Sunday, July 26, 2009

Big week of baseball coming up

I've been back in Tokyo for a week now and done very little, as it rained every day last week. It looks like the worst of that is over and it's time for the hot and humid weather to take charge for the next 6 weeks. That means it's time for the national high school baseball tournament, known as Koushien after the ballpark in which it takes place. Located in Nishinomiya, a town near Osaka and Kobe, Koushien is the most famous ballpark in the country, while the tournament is one of the most fascinating sports spectacles in Japan.

Starting on August 8th, it will runs for 15 consecutive days, culminating in a final that is more popular than the Japan Series. Every game is televised on NHK, the national broadcaster in Japan. Some high schools are nationally famous for their strength in baseball as they have made repeated trips to Koshien, and many pro players gained fame at the tournament. Daisuke Matsuzaka, now taking up DL space in Boston, pitched a no-hitter in the 1998 championship game. Of course, he also threw 250 pitches in a 17-inning game earlier in that tournament, which might explain his repeated visits to the doctor a decade later.

Each prefecture in Japan has its own tournament to decide its representative (some areas such as Tokyo are divided into East and West, since they have so many schools). The 49 regional winners then converge on Koshien in early August, playing a single knockout format until only 1 team is left standing.

Both the East and West Tokyo tournaments have their final games in Jingu Stadium, where the Yakult Swallows play. At 700 yen to enter, I figure this is something worth seeing, and if I enjoy it, I may head down to Osaka to catch some games in the actual tournament. Today is the West Tokyo quarter-finals, so I'll catch a couple of those, and then tomorrow sees the East Tokyo semi-finals, which I plan to watch as well. I'll have some detailed reports later this week.

There's also a lot of minor league action in the Tokyo area this week. Monday night, the Shonan Searex are at home at an all-you-can-drink-beer night, which I will check out. Then the Eastern League futures team visits the Fighters minor leaguers in Kamagaya on Tuesday. Wednesday sees the Giants minor leaguers hosting Yakult, with a return matchup in Toda on Friday. The weather looks promising, so I plan to head to all those games to get back into baseball. As usual, look for reports here.



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