Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Rakuten Golden Eagles 0 at Chiba Lotte Marines 5 (Eastern League) - September 9, 2009


Lotte Urawa Field was the first minor league park that I had seen this season, and I had arrived rather late not realizing how few seats are available. I ended up at the end of a very uncomfortable bench that did not provide a good view of the action. I wanted to see this place once more from a different perspective, so I got out to Musashi Urawa station early enough to grab a seat right by the fence on the 3rd base side. Unfortunately, I was still pretty far from home plate; it looks like the real fans are there about 90 minutes before game time to take the best spots. Even then, the closest seats are halfway down the baseline, there are no seats next to home plate like at Yakult Toda Field.

The Game

There's no need to describe how to get here or the park itself; I've done that before. I'll just mention some of the game highlights.

Satoru Komiyama started for Lotte - you might remember him from his one season with the Mets back in 2002, (although you probably don't, he didn't do much). Komiyama has had a long career in Japanese baseball, first pitching for the Marines back in 1990. From what I can gather, he was sent down earlier this year as he posted an ERA over 10 in just 11 innings with the big club. But he's only pitched in 13 innings for the minor league team, which suggests he's been hurt for most of the season. When his named was announced as the starter, the Lotte fans murmured appreciatively. He's one of Japan's most famous pitchers, and to see him here was a nice surprise. He's warming up in the picture below.


Rakuten sent En-Yu Lin to the hill. He's a Taiwanese prospect with only 4 innings in the minors this year, which leads me to believe the injury that caused him to miss the Olympic qualification last year was quite serious.

It looked like a good pitching matchup, and it was. For 2 innings. Komiyama faced 6 batters over 2 frames, walking one but getting him on a double play. I guess it's was a rehab start since he was replaced by Yoshihide Kanda, a 7-year veteran whose never been good enough to stick for a whole season with the top team.

Meanwhile, Lin pitched 3 scoreless innings himself before being replaced by Hiroshi Katayama, a young pitcher who has struggled this year in the minors. That's when the pitching duel ended.

Kanda maintained the pace set by Komiyama, going 6 strong innings, yielding only a single and a hit batsman.

Katayama was not nearly as effective, loading the bases with nobody out in the fourth, only to escape on a pop out and double play. In the 5th, he loaded the bases again with nobody out. This time, he was not so lucky as DH Akira Otsuka, a Lotte veteran, doubled to center for 2 runs. The throw to third got away (the first of 4 Eagle errors) and another run scored as Otsuka moved to third. He came home on a groundout to make it 4-0 Marines.

Naotaka Takehara on second after a double

They added another unearned run in the 6th and really, with Kanda pitching so well, the game was over then. Tomohiso Nemoto pitched a quick 9th to end the game as the Marines rewarded their faithful fans with a 5-0 victory. The Eagles had only 2 hits and those 4 errors, which is not a recipe for success.

The game took only 2:22, which was great as rain was threatening near the end. Certainly the story was Kanda, who was pitching with confidence and baffling the Rakuten hitters. I should note that Lotte leads the Eastern League while Rakuten is in last place; this game certainly made that clear.

Chase Lambin

Before the game, I was sitting next to the field with my friend Joe as Chase Lambin, a one-time Marlins farmhand, walked by. He noticed our two pasty white faces and was surprised - not many foreigners make it out to these games. He asked "What language are you guys speaking?" - clearly not used to hearing English around Musashi Urawa.

After the game, we were just hanging out next to the park, where the players have to walk past to get to the clubhouse. I was taking pictures of Komiyama as he signed autographs. I saw Lambin walking and Joe went up to congratulate him. Lambin, who displayed a great sense of humour, said "For what?" Joe, who knows little about baseball, said "Ummm, for having a good game". As Lambin was 0-4 with an error, I think he knew that Joe had no idea what he was talking about and said, "Oh, cuz we won". Pretty funny.

After that, Lambin chatted with us for a few minutes while signing autographs for other fans. I was interested in his routine playing for the minor league team. Turns out he lives near Chiba Marine Stadium where the big team plays and has to take an hour and a half train out to Musashi Urawa, leaving at 7 am. They start stretching at 9:30 for a 1 pm game, and he said he doesn't get home till 6 or 7 most nights, so it's really a full-time job. Just like a Japanese salaryman I thought. Anyway, it was fun chatting with him and his wife Sara and their interpreter and I thank Chase for giving us some time. He's wearing #43 below.


I did a little research after I got home and found out that he played in Albuquerque last season, hitting .300 with 14 homers. Not sure why those numbers weren't good enough for a September call-up or a look-see with another team. But when he had a chance to try out for a Japanese team, he jumped at the chance, winning a spot with the Marines. Unfortunately, he was only hitting .192 here with the big club in limited at bats so they sent him down. He's hitting around .220 in the minors, so it looks like he's having trouble adjusting to the Japanese game, but he seems to have a very positive attitude so here's hoping he's back here next season.

What is most interesting about Chase is that he has his own blog. He's articulate and funny, and it's fascinating reading about his experiences in Japan, especially his thoughts on playing in the games. There's some great non-game stuff on there that most athletes would be loath to make public, including a video of him dancing on a table at a bar in Sapporo. I encourage you to have a look if you have time; it's definitely one of the better ballplayer blogs you'll see.

Thanking the Fans

Today was the last game of the season at Lotte Urawa. After the game, the players all formed along the 3rd-base line to thank their fans for their support, as you can see below. It was a nice touch and the fans all stood and applauded. I think this is true fan appreciation and something that could be done elsewhere.


Lining Up for Autographs

Finally, I mentioned that Komiyama is a very famous pitcher in Japan. After the game, he was singing autographs on the road that leads to the clubhouse. In the States, I would expect a mob of people to surround him, pushing and shoving to get an autograph. But here everybody lined up and waited their turn; one-by-one Komiyama signed their memorabilia until there was nobody left. It was nice to see the respect the fans have for each other as well as the players.


Break Time

I'm off to Hawaii in 2 days, and won't be updating the blog much while I am gone as there's not much to see in terms of live sports. I'm back on the 21st and will see two minor league games and then a college/major tripleheader to finish off the regular baseball season. Check back in two weeks for updates.

Best,

Sean

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