Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Nippon Ham Fighters 0 at Yomiuri Giants 4 - March 30 - Eastern League

One of the best things about Japanese baseball is the early season start. The Pacific League got underway on March 20th while the Central League began on the 26th. The Western League began even earlier with a couple of games on Friday the 19th. As for the Eastern League, which has 6 teams in the greater Tokyo area, it also began on the 20th but poor weather has kept me at home for the first week. But today was a relatively balmy 10 degrees so I decided to visit Giants Stadium to get back into baseball.

I was in for a bit of a shock when I arrived. Last season tickets here were only 700 yen but inflation has hit the minor leagues suddenly and this year it's now 1,000 yen to get in. That's a whopping 43% increase! It's still a bargain though, but it means that 3 of the local stadiums charge 1,000 yen (unless they've raised their prices this season) while 3 are still free.

The Game

I got to the park just a few minutes before first pitch and was surprised to see that Kazuhito Tadano was starting for the Fighters. Despite being a highly touted prospect back in 2002, he was blackballed by the NPB after appearing in a gay porn video. Instead he made his way to the majors where he appeared in 15 games for Cleveland in 2004-05. But he couldn't stick in MLB and was finally drafted in Japan in 2007, pitching for Nippon Ham the last two years. I'm not sure why he's in the minors at this time. He was opposed by Satoshi Fukuda, who has pitched in 48 games over 5 seasons with the big team but seems to be a career minor leaguer.

Tadano delivers

Both pitchers were strong over the first four innings but Fukuda was slightly better, yielding just a single and a walk in that time. In the 5th, Giants' rookie catcher Tomoya Ichikawa crushed a double to left to score Takanori Hoshi and give the Giants a 1-0 lead. But Tadano escaped with no further damage and left after 6 innings still trailing by a run.

Daijiro Tanaka grounds out

In the 7th, ex-Fighter Kazunari Sanematsu hit a sharp grounder to third but Takahiro Imanami made a poor throw and Sanematsu was safe. Next up was Daisuke Fujimura who grounded to second. But Kenshi Sugiya lost his grip on the ball throwing to first and suddenly there were runners on first and second with nobody out. After a sacrifice bunt, Ryota Wakiya (shown below) singled to score both runners. Wakiya later scored on a Kenji Yano double to make it 4-0. All 3 runs were unearned for Shintaro Ejiri, who has pitched with the big club already this season.

Fukuda was replaced by Takahiko Nomaguchi who pitched the final 3 innings, yielding just two more hits and notching the save as the Giants won 4-0. It wasn't a great game for the Fighters who had 4 hits and 3 errors to snap a 5-game winning streak and drop to 5-3. The Giants moved to 3-1 on the year. Because there are 7 teams in the league, teams have several days off and the Giants have already had 3 off days and two rainouts. As an aside, I really can't understand why they don't just merge the two minor leagues; Japan is not that big and travel costs shouldn't be prohibitive. Doesn't make sense to have players not playing.

Balls and Strikes

One interesting change this year in Japanese baseball is that balls are now counted first. Until now, strikes were always first, so a full count was 2-3. But the powers that be decided to follow the west and modified the rule. I noticed it when the umpire called out "Suree-two" when the count was full. Scoreboards have not been fixed yet as you can see below - strikes are still above balls. I wonder if they will bother...

The Gondola

I had some time after the game so took the gondola ride over Yomiuriland, the amusement park that is next to the stadium. If you are visiting, I highly recommend this ride as you get a great view of the ballpark as you go by. It's only 200 yen and takes about 5 minutes. The pictures below show the steps that you need to take to the stadium, as well as the Giants working out after the game. Yep, in Japan there is always work to be done, even after a win. The players were running sprints as I passed overhead.

Next Up

The big-league Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters have a 2-game set in Tokyo this week. So I'll go to the game tonight with my friend Chris, who has yet to see a baseball game in Japan. Then I'm off to Singapore tomorrow for a couple of days before heading to Malaysia for the Grand Prix this weekend. Not sure how much time I'll have to post, but check back on occasion for updates.



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