Friday, September 3, 2010

Hiroshima Carp 14 at Chunichi Dragons 11 - Western League - September 2, 2010

The Western League is the minor league based in Western (duh) Japan. With just 5 teams spread over a relatively large area, it's not a roadtrip-friendly circuit, so this was my first WL game. Although it was in Yuu Stadium in Yamaguchi prefecture, home of the Hiroshima Carp, Chunichi was the home team for this game to make up for a rainout earlier in the season in Nagoya.

Yuu Stadium

Yuu City is just over an hour west of Hiroshima on the Sanyo Line. It's 950 yen from Hiroshima and there are 2 or 3 trains an hour, although you might need to switch at Iwakuni. It's a nice train ride, especially near the end as you are right along the coast and the view of the islands is quite impressive.

One you are in Yuu, you have two choices to get to the stadium. If you are lucky, there will be a bus waiting. The right side of the schedule is for getting to the stadium, stop 21 in pink is Yuu station, the10:54 bus will get you there in time for a 12:00 game and cost 450 yen. The 9:27 train from Hiroshima fits nicely with this bus. If you arrive at another time, you are likely taking the second option, which is a taxi. There are cabs right outside the station and it is a 1,500 yen flat rate to the stadium. Most people drive though, out of the attendance of 160 there were only 5 fans on the bus.

It's a nice ride through the hills and at the end, you will be dropped off outside the entrance to the grounds from where you will have to walk up a hill (above), through the parking lot, and then up a steep staircase before you arrive at the field. It's certainly a difficult place to get to, but well worth it. Nestled in the hills, the stadium is certainly the most scenic of any in Japan, but that is its best feature. There are no seats here and much of the good areas are blocked off to fans. Most people bring a portable chair or ground sheet and sit on the grassy hillside down the baselines, but some fans venture beyond the outfield fence, where you can sit in the shade provided by the forest.

You can walk around the whole stadium, though there's not much to see other than the great views of the surrounding hills. Beyond the left field fence is a practice field but it was not being used when I walked by.

There are a few small vans selling rice balls, tacos, and curry, as well as shaved ice. It seems like they started from this year, as previous reports suggested that no food was available. If you want a full meal though, buy something in advance. There is no convenience store at Yuu station either, so if you are coming from Hiroshima, you may want to buy something there.

The scoreboard is manually operated and the player names are displayed on boards. Most players named are professionally printed but if a player is acquired mid-season, his name might be painted on.

As you can see in the picture below, the players spend time outside of the dugout warming up and horsing around during the game. Would be nice if they opened that area up for fans instead. You can also see that the foul area is quite large.

To get back to Yuu Station, you have to hope that the game ends by 3:30 or so. The left side of the bus schedule above is for returning to Yuu and the #1 stop is the ballpark. As you can see if you miss the 3:52 bus, you've got a 2.5 hour wait. Or you'll be calling a cab. By the way, there is a 4:20 train out of Yuu so it dovetails nicely with the bus.

Yuu Stadium is a lot of fun to get to and a great place to watch a game, particularly if you live nearby and can bring along the chair, sunbrella, home cooked meal, a few beers, etc. For us road trippers though, it's a literal pain in the ass after sitting on the ground for a few hours. Regardless, a worthwhile place to visit for any baseball fan.

The Game

Given that I was planning to catch the 3:52 bus, I was hoping for a reasonably long game. But as they say, "Be careful what you wish for". I was rewarded with perhaps the worst baseball game I have ever seen.

The first inning was the only one in which no runs were scored. Chunichi batted around in the 2nd to take a 4-0 lead and added another in the 3rd. But Hiroshima replied with 3 in the fourth and then sent 13 men to the plate in the 5th, scoring 7 of them for a 10-5 lead. The highlight was a 3-run homer from Shota Dobayashi (below), who pitched his high school to the national championship last summer but is playing third base in the pros.

Chunichi had blown a 5-run lead and now it was Hiroshima's turn. The Dragons added 3 in the bottom half of the fifth and two more in the 6th to tie it at 10. These first 6 innings took over 3 hours, helped along by a 10-minute break to clean the field after 5 frames.

At this point I knew that catching the bus was not possible so I talked to a fellow bus rider who was also visiting from Tokyo and we agreed to split a cab and stay for the whole game. Which was good because there were more runs to come.

The Carp got a singleton in the 7th when rookie Hayato Shoji tripled and then 3 unearned runs in the 8th, highlighted by a 2-run shot from Yoshihiro Maru. That's the homer below.

Trailing by 4 in the bottom of the ninth, the Dragons got 4 straight singles, including one by Masaaki Koike (below) to score a run and had the winning run at the plate but Hiroki Nakagawa grounded into a double play to finally, finally, end things.

The game took 4:19 in the searing heat. Except for Chunichi starter Junki Itoh (shown warming up below), the pitching was abysmal. Both teams used 7 hurlers, there were 15 walks and 3 hit batsmen, 103 batters went to the plate and there were 363 pitches thrown (likely inaccurate as I was often distracted and might have missed a few pitches). This translates to a ridiculously slow rate of 1.4 pitches per minute.

Hiroshima used 24 players in the game, moving players from position to position and making a mess of my scorecard. There was also the typical overuse of the sacrifice bunt; that's Tomohiro Abe doing the job with the score at 11-10. With such horrible pitching, why not keep hitting?

Overall, this was an exasperating and tiring afternoon. Fortunately in Japan you can drink beer in public so after getting a cab back to the station (we had to get a driver waiting for some players to request another cab for us) I bought a can and my newfound friend and I enjoyed the ride back to Hiroshima with a frosty brew.


The Carp are the most futile team in Japan, having missed the post-season for 19 consecutive seasons. I found the sign below which shows their 1992 slogan "Value of Victory" to be rather depressing as their last Central League championship was in 1991.

Jeff Fiorentino (below) started in right field for the Carp but only played 3 innings before being replaced. He then had to endure the rest of the game from the dugout, but at least it was shaded.

My fellow Tokyo traveler is also a sports road tripper, but one on a very tight budget. He used the Seishun 18 ticket which allows unlimited travel on local trains for 5 days. What this means is that it took him 16 hours or so to get to Yuu from Tokyo. He was in amazingly good spirits though, as you can see below.

Although the game sucked, the experience was certainly memorable and I'm glad I went. Having such a beautiful ballpark combined with such a terrible tilt will ensure that this trip remains with me for a long time to come.



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