Sunday, March 18, 2012

Yokohama DeNA BayStars 6 at Yomiuri Giants 3 (Eastern League) - March 18th, 2012

Happy St. Patrick's Weekend! Last year at this time, I wrote a piece on the poor media reporting after the earthquake and tsunami that hit the Tohoku area. One year later, there has been much progress in the recovery but there is still a long, long way to go. Not that the media will tell you that; there has been very little substantive reporting overseas other than a blip last weekend during the anniversary. Even then, for us in Japan, things are essentially back to normal outside the affected area. I'm not trying to be glib, but the rest of the country has moved on. Unlike last year, baseball is starting on time, and here, the minor leagues begin play a week or two before the big guys get started. It was opening day yesterday but rain postponed the first game until today, when the Yomiuri Giants hosted the renamed Yokohama DeNA BayStars.

Yes, the only ballclub that had forsaken a corporate sponsor was bought last year by DeNA (pronounced D-N-A) who promptly stuck their stupid name in the team's moniker. DeNA are some sort of online service company but I don't care, they are pure evil for doing this.

Anyway, the game started 30 minutes before the other two scheduled matches, so it was officially the first regular season pro game of the year. And as it was being played at my favorite minor league stadium, I had no choice but to go. About 1,100 similarly-minded fans braved a dreary drizzle to open their accounts on the 2012 season. To mark the occasion, there was an opening-day ceremony that featured a taiko drum display in the seating area that was appreciated by players and fans alike. After that, Giants' manager, all-time sacrifice bunt king Masashiro Kawai, then gave a short speech (without a mike) and that was it, the season was underway.

The game started with a bang when Atsushi Kita smashed the first pitch of the year deep over the right field fence (below). It immediately looked like perennial losers Yokohama were going to enjoy the change in their DeNA.

Or would they? The Giants' Daisuke Nakai managed a 2-run homer in the bottom of the first when the ball bounced off the top of the left-field fence. After that, the teams traded zeroes until the Giants used a walk, two wild pitches, and a sacrifice fly to take a 3-1 lead after 6.

That is when the Yomiuri bullpen imploded. In the 7th, Yuki Koyama gave up two singles and a walk to load the bases and Tatsuya Shimozono singled to drive home a couple and tie the game. Things got worse for the home team in the 8th as Norihito Kaneto allowed three runs (two earned) with the big blow a 2-run double from catcher Kenjiro Tsuruoka, who had started the rally in the 7th as a pinch-hitter.

Although the Giants got the tying run to the plate in the 9th, Atori Ota induced Nakai to fly out to deep center to finish the match. Ota, who goes by his first name, recorded the win by pitching three shutout innings in relief.

Both teams finished with 11 hits, but Yokohama bunched theirs together and came away victorious. It was a long game in poor weather, but I was glad to see Yokohama pull one out. Whether the big-league squad will be any good still remains to be seen.


The BayStars have new uniforms with DeNA on them. I wasn't sitting close enough to get a good picture, but the shot of starter Shugo Fujii gives you an idea.

Oscar Salazar was the only non-Japanese on the field today. Generally there are few foreigners at this level, as most of them are brought over to help the big team win. I am not sure why Salazar is with the BayStars' junior club, but he went 0-5, although he crushed a ball that was caught at the center field wall.

There is a lucky number contest that is played at every game at this stadium. Your ticket has a number on it and after the 5th inning about 20 various prizes are awarded. Today they had a bonus prize where fans holding tickets ending in 1,4,6 or 9 got to go on the field after the game and receive an autograph from one Giants player. That meant about 400 people total and it took them a while to get organized, with a lineup of about 25 fans for each player. A nice touch that I hadn't seen before. In the photo below, you can also see how terrible the field is at this early stage, it appears to be just dead grass.

Next Up

Things are getting busy. I've got a trip to Okinawa from Tuesday that will see me attend a battle of the top two western teams in the bj League, Ryukyu and Osaka. Lynn Washington, Osaka's best player and a 2-time MVP who has been in the league since its inception, was arrested earlier this week and will therefore not be playing. It is perhaps the biggest news to hit the league and certainly not the sort of publicity it was seeking. This is a bit of a disappointment for me as I was hoping to see him in action against some of the Ryukyu stars, but it should still be a good contest.

The week following will see the MLB season-opening game between the Athletics and Mariners as well as the Rugby 7s that weekend. After that I'm off to Hokkaido to see a baseball and soccer game over three days and finally add the Sapporo Dome to my list. Oh yeah, I'm also leaving Japan on May 5th. It will be a hectic time, so check back often to see what's happening.



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