Friday, August 28, 2009

Shikoku-Kyushu Island League All-Stars 4 at Eastern League Futures 5 - August 27, 2009


Independent baseball is a fixture in the US, but here in Japan, it's a relatively new concept. As you probably know, baseball is hugely popular but the pro leagues only have 12 teams in the largest cities, and there is no minor league system that could give smaller towns a regular chance to watch the game. There are industrial leagues that actually have talented players, but those teams are sponsored by companies and don't seem to have a strong local following as the teams usually compete in tournaments rather than a regular league. So it seems only natural that eventually someone would recognize the need for competitive baseball leagues with teams in these smaller cities.

That finally happened in 2005, when the Shikoku Island League was formed with 4 teams, one in each prefecture on the small island of Shikoku. Two years later, two teams from Kyushu were added, and the league was renamed the Shikoku-Kyushu Island League. The league gained a small amount of publicity overseas when one of the teams signed ex-Yankee Hideki Irabu.

The league generally plays 3-games series from Friday to Sunday, which means that the players have time off during the week. I guess the Eastern League saw a chance to get some competition for their Futures team and invited the all-stars from the SKIL up to Tokyo to play a 2-game series. The first game was on Wedneday, August 26th in Kamagaya, which I've been to twice so far, with the second game being played on August 27th in Omiya Stadium, which I had yet to visit. So it was a no-brainer to decide to head up there to watch the game and add another ballpark to my list.

Getting There

Omiya is a large district that's part of the new Saitama City, about 35 minutes by train from Tokyo. The stadium is a 20-minute walk from the station, located in Omiya Park. The park is situated just behind Hikawa Shrine, so much of the walk is along a tree-lined route as you approach the shrine. It's quite a nice walk, well shaded even on sunny days, and certainly the nicest walk to any stadium in the country. The ballpark is right next to NACK.5 Stadium, home of J League side Omiya Ardija, which looks to be a great place for soccer and may necessitate a return trip sometime.

The Stadium



Omiya Stadium is one of the oldest ballparks in the country, having been built in 1934. It was renovated in 1992 so it's difficult to recognize just how old it is. The best thing about this ballpark is the large awning that covers much of the infield seating, providing plenty of shade. Yes, glorious shade! All of the other stadiums I've seen this summer have almost no shaded seating, which means 3 or 4 hours baking in the heat and generous dollops of sunblock. So I was elated to see that I could spend the game relaxing without frying my delicate complexion.

The stadium seats over 20,000 and is occasionally used for Seibu Lions games and some high school games, it otherwise seems to lie empty for days on end, judging from the amount of pigeon poop I saw scattered around. There are three seating areas: between the bases are orange plastic seats with backs; down the lines are blue benches; green benches lie even further away. The stadium tapers as you move down the lines, somewhat similar to the upper deck in Kaufmann Stadium in Kansas City as you can see in the shot below. There's no outfield seating, beyond the fences is just a grassy area. As there were fewer than 200 people in attendance, they had closed off the bench seating so I couldn't take any pictures from there.



The infield is all dirt, with a grass outfield. Measurements are typical for Japan, about 325 feet down the lines and 400 to center. There is a typical large scoreboard that doubles as the batters eye and displays the lineups.

As this was not a typical game, there were not your usual assortment of concessions; instead there was just one guy selling kebab sandwiches and another offering pop and frozen ice treats. I did have a kebab, but it was rather small and a bit disappointing.

I believe that this is the sort of stadium where minor league games should be played regularly. It's large, plenty of good seats, fairly comfortable, and accessible. I guess when there's only 400 fans at a game though, it's a bit of a waste to use such a facility. But if the NPB ever gets its act straight and creates a viable minor league system, the park in Omiya would be a great place to see a game.


You can make out NACK5 stadium behind the scoreboard

The Game

I don't know any of the Island League players, so I wasn't sure what to expect from them. Having seen the Futures beat Nippon Ham 13-11 just a week before, I thought that we might have another walkfest, but that was not the case, thankfully.

Leadoff hitter Yamashin, who is leading the Island League in batting, slugged a homer to right to start the game. A walk, single, and double added two more runs and it was 3-0 quickly. But that was pretty much it for the Island League as the Futures pitchers retired 22 in a row from that point. Meanwhile, their offense couldn't get much started and the game moved quickly through 5 innings.

Daisuke Takada of the Ehime Mandarin Pirates

In the 6th, the Futures scored two runs on 3 consecutive single, helped by an error in left field, to make it a close game. Then in the 8th, a lead-off walk was followed by a double. With one out, the ball was grounded to short. The throw came home and the runner on third was in a rundown. Unfortunately for the Island League, the 3rd baseman Nakamura threw the ball away and both runners scored, with the batter making it all the way to third. He would later score on a single and it was 5-3 Futures.

Mineaki Suetsugu of the Nagasaki Saints

The Island League had a chance to tie the game after a leadoff triple (breaking the run of 22 straight outs) was followed by a double in the top of the 9th. But with the bases loaded, catcher Nishimori was called out on strikes and the Futures had held on for the 5-4 win.

This was a pretty good game. I was impressed that each Futures pitcher (7 pitchers were used) was throwing strikes and getting outs, although I understand that they should be a better team than the independent leaguers. The Futures managed to get their leadoff man on base in 7 out of 8 innings, but he was stranded 5 times, which kept the game close. Out of the Futures 5 runs, 3 scored on errors, and one scored in a rundown, so there was only 1 RBI.


The final score

One interesting thing about the all-star team is seeing the different uniforms of the Island League teams. Many of these teams have prominent advertising patches on their jerseys, which looks a bit weird. But given that the league needs all the revenue they can get, I don't think it's much of an issue. As well, the team came out both before and after the game to bow to the fans on both sides of the stadium - a nice gesture that more teams should take to heart.

Up Next

I was planning to see a game today in Lotte Urawa, but the real world intervened as I've started interviews for jobs. So I may not be able to see as many weekday games as I would like as the season winds down. I'll keep you all posted.

Best,

Sean

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Nippon Ham Fighters 9 at Chiba Lotte Marines 2 (Eastern League) - August 25, 2009


Occasionally, the minor league club of the Chiba Lotte Marines holds a game in Chiba Marine Stadium, home of the big team. These games start at 11 am, as there is also a night game to prepare for. I've been meaning to get out there for some time and when I saw the schedule had a day-night doubleheader for August 25th, I thought there'd be no better time to revisit Marine Stadium.

Getting There

The stadium is located a nice 15 minute walk from Kaihin Makuhari Station on the Keiyo line, about 30 minutes from Tokyo on the express train. The entire area is known as Makuhari and houses a large convention center called Makuhari Messe. The Tokyo Auto Show and other major events are held here on a regular basis and often there are more convention attendees than baseball fans in the area. If the walk is too long for you, there's a bus that only costs 100 yen and gets you there in 3 minutes.

The Stadium

Built next to Tokyo Bay, Chiba Marine Stadium is similar to the old cookie-cutter ballparks that dotted MLB back in the 70s and 80s. From the outside, the blue walls reminded me of Shea Stadium especially when I could see the ballpark from the train, just like noticing Shea as the 7 train approached. As you walk there, the stadium is hidden behind buildings and then trees; the only view is afforded from the top of a pedestrian bridge, as in the picture left. It's only after you pass through this small batch of trees that the whole stadium is visible. It's not bad looking, I just forgot to take a picture from up close. As this was an early game, there were hardly any fans around, but when there's a big league game, there's plenty of food choices out front.


Inside, there are two levels between the foul poles, and one level of bleachers in the outfield. Each section of seats is differently coloured, a rare concept in Japan and one that adds a bit of character to the park, particularly when it is nearly empty. There are also the Field Wing seats down the lines - these allow fans to be close to the action without a fence blocking your view. I sat here for an inning and think they are good value for the big league games at 4,400 yen. The stadium is small enough that the second level of seats is still very close to the action.



As you can see in the picture above, there are several holes in the walls behind the bleacher seats that allow wind to circulate through the stadium. I've seen games on TV where there is a strong gale blowing off the water and it can cause some funny things to happen to fly balls. Today, though, was a quiet day with a light breeze around occasionally cooling us off. The large scoreboard has a windspeed indicator along with the direction in which the wind is blowing, certainly a unique feature among all the ballparks I have visited.


Note the wind indicator as well as the blowout score

The field is artifical turf, and the fence measurements were typical for Japan, about 327 feet down the lines and 400 to center. There were a few typical food options, but I didn't partake as the game was so early and I wasn't that hungry. I would suggest buying your food outside the stadium; as I left the game I noticed them setting up a variety of booths and these definitely were more appealing than what was available inside.

Overall, this is a cozy park and a decent place to watch a game when the weather is nice. But when the wind is blowing at night, bring a jacket - it can get chilly here by the water.

The Game

The league-leading Marines were hosting the Nippon Ham Fighters, who I had seen last week lose to the Futures. First pitch was at 11 am, and it didn't take long for the fans to get woken up. After two quick outs, Fighters' rightfielder Atsushi Ugumori was at the plate. I checked his stats in my handy NPB players guide (more on that later) and noticed he had hit 10 homers in 2007 as a member of the minor league team. So he had some power, and sure enough, he hammered the next pitch to left field. Lotte leftfielder Juan Muniz simply turned and watched it sail into the empty seats and the Fighters led 1-0.

Things settled down after that though as both pitchers found a rhythm and after an hour, we were done four frames with the score still 1-0. In the fifth though, Lotte rookie starter Yuta Kimura gave up 3 runs and Nippon Ham was in control. That was all for Kimura, and he was replaced to start the 6th inning by developmental player (more on this later too) Akira Suzue. Let me say that Suzue needs more development. In one unfortunate inning, he gave up 5 hits and a walk leading to 5 runs and suddenly it was 9-0 Fighters.


Offensive star Seiichi Ohira, who tripled twice and drove in 3 runs

That was all Fighters starter Mitsuo Yoshikawa needed. He gave up a pair of runs in the 6th but was left in to complete the game, throwing 147 pitches in the effort. He wasn't overpowering, topping the gun at around 87 mph, but he managed to induce contact outs when he needed them. He struck out 8 and walked 5 while scattering 6 hits. I was surprised that they didn't take him out once the game was in hand, but I guess they were trying to rest their bullpen. Whatever the case, it was nice to see a complete game for a change and that some pitchers can actually throw 140 or more pitches without hurting their arm.


Chase Lambin fouls one off

The game was just over 2.5 hours, which was great. The first hour or so was heavenly - it was a bit cloudy so the sun wasn't too hot, and the light breeze kept it reasonably cool. I was in the first row above the Fighters dugout and just enjoying the good pitching. Once the sun came out in full force though, I sought some shade - it was abnormally hot down near the field. With a seat relatively far from the field, I hoped for a speedy conclusion to the game, and was rewarded as Yoshikawa shut down the Marines the rest of the way.

All-in-all though, this was a lot of fun. It's a weird feeling being home at 3 pm having already seen a professional baseball game. I was planning to stay for the second game, but with 5 hours to wait, not a lot to do in the area, and a pitching matchup that featured two spot starters, I decided to return home to update my faithful readers. Anyway, the game is on TV tonight, so I'll kick back and watch it here.

Edit: Lotte won the game 10-5 - glad I didn't stay for it.

NPB Players Guide

The best bargain in Japanese baseball is the NPB players guide, available at most stadiums for 400 yen. It contains very small bios of every player on every team, including the last 3 years of statistics. Given that each team has a roster that is not officially divided between the major and minor league squads, and that there is almost no player movement during the season, this book provides useful data from day 1 right through to the playoffs. Of course, it's only available in Japanese, so you have to be able to read the language, but still a good idea for any fan of Japanese baseball.

Developmental Players

In an earlier post, I made fun of how many players have numbers over 100. I thought this was due to the large number of players on each roster, but I was entirely mistaken. Each club has a limit of 70 players on the roster, split between the major and minor league teams. But some teams still want to sign more players for development purposes. This is what the ikusei (training) system is used for. The guys at NPB Tracker give a great explanation of the system and some examples of players who have made it to their big club through this process. It might be easier to think of the developmental players as non-roster invitees, although they spend the whole season with the team in an attempt to make the 70-man roster.

It seems to me to be that the ikusei system arises from only having one minor league team. In MLB, each club has 5-7 minor league clubs, allowing them to develop between 125-175 players. Here in Japan, there is little done in player development - good players are immediately assigned to the big club while the lesser lights battle it out in the minors, hoping for a chance. So the ikusei system allows teams to sign and develop players by getting them game action with the minor squad as well as with the touring Futures team.

One interesting note is that at today's game, Juan Muniz (shown below) of Lotte was playing. He was signed as an ikusei player back at the beginning of the year but was added to the roster on March 30th. What's surprising is his age: 32! Most ikusei players are young guys looking for a chance to play, but Muniz comes from Cuba, where he played on the national team. He spent a couple of seasons in Florida's minor league system but didn't make it there, instead coming to Japan. He's appeared in 48 games, hitting .352 with 10 home runs. So perhaps he's still got a shot at making it to the big club. I'll try to follow his progress and let you know.



Next Up

There's two more afternoon games this week - Thursday is the Futures vs the Shikoku-Kyushu Island League All-Stars in Omiya and Friday is a trip back to Lotte Urawa to see the Swallows and Marines. One of the benefits of seeing so many minor league games is that I'm getting to know the players now, so it will make following NPB more interesting from next season, especially if some of these guys get promoted.

Best,

Sean

Monday, August 24, 2009

Koushien, Ashes, World Grand Prix all done


One of the benefits of living in Japan is meeting many sports fans from other countries and being introduced to a whole new set of sports that I had hardly heard of 15 years ago. Long gone are the days when I thought that MLB, the NFL, and the NHL were all that mattered to the sporting world (I am so old that when I started following sports, the NBA was still a second-tier league). Now I follow rugby, cricket, soccer, in addition to the big 4 North American sports. This keeps me busy checking up on all the leagues in which I have even the slightest interest, as well as following the dozens of tournaments around the world. In the past 24 hours, 3 major tournaments finished, so I thought I'd mention them as a sign of just how varied the sporting world is.

Koushien

I'd mentioned the Japanese National High School Baseball Tournament a couple of times before. I went to some regional games in Tokyo and although I wasn't that impressed watching live, the final tournament is something that any baseball fan would enjoy.

It started back on August 8, and lasted until today, August 24. It was a couple of days longer than scheduled due to some early rainouts. There were games every day, usually 4 in the first 10 days but then 2 for the quarter-finals and semi-finals, leading up to the final today.

And what a final it was. The team from Aichi prefecture, Chukyodai Chukyo based in Nagoya, is a well-known school who had won 6 championships, although their last was in 1966. Their opponent was from Niigata, a prefecture that had never even made it to the Best 4 in the 91 years the tournament has been held. Known as Nihon Bunri, they were the clear underdogs.

The game started quickly with Chukyo's pitcher, Doubayashi, belting a 2-run homer to give his team an early lead, but Bunri got 2 back and after 5 it was 2-2. In the bottom of the 6th, Chukyo exploded for 6 runs, all coming with two out and highlighted by a bases-loaded triple. The game looked lost for Nihon Bunri, who managed to add single runs in the 7th and 8th, but gave up 2 themselves during that span.

Which brought us to the 9th, with Chukyo crusing 10-4. Although Doubayashi had been replaced as the pitcher earlier in the game, he was brought back to close things out (he was playing the field while he wasn't pitching - a common tactic used in high school baseball to allow the ace to remain in the game in case he is required later on). He got two quick outs and it looked like the game was over. But a walk, wild pitch and single made it 10-5. Still no reason to worry, but a triple and a hit batsman made it 10-6 with runners on 1st and 3rd. Doubayashi was again replaced, much to his chagrin. Reliever Morimoto promptly walked the bases loaded, bringing the tying run to the plate. Incredible!

The batter was Bunri's ace Itou, who quickly singled in two runs! 10-8, and Chukyo is looking more like Choke-yo. A pinch-hitter singled to score another run and it was 10-9! It could not be any more wilder, the announcer was going crazy as were the Bunri fans. Catcher Wakabayashi, who had struck out to start the inning, was up with a chance to tie the game. He swung at the first pitch and lined it hard - had he tied the game? NO! Right to the third baseman, who gloved it and with that, ended a classic championship game. Wakabayashi fell to the ground in disbelief - he had stung that ball and likely thought himself a hero, but the baseball gods did not smile on him.

This was a great game, taking just over 2.5 hours with everything you could ask for. Congratulations to baseball fans in Aichi prefecture and to the team from Chukyodai Chukyo, who are the deserving winners. The tournament was fantastic, with a number of close games and several impressive performances on both offense and defense. I'm looking forward to next year's tournament already.

The Ashes

Meanwhile, halfway around the world, two nations fought for cricket surpemacy, at least between themselves. It was the Ashes, the biennial tournament between Australia and England, who were the hosts this year. Consisting of 5 test matches over a 6-week period, it's considered the most compelling cricket around (although some fans from India and Pakistan may disagree). Between 1989 and 2003 though, Australia had won each series, which had reduced excitement in England. But the Englishmen's stunning victory in 2005 returned the Ashes to prominence there, and despite being humiliated in 2006-07, England was looking forward to regaining the Ashes this summer.

I'm not going to recap the series here - it's far too complicated to explain all the nuances of the game, which I am still learning. After 4 tests, the series was tied 1-1 with two draws. All Australia needed was a draw in the 5th test to retain the trophy. But after 4 days, England had batted well, while Australia had not. So last night, England needed to get 10 wickets (outs) from the Aussies before they could score 466 runs over the following two days.

Although this sounds impossible, there was a very slight chance Australia could have pulled it off, so it made for some exciting cricket. Sadly, it's not televised here and although I found it streamed online, the quality was rather poor. So I settled for watching text updates at cricinfo.com. Although Australia battled valiantly, a couple of run-outs to their best batsmen snuffed any chance they might have had. England cruised to a comprehensive victory and have retaken the Ashes. Congratulations to their fans, who I know are celebrating now and looking forward to next winter when the next tourney takes place down under. If you've never seen cricket, I suggest you try to learn it and perhaps consider a trip to Australia for the series in 2010-11.

FIVB World Grand Prix

Back in Japan, a much less noticeable tournament was finishing up yesterday. It was the Women's World Volleyball Championship, known as the World Grand Prix. For several weeks, 12 countries had been playing an extensive round robin, in locations that included Rio De Janeiro, Poland, and Taiwan. The top 6 teams made the final round, which took place here in Tokyo.

Despite this being next door and relatively cheap to enter, I couldn't bring myself to attend this tournament. I really can't stand volleyball - there is little variety between points (serve, set, set, spike, point! or dig, set, set, spike, repeat until point is scored). And it drives me nuts that after every point, win or lose, all the players have to touch hands. There's over a hundred points a match! You don't have to touch after every freaking point!! Fans here also use Thunderstix, the worst invention for sports fans ever, another strong reason to stay home. It also annoys me that you get a point regardless of service - when I was young you could only score on serve, which seems a better way to play. So as you can see, volleyball is not my favourite sport.

Nonetheless, my dislike of volleyball will not prevent me from telling you that Brazil won the tournament with Russia taking second and Germany grabbing the bronze. As a sop to Japanese fans, the final game was Japan v Brazil, which was stupid scheduling, as Japan is not that good at volleyball and so the tournament result was known before the final game was played.

There you have it. Three completely different sports all finishing big tournaments around the same time. It just shows how exciting the sports world is, no matter the time of year or where you might be.

Next up

There's a few ball games this week I'd like to see - tomorrow there's a minor/major doubleheader in Chiba which I'm still considering. If I go, there'll be an update on Wednesday.

Best,

Sean

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Baseball/Soccer Doubleheader in Chiba - August 19, 2009


OK, last week I said that I wouldn't be doing much watching sports over the next little while. Hot weather, the high school ball tournament, and my new subscription to MLB.TV were keeping me at home. But after a week in the house (except for an excursion to Yokosuka on Sunday evening) I found a sports doubleheader in Chiba which was interesting enough to get me off my ass and outside for a few hours.

The first game was an Eastern League Challenge Match in Kamagaya at 1 pm, followed by a J League game in Soga between Nagoya Grampus and JEF United Chiba at 7 pm.

Game 1 - Nippon Ham Fighters 11 at Eastern League Futures 13

Who are The Futures?

The Eastern League has 7 teams. It's strange but true. Back in 2005, the Orix Blue Wave (based in Kobe) and Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes merged, and a new team, the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, was created in Sendai, in northern Japan. As the Japanese minor league squads want to remain relatively close to their major league counterparts, it was decided to give the Eastern League 7 teams and the Western League 5. This way, the 5 major teams in the Tokyo metro area plus the Eagles and the Fighters (now based in Sapporo) would remain close to their minor clubs.

Given the small size of Japan and the fact that the major clubs travel around the country, I'm not sure why the minor leagues just didn't form one 12-team league and have regular road trips. I doubt the cost would be that prohibitive. Why not just have both squads travel together?

Well, that wasn't the decision, and two leagues with an odd number of teams were re-formed instead. In a sport such as baseball, having an odd number of ballclubs is not a very smart idea. Every day, one team is off. This is particularly bad with young players who should be gaining as much experience as possible. So the Eastern League came up with the idea of creating a Futures team, composed of very young players who have yet to see action at the big-league level, to occasionally play an Eastern League team who would otherwise be enjoying an off day. The players on the Futures team change often, as there cannot be players from the team they are playing.


Swallows pitcher Rafael Fernandes from Brazil, here relieving in the 8th. No walks but gave up a long homer to Seiichi Ohira

The Futures play 44 games during the season (only one against the Eagles up in Sendai though) and were 6-20 so far, so not really providing much opposition. When I saw they had a game in Kamagaya today, and there was a nearby JLeague game in the evening, I decided to forgo the Koshien for a day and head on over to Chiba to see what was up.

The Game

Normally, I would recap the game here. But today was really a bad game. The Futures won 13-11 for their 2nd consecutive victory after losing 10 straight.

But the story of the game was the terrible pitching and defense that led to long, long, innings, resulting in a 3.5 hour display of crap baseball. Even worse, although the Futures were the home team, they batted in the bottom of the ninth despite leading 12-11, adding another run and 10 more minutes to my misery. This is due to the rule that says in Futures games, exactly 9 innings must be played (no extra innings).

From a competitive point of view, the game was good. There were a few lead changes and several good hits. In particular, one long foul ball that cleared the netting some 350 feet away and hit off a car whose owner doubtless thought he was safely parked. After that, there was a crowd around the car for a couple of innings, and I'd say that ball travelled at least 480 feet. Quite impressive.

Despite the back-and-forth nature of the game, it was really just poor pitching that ruled the day. I'll let the numbers tell the rest of the story:

100 batters to the plate.
29 hits, 15 walks, 3 hit batsmen - 47% of batters reached
3 errors
3 wild pitches
2 lost fly balls
379 total pitches, 171 balls, 208 strikes (only 55% strikes, ugh)

To be fair, Fighters' starter Yoshinori Tateyama pitched a great first inning. He's a big leaguer though, probably just getting some rehab work in, and he left after the first frame. Sadly, the next 8 innings were a nightmare for the bullpen and the fans too! A few shots below:

Ryuichi Watanabe pops one up

Yohei Kaneko grounds out


The Futures plate yet another run

Lucky Number

One last note before I permanently forget this game. They were giving away Futures game-worn jerseys - the first 300 fans received a lucky number card and midway through the game, 30 numbers were posted as winners. This is a pretty good deal I thought, considering the game was free. Sadly though, I did not win, nor did I see anyone who had won. So I'm not 100% sure what the prize was.

Between Games

For normal Fighters home games, there is a bus from Kamagaya Station as the ballpark is a bit far. But as this game was not normal, there was no bus. Many other fans were also confused by this, but there were plenty of taxis at the station, so it was not a problem getting to the stadium. I figured there's be a few taxis after the game as well, but I was wrong. As the game went extra-long, I didn't think walking back was an option. Fortunately I discovered a Fighters Bus that would take me to another nearby station. As you can see in the picture below, the bus is painted in Kamagaya Fighters colours, another way the team has become part of the community.



The bus ride was 40 minutes long, and once it arrived, it was a further 30-minute train ride to Soga station, which is where J League squad JEF United play.

Game 2 - Nagoya Grampus 2 at JEF United Chiba 0

Fukuda Denshi Arena



Their home ground is known as Fukuda Denshi Arena, the name coming from a company that makes medical equipment. It's a 10-minute walk from Soga station, and as you cross the final street, you'll have a good view of the outside of the stadium. There's a small plaza you traverse to get to the main entrance. It appears as if there are several entrances (certainly the visiting fans are escorted to a different gate) but I was running late so I didn't do much of a tour.


One of my favorite feelings is entering a new stadium for the first time. There's always something to catch your eye, whether it be the gorgeous green field or the architecture. Here it was no different - I entered and was immediately struck but the small size of the stadium. There wasn't a bad seat in the place - though I quickly realized that nearly all the seats in my assigned area were taken! These fans get their early! Fortunately being alone, I did manage to find a single open seat close to the field and quickly claimed it.


The JEF cheering section

The arena is built for soccer. It's a nice open-air stadium with a small capacity of just over 19,000 which really allows the crowd to become part of the game. There are two levels of seating, but with only about 12 rows in the bottom level, the upper seats provide a good view as well. There is a small track running around the pitch, but this is for benches, and so you are much closer than in other multi-purpose stadiums. Still, I wish they would build a stadium like those in England, where you are right on top of the action.

As the stadium is located next to Tokyo Bay, there was occasionally a light breeze that was much needed on this humid night. I noticed only a couple of food stands, and there were long lines which precluded me enjoying a snack before the game. Typical Japanese fare was offered though, with nothing particularly memorable.

About the only negative is that the stadium next to a steel factory, and occasionally during the game there would be some strange industrial odors wafting through.

Overall, it's a very comfortable and well-designed stadium that I would recommend to any sports fan.

JEF vs Nagoya

Wikipedia gives a good history on JEF United Ichihara Chiba. They are the longest-serving team in Japan's top league, but they are in danger of relegation this year. Currently lying 16th out of 18 teams and 6 points out of safety, they had only won 4 of 21 games, scoring a goal a game on average. With the bottom 3 teams to be relegated and only 13 games left, JEF needs to start getting points quickly.

Unfortunately, today's opposition was Nagoya Grampus, a team that finished 3rd last season. They are struggling this season, standing 13th in the table, but they are in the Champions League quarterfinals, where they are to face Kawasaki Frontale next month. So I was interested to see what sort of team they had.

Joshua Kennedy watches the ball with 3 Chiba defenders

The first thing I noticed was the tall foreign player for Nagoya. Turns out he's Joshua Kennedy, who also plays for the Australian National Team. I kept my eyes on him, at 194 cm tall, he dominated the box. Sure enough he scored the first goal 24 minutes in. It was much like a hockey goal: the ball was crossed in as Kennedy charged the net. He deflected the ball at goal where JEF keeper Ryo Kushino parried it back to Kennedy who seemingly accidentally knocked the ball home. The moral is "Always charge the net". The JEF fans were silenced momentarily as Kennedy and his teammates celebrated. But after a few seconds, the fans began their chants again, urging their team to come back.



Nagoya had different ideas though, and kept the pressure on for the remainder of the half, missing a couple of long strikes just off the top of the crossbar, but unable to add to their lead.

JEF started the second half with a glorious chance, when Tomi Shimamura was sent in alone only to send it just wide. The fans groaned in unison, knowing that they'd not get a better chance. After that, Nagoya's defense tightened up, and their offense began to pressure Kushino again. Finally, a cross into the box was headed home by Kenji Tamada to give Grampus the insurance they needed as they won 2-0.

Overall, this was a good game, much better than the baseball I endured earlier. The fans were supportive but sadly their team lacks the scorer they need to take advantage of what few chances they get. But it was interesting to watch Nagoya, who are clearly superior, and who will provide tough opposition to Kawasaki in next month's Champions League fixtures.

Next Up

There's another doubleheader in Chiba next week - this one features the Marines minor leagues in the morning, and their major leaguers in the evening. I think it's worth checking those games out. Then on Thursday, there's a game between the Futures and the all-stars from the Shikoku-Kyushu Island League in Omiya - a park which looks quite nice. Friday I'm planning to return to Lotte Urawa to get a good seat as my previous visit there left me on the edge of a 50-year old bench. As always, I'll post updates here.

Best,

Sean

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Ranking the Eastern League Ballparks


I've now seen all 6 Eastern League Ballparks in Tokyo and thought I'd give a quick overview and ranking.

Three of the parks are real stadiums that charge admission and have rows of seats above the field, usually from first base around to third base. They have a few food and drink options and nice scoreboards that show the lineups. There's Giants Stadium that's next to the Yomiuriland Amusement Park (700 yen), Fighters Stadium in Kamagaya (1000 yen), and Yokosuka Stadium, home of the Shonan Searex (1000 yen).

The other parks are free and have limited seating, no food and a bare-bones scoreboard. There's a drink machine at each, but that's about it. These are Yakult Toda Stadium, Lotte Urawa Field, and Seibu #2 Field.

The things that matter to me when ranking these ballparks are convenient access from my place, seating options, and ambience. As such, here are my rather limited rankings.

1) Giants Stadium - the best place to sit and watch a game. With a gondola going overhead and front row seats close to the fence, this is where I feel I can really enjoy the afternoon. Only about 45 minutes from my place, which really helps, and not far from the station, although you have to climb nearly 300 stairs. The lucky number drawings are a unique feature. I'll return here near the end of the season for another visit.

2) Yakult Toda Stadium - gets bumped up for allowing fans to stand so close to the action, right at field level. Also has the best seats of the freebie ballparks. Not easy to get to on public transit, so I biked, but I'll try to take the train and bus here next month to see just how long it takes.

3) Yokosuka Stadium - the most pleasant ballpark on the list, but the front row seat is also a spot where people walk way too much. The only stadium with lights and therefore night games, also has a regular cheering section.

4) Fighters Stadium - also nice, but you need to ride a bus from the station. Otherwise much the same as Giants stadium, but with a good local crowd.

5) Lotte Urawa Field - Reasonably close to the station, but few decent seating options. I'll revisit here next month, and try to arrive much earlier to get a better seat.

6) Seibu #2 Field - almost no seats, so you have to sit on concrete for the afternoon. Also the furthest stadium from my place. Unlikely I'll return here anytime soon.

I should note that teams don't play all their home games at these stadiums. In order to increase exposure, some local stadiums are occasionally used, and as I perused the schedule, I noticed a few upcoming games at these ballparks. This Thursday, the Shonan Searex have a home game in the Baystars practice field. This ballpark is located just a couple of stops further away from their main stadium which I visited a couple of days ago. The Futures play there in September, so I'll try to head down to check it out.

As well, next week the minor league Chiba Lotte Marines have a morning game at Chiba Marine Stadium, home of their NPB counterparts. There's an evening game there as well, so I'll see if I can make the doubleheader. As usual, updates will be posted here.

Best,

Sean

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Yakult Swallows 1 at Shonan Searex 16 (Eastern League) - August 16,2009


I'd been to 5 out of the 6 Eastern League ballparks in the Tokyo area this season. Only a visit to Yokosuka Stadium, home of the Shonan Searex, was required to complete the tour. Having seen the Yakult Swallows in 4 of those games, I was getting familiar with their players, and eager to see them take on the Searex. It turned out that they were visiting Shonan this weekend, with night games on Saturday and Sunday. After spending Saturday afternoon at a local festival, I decided to make the trip down to Kanagawa on Sunday.

Getting There

Yokosuka is a town just south of Yokohama, known mostly for housing a US Naval Base. The stadium is located near Oppama station on the Keikyu line. Using a rapid train from the Ginza area and switching to the local at Kanazawa Bunko, you can make the trip in about 50 minutes. It's a further 15-minute walk to the stadium itself, although this is a nice walk that is partly covered and offers a few convenience stores where you can get supplies before entering the game, as well as some drinking spots for afterwards.

The Stadium

Yokosuka Stadium is a real ballpark, unlike Yakult Toda Field. It's much the same design as Fighter's Stadium in Kanagawa - there's a ticket window in the middle and entrances on either side. There's only one level of seats though, so if you are sitting in the front row, you will be disturbed by people walking back and forth during the action. The plastic seats do have small backs on them, unlike the other stadiums, and are probably the most comfortable seats so far, which isn't saying very much. There are also some benches further down the lines. There is mesh behind the plate, and a fence all around, but if you sit high enough down the baseline, you can get a clear view of the action.


Front of the stadium


The field is artificial turf with the basepaths cut out with dirt. The outfield has some nice greenery around it and the scoreboard is quite nice too, displaying lineups and messages to the players between innings.


Infield practice

Food is actually located outside the ballpark, so make sure you have your ticket when you leave. There's your typical assortment of noodles, as well as Japanese curry with rice that looked quite good. There's also an all-you-can-drink option which looked appealing at first. But in reality it's 2,000 yen and you must stop after the 6th inning. Considering that beers are 350 yen for a can, you're looking at one beer per inning. I've been known to enjoy a drink or two, but that sort of pace would be tough to maintain.

All in all, this is the nicest stadium in the Eastern League, but having people walk around the front row makes sitting there annoying, and hence I prefer Giants Stadium as a place to go. I'll post a ranking of the Eastern League Ballparks shortly.

The Game



Shonan is the best team in the league and they soon showed why. They scored 5 in the first inning and 6 more in the 3rd to take an 11-0 lead. Yakult managed 4 hits for the entire game and the final score was 16-1 for Shonan. It was ugly. Yakult starter Ryo Hidaka faced 16 batters and 9 of them scored! Two relievers weren't much better, allowing 7 more runs. What amazed me was the well-balanced attack put forth by the Searex. All starters managed at least 1 hit and 1 run, and no player had more than 2 runs. Catcher Toshihiro Noguchi, a long-time veteran of 4 teams and now on the downside of his career, belted a 2-run double in the first and a grand slam in the 3rd for 6 RBI's. He also singled later, but was injured running home on a wild pitch, so he didn't get a chance to bat for the cycle.

The final linescore was:

Yakult 1 4 1
Shonan 16 17 0


The scoreboard congratulates Noguchi on his grand slam.

This was the most lopsided game I'd ever seen, but despite that and my team losing, I didn't really mind that much. The nice weather and a decent pace to the game, coming in at 2:49, kept me from getting too frustrated at the Swallows ineffective pitching. Still, I might try to see some other teams from now on.


Another run scores for Shonan

Next up

There's a Futures game this Wednesday in Kamagaya which I'm thinking about. The Futures team is a collection of young players from the Eastern League who play about 40 games a season against those Eastern League teams who are not playing. As the league has 7 teams, there's at least one team off every day, and so once in a while the Futures provide a challenge game. The Futures players cannot have any experience with the major league team, so you are definitely going to see some up-and-comers. That evening, there's a J League game nearby, so if the weather co-operates, I might skip the Koshien on TV and head out to Chiba for a sports doubleheader.

Camera Update

If you read my post from last Friday when I biked up to Toda, you'll know I got a bit wet on the ride home and the camera was damaged. Fortunately, the pictures weren't lost and I've added them to the post. But the camera seemed beyond repair, so I've upgraded to a slightly better one and will be using that one from now on.

Best,

Sean

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Another Road Trip Plan!


I've had a few days at home recently, which is always a good time to plan road trips that I'll probably not take.

I'm still hoping to get to the Buffalo Bills game in Toronto this year, which takes place in December. As well, there's a good Houston-Dallas NFL doubleheader the week before, with Houston hosting a Monday night game and Dallas at home in their new digs for Thanksgiving. With all the schedules out now, I put together this doozy of a sports road trip!

Nov 20 Sacramento at Dallas NBA
Nov 21 NJ at Dallas NHL
Nov 22 Milwaukee at Houston AHL
Nov 23 Tennessee at Houston NFL
Nov 24 Milwaukee at San Antonio AHL
Nov 25 Milwaukee at Texas AHL or Golden State at San Antonio NBA
Nov 26 Oakland at Dallas NFL
Nov 28 Carolina at Buffalo NHL
Nov 29 Miami at Buffalo NFL
Nov 30 Buffalo at Toronto NHL
Dec 01 Abbotsford at Toronto AHL
Dec 02 Ottawa at Belleville OHL
Dec 03 NYJ vs Buffalo at Toronto NFL
Dec 04 Owen Sound at Ottawa OHL

Doubtful I'll be able to pull this off given my work visa issues which will require a job around that time, but it's fun to think about.

Best,

Sean

Friday, August 14, 2009

No need for live sports this week


No updates for a few days as I'm not going to any live sports. There are several reasons for this.

Koshien

The dog days of August are here in Tokyo, which means hot, humid days followed by hot, humid nights. And a few earthquakes. But it also means that the National High School Baseball Tournament, known as Koshien, is in full swing, with 3 or 4 games every day, lasting from 8:30 am until 6 pm or later. With the weather so oppressive, it's not that hard to spend the day inside watching the games and running the AC. Two days were completely rained out, which has pushed things back so the final takes place on Monday the 24th. So far, there's been some exciting games, some well-pitched affairs, and a few blowouts. There's still too many sacrifice bunts and too much sliding into first, but it's fun to watch the kids in what, for many of them, is the highlight of their life.

MLB.TV

Another reason to stay home is that I finally relented and bought MLB.TV for the last part of the season. MLB.TV started in 2003 and until two months ago, was completely blacked out in Japan. I had subscribed for one season and tried to use proxy servers to bypass the IP address, but this really wasn't worth it. Nowadays though, the quality of the broadcast and the ability to watch multiple games simultaneously makes the $35 price for two months well worth it. Already I've seen the Jays lose in New York (just like real life!) and Ken Griffey Jr. win one for the Mariners with a sayonara single in the 14th inning of a 0-0 game. Today, Jonny Gomes belted 3 dingers for Cincinnati. With the games on in the morning, having this package will keep me in the house for the next while. And since the games are on the computer, I can watch the Koshien on the TV at the same time!

No Pennant Races in Japan

Unfortunately, both the Central and Pacific Leagues have instituted Climax Series to determine their Japan Series representatives. This means that out of the 6 teams in each league, 3 teams make the playoffs. The 2nd-place team hosts the 3rd-place team in a best of 3 series, with the winner facing the 1st-place team in a best-of-6 final. How can it be best-of-6? The league champion is given a 1-0 lead when the series starts, and as they host all 6 games, it's tough for the runners-up to win.

Anyway, in the Central League, there's a 10-game gap between 3rd place Yakult and 4th place Hiroshima. Sure, there's a race for the league championship with the Giants leading the Dragons by just 2 games, but it's still not compelling as both teams are going to make the playoffs. Over in the Pacific League, things are a bit closer as Rakuten trails Seibu by 4.5 games, but I've already been to the Seibu Dome this year and it's a bit too far for a return trip. It will be interesting to see if Rakuten, an expansion team in 2005, can make their first playoff appearance, so I might try to catch an end-of-season game when they visit the Lotte Marines, who play relatively close by in Chiba. Until then, there's just a couple of minor league games in the parks I haven't seen yet.

Hawaii

I'm visiting Hawaii in mid-September for a week. Unfortunately the Hawaii Winter Baseball League ceased operations after last season, so there's not much to see while I'm there. The University of Hawaii has a women's volleyball tournament during my stay, so I might try to catch one of those games. Otherwise it'll be beach time as I need to relax after all this baseball watching.

Best,

Sean

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Rakuten Golden Eagles 3 at Yakult Swallows 4 (Eastern League) - August 7, 2009


Continuing my quest to see all 6 minor league parks based in Tokyo, I decided to take advantage of what began as a beautiful day to head up to Toda to catch another Yakult Swallows game.

Getting There

The stadium is located along the Arakawa River which separates Tokyo from it's northern prefectural neighbor, Saitama. You can take a train to Musashi Urawa station and then grab a bus to the Doman Green Park, from where it is a 10-minute walk to the ballpark. But given the nice weather, I decided to try to cycle there - it's only about 15 miles from where I live, which given Tokyo's traffic, should take just over an hour.

So I left the house around 11 am for the 1:30 pm start and biked northwest, using Highway 17 and crossing into Saitama over Todabashi. From there, it's a short ride through some suburban areas, but I did manage to get lost for a few minutes. Once re-oriented, I found Doman Green Park and soon spotted the large fencing that denoted a ballpark. I arrived at 12:30, parking my bicycle just behind the right field fence. As I removed my helmet, I heard a large thump - it was batting practice and a ball had landed behind me - I don't know where it ended up but an older gentleman was also looking for it, unsuccessfully.

The Stadium

To use a word like stadium to describe this place does a great disservice to real stadiums around the world. This place is small, with one seating section behind home plate, about 15 feet up. With 6 rows of benches, perhaps 100 people can sit here. There is also a few seats at field level. Behind the park is a large hill from which many fans watch the game using lawn chairs, which are much more comfortable than the benches. There is one drink machine (even the players are forced to use it!) and no food at all.

The field is unique in that it is entirely artifical turf, since the major league Yakult team plays on a turf field at Jingu. Bullpens are down the line, with fences to prevent foul balls from hitting the players there. The scoreboard is very small, and doesn't show hits or errors, or the lineups.

Still, this is a fun place to watch a game. Of course, it's free, which is a good start. I spent 7 innings on the benches behind home plate, which are not very comfortable, especially after a long bike ride. I then moved down to field level to take some pictures, and was amazed. I found a standing spot about 30 feet away from home plate, next to the visitor's on-deck circle. I had never seen such high quality baseball from this close or this particular angle. It was fantastic - you could hear everything and really see the break on the pitches. I wish I had come down earlier, being so close to the action is mesmerizing, especially when the game is close.

The Game

This was the 10th meeting between Yakult and Rakuten, with the Golden Eagles winning 8 and tying 1 so far. This was a surprising fact as Rakuten was the worst team in the Eastern League and Yakult was just below .500. It seemed like their poor performance against the league's whipping boys was costing the Swallows a chance at the post-season.

The first 6 innings whizzed by behind some great pitching from Rakuten starter Hideaki Asai, who has spent several seasons with the big club but struggled earlier this year and was sent down. He gave up only 2 hits over 6 innings, but one was a monster homer from Yakult DH Yuichi.

Swallows' starter Hiromitsu Takagi was just as good, yielding 1 run over 6 innings. It wasn't until the 7th when things began to get interesting. Hiroki Yamada relieved Takagi and gave up a long double to rookie Taishi Nakagawa. A weak single by leadoff hitter Yosuke Hiraishi gave the Eagles a 2-1 lead. In the bottom of the 7th, Asai remained in the game, and gave up a walk to Yuichi, a double to Tsuyoshi Ueda, and then a 2-run single to Ryo Yoshimoto. Despite the struggles, Asai was left in and induced a double play from Munehiro Shida to keep the score 3-2.

But Yamada couldn't hold the lead, giving up a single and walk with one out. This brought pinch-hitter Koichi Isobe, a veteran on the downside of his career. The Rakuten fans cheered and Isobe delivered, knocking a base hit up the middle on the first pitch he saw. It was 3-3!

In the bottom of the inning, Koki Watanabe, a successful reliever for 3 seasons with the big club, was brought in. With one out, league batting leader Toshihiro Nakao drove a ball deep to right center and legged out a triple! Takayuki Saito had a chance to give Yakult the lead, but struck out on a curve ball, continuing a terrible game for him. This brought Yuichi to the plate, and he smacked a 1-0 pitch for a run-scoring single and the Swallows were back on top.

Yuya Kamada came in to close out the game and got two quick outs. Weak-hitting Tatsuya Shiokawa, who had 4 ground outs so far, dribbled one to first. Saito bent to get it and then the ghost of Bill Buckner appeared - the ball went through Saito's legs into right field and the game continued. A single by Akihisa Makida pushed Shiokawa to third. DH Ginji then grounded one up the middle - but Masayoshi Miwa ranged to his right, slid to grab the ball and threw to second for the force - game over! Swallows get their first win over the Eagles 4-3!

Bad Game for Saito

Poor Takayuki Saito - after 10 years with the Giants, he is now playing on the Swallows minor league team, and doesn't seem to be enjoying it much. He went 0-4 with a strikeout (with the go-ahead runner on 3rd), grounded into a double play, as well as making two errors in the field. He even dropped a pop fly that didn't get counted as an error! Just a forgettable afternoon for him.

The Long Ride Home

As the game neared an end, I noticed that storm clouds were forming and the distant rumble of thunder could be heard. It had drizzled during the game for a couple of innings but had cleared up. Still, those clouds looked ominous, so I made my way home as quickly as I could. Unfortunately, I wasn't as quick as I needed to be and with about 45 minutes to go, the storm caught up to me. Initially it wasn't much, just a light rain, but this slowly became a torrential downpour, drenching me and my crappy knapsack for the last 30 minutes of the ride. My camera was not in a safe, dry spot and suffered some water damage; not sure if its permanent or not, but the few pictures I took are not accessible right now, which is why this post is pic-free. Next time, I'll take the train.

*** Update ***

The damage to the card was not permanent, so I was able to get the pics, which have been appended at the bottom. The damage to the camera was permanent, so I got a new one.

Up Next

I've got one last minor league park to see down in Yokosuka, so will try to catch a game there next weekend when Yakult visits. After that, there's a game between the Eastern League Futures and the Shikoku-Kyushu Island League Selects that I'd like to see as it's played in Omiya Stadium, a ballpark I've yet to visit. Note that the Shikoku-Kyushu Island League is where ex-Yankee Hideki Irabu recently moved. After that, there's nothing on the schedule. With baseball ending, there's not much left to watch here in Japan, so I'll be planning another trip to the US shortly.

Best,

Sean

This is really a minor league park - you can see the elevated stands and a few people standing near the fence

This is the view from the stands.

Rakuten DH Ginji fouls one off

The Swallows dugout

Isobe singles in the tying run

Nakao swings

Hiraishi makes the 2nd last out of the game.

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.

Best,

Sean

Sunday, August 2, 2009

A few updates


NFL Road Trip postponed until 2010


It's August! Can you believe it? With all the rain here, I still thought it was May, but the calendar doesn't lie. With only a month to go until the NFL season opens, I realize that I'm not going to be able to make the full-scale road trip this season. There are several reasons for this: I couldn't find someone willing to go with me; the problems on my last trip with the car made me realize I need to be better prepared; and my work visa exprires in October, which means if I want to stay in Japan, I'll need to find a short-term job in the next two months. I still hope to make the Buffalo/Toronto games though, but we'll see what happens.

Ottawa Fury eliminated

Last week, the Ottawa Fury suffered their first loss of the season - unfortunately it came in their first playoff game. Despite a full house of 780 fans, the Fury fell 2-1 in overtime to the Ocean City Barons. Still, this is a league worth following, and I encourage anyone living close to a PDL or USL team to get involved.

Teikyo to represent Eastern Tokyo at Koshien

In a recent post, I mentioned watching Teikyo win their semi-final match-up in the Eastern Tokyo High School Baseball Championship Regionals. They went on to win their final game 24-1 and will make the trip to Osaka. I'll be rooting for them and will keep you posted on their progress. If you are interested in a more complete description in English of every game in Koushien, please try this blog. He provides great detail on every game during the tournament.

Crappy Weather Continues

Finally, rain prevented me from going to the game in Yakult Toda Field on Friday. It was drizzling in the morning and I wasn't going to make the 90-minute trip without knowing if the game was going to be played. Turns out the rain stopped and the game was played and Yakult won 25-1 - so I'm rather glad I didn't have to sit through 3.5 hours of that. The bad weather has kept me away from a few games, but I will try to visit each of the remaining Tokyo-area minor league stadiums over the next month as the summer takes hold. As always, reports will be posted here.

Best,

Sean