Saturday, April 21, 2012

Fukuoka Softbank Hawks 2 at Chunichi Dragons 1 (Western League) - April 20, 2012


After enjoying the Dragons' victory over the Giants on Thursday night, I awoke Friday in time to head to Nagoya Stadium to see the minor league team taking on the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks.

When I left the hotel it was drizzling but by the time I reached the ballpark, it had turned into a steady shower. I've been at other games where the same amount of rain led to a delay or postponement and wasn't expecting them to play. I was told that if the game was called, I could get my money back, so I bought a ticket for 1,000 yen and entered the ballpark.

Nagoya Stadium

Located just one stop away from Nagoya Station at Otobashi, this ballpark was built in 1948 and hosted the big-league Dragons from then until 1996, when they moved into the Nagoya Dome. The stadium was renovated with most of the 35,000 seats being removed and training facilities added so that the minor league team could use the facility.



The stadium was the site of a fire that broke out during a game in August 1951. Three fans were killed and 68 seriously injured when a cigarette was dropped into a paper dumpster in the wooden bleachers behind home plate. The stadium was destroyed and was rebuilt using concrete and steel in time for the 1952 season.



The ballpark is visible from the Shinkansen (passing by on the left in the picture above). There is a concourse and a small concession that offers "bari-soba" a hard noodle covered with sauce and the best ballpark food I've had in a while.

If you want foul balls, this is the best place to be as there are seats all the way down the lines that are practically empty. I saw one guy collect four or five foul balls during the game just because he was the only person in his section.

As far as Japanese minor league parks go, this is the best one I've seen. I just hope that next time I go the weather will be a bit better.

The Game

When the starting lineups were announced, I was surprised to hear Henry Blanco's name as the starting first baseman for the Dragons. A four-year veteran in the NPB, he was the Central League's HR and RBI leader in 2009. He was injured last year and has struggled early on this season so he was sent down to work out the kinks.



The Hawks started an ikusei pitcher who lasted only 2 innings before Angel Castro (below) came on in relief. The 29-year-old Dominican pitched 4 scoreless frames, striking out three. Meanwhile Chunichi starter Yudai Ohno threw six shutout innings as the rain was clearly affecting the batters more than the pitchers.



Finally, in the top of the 8th the Hawks mounted a rally off a pair of relievers. With runners on second and third, Kenta Nakanishi singled to score the first run of the game and Yuki Yanagita followed with a sacrifice fly for some insurance.

In the bottom of the 9th, Akihiro Yanase came on to close things out. He's been with the team since 2006 but is struggling to return from an injury suffered in 2009. He didn't do so well here, giving up two singles and two walks leading to a run. I was in fear of extra innings as I had to catch a train back to Tokyo, but Yanase got Atsushi Fujii to fly out to end the game. Despite the low score, the game took 3:13 and I just made it back to Nagoya for the 4:30 train home.



Notes

This is the second Western League game I have seen and Chunichi has been the home team both times. The other game was in Hiroshima where they made up a rainout from Nagoya.

Next Up


Thus ends my sports-watching time in Japan. There are no other games that I'll see before I leave here in two weeks. I'll post here on occasion over the next month but generally it will be quiet until I head home in mid-May. Check back then to see what's happening.

Best,

Sean


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