Monday, March 22, 2010

Formula 1, AFC Champions League and other updates

Schedule Changes

OK, so the tentative Sports Road Trip schedule has seen some changes over the past couple of weeks. My week-long trip to Western Japan has been postponed, and I've had to cut back on my baseball extravaganza to California and Arizona (more on that in a later post). There are a couple of reasons for these changes.

First, the trip to Florida, the surprise trip to Canada and then the jaunt in Thailand and Manila meant that I was out of the country for 41 out of the first 80 days this year, which has not put me in good stead with my girlfriend. The second reason is that she is changing jobs, and has a couple of weeks of free time. For some odd reason, she wasn't intrigued with my idea of a two-week long MLB trip to the West Coast, so we are going to visit Singapore and Malaysia instead.

But don't worry, the sporting gods have smiled on me still. Turns out the Formula 1 Malaysian Grand Prix is in Kuala Lumpur on April 3rd and 4th, which is something I've been meaning to see for some time. I'll also catch an AFC Champions League game between the Singapore Armed Forces and Henan Construction on April 13th.

Japanese Sports Updates

Speaking of the AFC CL, the competition began last month and tomorrow is already the third match-day. Melbourne Victory is visiting Kawasaki Frontale in a battle of 0-2 squads. The loser likely will be eliminated from the knockout stage, but it's not a game that excites me greatly, so I won't be attending. There are three other Japanese teams in the group stage, with Kashima Antlers the only one picking up wins. They are 2-0 while Gamba Osaka has two draws and Sanfrecce Hiroshima have yet to notch a point. So it could be a quiet round of 16 here in Japan.

The J League started a couple of weeks ago and there's not much to report there. I hope to get to some new stadiums this season, but the schedule makes it difficult to combine more than a couple of games in a weekend. It's just not worth the money or time to travel to Osaka to see two soccer games and nothing else.

Of course, baseball is a different matter, and the Japanese baseball season began for the Pacific League over the weekend, while the Central League starts this Friday. The minor leagues are underway as well, so I might try to catch a game or two when time permits, but having seen all the local stadiums last year makes this season a bit less compelling. I do hope to see some of the minor league stadiums in the Western League, but that schedule is not as road-trip friendly with only 5 teams.

Finally, a quick update on the bj League, Japan's pro basketball circuit. I saw games in 3 cities at the end of last year but obviously have not had much time to revisit the Tokyo Apache or other teams. The league still has a couple of months to go, so I'm planning to attend a couple of more games and perhaps some playoff action depending on who makes it.

Self-Indulgent Time

As you can see by the above updates, Japan has a rich and varied sports scene. But I don't spend as much time going to the games as I should. There are two main reasons for this.

The first is that I'm much more interested in doing true road trips. I prefer having a car and being able to see several games in different stadiums and cities over an extended period. It's not difficult to watch the local teams every day, that just takes cash, time, and an understanding partner. But I find that it gets boring after a while and I need some variety.

The second is that traveling in Japan is not cheap and not that easy. The bullet train is expensive and local trains are time-consuming and their fares can add up quickly. The sports venues are often quite far apart and not necessarily easy to get to on public transport. Hotels here are small and not that cheap either. So the best bet for road trips here is a short weekend with two or three games in a concentrated area, particularly if there's a travel package that can be found. I'll be looking for opportunities to do so in Hiroshima, Sapporo, and Nagoya later this year.

For now, the next month will be quiet, with just the Singapore and Malaysia trip on the schedule. After that, I should get busy again. I'm still set for two weeks in Arizona, Nevada, and California in May, as well as some time in Minneapolis and Kansas City in July. Finally, there will be a Christmas trip to Ottawa and the World Junior Hockey Championship in Buffalo around the New Year. It promises to be a busy season of road trips, so hope you can ride along.



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