Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Yakult Swallows 10 at Nippon Ham Fighters 4 (Eastern League) - August 4, 2009

After another wet weekend, the weather finally cleared enough so I decided to head to Kamagaya to check out Fighters Stadium. Once again, my Yakult Swallows minor leaguers would be the visitors as they took on the Nippon Ham Fighters.

Getting There

Fighters Stadium is located near Kamagaya Station on the Tobu Noda Line. That likely means little to you unless you live in Japan, but it's about 40 minutes from Tokyo. However, you will need to get a bus from the station to the stadium - it's only 100 yen and the 10-minute ride is through a lot of twisting roads, so I suspect it's not an easy walk. The bus leaves at 11:30, 12:00, and 12:30 - the last bus gets you there in plenty of time, but you might miss the starting lineups being announced. Not a huge problem as all the players have their names on their jersey, but I prefer to have my scorecard ready in advance.

The Stadium

From the outside, Fighters Stadium is different than the other ballparks I've seen. This is the first minor league park which has a parking lot, which you can see in the picture above. Note the large netting to prevent too many foul balls from flying into the parked cars. The ticket window is in the middle, and there are two entry gates on either side.

Once inside, you will notice the ballpark is similar to Giants Stadium - single bench seats from first to third, raised about 12 feet off the field. Here there's a fence guarding the fans, rather than netting. Either way, pictures are not that easy from the front row - as you can see below, the fence does prevent perfect shots. However, you can sit up high near first or third base and get an unobstructed view - the first minor league park that actually allows you to take clear pictures.

It's 1,000 yen to get in, and as usual you can sit anywhere. There is a concourse here, which allows you to walk from one side to the other without obstructing other patrons. There's a few food outlets here, offering typical Japanese specialties such as noodles and fried chicken, but it was not particularly appealing. There is a large scoreboard in center field which also acts as the batters eye (shown below).

What I liked about this place though was the local spirit. The team has a mascot and an announcer, as well as some games for kids. There was even a small cheering section present, another first. The parent club is known as the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, and although the minor league club uses the same uniform, they are unofficially dubbed the Kamagaya Fighters. They even sell jerseys with Kamagaya stitched on the front, and I was surprised to see many fans wearing them. It's this sort of community togetherness that is fostered by the minor leagues in North America (except for Ottawa!) and it's good to have at least one team here trying the same thing.

The Game

Unfortunately, the Fighters' fans had little reason to cheer. Their starter was rookie Kenji Tsuchiya, who comes from the same high school as Daisuke Matsuzaka and recently started the minor league All-Star Game. But today, he was terrible. Despite giving up 5 hits and a walk in the first two innings, he was only down 1-0 as he worked out of jams both times. But 3 hits in the 3rd led to 2 runs, and 3 more in the 5th made it 4-0 Swallows. Tsuchiya was clearly ineffective but he was left in for the 6th, where the Swallows added 4 hits and a walk for 5 more runs to put the game away. Overall, in 6 long innings, Tsuchiya faced 35 batters, and allowed 17 to reach base, 15 by hits! I was surprised they left him in so long, he just didn't have it and was visibly tired near the end, giving up a long double and big home run before finally getting the last out.

Yakult outfielder Munehiro Shida

Swallows starter Shun Takaichi was much better, giving up two runs through 6 innings before yielding to the bullpen. The 8th inning was pitched by Ricky Barrett (pictured below), an ex-Rochester Red Wing. He retired the side in order, including two K's and looked confident as he walked off the field. I'm not sure why he's down here; he only pitched 8.1 innings on the big club, but gave up 8 walks in that short time, which probably doomed his chances of sticking. Even though he managed a 1-2-3 inning here, he did go to 3-ball counts on each batter, so I'd guess he's still trying to work on his control problems. Hope he gets them figured out and is back pitching with the major league team soon.

The final was 10-4 as the Swallows added a run in the 8th before the Fighters tacked on a couple in the 9th on a long dinger by pinch-hitter Ryuichi Watanabe. Happy to finally see Yakult win after 4 tries, but this is the type of game I particularly dislike. Long (over 3:15), drawn out, poor pitching by one starter, not that close and no memorable plays. I found that this sort of game happened far too often in Japan when I was watching many years ago, but in revisiting the sport, such affairs are far fewer. I'm not sure if it's because the minors are generally quicker but I'm hoping that I was just unlucky way back when and picked a few crappy games to watch. So I'll see a few more games this season and hope that those are more interesting.

League Home Run Leader Sho Nakata swings

Up Next

I've got no idea what's coming up. It does appear as if the rainy season is over, so I'll try to finish the minor league parks in the Tokyo area, but after that, there's not much to look forward to. I'll have to get my situation here in Japan straightened out jobwise first, but once that's settled, I'll start looking at other things to do.



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