Monday, September 28, 2009

Tohto University Baseball - Two games on Monday!

University Baseball in Tokyo

Most baseball fans in Japan are familiar with the NPB as well as the high school game: both are widely televised nationwide. However, there's another level of baseball that doesn't get as much exposure as it should: university baseball. Within Tokyo alone, there are two leagues that consist of 27 teams total. Each league plays games in the spring and autumn and provide a great chance to catch future prospects at their most polite.

The players bow before the game

The first and more widely known circuit is the Tokyo Big 6 League, featuring six of the larger schools in the area. They play games on weekends at Jingu, home of the Yakult Swallows. I have seen some of these games on television occasionally but have yet to see one in person, since my weekends are usually busy. I'll be rectifying this oversight in a couple of weeks.

Fortunately, there's another league known as the Tohto University Baseball League which plays their games on weekdays. The 21 teams in this league are divided into 4 "divisions" and teams are relegated and promoted between divisions. The top 3 divisions have 6 teams while there's only 3 teams in division 4.

Each season (i.e. twice a year, once during spring and once during fall), there is a simple round robin where each team plays a best-of-three series against each other team in their division (except in division 4, where 2 series are played). If the first two games of a series are split or one game is tied, then a third rubber match is played, but should one team sweep the first two games, the third is cancelled. The team that wins the series is awarded 1 point, and after the round robin, the team with the most points is the champion for that season. Overall win/loss records are used in the event that two teams have the same number of points. So it's technically possible to finish behind a team that has a worse record but more points, although I'm sure it doesn't happen that often.

I only discovered the Tohto league website yesterday while I was looking for info on the Big 6 league. I noticed that Division 2 had two games scheduled for this morning at Jingu's #2 Stadium, which I had yet to visit. So I woke up early and took the train over to Gaienmae station, and made the short walk up to the stadium.

Jingu #2 Stadium

This ballpark is located right next to the main Jingu Stadium. However, it is more than just a baseball stadium: along the first base side is a large driving range. I guess space is at a premium in central Tokyo, and since the stadium is not used much, they've found a creative way to generate more revenue. The interesting thing about this is the 100-foot high netting that rises beyond the outfield fence to protect the surrounding neighborhood from golf shots that might be too powerful.

Due to the driving range (shown above) though, there aren't many seats - the bowl extends both ways from home plate but only out to about a third of the way down the lines, as you can tell from the picture above. The good news is that they've actually left two sections unprotected by the ubiquitous fences, so you can get a clear view of the action at home plate. But if you sit too far back in this section on the first base side, you can't see the right fielder as he is blocked by the driving range. Bizarre.

There are two levels of seating: a lower two-tiered section with a small walkway between, and then an upper section of benches which was closed off for today's games. The overhang from the upper section provides good cover for the lower seats. Even those seats near the front were shaded for the most part today as the sun traveled low in the sky behind the stadium. All seats are 1,300 yen and you can sit where you please (except where the cheering sections sit).

Another cool feature here was the scoreboard - it was manually operated but also had the lineups posted. Which means that someone needed to write down every name before the game, as well as to change names during the game. The nameplates were blackboards and chalk seemed to be used. That's a lot of work for a scoreboard operator. When a team was at the plate, their DH would be displayed, but when pitching, it would be the pitcher showing in the DH's spot. Check the pic below for an example: note how the team on the left has the DH showing, while the team on the right has the pitcher (Togame) displayed. It also looks like the game is in progress, but that's because there are 15 innings showing; the shot below was taken after the game.

Overall, I was surprised at how different and unique this place was compared to the other stadiums I've seen this year. It'd be a great minor league park but I guess they make more money using it as a driving range, a sad commentary on priorities here. Anyway, I'll try to come back for more games this season.

Game 1 - Senshu University 3 - Kokushikan University 4 (10 innings)

The first game got underway at 9:57 am, which I am sure is the earliest I've ever seen a pitch thrown. Not much happened until the 3rd when a sacrifice fly brought home the game's first run for Kokushikan. Senshu, alma mater of Dodgers starter Hiroki Kuroda, replied with two in the 4th, helped by an error, but they left the bases loaded. In the bottom half, right fielder Mizuguchi (below) smacked a homer to tie the game, but Senshu responded quickly with a Konoue double to regain their 1-run lead.

In the bottom of the 7th, a leadoff single and a throwing error put a man on second with nobody out for Kokushikan, still trailing by 1. A sacrifice and then a perfectly executed squeeze brought the runner home and we were tied. Nothing was settled in the next two innings, so we headed to extras. After reliever Higuchi struck out the Senshu side in the 10th, Kokushikan's leadoff hitter Shimazu bunted for a single and advanced to second when Senshu pitcher Kataoka threw wildly. The next batter also bunted and the throw to first went wild again, allowing Shimazu to trot home with the winning run. Three errors by Senshu were their downfall as they lost 4-3 in 10 innings, with two unearned runs making the difference.

Senshu's Konoue pops up here

There were 6 sacrifice bunts in this game as well as two strikeouts on bunts. Really an overused option here in Japan. Kokushikan starter Izawa went 9 innings and 137 pitches, scattering 12 hits but only giving up those 3 runs (1 unearned). He didn't get the win though, but at least his team did. Otherwise not much to comment about in this game, it took 2:41, which seems to be a bit long for this league. But it was still a decent match that ended on the last play.

Game 2 - Tokyo University of Agriculture 1 at Nihon University 5

I didn't keep score for this game, but the star was Nihon's starter Togame. He went 9 innings, giving up only a homer among 7 hits, and striking out only 1. His defense was great, which it has to be when your pitching to contact. What I found most interesting was his unorthodox delivery. He would throw with all his might and then drop his head down so low as he released that his hat would fall off on nearly every pitch. Even when warming up, he threw so hard that he would stumble if the footing wasn't right. It was fun to watch, the pics below show what I mean.

Look at his face in the left picture, then check out how his head drops and his hat falls off. You could have a great drinking game predicting how many times his hat falls off for each batter.

I thought Togame's mound opponent Yoshihara was also quite good for Nodai (Agricultural U in Japanese), but a bases clearing double was his undoing in the 5th and Nodai never threatened to make it close after that. This game took just 1:57, which has to be the shortest game I have ever seen in Japan. If someone can explain to me why the big leagues take so much longer here, I'd love to know.

Fouled off by Nodai's Tanaka

Cheering Sections

As is the norm in Japan, cheering sections were present today. For both games though, only the side on 3rd base had a full cheering section. The first base teams had some students yelling support but nobody actually leading cheers. I'm not sure if this is a rule within the stadium or just a coincidence. In any case, the cheering groups are rather small - Senshu had 3 female cheerleaders, a guy with a saxophone, and two male cheer "managers" who wear black suits and perform exaggerated arm movements when leading the cheers. They are pictured below.

The Tokyo University of Agriculture had far more supporters, with about 8 or so managers and a 10-member band, along with 3 female pom-pom pushers. But the funniest bit was when they scored their only run of the game. The cheer squad pulled out two daikon each (daikon is a large white radish) and danced while waving them in the air. As they are the "Farm" school, it only makes sense to celebrate with a large vegetable. Turns out that this celebration is famous throughout Japan and there's actually a Daikon Dance performed on other occasions. Check out the pic below - if you click on it and look at the larger version, you will see the daikon under their seats!

Nihon University had a section of about 20 well-dressed students (below) who sang their school song (I'm guessing that's what it is) whenever they scored. Kokushikan had just a few students supporting them, but hey, it was 10am on a Monday, so I'm sure everyone else was in school!

Random Thoughts

The round-robin rules are quite interesting. If a team won every series 2-1, it would have a 10-5 record for 5 points, whereas a team that won 4 series 2-0 and lost one series 1-2 would have a 9-2 record but only 4 points. But the 5 points would win the title for that season.

There are plenty more university baseball leagues around the country, but it's tough finding reliable up-to-date info on all of them. I wish Japan would upgrade their sports info with something like ESPN, where I could track this stuff in one place. I'm sure some of these guys will be drafted, particularly Togame, but I can't find much useful stuff on him.

It amazed me how many people showed up for the game at 10 am. Although 1,300 yen is not cheap (compared to free for the minors in some cases), the location of the stadium is close enough that I save on the transport cost, so it's about the same at the end of the day. I really enjoyed the games today, even though it was only division 2, and will make an attempt to see some division 1 games later this week.

Nihon University players bowing to their fans after the game




  1. Those "well-dressed students" are actually members of the baseball club who aren't on the active roster.

    And the "managers" are actually just ouendan leaders -- male cheer leaders, but not as we think of them in the US (their job isn't to throw female cheerleaders, it is to yell a lot, essentially).

    Yeah, even when Kokushikan was in ichi-bu, the top league, they had a fairly pathetic ouendan compared to the other teams. I remember watching them play against Toyodai, which was out there with a brass band and everything, and Kokushikan just had a group of guys with cheer sticks singing their songs. It really varies by school -- the one great thing about Tokyo Big 6, at least, is that all the colleges have fairly amazing bands, as you'll discover.

    You can find Togame's stats here:

    I don't see him listed in the top university prospects this year, but that just might be Nihondai falling under the radar due to being in the 2nd league.

  2. Thanks Deanna. It makes sense as the team rosters had several players without uniform numbers, so I guess they are used for practice.

    I saw Togame's name in a mock draft, so it will be interesting to see if he makes it.