Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Chiba Lotte Marines 1 at Yomiuri Giants 2 - Eastern League - August 9, 2010

There's usually no baseball on Monday here in Japan as both the majors and minors take the day off. But for some reason, there was a minor-league game between Lotte and Yomiuri at Tokyo Dome yesterday. These are the top two teams in the Eastern League, and I wanted to see how the crowd would be, so I went to check it out.

The Game

Keisuke Saito (above) started for Yomiuri. He's in his second season but hasn't seen much action this year. He has an odd delivery in that he leaves his arm behind him as you can see in the picture. Yuta Omine was on the hill for the Marines. He's been up with the big club this season but struggled with an ERA over 5.

Ikusei player Kota Sumi flies out

The game was scoreless in the 4th when Daisuke Fujimura led off for the Giants with a triple. Daisuke Nakai followed with a fly to left. Fujimura broke for home as Katsuya Kakunaka made the catch. The throw was on time but catcher Masahiko Tanaka couldn't hold on as Fujimura slid home. But the umpire didn't see the ball bounce out of Tanaka's glove and made an emphatic out call. After the Giants pointed out the error, the umps had a conference, and the call was sheepishly reversed.

In the 6th, Fujimura singled and Nakai drove him home with a double to make it 2-0 Giants. Meanwhile the Yomiuri pitchers were keeping Lotte off the board. Saitoh lasted 5 1/3 striking out 4, but it was a laborious effort as he threw 89 pitches. Yuki Furukawa and Jumpei Ohno each pitched to a batter to end the 6th. I was surprised to see top-team closer Marc Kroon come out for the 7th, I guess he is on rehab. He's a fireballer who has 168 saves over 6 seasons here, with 1.3 K/IP. He also holds the record for the fastest pitch thrown here at 161 km/h (100 mph). Anyway, he pitched a perfect inning.

Taishi Ohta breaks his bat

Finally in the 8th, Takuma Sadaoka started with a single off the Giants' 5th hurler of the evening, Kyohei Tsuchimoto. A double by Hiroshi Miyamoto and a walk to Shota Omine (who goes by Shota) loaded the bases and ended Tsuchimoto's evening. Veteran Yasunari Takagi took over and got Kakunaka to ground to second, scoring the Marines' first run on the force at second. Pinch hitter Toshio Saito then grounded into a double play to end the threat.

In the 9th, Yi-Hao Lin, a Taiwanese prospect who was recently added to the Giants roster from the ikusei program, entered the game. After a leadoff single to Cuban Juan Muniz (above calling off Shota), Lin settled down to strike out two and get Tanaka to fly out to end the game. The Giants used 7 pitchers in all, but it seemed to work as Lotte only managed 6 hits. The game took 2:54, mainly due to all the pitching changes.

With the win, Yomiuri moved within a game of league-leading Lotte, with two more games in the series, including another one tonight at the Tokyo Dome.

The Minors In Japan

Before I got there, I was expecting a few thousand fans. But the attendance was over 17,000! That's more than watched a Swallows game I went to last month. I used to think that the NPB ignores the potential revenue from having the minor leagues play in the evening in smaller towns where community matters more. There are plenty of decent stadiums that could support 54 games a year. Moreover, the players need more chances to see game action. The Giants have 83 players on their roster, split between the major and minor team. Why not make 3 teams with 25-28 players on each roster and have 2 minor leagues with players moving up and down and team names that are different from the big club?

Well, that was all just a pipe dream. The Shonan Searex are the only team in the minors to have a different team name than their big-league counterparts (Yokohama Bay Stars) and they usually play in the evenings at Yokosuka Stadium. Unfortunately, it looks like that will change after this season as they revert to the Yokohama name. I guess that minor league baseball just doesn't appeal to a large segment of the population here, fans want established names to cheer for.




  1. Actually, minor league ball appeals to a lot of people, especially those who like to actually meet players and get signatures. (Which I know you've observed before.) I've been sad that I can only go to weekend minor-league games now because they're always too crowded -- I like going to the Fighters games in Kamagaya, but the last chance I had was over the holiday weekend and I knew there'd be over 5000 people per game.

    The 17k attendance doesn't surprise me at all -- first off, they were heavily advertising this thing, AND they had coupons to make it super-cheap, like 500 yen for adults and 300 yen for kids. I was given a coupon at the Tokyo Dome several weeks ago. Second, this is the GIANTS in the Tokyo Dome. It doesn't matter if it's ni-gun, people will go see it. I remember being at a preseason Giants-Tigers game at the Tokyo Dome a year or two ago with 30,000 people in attendance, on a Monday night!

    But I think this in particular appeals even more because it's cheap Giants games indoors in the summer and your entire family can go for the price of one normal ticket to a Giants game, and if you get there early you can be right on the field!

    I think the minor league games are where they are because of convenience for the team; usually a minor league stadium is also where the dormitory is, so some of the young players literally pretty much live and breathe baseball. So it isn't just a matter of finding a stadium in some of these cases... and to be fair, for example, I'm pretty sure Lotte pays nothing to run their minor-league games in Urawa and as a result makes nothing from it. Which may be better than losing money on a bigger stadium and charging admission.

    I dunno, I'm rambling.

  2. Thanks as usual for your comments. I think you missed my point though. I was saying that minor league ball doesn't appeal to a large segment of the population in Japan unless established names are used. This was referring to the Searex returning to the Bay Stars name, a development which I find a bit depressing. I would like to see 12 (or even 24) minor league teams with different, non-corporate names, but it isn't going to happen if not even 1 team can make the change.

    No doubt the large crowd on Monday was due to an affordable Giants game in the Dome (plus the promotional aspect which I didn't know about) but I wonder if you would get the same turnout if the team names were entirely different.

    Of course there are fans that go to the ni-gun games and 5,000 on a holiday afternoon is a nice turnout, but the exception. As you say, it is the convenience factor for the teams that drives the minors here. Weekday games are not convenient for the average fan and attendance is much lower than it otherwise could be were the games played in the evenings. You are probably right about Lotte though, which is a sad situation in that such high-quality baseball is not a profitable enterprise.


  3. (sorry, I've been in the US the last few weeks -- did you know PGE Park won't be a baseball field next year and the Portland Beavers apparently will have to move? I just discovered that when I went there yesterday...)

    I know that one reason they do daytime minor league games is actually so players can get in extra practice. It's not unusual for a guy to get a few ABs in a ni-gun game in the afternoon and then actually play in the ichi-gun game in the evening, if the teams are close enough together (obviously the Fighters don't do this much, but Lotte and Seibu and Yakult often do). Kind of a long work day, but well, this is Japan after all :)

    You're right that I missed your point. Though... I don't think it's Shonan's separate name that is the problem. I bet if Yokohama didn't suck right now, a lot more people would be going to the games at both ichi-gun and ni-gun. I know that nobody came to Kamagaya when the Fighters were perennial losers either, but their move to Hokkaido coupled with their success has made the middle-of-nowhere ni-gun field a popular place for Kanto Fighters fans to flock to.

    Personally I'd rather watch the Searex than the Baystars right now anyway, but I'm weird :)

  4. I did know that PGE Park was becoming a soccer field, but didn't realize that they failed to get a new ballpark. Looks like the Beavers will be moving to California, which sucks for the Northwest.

    Your Fighters had a few players at both games yesterday. I understand the reasoning behind it but a truly separate ni-gun team with promotions and demotions is more interesting for me.

    Interesting point that the success of the ichi-gun team affects the ni-gun attendance, hadn't considered that.