Thursday, July 30, 2009

On the Road in Nagano: Yokohama vs. Yomiuri @ Nagano Olympic Stadium 07/22/09

Greetings everyone. It's been a little while I know, but I haven't had much time for Pro Yakyu as of late with the Japanese school term ending for the summer holidays. And because of the summer holidays (and the boredom that comes along with it partially), I have this burning desire to write about and go to Pro Yakyu games and I will be doing just that this summer. So, as a sort of treat to everyone out there, I decided to kick things off by making a "culture trip" to Nagano to take in some sites and whatnot. Oh yeah, and there just happened to be a baseball game being hosted in Nagano that didn't affect my travel plans whatsoever when I planned this trip. A strange coincidence indeed.

So, I arrived at Nagano Station at around 12:30pm and after checking my bag into the hotel where I would be staying at, I went back to the station and proceeded to the Nagano Olympic Stadium shuttle bus area. And much to my surprise, none other than the Yomiuri Giants had a bus waiting for them right near where the shuttle buses were. So, as you can imagine, when they were heading towards the bus, they were immediately hounded by at least 20+ people wanting autographs. But, as the players went into the bus and sat down, none other than Marc Kroon came over to where I was standing and shook my hand. Now for those of you who don't know, during the 2007 season, I used to travel around and see the BayStars at wherever they went. And as such, I kind of made it a point to always say "hi" to Marc (it was his last season in Yokohama). So, I guess because I went to so many games, Marc remembered who I was. Now, I hadn't seen Marc in quite some time but when he came over and shook my hand, I got goosebumps. We had a short one minute chat before he headed onto the bus and headed to the stadium. I was in shock to say the least. I guess it was one of those "fan moments" people tend to have when talking with their favorite players and whatnot.

Now, as for the match itself, this looked really good on paper because of the pitching match up. The Giants sent out Wifrin Obispo and Yokohama countered with ace Daisuke Miura. Since being called up to the top team, Obispo has been on fire for the Giants and has turned heads to say the least. Suffice to say, I actually enjoyed watching the Giants play in this game and no that was not a typo (I’m also preparing myself for the numerous amounts of stones and other foreign that will be hurled in my general direction after I post this article too). Nowadays, whenever I see the Giants, I see a lot of players I don’t even recognize. It seems to me like Yomiuri is getting younger in some areas so to speak and it’s obviously working as they have had an iron grip on first place in the Central League for what seems like an eternity now. So while I still don’t really care for Yomiuri, I’ve got to give credit where credit is due.

Former Nippon Ham Fighter Takahito Kudoh.

But aside from all that, the story of the game for me was Yomiuri starter Wifrin Obispo. After a rocky start in the first inning which included a bunt hit and a hit batter, Obispo became untouchable and went on to throw his first complete game on 120 pitches while only giving up 2 runs on 6 hits while striking out 7. Obispo really deserves to be on the top roster at this point and I’m glad that the Giants didn’t demote him after Kroon was ready to come of the disabled list. So, congratulations to Obispo on this accomplishment in his career and I hope to see him at least one more time this season before it ends.

Wifrin Obispo reacting after throwing a pitch.

Obispo delivering a pitch.

Wifrin Obispo getting ready to deliver a pitch.

Daisuke Miura standing on second after hitting a double in the 3rd.

Miura immediately after hitting the ball.

Miura getting ready to hit the ball.

Yokohama on the other hand, was really a huge letdown by the way they played. It simply amazes me that about 2 weeks ago, they were riding a really impressive 5 game winning streak but now have reverted to their old ways. Bad pitching and the disease known as “iipatsu byou” (a disease in which pitchers have been known to give up an extraordinary amount of home runs throughout the course of a season) were Yokohama’s main problems. The lack of offense too also contributed to this loss as well but when your ace pitcher is serving up homeruns like nobody’s business, well that takes precedence in my opinion.

Michihiro Ogasawara or rather his “clean-shaven dopplelganger” as my friend Deanna from Marinerds would say, started things off for the Giants by hitting a solo home run to left in the top of the 1st to give Yomiuri an early 1-0 lead. Then in the top of the 2nd, the home runs continued as Yoshiyuki Kamei and Shinosuke Abe each hit solo home runs to right field (Abe’s barely cleared the wall) to give Yomiuri a 3-0 lead which basically spelled the end for Yokohama. While Yokohama ace Daisuke Miura didn’t really pitch all that well, he did help out with the bat by leading off the bottom of the 3rd with a double to left. Miura then was then moved over to third on a single by Yokohama leadoff hitter Takehiro Ishikawa and was later brought home on a sacrifice fly to center by Seiichi Uchikawa which cut Yomiuri’s lead to 2. However, that’s about all the offense could do as the Giants kept on going. Shigeyuki Furuki tripled in a run in the top of the 7th which was the only run of the game which didn’t come by the long ball and gave Yomiuri a 4-1 lead and Ogasawara’s clean-shaven doppleganger added 2 more in the top of the 8th with a 2 run home run to left which was his second on the night. Yokohama 1st baseman Dan Johnson added a solo shot of his own to center in the bottom of the 9th hoping to start something for Yokohama’s offense but it wasn’t meant to be as Yomiuri scored often and early to put away Yokohama 6-2.

Alex Ramirez taking some batting practice before the game.

Michihiro Ogasawara's clean-shaven doppleganger watching his first home run of the night sail into the left field stands in the first.

Yomiuri catcher Shinosuke Abe hitting a home run in the 2nd inning.

Not a very good way for Yokohama to head into the All-Star break and here's hoping that they can have a respectable second half. But all in all, it was a great time as I did end up in the outfield around the 5th inning and got to cheer with some of my friends who had also made the trip to Nagano.

Yokohama closer Shun Yamaguchi and Yuta Sekiguchi greeting people at the entrance before the game. I think like the first 100 or so people in the gate also got a free BayStars fan book as well.

Takeyama and Takehiro Ishikawa also greeting people by the entrance gate I was at.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Down by the Bay Edition #1: Yokohama vs. Hirshoima @ Hamasta Plus Photopost 07/05/09

Hello once again everyone. This year has not been so kind to my favorite NPB team, which is the Yokohama BayStars. They have been beat down, constantly humiliated, and just plain outplayed this season to the tune of a 23-46 record (as of 7/5/09). So, it comes as little surprise that I haven’t been to an actual home game since the pre-season. Logistics also has a small part to play in this as well but mainly it is because of the performance of the team. But despite the fact that I’ve been ashamed of the team to say the least, I’ve never stopped following the team and as a result, I lifted my personal “ban” on team home games and decided to go to my old stomping grounds at Yokohama Stadium on July 5th. And quite honestly, I’ve got to say that this was the best game I’ve been to all year.

Memories of the past 3 years came flooding back to me as I purchased my ticket and entered the stadium. The smell of the popcorn and fried foods in the air, the all but to familiar dance contest and sutapuri (or stadium photos where they take pictures of random people through out the stadium at certain times during the games) made me feel at home again. I spent my time in between my seat and sitting with some of my friends who have season seats at the top of the stadium and it was just like old times again. I was truly like a little kid at the ballpark. Today’s game against the Carp would be the last day game until September because the team will switch over to night games for every home game because of the summer heat (I believe).

But before I get to the game, I’d just like to comment on baseball merchandise. Now, every once in a while, you find this cool piece of merchandise that you just have to but when you see it. Well, today was one of those days as I bought this little towel at the stadium:

In my opinion, the Hiroshima-Toyo Carp have some of the best merchandise in Pro Yakyu in my opinion. Today’s piece of merchandise features the Carp bat boy holding a shumai (Chinese dumpling which is the famous food in Yokohama) on a stick with Yokohama written everywhere on the towel. This was the first time I’d ever seen this towel anywhere so I got 2 of them and it makes for a great novelty having lived in Kanagawa for 3 years and all.

As for the game itself, the starting pitchers for the day were Tom Mastny for Yokohama and Takahiro Aoki for Hiroshima. As it turns out the game would be decided by what has been Yokohama’s “Achilles Heel” for a long time now and that’s starting pitching. Mastny was solid for about 2 innings of work and then things started to go down hill from there. New Hiroshima outfielder Andy Phillips put Hiroshima on the board first with a 3 run home run in the top of the 3rd inning. Hiroshima right fielder Shigenobu Shima also added a solo shot of his own in the top of the 4th to make it 4-0 Hiroshima. But not to be outdone, Yokohama slugger Shuichi Murata countered with a two run shot of his own in the bottom of the 4th to make it 4-2 Yokohama. Midway through the 5th inning however, Yokohama reliever Kimiyasu “Hama no Jisan” Kudoh came in to replace Tom Mastny and promptly gave up a sacrifice fly to Shima, which made it 5-2 Hiroshima. It’s always a treat to see Kudoh pitch these days. Yokohama responded when pinch hitter Hiroyuki Ohnishi hit a timely groundout to short in the bottom of the 5th to make it 5-3 Hiroshima. Not really that impressive but a run is a run after all and I’ll take it.

New Hiroshima slugger Andy Phillips watches his 3 run homer fly into the stands in the 3rd inning.

Andy Phillips crosses home plate after rounding the bases.

Yokohama starter Tom Mastny.

Mastny after throwing a pitch.

Hiroshima starter Takahiro Aoki winding up for the pitch.

Takahiro Aoki again.

But perhaps Yokohama’s biggest chance came during the bottom of the 7th inning, which ironically was our “lucky seven”. Tatsuhiko Kinjoh started things off with a walk. After that, pinch hitter Tatsuya Shimozono hit a single to left. After a sacrifice bunt by Takeya Ishikawa moved Kinjoh and Shimozono over third and second respectively. Then, Takahiro Saeki came in as a pinch hitter (to a loud applause too I might add) and hit a sacrifice fly to right to make it 5-4 Hiroshima. You could just feel the excitement in the air at Hamasta as the next batter; Yuki Yoshimura came up to the plate. Yoshimura ended up striking out to end the inning and killed Yokohama’s chance to score that tying run.

Yokohama centerfielder Tatsuya Shimozono standing at second base.

Takahiro Saeki watches as he hits a sacrifice fly in the 7th.

Now, as I said in my previous post about Sendai, I think that it is great that Tashiro-kantoku put Yoshimura in the lead off spot to try and change things up. But PLEASE, end this experiment or whatever it is NOW. While there is no questioning that Yoshimura has the talent, the simple fact is that he strikes out too much for his own good and really shouldn’t be in the lead off spot. Yoshimura went 1-4 in this game with three strikeouts and that in my opinion, is enough reason to raise the red flag. I would suggest that Tashiro-kantoku give Uchikawa another shot to lead off because he seems to be coming around with the bat nowadays as he’s leading the team with a .312 average. I would much rather see contact from the lead off spot than strikeouts. Or, if they’re really adamant about having the lead off hitter steal bases, then put Ishikawa back in the lead off spot and move Yoshimura down in the lineup where he can swing for the fences because their numbers are almost identical with Yoshimura having the slight edge over Ishikawa.

Hiroshima added an insurance run via a sacrifice fly by Andy Phillips in the top of the 9th which made it 6-4 and ultimately spelled the end for Yokohama.

Hiroshima closer Katsuhiro Nakagawa. He picked up his 22nd game in this game.

Kimiyasu Kudoh walking back to the dugout with second baseman Toshihisa Nishi.

Kudoh getting ready to warm up.

Kudoh winding up for a pitch.

Atsushi Kizuka throwing a pitch.

Kizuka looking at the mound while doing some of his pre-pitch stretches.

And while I should’ve been disappointed with the result, I wasn’t because I thought that
Yokohama played well at least offensively. They’ve shown great improvement in that department since the beginning of the season and should be commended as such. The problem is that Yokohama continues to have issues with their pitching, mainly their starters not being able to go deep into games and as a result, end up relying too heavily on their bullpen. A recent comment by Tashiro-kantoku surprised me when he responded to a question about taking Les Walrond out of the rotation. He admitted that the team has no pitching and that they must wait for the young pitchers to develop at 2-gun. Well, since the season is pretty much over anyways, why not give the youngsters some experience at the big league level? I’m just saying that it certainly couldn’t hurt in their development process to get some of that experience under their belts so to speak.

Aside from the piece above, there was little to dislike about this game despite the result. It was great going back to where my Pro Yakyu journey began and I hope to bring you some more editions of “Down by the Bay” in the near future as a part of me still takes great pride in talking about the Yokohama BayStars even though I don’t get out to see them as much as I used to and that the season has been a rough one to say the least.


Hiroshima shortstop Takuro Ishii. The day before this game, Takuro hit his 100th career home run. Kind of ironic that he hit it at Yokohama Stadium where he played for almost all of his career. Congratulations to Takuro for reaching this accomplishment in his career.

Takuro warming up before the game with Eishin Soyogi.

Takehiro Ishikawa warming up at second base before the game.

Catcher Takeshi Hosoyamada going after a ball that got away after Scott McClain struck out.

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.