Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Rakuten Golden Eagles 7 at Yomiuri Giants 12 (Eastern League) - September 22, 2009

The minor league season is drawing to a close here in Japan, and I wanted to visit Giants Stadium one more time as it is the best place to watch a game for me. My friend Hiroshi, a Giants fan who had never seen a minor league game, joined me.

I've described the stadium previously, but there was one small difference today: there was a shuttle bus from the station to the stadium. The bus only runs on weekends and holidays though, but we're in the middle of a 5-day long weekend, so it was available. It runs every 20 minutes from 11:00 to 12:40 for the 1:00 game, and saves you the 10-minute walk up 283 stairs.

The shuttle bus

Due to the holiday I was expecting a large crowd and wasn't disappointed. There were 1,823 people there, compared to an average weekday crowd of around 400. By the time the game started, nearly every seat was taken and the atmosphere was comparable to a minor league game in the States. We were able to get two seats behind the plate, but they were relatively far away as all the front row seats were filled. So there aren't many pics from this game.

The Giants were hosting Rakuten, who I had seen two weeks earlier in Lotte. In that game, they made 4 errors and only had two hits while being shut out. In today's game their offense was hitting on all cylinders as they took a 6-0 lead in the 5th inning. Unfortunately their defense was abysmal yet again: 2 errors in the 5th allowed the Giants to score 5 runs (4 unearned) and 2 more miscues in the 6th led to 2 more runs. Rakuten had managed to score a run in between, so we were tied at 7 after 7 innings.

The Giants then brought in ex-Blue Jay Micheal Nakamura (pictured below) who pitched a perfect 8th inning. In the bottom half, Rakuten veteran pitcher Hiroki Yamamura threw away a sacrifice bunt  (their 5th error!) and Yomiuri capitalized, scoring 5 runs, highlighted by a monster 3-run homer from Seung-Yeop Lee. Nakamura pitched a quick ninth and the Giants had overcome a 6-run defecit to win 12-7.

Another ugly game from Rakuten who knocked out 16 hits but allowed 8 unearned runs. There's a reason they are in last place. The Giants meanwhile took over the lead in the Eastern League, a half-game in front of Lotte and Shonan. The Giants have a home-and-home with the Marines this weekend which should settle the pennant. I'll let you know who wins next week.

Thoughts on the Japanese minors

I was planning to see a Futures game today down in Yokosuka, but I'm not feeling all that well, so I'll skip it. Which means that my minor league schedule is finished for the year. Overall, I really enjoyed going to all these games - high-quality baseball, often for free. Sure, some of the stadiums are terrible, but it beats the big leagues here. I often wonder why the NPB doesn't upgrade their minor-league system as they could easily draw decent crowds with night games in proper stadiums, but I'm not complaining. I feel like I happened upon a secret and I'm happy if it stays that way. Next year I'll either be working or out of Japan and won't make any weekday games, which is rather depressing. But if I'm still here, I do hope to make it down to Kansai for some Western League games - there's still 5 parks I've yet to see. As always, check back here for updates.



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