Saturday, October 31, 2009
Monday, October 26, 2009
Sunday, October 25, 2009
It was chilly in Tokyo yesterday, but this didn't stop about 5,000 rugby fans from making their way to the stadium to catch the Ricoh Black Rams hosting the Kyuden Voltex, followed by the Suntory Sungoliath taking on the Kubota Spears. As with most sports in Japan, teams are named after their corporate sponsors, so it's not immediately clear where they are based. Both Ricoh and Suntory are from Tokyo though, and were therefore the home teams.
I arrived about an hour before kickoff and made my way to the ticket window. It was only 1,500 yen for a ticket that allows you to sit most anywhere. There was assigned seating for 3,000 yen and special assigned seating for 4,000 yen, but I didn't see the point of spending the extra dough. Turns out the free seating is in the uncovered backstand, which is where I prefer to sit anyway, as you can get a seat right at field level.
Game 1 - Kyuden Voltex 17 at Ricoh Black Rams 41
Kyuden is short for Kyushu Denryoku, the electric power company on the southern island of Kyushu. The Voltex were lying last in the table with no wins in their 6 games and averaging about 40 points against. Ricoh was 2-4, a decent record after winning promotion from the Japan East League. I was sitting in the first row near the 22 m line, which turned out to be right in the middle of the Voltex cheering section. Or I should say the 10 or so guys that came up from Fukuoka to cheer their team. They distributed flags to everyone around them and coached them on their cheers. Which weren't very difficult. The first cheer was "Go Go Kyuden" repeated 3 times. The second cheer was "Ike Ike Kyuden" (which means "Go Go Kyuden") repeated 3 times. That was it.
Sunday, October 18, 2009
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
It’s been a busy two weeks for me with the new job, friends visiting, and playing in a one-day ball hockey tournament. I haven’t had much time to watch the games on TV never mind go to one live. Fortunately things are settling back into a routine now, so I should be able to get to some upcoming college ball games and Top League Rugby.
Meanwhile, the regular season has finally ended here in Japan. I say finally because the NPB continues to play games long after the original schedule finishes. This is due to the large number of rainouts during the season; many of these postponed games are not made up during the schedule. In MLB, they try to play a doubleheader as soon as possible or find a date where each team has a day off and schedule the make-up game then. Rainouts near the end of the season with two eliminated teams are just cancelled outright, as happened to a Pirates-Cubs game this year. No matter what, the season must finish by the first Sunday in October so the playoffs can begin on time.
Here in Japan, there are no doubleheaders and teams don’t give up their off days. The actual schedule includes make-up dates in advance, but those are specified for two teams and come after a series between the two. For example, if Chunichi is visiting Yakult on Tuesday and Wednesday, the schedule may include a potential make-up game for these two teams. If either of the first two games is rained out, it can then be played on Thursday. Even then, the weather here can be atrocious at times, with consecutive rainouts not an uncommon situation. It’s not possible to reschedule all these games during the regular season, so the NPB keeps a 2-week window after it ends and schedules the make-up games for this time. Obviously, teams with domes have fewer rainouts, and so as the season winds down, one team may have 8 games left while another only has 2. This isn’t much of an issue, until these teams are vying for a playoff spot. It’s not quite the same as a pennant race when one team has so many games left and the other doesn't. This scenario was played out somewhat this season when Yakult and Hanshin waged the ugliest playoff race you’ll be likely to see.
With the Giants and Dragons comfortably taking the top two spots in the Central League, the 3rd and final Climax series berth was contested between 3 teams, each sporting under .500 records. When the regular season ended, Hanshin led Yakult by 1/2 game, with Hiroshima a further 2 games behind. But Yakult had 9 games remaining compared to only 5 for the Tigers and 6 for the Carp. So it was theirs for the taking. After splitting their first 4 make-up games (including a critical win over Hanshin), the Swallows still trailed by a 1/2 game. Fortunately they had 2 home games against the Tigers so there was some excitement as the season wound down (although not for Hiroshima, who had fallen out of contention - more on that later).
Amazingly, Yakult won both of their games and took 3rd place with two games to spare. They ended the season on a 5-game streak, giving hope to Swallows fans everywhere. It's still ugly though, as they finished 1 game under .500 (teams that lose more than they win should not be in the playoffs - this ain't the old-style NHL here), but at least they won their last few games to save some face. They now travel to Nagoya to take on Chunichi this weekend with the winner advancing to play the Giants.
Things were quite interesting in the Pacific League too, where Rakuten surprised many with a 2nd place finish and their first-ever playoff berth. They’ll host Fukuoka Softbank Hawks in the first round, with the winner moving on to Hokkaido to battle the Nippon Ham Fighters. I’ll be cheering for the Golden Eagles, as I like to see different teams have a chance to celebrate.
That brings me back to Hiroshima. With Rakuten now making the playoffs, only the Carp are left as the only team to have missed the post-season during my 13 years in Japan. Which is really sad when you consider Rakuten has only been around for 5 seasons. When I moved here, there were a good number of different league champions in the first few years and I used to think that I'd stay until each team won their league. When the Climax Series was introduced, I amended that caveat so that I'd leave after each team made the playoffs. Amazingly, the Carp (no coincidence that those letters also spell crap) have yet to do so, and therefore I remain here. Better luck next year!
Game times update
Ooops. I blinked and missed the divisional series. It always surprises me how quickly a team can be eliminated after the long 162-game season. It doesn’t seem fair that you play so many games for such a long time and then boom, you’re done after 3 playoff games. But I can’t see a better way to do it, other than to extend the series to a best-of-7 format. Which isn't going to happen, because that would push the World Series to November. I'm sure MLB wouldn't allow that, right?
For the Championship Series, it’d be nice to see the Angels and Dodgers win, if only because the Phillies were there last year and the Yankees are the Yankees. But it’s all big-market teams now, so it's not that exciting to me. Of course, I'm sure that MLB and Fox are salivating over the possibility of a Yankees-Dodgers World Series. But I'm still hoping for the Blue Jays and the Expos.
*Update*: The first game of the NLCS took an astounding 4:02. Yeah, it's the playoffs, but still, that's just silly. No more complaining about game times in Japan.
This weekend I'll see a couple of Big 6 games to finish my baseball season. Next weekend I'll check out some top league rugby. After that we've got some soccer with the Nabisco Cup, AFC Champions League, and maybe some Emperor's Cup action. I'm hoping now for a trip back home in January, and will let you know all about it after it's booked.