Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Portland Sea Dogs 8 at New Hampshire Fisher Cats 5 - June 29, 2009


NY Trip Begins


With both New York ball teams opening new stadiums this season, I knew that I would have to spend a few days there to catch games in both ballparks. Checking the schedule late last year, I saw the Blue Jays with a 4-game set over the July 4th weekend, followed by the Dodgers taking on the Mets the following week.

I also wanted to see some minor league games on the way down, and found that there was a game in Manchester, NH, home of the Blue Jays' AA affiliate, the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. I was then planning to see a CanAm game in nearby Nashua, but when the Ottawa Voyageurs suspended operations, I decided to skip that game and move down to Pawtucket. I'd then check out a Connecticut Defenders game in Norwich before arriving in New York on July 2nd, in time for the weekend series between the Jays and Yankees.

It was a great plan, and I was excited as I left Ottawa early Monday morning. Unfortunately, it didn't take long before a problem arose.

A minor detour

As the Seaway bridge between Cornwall, Ontario and upstate New York is closed due to a conflict between the local Akwesasne people and the federal government, I was forced to go east through southern Quebec before crossing into Mooers, NY. I then took US2 south through Grand Isle, VT (a very scenic drive as Lake Champlain is visible on both sides) before hitting I89 south, which I would take all the way to Manchester.

Unfortunately, the car had other plans. I am driving a fairly old car that I was borrowing from my family, and as I climbed a hill near Barre, VT, the manual transmission gave out. Ohoh. There was no way to get the car into gear, so I pulled over to the side of the road and called AAA. It's weird being on the side of a highway as cars zoom by at 80 miles an hour. But I wasn't too worried, AAA were able to get a truck there in 40 minutes and I was towed to a local garage. It was still fairly early in the afternoon, so after getting an estimate from the mechanic (2 days, I won't tell you the cost :-), I got a ride to a local rental car agency, where they had 1 SUV left. I didn't have many options, so I took it. I had never driven an SUV before, and although it's a good ride and handles well, it's gas mileage is terrible. It would do for two days, but not much longer.

Anyway, I made it back to the highway where I passed the spot I had broken down a couple of hours earlier. It was about 4:00 pm now, so I still had enough time to make it to Manchester for the 7:05 start. Or so I thought.

Bonus Baseball?

As I travelled southeast, I moved in and out of rainstorms, before it finally cleared as I arrived in Manchester around 5:40. I scanned the radio looking for the local sports station and happened across a baseball game. This was surprising as I didn't expect that there would be afternoon ball at this time, but I was even more surprised to find out that it was the Fisher Cats playing! Turns out that Sunday's game was postponed after 1 inning, and tonight's game was now a doubleheader, with the first game a 9-inning continuation of Sunday's postponement, and then a 7-inning affair for the originally scheduled game. So I didn't have time to go to the hotel, I headed straight to the ballpark to catch the rest of the first game.

MerchantsAuto.com Stadium

Perhaps the worst name for a ballpark, MerchantsAuto.com Stadium is located in downtown Manchester and doesn't have it's own dedicated lot for us normal fans (i.e. non-suite holders). There were some private lots next to the stadium charging $10 which is outrageous for AA ball - tickets are cheaper!. I drove around the back to ask the guy at the suite holders lot and he directed me across the street where there was meter parking for $1, much more my style. Apparently there is also free parking nearby, but I was in a rush, so I parked at a meter and took the 5-minute walk to the ballpark.

Tickets were between $8 and $12 - as the game had already started, I decided not to look for a freebie, but got a $10 seat and entered. It was Johnny Pesky bobblehead night, but as the game had started early, I was too late to get one. Not a big loss, the memorabilia is difficult to store in my tiny apartment in Japan.

The stadium, opened in 2005, is typical of new parks, with one level of seats and a wide concourse behind, from which you can watch the game if you wish. The suites are on the upper level. Despite the team being Toronto's affiliate, fans here in New England are Boston fans, and the park reflects this with a manual scoreboard in the left field wall, similar to that in Fenway. There's no Green Monster, though, instead a Sam Adams Bar and Grill lies beyond the left field fence. There's an electronic screen in center field that shows the batter and some stats.

A few things here that I liked. First is the Ted Williams Museum/Hitters Hall of Fame, a small collection of memorabilia dedicated mostly to The Splendid Splinter with some pictures from this playing days. It may only take 5 minutes to go through it, but it's worth it. I also enjoyed the banners of Blue Jays who had played here, displayed around the concourse, though I wonder what happened to Gustavo Chacin. I appreciated seeing the Eastern League team logos above the suites as well; I think the minor leagues should make sure that the fans know the other teams in the league.

Fans here were friendly and talkative, although many were rooting for Portland, who are Boston's AA team. Overall, I enjoyed my time here, although it was far too short.

Half a game

When I entered the stadium, Portland was leading 6-1, but the Fisher Cats added a couple when David Cooper smashed an opposite field homer in the bottom of the 5th. Cooper (shown below) is the Jays' 1st round pick from 2008 and has moved quickly up the ladder. I saw him playing for Auburn in short-season A ball last season; one year later he's in AA. He should be replacing Lyle Overbay in a couple of years, so it was great to see him hit a dinger.



Since I arrived late, I didn't keep score, so I don't know exactly how it happened, but each team added two runs over the next 3 innings, making it was 8-5 Portland afer 8 innings. Remember those rainstorms I mentioned earlier? Well, they moved into the area and with lightning forking down a few miles away, the umpires pulled the teams off the field. After about an hour, the rain had started to clear, but the field was not playable and as both teams had to travel the next day, the game was called without the tarp being removed. The first game finished 8-5, and the second game will be played as part of a DH in August. So I saw 4.5 innings of baseball, about half a game. A rather disappointing end to a very long day.


A sad sight

Back to Vermont

I'm back in Barre, VT now, where I hope to get the car tomorrow and continue on to Norwich. I'll miss the game in Pawtucket tonight, but with the gas-guzzling SUV that I rented, it wasn't worth the extra 4 hours of driving to see a stadium I have seen before.

Not sure if I'll make the Defenders game tomorrow, depends on what time the car is ready. Either way, I'll post an update here, so check back tomorrow.

Best,

Sean

Monday, June 29, 2009

Long Island Rough Riders 0 at Ottawa Fury 1 - PDL - June 28, 2009


After a long, sportsless week in Ottawa, I discovered that there were in fact two semi-professional teams in the city. Both known as the Ottawa Fury, there is a men's team that is a member of the USL's Premier Development League, and a women's team that plays in the W League, also under the auspices of the USL. With nothing else to spend my sports dollar on, I ended over to Algonquin College to catch a game on Sunday afternoon.

What is the USL?

The United Soccer Leagues are a collection of soccer leagues throughout North America. They form the lower rungs of professional soccer, falling underneath Major League Soccer (MLS), as well as the top levels of amateur soccer. The top pro league is known as the USL First Division and has teams ranging from Puerto Rico to Vancouver. This league is also home to the Montreal Impact, who won the Canadian Championship last year and represented all of Canadian soccer in the 2009 Concacaf Champions League, making it to the quarter-finals before a shocking last-minute collapse in the second leg sent them packing. This is good soccer, and well-supported - the Impact average nearly 13,000 per game.

The next level down is the USL Second Division, with teams mostly on the east coast, although there is one team in Bermuda, so a road trip is a definite possibility! It is possible for teams to move between the first and second division, as the Cleveland City Stars did recently, winning the 2nd division championship in 2008 and moving up to USL1 for 2009.

The PDL

The Premier Development League (PDL) is the amateur men's league in the USL. For 2009, there are 8 divisions arranged geographically, each with between 7 and 10 teams for a total of 68, making it one of the largest leagues in North America and a road trippers dream (if you like soccer). The PDL functions as a minor league of sorts, as several players in MLS and the upper levels of the USL got their start in the PDL. Most of the players are college athletes who cannot earn money while playing as long as they are in school, so the PDL allows them the chance to compete during the summer without forfeiting their college eligibility.

Despite the wide geographical nature of the league, teams generally only play within their division during the regular season. In the playoffs, division champions get a bye while the 2nd and 3rd place teams battle it out in the first round. The winners of the divisional playoffs then move on to face each other in a typical elimination format. The reigning champions are the Thunder Bay Chill, based in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

The Stadium

The Fury's home ground is the Algonquin College Soccer Complex. The word complex is misused here, as I could only see one field. It's a nice field, but there are few amenities. There are some metal benches near the entry gate, and some more benches on the far side of the field. There is a small concession stand which I did not try, and the toilets are of the portable variety, which I found surprising. That's all. It really is a small-time operation here, but still quite professional, as their program and website show.

Parking is free and plentiful though, as the field is part of a college campus in west Ottawa. Tickets are $12 apparently, although I arrived early and entered for free.

The Game

The undefeated Fury (7-0-3) were hosting the Long Island Rough Riders, who were leading the Northeast Division with a 10-1-1 record. Ironically, Ottawa's old CFL team was known as the Rough Riders, so it was kind of a return to the city, for the nickname at least. There were about 300 fans in attendance, which was not surprising given the lack of publicity for the team.

Ottawa scored early when local boy Will Beauge (playing with what looked to be a broken wrist, pictured below) found a deflected ball on his foot and sent it home in the 19th minute. Long Island countered, but were denied by a great save from Stefan Caufield, who, while lying on the ground after making one save, managed to stick his hand up to deflect the rebound wide and the Fury led 1-0 at the break.



The second half was dominated by the home team, who had several glorious chances but were let down by their poor finish, the woodwork, or some last-second defensive heroics. The Rough Riders had a few chances of their own, but could not score and the Fury held on for the 1-0 victory. The Fury have yet to allow a goal during normal play (they did give up a penalty goal against Newark on Saturday) while playing at home, and it was clear their defense was better than the Rough Riders offense.

The game was entertaining and the quality of soccer was quite good. Both teams executed set plays quite well, and there were plenty of scoring chances generated, particularly by the Fury, whose passing was often very impressive. Finishing was weak though, which is why the score was only 1-0. Both these teams look to be playoff bound, so I'll follow their progress and let you know, but the Fury look quite good and should contend for the division championship come playoff time.


A free kick at the wall, which was quite useless, as seen below.



Thoughts

It always surprises me when these minor leagues have teams in such far-flung places; I can't figure out how they make money with such small attendance figures. The travel costs should be prohibitive, even a bus ride from Long Island to Ottawa would seem to cost far more than the revenues generated by the game. I suspect that the USL subsidizes the minors to some extent, as the smaller leagues grow in popularity, the USL will attract more attention and generate more revenue themselves.

One of the problems with soccer as a spectator sport is that it is two non-stop 45 minute halves with a short 15-minute halftime. This doesn't provide much chance for fans to participate, as they do in minor-league baseball, which might hurt casual attendance. The game is certainly the main attraction here (as it should be) but many younger fans seemed distracted throughout.

Despite the good show today, I'll probably not return for a game here in Ottawa, as I'm not that much of a soccer fan, but I will follow the league and the playoffs this year, and should I be near a game elsewhere, I'll try to check it out to compare the experience.

Summer 2009 trip starts tomorrow!

I'm off to Manchester, New Hampshire tomorrow to start my summer trip to see the two new ballparks in New York. I'll also be stopping in Pawtucket, RI and Norwich, CT before arriving in the Big Apple on July 2nd, just in time for the 4-game set between the Jays and Yankees. There should be lots of activity here, so stay tuned!

Best,

Sean

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The secondary ticket market


I'm off to New York in a couple of days and one of the concerns is getting tickets to the games. At least decently-priced tickets. With both the Yankees and the Mets opening new digs this year and raising their tickets prices to pay for it, watching baseball in NYC has become a very costly proposition indeed. Fortunately, a friend has season tickets and is kind enough to sell them to me for face value for some games, but for others, I may have to explore the resellers market.

This secondary ticket market, made famous by StubHub, has only become popular in the past few years. When I lived in Vancouver, scalping, or selling tickets above face value, was illegal. I never understood why it was frowned upon, if I have something that I can sell and a buyer who wants it, why not allow the transaction? Fortunately, sports franchises have now come around to the capitalist point of view. Now it is not only legal, but embraced by teams, who allow their season ticket holders to sell extra tickets online, often for a significant premium.

I have no problem with this development. Season ticket holders should have the chance to profit from their investment (which ultimately is what their season tickets are) and if the teams can pull in a few dollars in fees, all the better. The economic "loser" in the equation is the casual fan who may only want to see one game while on vacation. In this case, he should have no problem paying a premium for a good seat. It's simply supply and demand.

As a roadtripper who tries to see a lot of games though, it becomes cost-prohibitive to use this market on a regular basis. Of course, I could buy online, but with TicketMaster charging a per-ticket convenience fee plus an order fee plus a delivery fee, this method becomes rather expensive itself. I prefer to buy at the box office on game day, and in the rare case where the event is sold out, I can usually find someone with an extra ticket at or below face value. This also protects against rainouts, the roadtripper's worst nightmare - no refund and no chance to re-use the ticket.

Interestingly, it turns out that the NY secondary market is not as strong as anticipated. Ken Belson notes in this article that many season ticket holders are losing money trying to resell their tickets. So maybe next week will be a bit cheaper than I expected.

Ottawa Fury

I have complained about the dearth of summer sports teams in Ottawa, a city of over 1 million people who don't like watching sports very much. Fortunately, there are the Ottawa Fury, two teams (men's and women's) who play in the lower rungs of the United Soccer League. They have two games this weekend, so I'll check out the game tomorrow against the Long Island Rough Riders and have an update thereafter.

Best,

Sean

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Kawasaki Frontale advances in AFC Champions League


Two second-half goals have given Kawasaki Frontale a 3-2 victory over J League rivals Gamba Osaka in the AFC Champions League round of 16. Down 2-1 at the half, Frontale replied with Renatinho in the 76th minute and then Kurotsu 5 minutes from time to snatch an unlikely road win and advance to the quarter-finals.

The draw for the quarter-finals takes place next Monday. There are two teams from Uzbekistan, one from Qatar, and one from Saudi Arabia in the west side of the draw, while Japanese team Nagoya Grampus Eight and Korean sides Pohang Steelers and FC Seoul join Kawasaki on the east side. I'm not sure if the draw will mix these sides or not, but will update you next week.

Best,

Sean

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Manny Ramirez, Hockey in Canada, and Golf Fans


As you all know, I'm stuck in my hometown of Ottawa with only one semi-pro sports team, the Ottawa Fury. They have a game this Saturday night, so I'll have to head over to see them and report back on the team and the league, which is a road trippers dream with over 120 teams across North America.

But with nothing to do until then, I thought I would comment on some of the things that have annoyed me since I got back to Canada. Besides Ottawa being the worst sports city in North America.

What part of "50-game suspension" did I not understand?

I was going to rant on the hyprocrisy of allowing suspended Manny Ramirez to play in the minors for a few games before his 50-game suspension ended. But Tracy Ringolsby said it all much better than I could, so I urge you to read that.

I'd like to add though, that baseball's ongoing double standard regarding the steroid scandal is shameful. Steroids and other PEDs have been in baseball since at least the 1960s, but became prevalent in the mid-1980s, with the Bash Brothers leading the way in Oakland. By 1998, everybody in baseball knew what was going on when McGwire and Sosa were battling for the home run crown, and they chose to turn a blind eye, as the general public was in the process of forgiving baseball for the 1994 strike. When 37-year old Barry Bonds and his gigantic head were smashing 73 homers in 2001, I don't recall any outrage on the part of the media, nor did Commissioner Bud Selig question Bonds' accomplishments.

It wasn't until 2003 that baseball finally instituted a testing policy, despite steroids being illegal since 1990. Even then, it was only a survey test, with no punishments. It took two more years before a serious steroid policy was implemented. Now however, Selig has the audacity to say that the "program works". Seriously? One high-profile player is suspended and all is fine? Bud, where were you back in 1998? Oh, that's right. Ignoring the problem because the media wasn't covering it.

In fact, I'd also like to question the media's involvement in this mess. Nowadays, sportswriters are constantly referring to those implicated in the "scandal" as cheaters. If you want to take that path, fine, but show me that you believed that 10 years ago and wrote about it. Otherwise you dropped the ball as a reporter at that time so whatever you say on the topic these days is meaningless.

Don't misunderstand me. I think the rules now are good, and I hope that testing is being done on a regular basis. Manny Ramirez deserved his 50 games, although they have to fix the part that allows him to play in the minors before the suspension is up. But judging the players that used PEDs in the past as "cheaters" when MLB pointedly did absolutely nothing to stop them is cynical. You can't judge the past by the standards of the present.

And if you have a vote for the Hall of Fame and are withholding your vote for any of these players solely because of their steroid use, please get off your high horse. It's likely that substantially more players used PEDs that have been named. If steroid use keeps players from the Hall, we should have several empty classes in the years to come.

How much is too much hockey?

Well, I've been back in Canada for 3 days and already I've had enough of hockey. How can that be, you ask? It's the off-season, isn't it? Good questions, fine reader, but sadly, there is no more hockey off-season in Canada. Since I moved to Japan in 1996, this country has become entirely obsessed with everything hockey, no doubt helped along by the internet and cable sports. With the draft coming up on Friday, and free agency starting just next week (on Canada Day no less), there's plenty of fodder for the local media to keep busy. Tonight on TSN, there's a mock draft, which amazes me. Fortunately, Sportsnet is actually showing a real live baseball game featuring some team called the Toronto Blue Jays, so I'll watch that instead. Live sports is so much better than talking about sports, but I wonder how many of my fellow Canadians will agree.

Of course, I understand that a lot of the fun in sports is talking about what might happen, but nobody ever follows up on it. I'd like to see the draft show from back in 2003 which predicted that Mike Richards was a better pick then Hugh Jessiman, for example.

Get in the Hole!

I'll refrain from any obvious jokes, but honestly, why do golf fans scream "Get in the Hole" on every shot? It's a golf ball. It can't hear you. Moreover, once the shot is in the air, nothing you say will change it's direction. So perhaps just a "Nice shot" would suffice.

Otherwise, I enjoyed the coverage of the U.S. Open, despite Al Roker's presence and Mike Weir's predictable collapse. Congratulations to Lucas Glover who remained steady down the stretch to hold off Phil Mickelson and David Duval in an entertaining Monday morning finish.

Upcoming games

I've got a few days off before I head across the border. I'll see 3 minor league ball games on my way to New York (Manchester NH, Pawtucket, and Norwich, CT) before 10 days in New York, with 5 games on tap there. There's also a game in Scranton on the way back to Canada. So stay tuned, things will become more interesting shortly.

Best,

Sean

Sunday, June 21, 2009

New Zealand wins the Rugby Junior World Championship


Greetings from Ottawa: the most desolate sports city in North America, at least in the summer. There's not much to write about for the next week as I visit family and friends here, but I will be doing a road trip to New York starting in just over a week, which I am looking forward to.

Back in Tokyo, the Rugby Junior World Championship concluded today, with New Zealand thumping England 44-28. This is the second year in a row that the Baby Blacks have taken the title by beating England, so they are looking good for the 2011 World Cup, to be held in New Zealand (road trip!).

South Africa beat Australia 32-5 for third place, while Canada lost to Italy to finish 14 out of 16, one spot in front of Japan, who pummelled wooden spoon holders Uruguay 54-17.

The tournament seemed to be a success, at least in Tokyo where I watched, with the final attracting 20,000 fans according to estimates. Here's hoping that a future World Cup will find it's way to Japan (update: 2019 Rugby World Cup will be held here).

I'll leave for Manchester, NH next Monday, taking a short 3-day trip to New York, with stops at 3 ballparks along the way. I'll then spend 10 days in the Big Apple. I'll see 3 Jays-Yankees games and then 2 Mets-Dodgers tilts, where Manny Ramirez should be back in the lineup for LA. Updates will be posted here as always. In the meantime, I'll try to add some opinions about what's going on in pro sports in North America over the next week.

Best,

Sean

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Rugby JWC Semi-finals - June 17, 2009


After 3 rounds in pool play, the four best junior rugby teams gathered in Tokyo for the semi-finals. It was no surprise to see England, South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia here; they each dominated their pool matches and are clearly the class of the tournament.


I got there a bit before 4:00 and was surprised to see a large crowd already at the gate, waiting to be let in. Japan is hoping to host a future Rugby World Cup and they need good attendance figures at the junior tournament to prove they can make it a success. Despite it being a 5:00 start and Japan not playing, there were about 6,000 people in the stands when the game began.

Tickets were again just 1,500 yen (about $15) and you were allowed to sit anywhere. I took a seat at field level on the far side of the stadium. I hadn't seen rugby from this close before, and other than occasionally being blocked by the sideline official or a medic, it was pretty cool. I don't want to get into a detailed description of each game, you can find that at the IRB site. But I'll give my thoughts on both matches along with a few pictures.

New Zealand 31 Australia 17

The first match pitted the Baby Blacks of New Zealand against the Junior Wallabies of Australia. The first half was characterized by a number of blown opportunities for both sides, including missed penalties and fumbles near the try line. It was 7-7 at the break, but the second half was much more open and entertaining. Australia scored early, but the Baby Blacks capitalized on two Wallaby errors to retake the lead 21-14. The sides swapped penalties before NZ fullback Robbie Robinson ran in the clinching try with 15 minutes left. The New Zealand defense held the rest of the way and the Baby Blacks were one step closer to defending their title.


The New Zealand Haka

This game was of much better quality than those I watched last week. Many of these players are already playing professionally in the Super 14 league, and some of them will be members of their senior teams in the next year or two. There were more extended possessions and although a number of handling errors early on, both teams settled down to play some decent rugby. I was surprised at the relative smallness of some of the Australian players, but rugby is not just a big man's game, and what they lacked in size they made up for in speed. It was good to watch both teams set up plays from the scrum or lineouts, and the tackling was solid. Sitting so close, you can hear the players yelling, and the collisions too. They are not as loud as those in the NFL, but that's because these players are not wearing equipment. As the game progressed, it became obvious that New Zealand were the better side, they made fewer errors, and deserved their win.


Catching a kick


Tackled


A tackle off a kick



A scrum

England 40 South Africa 21

The second game was similar - a low scoring first half, but a dominant performance in the second by the eventual winner. In this case, though, England were helped by a red card to South African flanker Rynhardt Elstadt for a dangerous tackle. At the time, the score was 23-21 England, but after the penalty was converted, England used their numerical advantage to score another try to increase their lead to 12. South Africa couldn't mount a real challenge and the English added one final try, the convert coming after the siren to conclude the match. The scoreline was not flattering to South Africa, but the game was much closer, being nearly tied with only 15 minutes to go. South Africa had their chances and their lack of discipline really hurt them.

Despite the similarity in the way the games progressed, the rugby on the field was quite different. In this match, there was much more kicking for position, as well as many more penalties. In fact, English fullback and kicker Tom Homer had booted 3 penalties in the first 10 minutes, a sign that South Africa was not the most disciplined team, which clearly cost them the game later. I was impressed with Homer overall, who made 8 of 9 kicks on the evening, but also showed good form in the field.

Homer watches one of his kicks


A rolling maul


South African wing Sampie Mastriet


The Finals

I'm going to be out of the country and will miss the finals between New Zealand and England. I would expect the Baby Blacks to win a tight game and defend their title, and I'll try to be watching on-line back home in Ottawa. If you are interested in watching highlights of the games already played, or trying to catch the finals on Sunday (Saturday evening in North America), you can visit the IRB video page.

In other matches, Canada defeated Uruguay to avoid battling Japan (who lost to Italy) for 15th place. I'll update everyone with the final standings next week.

For now, I'm flying to Ottawa tomorrow and will be in New York from July 2nd to the 12th. Should be lots of sports on the menu, so keep following me here!

Best,

Sean

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Rugby JWC semi-finals set


Yesterday was the final day of the round robin tournament in the Rugby Junior World Championship, and there were no real surprises as Australia, New Zealand, England, and South Africa all won their respective pools to earn a berth in the semi-finals. Australia will face their long-time rivals New Zealand at 5:00 here in Tokyo, followed by England and South Africa at 7:00. It should be a great day of rugby and I'll be there to watch it.

In other news, Canada lost all 3 of their round-robin matches and will play Uruguay in the 13th-16th place semi-finals. With the loss, Canada will not play in next years JWC. Japan also suffered the same fate, so perhaps these two teams will face each other in the final day of the tournament, likely for 15th place.

Best,

Sean

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Pennsylvania wins two more


With the Pittsburgh Penguins winning the Stanley Cup in an exciting game 7, and the Hershey Bears taking the AHL's Calder Cup a few minutes later, the State of Pennsylvania now has 5 defending champions in the major and upper-level minor leagues. We all remember the Phillies and Steelers, but the Scranton-Wilkes Barre Yankees won the International League's Governors' Cup last season too. What's the point of this post? Nothing, other than to note a mildly interesting coincidence.

Congratulations to the Penguins and their fans on a great victory. Wonder if the Pirates can join the fun?

Best,

Sean


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Rugby World Junior Championship - Match Day 2 - June 9, 2009


One of the benefits of living in Tokyo is being able to see a wide variety of world championships every year. A few months ago, I discovered that the World Junior Rugby Championship would be held in Japan, with Tokyo hosting one of the groups as well as the semi-finals and finals. I placed the games on my schedule and promptly forgot about it, and didn't notice much in the way of advertising in the meantime. But that was likely because I don't watch much televised rugby, because when I arrived at the stadium yesterday, I was pleasantly surprised to find over 5,000 fans on hand for the 5:00 kickoff between England and Scotland. By the time Japan took on Samoa, the total had reached 10,693, a great crowd and clearly evidence of why Japan gets to host these events - with such a dense population, you can count on plenty of fans, regardless of your sport.

Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium

Located next to the Jingu Baseball Stadium, the Chichibunomiya Rugby Stadium is a simple venue right in the middle of the teeming metropolis. Seating capacity is just over 25,000, although at one end there are no seats, just a section for standing which makes the official capacity 27,188. The seats themselves are just plastic with no back, so it can get uncomfortable after a while. The field is natural grass and kept in good shape. There is a large scoreboard over the west end of the field which shows replays and the lineups; it was added in 2003. Lights were also added in 2007 to allow for night games, in the hopes of securing the 2015 World Cup of Rugby. Like most older stadiums in Japan, Chichibu Memorial is functional but not particularly aesthetically pleasing. Still, it's good to have this facility in the center of the city, and I'll start to visit it more often as I try to understand rugby a bit better.



The Rugby World Junior Championship

This is the second year of the tournament which is held annually and features 16 international teams with all players under 20 years of age. Last year's champ was New Zealand, who defeated England 38-3 in the final, held in Wales. The 16 teams are divided into 4 pools of 4 for a 3-game round robin. The playoffs are a knockout format, with each pools first-place teams in one group, the second-place teams in another, and so on. In this way, all places from 1st to 16th will be decided. There are 5 cities hosting the event in Japan, pool B features England, Scotland, Samoa, and Japan and is being held in Tokyo. The semi-finals and finals will also be held here. There are 4 days between each match day, and all pools have their matches on the same day. The tournament opened on June 5th, and today's games were the 2nd match for each side. I should note that there was a sign saying that cameras were prohibited in the stands, but I did manage to take a few shots posted here.

England 30 Scotland 7


The first match featured a couple of squads from the British Isles, and although both had their supporters in the stands, only England seemed to use it as motivation. Tom Homer booted an early penalty from near midfield, which brought cheers of appreciation from the knowledgeable crowd. England added to their lead with a try when Charlie Sharples picked up a bobbled pass and raced the length of the field; after the conversion by Homer it was 10-0. Scotland had their chances, but their handling was atrocious, every time they drew near the try line, they fumbled the ball or lost possession. England had no such problems, adding another converted try and penalty before halftime, and two more tries in the second half for a 30-0 lead. Only a last-second try saved Scotland from being shutout, which brought shouts of joy from their fans. It wasn't a very good game as Scotland were never in it; certainly England seem to be the class of this group.

Samoa 29 Japan 20

Twenty minutes after the first game finished, it was time for the host nation to take on Samoa. Samoa rushed out to an early lead with a try in the 5th minute, but Japan responded with some great passing to tie the game at 5. Unfortunately, that was all for them in the half, as Samoa dominated the next half-hour with two more tries and a penalty for a 22-5 halftime lead.

Japan did not give up though, and scored their second try off a rolling maul. This is when, after a maul is set up, the team in possession passes the ball backwards to the player at the rear, who then rolls off the side of the maul trying to advance the ball. When played close to the opponents goal, it is a good way to score a try as it can be difficult to defend a properly executed rolling maul. In fact, the Samoans found this out twice more, as Japan added two more tries in much the same way, forcing the maul close to the goal line and then having the last man run the ball into the end zone. It really surprised me how the lighter Japanese side was able to push the Samoans seemingly at will, it was clear that they were technically a superior side when in close. Unfortunately, Samoa did manage another try of their own in the second half, against the run of play and this proved too much for the Japanese to overcome. Each team scored 4 tries, but Samoa converted 3 of theirs while Japan missed every conversion. These 6 points plus the early penalty were the difference as Samoa held on for a 29-20 win. This was a fun game to watch, I appreciated the different styles of the two teams, and the crowd was really good, cheering their team on, disappointed at the loss but respecting the opposition's efforts.

(The IRB site has a more detailed report on these games for those who are interested.)


The Samoan haka, which is when the team all farts together

With Samoa and England both winning their first two matches, they will face off on Saturday for first place in the pool, with the winner advancing to the semi-finals. Those games will be held next week, and I'll be going to see them as well. I expect that the rugby will be much better and I'll report on those games then.

Best,

Sean




Monday, June 8, 2009

Visiting Singapore


I was only in Singapore for 3 days - it was my 5th time there, and I've never stayed longer than 3 days, as it's a small place and there's not a lot to do, at least for me. The hot and humid weather makes walking long distances nearly impossible outside. Most downtown shops are located indoors, in large underground shopping malls that are seemingly always packed - not with shoppers, but with people walking from place to place.

The weather rarely varies here, with daily temperatures around 30 C and the occasional brief thunderstorm. But it is humid; if you are not accustomed to it, you will be sweating after just a few minutes outside. The locals joke that you can spot a tourist, he is the one sweating while wearing shorts. It's true that residents usually don't wear short pants, but there is nothing wrong with it, as long as you are not visiting a religious site, where they do ask that your legs are covered. Since it is right at the equator, each day seems like the one before, with little variation in sunrise or sunset times, and no need for daylight savings.

Singapore is easy to get around - taxis are plentiful and cheap, and the MRT (subway) will take you to most places, although it is quite crowded throughout the day. There is also an extensive bus network, but that's a bit more difficult to understand. You can get a day pass for unlimited travel on buses and the MRT, but most things are reasonably close by that it may not be worth it. If you decide to buy your MRT ticket every time you ride, you should keep small change at the ready, and each single trip requires you to pay $1 deposit that you get refunded after the trip, which can be a hassle at times.

The population is around 5 million people these days, from a wide variety of ethnic groups, with the dominant group being ethnic Chinese. But there are also large numbers of Indians and Malays, as well as some Westerners of course. Each culture celebrates its heritage, but there is no strife between groups that I noticed - Singapore seems to have kept everybody relatively happy - there are 4 official languages and the government ensures that each group is treated fairly.

Having such a wide cultural diversity leads to the best thing about Singapore: cheap food in hawker stalls. These are small outdoor eateries that offer meals for extremely low prices. They are sanitary and the food is usually very good. I suggest you stay away for the overpriced restaurants at Boat Quay and try your luck in Little India or Chinatown. Noodles are my choice as well, particularly Laksa. The picture below is my chicken laksa cooking while I wait. Yummy and only $3.



Of course, Singapore has problems - its well known that for its tough government that doesn't tolerate dissent and uses caning as a punishment. There are also laws against free speech that would harm the multicultural society. I don't want to get into a political debate, but it seems to work here.

TV sports variety

Well, this blog is about sports travel, and I think that the main sports channel in Singapore, Star Sports, understands that a wide variety of sports will appeal to most fans. While I was there, I managed to watch a few World Cup qualifying games, the F1 Turkish Grand Prix, the French Open finals, the NBA finals, and there was even some cricket on. Wow. A truly international sports weekend. I then returned to Japan and saw another Yankees game. Ugh.


Travel Hall of Fame


Singapore is home to the world-famous Raffles Hotel (pictured above). Home to the Singapore Sling, the hotel also contains a museum devoted to its history. Within this museum is the Travel Hall of Fame. I've been to several sports halls of fame, but have never seen one dedicated to travel before. I wondered what they could possibly put in such a place and found the answer quickly - not much. The THOF is really just a cabinet with some trophies for Singapore Airlines, the Raffles Hotel, and Singapore Changi Airport, all of which are considered among the best in the world at what they do. Well, at least it was free. You can see a picture of the entire hall of fame below.



Overall, Singapore does have a lot to offer for first-time visitors. The Night Safari is a unique attraction that I've yet to see anywhere else, and Sentosa is a good place for a family to spend a day. There are also nearby resort islands, such as Bintan, that are part of Indonesia but really only accessible from Singapore. I'd recommend a trip there, but not for sports, unless you are going to watch them on TV.

Best,

Sean

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Japan qualifies for the 2010 World Cup


With a 1-0 victory over Uzbekistan last night, Japan clinched a spot in next year's FIFA World Cup in South Africa. They were the first team to qualify through competition, although they were quickly followed by Australia and South Korea from Asia, as well as the Netherlands from Europe.

I saw some of the game while here in Singapore, flipping between that and England's victory over Kazakhstan, and was still not impressed with the Japanese. Their finishing is still suspect, and surprisingly, Makoto Hasebe, a striker for Bundesliga champions Wolfsburg, was sent off for a flagrant elbow late in the game. They still have two more games in the qualification process, I hope they spend some time on learning how to score a few more goals.

Best,

Sean

Gombak United 0 at Super Reds 1 (S.League, League Cup) - June 4, 2009


There's not a lot of spectator sports in Singapore. As a city state with less than 5 million people, it's tough to form a league that can attract local talent as well as find enough stadiums to play in. Nonetheless, there has been a Singaporean soccer league since 1996. Known as the S.League, it's had its ups and downs in that time, but is now a full member of the Asian Football Confederation, sending one team to the AFC Champions League. Of course, that team gets destroyed, but still, its progress.

The League currently has 12 teams, including one side based in nearby Brunei. They play a full schedule of games, as well as the League Cup, equivalent to England's Carling Cup. However, unlike most cup tournaments, the League Cup here is played in 3 consecutive weeks, while the normal league is on hiatus. It started June 1st and the second round of games was to be played on June 4th, which is when I conveniently arrived in Singapore.



Fortunately, Singapore is very small, so I was able to get from the airport to my accomodation and over to Jalan Besar Stadium (outside pictured above here) in just over an hour, arriving about 20 minutes before the 7:45 kickoff. Tickets were $5 (about US$3.50). As I entered the stadium, I noticed a sign saying that photography was prohibited, except for media on the pitch. In Singapore, people obey the signs, I didn't notice anybody taking pictures of the action. Not sure the reasoning behind this, but I was quite careful to only take only a few shots, and none during the actual action on the pitch.


The stadium is very small, although it seats 6,000, only one side of the stadium is actually open to spectators. It was free seating, and with only 1,614 in attendance, you could pretty much sit anywhere. There were two small concession stands offering local delicacies such as fish balls on a stick ($1) and curry puffs ($1.50) - best food bargains in sports I think. For those not willing to experiment, hot dogs were also available (although judging by their appearance, you'd be better off with the curry puffs).

The game was between the Super Reds and Gombak United, who were last year's League Cup finalists (Gombak won 2-1 for those who are wondering). The Super Reds were formed in 2007 and are made up entirely of South Korean players - they are supported by the local Korean community in Singapore. Gombak United, on the other hand, have mostly Singaporean players, along with 2 Nigerians and one Australian.

The game itself was not that interesting. Although there were two goals scored in the first half, both were disallowed for offside. As the game progressed, you could notice the difference in tactics - Super Reds were possessing the ball more and trying to run set plays, while Gombak counter-attacked quickly, but did not play with the same cohesion. In the second half, the Reds pressed continuously, and it was clear that they were the better team tonight. They were rewarded when a long shot was saved by the Gombak keeper only to have the rebound put in by Choi Dong Soo. But celebrations were quickly snuffed out when Choi was ruled offside. I thought that the ball had to be played to the player who was offside in order for the flag to be raised, but apparently not. Far be it from me to tell the most popular sport in the world how to run the game, but that goal should have counted.

The Reds did not let themselves lose faith though, and continued to press, finally scoring a legal goal when Choi headed in a cross off a corner kick, leading to the celebration shown above. Gombak tried to respond, but could not manage to find a tying goal, and the Reds walk away with a well-deserved 1-0 win.

The quality of play was not that good here - it turns out Gombak United is currently leading the league, but they did not show good form. There were many giveaways, and the Reds dominated possession.

As the game progressed, there was a lot of chippiness and poorly taken fouls. Of course, the worst thing was the writhing players after nearly every foul. In one case, a Red was fouled, he went down like he had been shot, and rolled around in pain. The referee came over and asked if he needed a stretcher, the player managed, through his intense pain, to nod yes. The stretcher brigade, who had already been out 3 or 4 times, jogged slowly out, smiles on their faces. I guess they knew this player's reputation, because as soon as they carried him to the sidelines, he bounced up and asked to re-enter play. The referee surprisingly allowed this (I think if you need a stretcher, 5 minutes on the sideline should be the minimum, not 5 seconds) and the player shamelessly returned to the pitch.

All-in-all, a rather uninspiring affair - there were more games on Friday night, but after this, I think I've had my fill of the S.League for now. I'll follow it online and let you know who wins the Cup in a couple of weeks time.


The final score


Best,

Sean

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Flying on the A380


As an aviation enthusiast, I had been wanting to try a flight on the new Airbus A380, the largest passenger aircraft in the world. Although Singapore Airlines introduced the plane on its Tokyo-Singapore route last year, I hadn't had a chance to book a trip, as I always seemed to be busy doing other things.


Fortunately, I found a free weekend in which there was a flight I could take using my miles. So I booked it and looked forward in anticipation to June 4th.

Upper Deck

When you check-in online, you are able to select your seat. Using seatguru.com, I was able to see the layout of the aircraft and which seats were good or bad. The upper deck has an extra storage bin for window seats (except row 74), so I was fortunate to find the only upper deck seat left to be 75A. I much prefer the window seat for shorter flights as seeing the planet from above is really awe-inspiring.

2-3-2 configuration noticeable here

When you board the plane, there is a ramp that takes you to the upper deck, not stairs as I had expected. You have to walk through business class, which was mostly empty but looked rather inviting, to get to the back of the plane, where the 10 rows of economy seats are located.

Plenty of Amenities

The seats are typical, but the other features are what makes the difference. The storage space by the window allows you to put all your belongings there, keeping the seat pocket clean. The video screen is 10 inches, with an entertainment system that includes about 100 movies and TV shows, dozens of games, hundreds of music choices (from which you can create your own playlist). The food tray is foldable, and there is a separate cup holder to reduce the chance of spillage. With the storage space below the window, it's tough to look straight down, but you still get a great view when taking off or landing.






The cup holder, storage space, and video screen

The service is what you would expect from Singapore Airlines - friendly and efficient, with a few extras thrown in. I was given a postcard which, once filled out and addressed, would be mailed by Singapore Airlines - free of charge to the passenger. Decks of cards were also distributed. It's just so much nicer flying in Asia than in the US, the meaning of service here is well-understood.


The Flight

We pushed back 5 minutes early and slowly taxied to the runway. It did seem to me that we were moving much more slowly than a normal plane would during taxi. We had to wait a few minutes as they were inspecting the runway for debris, but eventually we moved into take off position on runway 16R. The roar of the engines was muted, as the A380 is the quietest aircraft around, but we started to speed up down the runway. Being on the upper deck, the sound when the wheels leave the ground is not as noticeable, so I was a bit surprised when the ground started moving away from us. We headed out over the Pacific before turning southwest and tracking the coast of Japan, crossing over Kyushu and then straight for Singapore. The first hour of the flight was very turbulent, so much so that the cabin crew could not leave their seats until we were at cruising altitude. Once we levelled off, though, it was a smooth flight the rest of the way.


ANA 747 lining up behind us

Headsets were distributed followed by the beverage and food service. The chocolate orange cake was excellent, although the main course was nothing special. During the flight, the flight attendants regularly walked the aisles offering juice or water. I spent most of the flight reading while listening to my 62-song playlist, which took about 4 hours to complete.

On approach, there was a good view of Changi Airport and the city beyond as we circled to land on runway 20R. The landing was a bit rough, but what do you expect when 400 tons of metal touches down. Another slow taxi to the gate, and the flight was over. It was 7h 20m and well worth the experience.


Overall Impression

Other than the plane being much quieter than usual, the actual flight was just like any other - takeoff, climb, cruise, descend, land. But Singapore Airlines provides great service, and with the upper deck seeming much more spacious with the 2-4-2 seating layout (it's a 3-4-3 on the lower deck), I felt very comfortable here. I'd definitely recommend anyone that has a chance to try flying here, use Seat Guru to check the configuration first, but if flying Sinagpore Airlines, try for an upper deck window seat.

After arrival, I hurried over to Jalan Besar Stadium to catch an S League game, I'll write about that in my next post.

Best,

Sean

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Seibu Sweep! - June 2, 2009



The Saitama Seibu Lions of the Pacific League maintain their minor league facility right next door to the Seibu Dome (pictured above), where the big club plays. With the minor league games in the afternoon, this sets up a perfect day-night doubleheader when both teams are at home. I scoured the schedule and was pleased to find that when the Yakult Swallows, the team I've supported for over 10 years, would be visiting Seibu on June 2nd and 3rd, the minor league team would be hosting the Shonan Searex in the afternoon. It was a perfect excuse to see the Seibu Dome for the first time - when I previously visited back in 1998 it was still an open air stadium.

Getting There

The Seibu Dome is located in Tokorozawa, in Saitama Prefecture. It's 1h 30m from where I live, which is one of the reasons I have avoided it for so many years. The stadium area has it's own train station, called Seibu Kyujo-mae, which means "In front of Seibu Ballpark". To get to this station, you must take a decidated train from Nishi Tokorozawa - it just travels back and forth between these two stations, which are just 7 minutes apart, although there are special trains available after the game that go all the way to Tokyo. Naturally, all these trains are part of the Seibu line - you can see how they use synergy well here, you need to board a Seibu train to get to the Seibu Dome to watch the Seibu Lions.

Getting to Nishi Tokorozawa is not difficult, in fact, there are some subways in Tokyo that go straight there, although usually you will have to transfer. I left my apartment at 10:45 and two transfers and 90 minutes later, I was standing in front of the Seibu Dome.

The #2 Stadium

The afternoon game began at 1 pm at what is known as Seibu Dai-ni Kyujo, or the #2 Ballpark. It's just a few minutes up a hill to get to the stadium, and entry is free. The ballpark is much like the one that I visited last week at Lotte Urawa - an all dirt infield, a grass outfield, and a lot of fencing around the area. The picture below is taken from the outfield. The bullpens were on the field though, and easily visible. Seating options are limited. There are some benches on a concrete platform just behind home plate which offered a great view, but they were all taken by the time I arrived. There are also seats in the outfield, and you can watch the game through the fence there, which gives an interesting perspective. Most fans make do sitting on the grass behind home plate, or along a concrete gully down third base. It's not comfortable, but hey, it's free.



As you walk around, you will see players sitting on benches or walking back and forth to the clubhouse - they are easily accessible and will sign autographs if you ask politely. Otherwise, there's not much here, no food or drinks are for sale, so most people just bring their lunch from a nearby convenience store.


Shonan Searex players before the game

No Walks!

The game featured the visiting Shonan Searex against the Lions. Shonan is the minor league team of the Yokohama Bay Stars and the only team to have a completely different name and uniform. They really try marketing the team down in Yokosuka, so they've developed their own identity and uniform, which makes for a refreshing difference.

The game itself was likely the best game I have seen in Japan. Both starting pitchers were throwing strikes and keeping things moving. Searex slugger Yuuki Takamori launched a lead-off homer in the 2nd but that was all the scoring until the bottom of the 8th. Seibu had only managed 3 hits off starter Yasuhiro Oyamada and reliever Teruaki Yoshikawa through 7 innings, but a pinch-hit double by former Yomiuri Giant Takayuki Shimizu, followed by a Keisuke Mizuta triple and then a perfectly executed squeeze by Shogo Akada (pictured here) gave the Lions a 2-1 lead.



Tetsuya Iwasaki was brought in to close the game, but a 2-out double by Shigeru Morikasa tied things at 2 and extra innings loomed. However, Shonan reliever Shigetoshi Yamakita gave up a leadoff single to Hiroyuki Oshima and he was quickly replaced by wily veteran Takeharu Katoh. But Seibu was not to be denied, as DH Taketoshi Gotoh smoked a double down the right-field line sending Oshima home to win the game 3-2. A sayonara victory for the home team!



What was amazing about this game was that there were no walks! And the game time was an unbelievable 2:18 - it would have been faster but the grounds crew takes 5 minutes to clean the field after the 5th inning, probably to give the players a chance to use the facilities, as there is no clubhouse in the actual playing area. Anyway, it may be the fastest 9-inning game in the Japanese minors this year - I'll have to check on that later. But I enjoyed watching the great pitching and more aggressive hitting that results when strikes are being thrown.

The Dome

With the first game ending so early, I had some time before gates opened at the Seibu Dome. The word dome is a bit of a misnomer though - the stadium is built like an ampitheatre into the side of a hill and originally had no covering. After the 1998 season though, a large dome-like umbrella was built - but there is no pressurized inflation system like most domed ballparks. Instead, there is a large gap between the bottom of the dome and ground level, so you are not well-protected from a chilly night. Nonetheless, the roof does provide some difficulties for fielders while it is still daylight: before the game, infielders were taking pop-up practice, and during the game, Yakult left-fielder Kazuki Fukuchi lost a fly ball in the roof, leading to a triple. Have a look at the picture here and tell me if you'd like to catch a fly ball under this roof.



Two years ago, the Lions lost Daisuke Matsuzaka to the Boston Red Sox, who paid over $50 million just for the rights to negotiate with him. This money went straight to the Lions, who used some of it to renovate the stadium. This article from the New York Times details the improvements, and I concur - when I walked into the bathroom, I was momentarily blinded by the shining blue porcelain tiles. I'm glad to see that the Lions fans got something useful out of Matsuzaka's leaving.


You can see the gap between the roof and the seats

The new scoreboard is also the best in Japan, at least that I've seen. One of the things I liked about the scoreline was that they displayed the time of the game as it progressed, and between innings, they showed how much time was being used. This is part of the Green Project that I wrote about in an earlier post, and is something that should be adapted elsewhere.

Field View Seats

As this was my first Japanese major league game in over two years, I decided to splurge and get a Field View Seat. These are relatively new seating options which allow you to sit almost on the field, in a section that extends out into foul territory and which lacks the protective netting that characterizes so many Japanese stadiums. A clear view of the field - what a concept! At $40, they are a bit expensive, but well worth it if you are only going to one game.

In Japan, fans are ostensibly divided depending on which team they are cheering for. Seibu fans are to sit on the 3rd base side and in left field, while the visiting fans sit on 1st base side and in right field. As a Yakult supporter, I got a seat on the 1st base side, it was in the second row, about 25 yards down the line from first base. Definitely a different perspective.

As this is prime foul ball territory, the team takes precautions to protect fans. At each seat is a batting helmet, as well as a small paper hat to keep the inside of the helmet clean. You can also pick up a glove when you enter the seating area. A few people made use of the helmets, although we were so far away that you would have plenty of time to get out of the way of a screamer down the line. One problem sitting at field level is that your view is sometimes blocked by umpires, coaches, and players warming up. Still, the seats are great: players can hear you cheering and will acknowledge you, and you really get a feel for the game. Recommended to try once if you have the chance.

Yakult Loses Again


The game itself was OK. Last season's ERA leader Masanori Ishikawa started for Yakult against journeyman John Wasdin, now in his second tour in Japan. Yakult scored a run in each of the first two innings, but Seibu responded with 3 of their own in the 3rd, helped by a 2-run homer from Takumi Kuriyama. In the fifth, two singles and a fielders choice had loaded the bases for Takeya Nakamura (pictured above), the reigning home run king for the Pacific League. It was a dangerous situation and unfortunately, Ishikawa couldn't get it done as Nakamura knocked a 2-2 pitch over the right field fence for a grand slam. The Swallows managed a run in the 8th on Norichika Aoki's (a member of the WBC winning Japanese team) homer, but that was all for them and they lost 7-3. One interesting note is that veteran pitcher Fumiya Nishiguchi, in his 15th season with the club, pitched the 8th inning, striking out two but giving up the home run to Aoki.

Last week I saw Yakult's minor league team lose, this week the major league team suffers defeat. The jinx lives on!


Canadian Aaron Guiel rounds first after a single. When he bats, the Yakult cheering section plays O Canada!

Majors and Minors in Japan

One of the starters in the afternoon game, Kenta Matsusaka, was a late inning defensive replacement in the evening game. In Japan, many players move between the two teams without any real official notice. There is no concept of options, and with the minor league teams located close by in most cases, no logistical issues with having players shuttle back and forth. Two of the players that I saw last week playing for the Swallows in the minor leagues were on the bench for the game today, and one of them even pinch-hit.

It's amazing how different the major league and minor league stadiums are. In the US, AAA stadiums are usually 10,000 seat venues with all the fixings. But in Japan, the second team plays at a dirt field with no facilities for players or fans whatsoever. I think that the Japanese teams prefer this setup to maximize roster flexibility (i.e. minor league day games allow players to play in both the morning and afternoon), but they are missing out on a great chance to improve their product.

As the minor league team actually consists of many players who are of major league caliber, the games may be the best value in sports. You can see quality ball for free - just get there early to secure a decent seat. I'll probably spend the summer watching a few more minor league games for this reason and will report back on my experiences.

Next Up

I'm off to Singapore tomorrow, mainly to fly on the A380, but also to catch an S League Cup game. I'm planning to watch a game tomorrow, but the weather looks questionable, so it may be Friday after all. I'll be back here on Monday, have a good weekend all!

Best,

Sean