting on the board in the first as DH Tomoyuki Oda smashed a 2 run Home Run to right field driving in Toshimasa Konta as well who walked to start off the inning.

Searex struck back quickly in the bottom of the first as Takayuki Kajitani, Atsushi Kita, Tatsuya Shimozono all singled to load the bases. After that, Shigenori Kuremoto hit a Sacrifice Fly to deep left field to make it 2-1. Next, catcher Toshiki Kurobane tripled to deep right to give Searex a 3-2 lead.

Nippon Ham scored again in the top of the third. Takuya Nakashima singled to start things off while Toshimasa Konta struck out swinging. Yuji Iyama then sinlged to left. Tomoyuki Oda grounded into a force out at second and after that, Yohei Kaneko hit a double to deep left making it 4-3 Nippon Ham.

In the bottom of the fourth, Takuya Sakamoto doubled to left (and then was picked off at second by catcher Ryota Imanari, shame on you Sakamoto) and Takayuki Kajitani walked after that. Takayuki Kajintani then stole second while Atsushi Kida was batting and then, Tatsuya Shimozono hit and RBI double to left to tie it up 4-4.

Shonan would continue it's assault on the Fighters in the bottom of the 5th. Yuki Takamori grounded out to short to start things off. Kurobane then singled to center. It should be noted to that Kurobane was also setting himself up for a possible run at the cycle as he tripled and singled in his first 2 at bats, but he could get the double and home run that was needed. Next, Yuta Sekiguchi reached first due to an error by Fighters second baseman Kenshi Sugiya and then Toshiyuki Kitagawa tripled to deep right to make it 6-4 Searex. Strange actually, there was a lot of triples in this game.

But again, the Fighters started to make a comeback in the top of the 6th. Tomoyuki Oda doubled to left and then was lifted for pinch runner Seichi Ohira. Yohei Kaneko then reached first thanks to an error by Shonan first baseman Yuki Takamori. Atsushi Ugumori then grounded into a force out at second allowing Ohira to score and make it 6-5 Shonan.

Seriously, neither team wanted to lose this game. Shonan came right back in the bottom of the 6th inning to take the lead. Atsushi Kita walked to start off the inning. Shimozono then bunted Kita over to second and DH Kuremoto reached first thanks to yet another Fighters error, this time by third baseman Yuji Iyama. Takamori then doubled to left to make it 7-5 Shonan.

Heading to the top of the 7th, Fighters catcher Ryota Imanari walked to start things off. Then, Kenshi Sugiya reached first on an overthrow error by third baseman Atsushi Kita and Takuya Nagashima grounded out to first to make it 7-6. Then, Toshimasa Konta tripled to right to tie the game at 7 a piece.

This took us to the bottom of the 9th inning. Shingo Takeyama had come into the game to replace Kurobane as the catcher in the 7th inning (I can't remember exactly when because I was distracted by the Searex Ouendan when they announced it but pretty sure it was when Kosugi left the game) and singled to start off the inning. Then, in possibly the longest at bat I've ever seen at an eastern league baseball game, Yuta Sekiguchi laid down a sac bunt after about 10 minutes of pickoff attempts by Fighters pitcher Takayuki Kanamori. But, Kanamori went to the well once to often and botched a pickoff attempt by overthrowing the ball to Sho Nakata. This allowed Takeyama to go to second and of course advance to third on the bunt and the next batter Toshiyuki Kitagawa walked. Takuya Sakamoto then hit a sacrifice fly to left to end the game with a score of 8-7 Shonan. やった!!

The winning pitcher was Teruaki Yoshikawa who pitcher 2 solid innings of relief starting in the 8th and the losing pitcher was Takayuki Kanamori. As I said earlier, errors were ultimately the undoing of the Fighters but regardless, I felt that the 2 teams played strong and exciting baseball as I enjoyed the game very much. Eastern League Games ROCK!!!!!!

So, after the game I stayed around the stadium like I always do. I waited by the Fighters exit for the players to exit. And finally they all did. Fighters pitchers Suguru Matsuyama and Yanuki stopped by and actually chatted with the fans for a little bit while signing things. But when Nakata came out he seemed like he wanted to get on the bus ASAP despite the huge number of people calling to him. Finally, I just said "Mr. Nakata, could you please come over and sign my board". I wasn't yelling or anything or going hysterical like the 10 Japanese women behind me I just asked him to sign my thing in a polite normal manner. Needless to say, he turned around took one look at me and came over. He signed my board but instead of giving me the pen back, he just kinda flipped it to me and the pen landed on my board and almost rolled off. He didn't even smile or look at me or nothing it was like someone was forcing him to do it. Even when he started to sign for the elementary school kids, he was the same. I thanked him and walked off but the encounter left me with a bad impression of him being a jerk. But, I'm not going to say anything more about it or Sho Nakata.

After that, I wandered over to the Searex bus and waited for a few minutes and caught Sekiguchi as he was going into the bus. I asked him to sign my board. He looked at me and said yes and started to walk over. Then, some Japanese lady shoved her little ticket holder in front of me and insisted that he sign her thing first. Sekiguchi was right in front of me and he kinda looked at me like "what do you want me to do" and to top it all off, some old Japanese guy that she was with said in English "Ladies First" and thought it was cute so I let him sign it. I swear, many people nowadays have zero manners and lack common courtesy. It took him like 3 minutes to sign the thing as she had him write his real name in Kanji I believe then a message or something and they couldn't figure out which Kanji were the correct ones to use. So, he signed my thing and after that I caught our new Chinese players Chen Wai and Wang Jing Chao and they signed my Team China WBC hat. All the while, Suzuki Takanori was next to his car looking cool in a leather jacket and sunglasses. I missed the chance to get my picture with him but next time Suzuki-coach. I also caught Shingo Takeyama and Toshiyuki Kitagawa and got their signatures too.

All in all a fun day at Yokosuka Stadium, but the next day wouldn't be so fun as I'll tell you about in my next report.

Yokosuka Stadium field. The entire infield is brand new and is the same turf as Jingu Stadium I believe. At least that's what it reminded me of at first glance.

Nippon Ham Fighters First Baseman Sho Nakata (#6) doing who knows what. Any ideas anyone?

The Searex Crew promoting "team togetherness" or something like that after warmups.

I absolutely LOVE the Konta chant!!! The melody just draws you in and before you know it you're also cheering for Konta. It's my new favorite Fighters cheer second only to Jason Bott's first cheer song with the Fighters (which is now no longer in use. -sad face-)

Searex Starter Yota Kosugi

Nippon Ham Starter Toshiyuki Yanuki

Former pitcher now infielder Atsushi Kida. He wasn't that bad in the game actually.

The Final Score

My good friend the Yokosuka Panther. The unofficial mascot of the Shonan Searex.

2 of my 色紙 I managed to get signed. The one on the right is Sho Nakata and the one on the left is Yuta Sekiguchi of Shonan. Seriousuly, I'm not making this up as his signature is a picture of a cat. A FREAKING CAT!!! How funny is that eh? I also managed to get Shingo Takeyama's and Toshiyuki Kitagawa's of Shonan signatures as well.


My Team China WBC cap signed by Wang, Jing Chao(#55) and Chen, Wei(#42)of Shonan who also played for the team. The numbers on the cap are their Team China numbers and not their Searex ones. I wasn't really sure if they could speak Japanese and since my Chinese or "普通话" doesn't go beyond "What's your name" and "My name is Matt" and "I like American food" and "Where's the restroom", I decided to try and speak English with them and it turns out they can speak a little English. I both think they were a bit surprised that someone asked them to sign something and weren't expecting it to be honest.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Knuckleball Princess causes quite a commotion at "Hamasta".

What's up everyone? I'm still trying to get in a groove with the blog here but with the Japanese School Year ending, I should have a lot more free time. That being said, the WBC Recaps will be posted eventually. I've decided to take my time with those as they do take a while to get done but they will get posted eventually.

With that, this brings us to this post. I decided to make the long long trek from Chichibu City in Saitama to my old stomping ground at Yokohama Stadium (about 2 and a half to 3 hours) on Sunday March 15th. To be honest, I really didn't go to see the Baystars but rather I went to see a girl. Now, I know some of you maybe thinking that it was a waste of time,but this was not just any girl. This was Eri Yoshida, the 17 year old side-arm knuckleballer who was drafted by the Kobe 9 Cruise of the Kansai Independent League a few months back. I must say that it was very unique and awesome at the same time. I felt that "Yoshida-Senshu" was very humbled by the experience and was seen bowing to everyone on the field . She also looked really nervous too. But, she took the mound and threw one of her famous pitches to Baystars catcher Toshihiro Noguchi who caught it and the crowd cheered loudly. Again, it felt really cool to see her throw out the first pitch and I wish her nothing but the best in her young (and hopefully long and successful) baseball career.


The funny thing is that I met up with one of my friends from the outfield stands at the stadium and it turns out he went to the same high school in Kawasaki as she did (I believe she has since transfered to another school in Kobe to be closer to the team and to finish her studies). Albeit, they went there at different times being that he's in his late 40's but still, it is indeed a small world.

Also, here's a video of the opening ceremony. I'm sorry for the quality of the video. I kind of shook the camera a little while she was actually throwing the pitch but you can still see it nonetheless. And just as a quick note to all you readers, my Yakyu Youtube account is "Hamanchu2015". So feel free to check it out as I'm planning on shooting more videos this year and uploading stuff from previous years as well.


As for the game itself, the starting pitchers for today were Chihiro Kaneko for Orix and Yuji Yoshimi for the Baystars. The game was about 2 hours and 45 minutes and I was glad when it was over. Orix dominated the entire game as a result of the Baystars pitchers giving up way too many home runs. In fact, all but one of Orix's runs came via the longball which was one of the main problems last season. I believe "Dr."Michael Westbay from JapaneseBaseball.com has used the medical term "ippatsu-byou" in regards to the Baystars pitching staff on numerous occasions and I feel that they still are infected (they tend to give up way too many home runs is what it means).

But thanks to some nice timely hitting at the expense of Orix pitcher Hidetaka Kawagoe, they managed to score 4 runs in the 9th innning and win the game. Kawagoe couldn't get a single out in the 9th as he faced 7 batters and walked 2 (Saeki was intentionally walked).Yokohama ended up with an amazing 15 hits and Yukiya "Big-Yo" Yokoyama got the win in relief while Kawagoe was tagged with the loss.

Oh yeah and new Baystar Dan Johnson hit a monster 2 run home run in the 6th as a pinch hitter on the second pitch he saw. Man, he crushed that ball. I don't know where he'll fit in the lineup though as the roster seems pretty crowded at this point but we'll have to wait another 2 weeks.
It also should be noted that Tuffy Rhodes, Keiji Ohbiki, Alex Cabrera, Jose Fernandez (2 run), and Tomotaka Sakaguchi all hit home runs for Orix.

And Now It's PICTURE TIME!!!!!!!!!

Pre-game warm up with John Turney

Orix Starter Chihiro Kaneko

Yokohama Starter Yuji Yoshimi

Orix's Tomotaka Sakaguchi getting ready to bunt

Baystars rookie Kejiro Matsumoto fouling off a pitch

I think we already know who this is...

The Final Score

And finally, any Baystars post would not be complete without my good friend simply known as "Sign Guy" :