Friday, June 18, 2010

Intercity Baseball Tournament Qualifying - June 17, 2010

I've been talking about checking out the Japanese Industrial League tournaments around town and when Thursday turned out to be hot and sunny, I decided to venture back up to Omiya to watch a couple of games in the South Kanto playoff.

The Tournament

The industrial leagues are run by the Japanese Amateur Baseball Association (JABA) and every year they have a nationwide competition known as the Intercity Baseball Tournament. It takes place at the Tokyo Dome in late August. Last year I saw the championship game between Honda and Toyota, but wanted to see some of the preliminary action.

It's a two-step process to reach the main tournament. Each prefecture in the country has an initial qualifying round with winners advancing to a regional tournament. The South Kanto region consists of the prefectures around Tokyo and has 8 teams fighting for 3 spots in the Intercity tournament.

The format is double or triple-elimination to find the 3 winners. Coincidentally, there were 3 industrial league teams and 5 club teams, so it seemed like the tournament wasn't that meaningful as the industrial leaguers are essentially professional while the club squads are semi-pro. Mismatches are therefore common; a couple of early scores were 10-0 and 11-0.

The Games

The first game started at 10, but I didn't arrive until after 11 as Omiya is nearly an hour away. I visited there last year for a Futures game, so won't rehash the ballpark.

When I arrived the game was in the 3rd inning. Honda, last year's champion, was taking on a semi-pro team called Kazusa Magic and already had a 3-0 lead. Although the Magic kept it close, they had no pitching depth and gave up 6 runs in the last two innings for a 10-1 loss. Neither team was eliminated though, Honda advanced to the loser's final while the Magic get a third chance in the double-loser's final (or whatever you call the bracket for teams that have lost twice).

The next game featured two industrial teams: JFE Higashinihon (JFE Steel, shown above in conference) representing Chiba and Nippon Tsuun (Nippon Express) from Saitama. The winner would advance directly to the main tournament while the loser would play Honda the next day with that winner then advancing.

There was one story here: Nippon Express starter, Kazuhisa Makita (below), a sidearm junkballer who never topped 80 on the gun but kept the JFE hitters swinging at air all day long. He pitched a complete game shutout, giving up just a broken-bat single and two walks while striking out 11. He got all the support he needed with a Kenji Suzuki 2-run homer in the second inning. Makita even made a great defensive play, taking a popped bunt and firing to first for a double play, erasing the runner who had singled.

Nippon Express added 7 runs in a 6th inning when the JFE bullpen fell apart after a blown 3rd strike call, but with Makita tossing, it was not really necessary. The final was 9-0 and when the game ended, the Nippon Express cheering section threw streamers (below) while the players ran onto the field to celebrate. Given that they have made the tournament 10 years in a row, I think the celebrations were a bit overdone.

I tried to get a picture of the team tossing their manager in the air, but they did it too close to the fence which was also covered in streamers.


Honda shutout JFE this morning and are in the big tournament again while JFE take on the Magic tomorrow with that winner also advancing.

Update: The JFE /Magic game was actually Sunday and the Magic won 2-1! That's somewhat of an upset and they advanced to the tournament for the first time in 7 years. JFE gets one more chance next month in a playoff game to be determined.

At the end of the 5th inning, there is a lengthy break while the field is cleaned up. What's interesting is that is the players who do the work. Each team takes several rakes and walk over the infield, which is entirely dirt. Only the mound and batters box are done by the grounds crew.

These teams have bands that play all the time and it drives me nuts after a while. I appreciate their enthusiasm but after an hour of hearing the same tunes over and over and over, it becomes dull. The Nippon Express band gets particular mention for including speakers in their set-up; in such a small park that's overkill.

The Tokyo qualifying tournament is held next week and I'll probably head out to see one more day of action, mainly because it is held at a stadium I've yet to see. So check back next week for a post on those games.



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