This past weekend saw the final games of the spring semester of Tokyo's Big 6 University League. As is tradition, these games featured Keio and Waseda, two of Japan's most prestigious universities, who have fought a fierce baseball rivalry since 1903. Known as Soukeisen (combining the alternate reading for the Wa character in Waseda (Sou), the Kei from Keio, and Sen which means battle), this weekend's games had some additional intrigue: the winner would also take home the championship.
If you remember last fall when I saw a couple of games, I wrote that each team plays a best-of-3 series against each other team over an 8-week period. The winner of the most series is the champion. This season, both Keio and Waseda had won 3 of their first 4 series while the other schools had completed their schedule with no more than 3 wins. So the winner of the Soukeisen set would be the league champion for Spring 2010.
Saturday's game saw Keio win 2-1 but Waseda responded with a 4-2 victory on Sunday. This meant that they would need a game on Monday to determine the champion. With nothing else to do and the weather warm and clear, I headed down to Jingu for the afternoon affair.
The weekend games were pretty much sold out so I expected a large crowd despite it being a Monday. I got there an hour before game time and was able to get a seat in the first row of the second deck, which is nicely shaded and offers a good view of the field (below).
The starters were the same two who pitched on Saturday: Yuki Saitoh for Waseda and Daisuke Takeuchi for Keio. Rubber arms are often required for team aces as most squads only have two starters, and there's the occasional 3-game series as today. Although Saitoh started strongly, he lost his control in the 2nd inning. After Hayata Itoh led off with a single and was sacrificed to second, Kazuma Takeuchi lined a Saitoh offering to the right field fence to score Itoh with the first run of the game. But Takeuchi was thrown out trying for what seemed like the easy double; the ball was hit so hard that rightfielder Shohei Habu was able to throw a rocket to get Takeuchi at second.
With two out and the bases empty, it seemed like the threat was over, but Saitoh proceeded to walk the next two hitters to bring up the pitcher Takeuchi. A wild pitch moved the runners to second and third, and then with the count 3-0, Saitoh unleashed another wild one that allowed one run to score. But Masahiro Nagasaki, running from second, thought he could score as well. He was quite wrong in that assessment and Waseda's catcher Shota Sugiyama tossed the ball to Saitoh who chased Nagasaki for the third out. Bad baserunning by Keio limited them to just two runs.
Saitoh (above) struggled in the third inning, giving up two singles but escaping unscathed. Nonetheless was pulled for a pinch hitter when Waseda batted in the bottom half. He was clearly tired and couldn't hit his spots, throwing 52 pitches but only 27 for strikes.
Yuya Fukui replaced Saitoh and promptly gave up a lead-off triple to Kazuma Takeuchi. Ren Yamasaki then came up and I thought he telegraphed the squeeze play as he subconsciously gripped the bat in a bunting style while digging in. Perhaps Waseda thought this too as Fukui threw outside,Takeuchi broke for home, and Yamasaki missed the pitch. Takeuchi was out in the good old 2-5-1-6 rundown. Another mental error for Keio and I wondered if Waseda would make them pay.
In the 5th, Naoki Yamaguchi hit a 2-run shot off Fukui to make it 4-0, but Waseda got those runs back on a 2-run single by Hiroki Matsunaga in the bottom half, which was Takeuchi's last inning.
In the top of the 6th, Waseda brought in Tatsuya Ohishi to pitch. He's normally very strong, but he gave up a two out single and walk that brought pinch-hitter Ryuta Iba to the plate. Iba singled to center and it looked like we would have a play at the plate, but centerfielder Kouki Sasaki let the ball get under his glove and both runners scored for a 6-2 Keio lead.
Kouji Fukutani (above) took over the mound duties and pitched well, but had some big help from his defense. In the 7th, with two out and runners on first and second, Habu belted one to center (below) that Itoh misjudged initially and then had to run back on to make the catch. It was a game-saving play no doubt.
In the 8th, Waseda's Koji Udaka belted a 2-run homer to make it interesting, but that was all that Fukutani would allow in 3 2/3 innings of relief. He was replaced by Hironori Tanaka who induced Sugiyama to ground out to end the game (below) and give Keio the championship with the 6-4 win.
It was Keio's first pennant in 11 seasons (there are two seasons per year, one in the spring and one in the fall) and the players celebrated with a quick piling on before decorum was restored in time for the post-game interviews.
Every sporting event of this nature in Japan finishes with a formal closing ceremony. First the umpires, administrators, and managers walk out. Then the players all march, team by team, in order of finish as a small band plays. That's Keio below marching out as the managers of each team watch.
Somebody gives a speech, the championship team gets a a few trophies, and the top batter and pitcher are given awards. The national anthem is played and then everybody marches off. It's really pretty neat and a good way to end the tournament in style.
Keio's captain Tatsushi Yumoto accepts the championship cup
All innings that had runs had exactly 2 runs. Also, each pitcher that gave up a run gave up exactly 2 runs (although 1 of Ohishi's was unearned).
Attendance was 26,000. I don't know why the minor leagues here fail to draw serious numbers during their weekday games. I guess that most people are not true sports fans, just fans of a team or group. College ball appeals to those who went to those particular schools, but they are not baseball fans as a whole and would therefore not have interest in a minor league game in the suburbs of Tokyo.
UCLA beat Waseda back in March. I missed this entirely, but it would have been interesting to watch.
Last year I saw 4 university games and mentioned a few players, thinking that they might be drafted. They weren't. But just following up on a couple, they are now in the industrial leagues. Ken Togame, who I noted in this post on the Tohto League, is now pitching for JR East, while Nobuaki Nakabayashi from Keio is with JFE Steel. They might still make the big leagues here as these industrial teams sometimes act as a bridge for players who aren't quite good enough to be drafted straight out of school.
With the industrial league tournaments getting started, I'll try to find out how these teams do and if these guys are performing well. But in general, it's quite tough to follow these leagues as they don't have a good website. In the States, minor league baseball keeps tabs on every player in affiliated ball on their website, but here in Japan, there's no organization like that. Really, there's just not enough baseball played here; Keio won this tournament with a 9-4 record. Thirteen league games over 8 weeks is not enough game action; I know they play other exhibition matches but an NCAA team would have somewhere between 24 and 32 games during that period.
Anyway, that's it for now. Check back for some industrial league posts in the next week or so.