Wednesday, September 30, 2009

No More Weekday Games - I'm Working!

If you've been following, you know that my work visa expires at the end of October. In order to remain in Japan legally, I needed to find a job quickly. And I did. Starting tomorrow. Which means I won't be going to any more weekday baseball games. With the minor-league season over, there was only the Tohto Baseball League, but I was hoping to see a few more of those doubleheaders. Even today's planned games were washed out, so it'll be next season at the earliest to revisit that league.

I will be checking out some Tokyo Big 6 League action in a couple of weeks, as well as some Top League Rugby the weekend after. Early November will see two championship soccer games at the National Stadium. After that, the blog will probably be pretty quiet for a while as there's not that much of interest over the winter months here other than the unfortunately named bj-league and the Asia Ice Hockey League. I'll likely check out a game or two in each of those leagues.

In the long run, I'm hoping for another large-scale baseball trip next summer in the US and the NFL road trip is always in the back of my mind. It all depends on how the job goes. For now, check back occasionally for updates.



Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Connecticut Defenders Moving to Richmond, VA

Back in July I visited Norwich, CT to see a game between the Connecticut Defenders and Harrisburg Senators. A brief but powerful afternoon rainstorm rendered the field unplayable and the game was called. I was upset but optimistic that I could return in the next couple of years to catch a game there.

Sadly, my optimism was unfounded. The Defenders have announced that they are moving to Richmond, where they will take up residence at the Diamond, former home of the Richmond Braves. In the minors, team relocation is an annual occurrence; there are well over 150 teams in the various affiliated leagues so it's natural that a few will be sold every off-season. I've seen the AAA Vancouver Canadians move to Sacramento and the AAA Ottawa Lynx head down to Allentown, just two of several Canadian teams that moved south. Last year, Tucson moved to Reno while Richmond left for Gwinnett, GA. I'm sure there's dozens of other examples. The upshot is that when you have a chance to see a game on the road, you should take it - you never know when that team will be packing up for greener pastures.



MLB 2010 Schedule Released

While I was in Hawaii, MLB released their tentative 2010 schedule. It's great for roadtrippers to get a schedule so early, you can plan your trips well in advance. Unfortunately for me, the matchup I was looking forward to happens at the end of season.

Next year will see the grand opening of Target Field in Minneapolis so I have to go visit the new ballpark. The Blue Jays, who I like to watch on the road despite recent disappointments in Pittsburgh (2008) and New York (2009), will not travel to Target Field until October 2010. This is the last series of the season, and I'll wager that by then the Jays will be well out of the pennant race. As well, I really want to do the NFL trip next season, so an October baseball series is not likely.

As it looks like I'll be watching other teams in Minny, I'll wait for the nearby minor league teams to release their schedules before planning the big trip. However, Toronto does have an interesting West Coast swing in Phoenix and Anaheim in late May, so I'll put that on the 'think-about' list.

In the meantime, if you're looking to plan your own MLB Roadtrip 2010, the schedule is here.



Monday, September 28, 2009

Tohto University Baseball - Two Games on Monday!

University Baseball in Tokyo

Most baseball fans in Japan are familiar with the NPB as well as the high school game: both are widely televised nationwide. However, there's another level of baseball that doesn't get as much exposure as it should: university baseball. Within Tokyo alone, there are two leagues that consist of 27 teams total. Each league plays games in the spring and autumn and provide a great chance to catch future prospects at their most polite.

The players bow before the game

The first and more widely known circuit is the Tokyo Big 6 League, featuring six of the larger schools in the area. They play games on weekends at Jingu, home of the Yakult Swallows. I have seen some of these games on television occasionally but have yet to see one in person, since my weekends are usually busy. I'll be rectifying this oversight in a couple of weeks.

Fortunately, there's another league known as the Tohto University Baseball League which plays their games on weekdays. The 21 teams in this league are divided into 4 "divisions" and teams are relegated and promoted between divisions. The top 3 divisions have 6 teams while there's only 3 teams in division 4.

Each season (i.e. twice a year, once during spring and once during fall), there is a simple round robin where each team plays a best-of-three series against each other team in their division (except in division 4, where 2 series are played). If the first two games of a series are split or one game is tied, then a third rubber match is played, but should one team sweep the first two games, the third is cancelled. The team that wins the series is awarded 1 point, and after the round robin, the team with the most points is the champion for that season. Overall win/loss records are used in the event that two teams have the same number of points. So it's technically possible to finish behind a team that has a worse record but more points, although I'm sure it doesn't happen that often.

I only discovered the Tohto league website yesterday while I was looking for info on the Big 6 league. I noticed that Division 2 had two games scheduled for this morning at Jingu's #2 Stadium, which I had yet to visit. So I woke up early and took the train over to Gaienmae station, and made the short walk up to the stadium.

Jingu #2 Stadium

This ballpark is located right next to the main Jingu Stadium. However, it is more than just a baseball stadium: along the first base side is a large driving range. I guess space is at a premium in central Tokyo, and since the stadium is not used much, they've found a creative way to generate more revenue. The interesting thing about this is the 100-foot high netting that rises beyond the outfield fence to protect the surrounding neighbourhood from golf shots that might be too powerful.

Due to the driving range (shown above) though, there aren't many seats - the bowl extends both ways from home plate but only out to about a third of the way down the lines, as you can tell from the picture above. The good news is that they've actually left two sections unprotected by the ubiquitous fences, so you can get a clear view of the action at home plate. But if you sit too far back in this section on the first base side, you can't see the right fielder as he is blocked by the driving range. Bizarre.

There are two levels of seating: a lower two-tiered section with a small walkway between, and then an upper section of benches which was closed off for today's games. The overhang from the upper section provides good cover for the lower seats. Even those seats near the front were shaded for the most part today as the sun traveled low in the sky behind the stadium. All seats are 1,300 yen and you can sit where you please (except where the cheering sections sit).

Another cool feature here was the scoreboard - it was manually operated but also had the lineups posted. Which means that someone needed to write down every name before the game, as well as to change names during the game. The nameplates were blackboards and chalk seemed to be used. That's a lot of work for a scoreboard operator. When a team was at the plate, their DH would be displayed, but when pitching, it would be the pitcher showing in the DH's spot. Check the pic below for an example: note how the team on the left has the DH showing, while the team on the right has the pitcher (Togame) displayed. It also looks like the game is in progress, but that's because there are 15 innings showing; the shot below was taken after the game.

Overall, I was surprised at how different and unique this place was compared to the other stadiums I've seen this year. It'd be a great minor league park but I guess they make more money using it as a driving range, a sad commentary on priorities here. Anyway, I'll try to come back for more games this season.

Game 1 - Senshu University 3 - Kokushikan University 4 (10 innings)

The first game got underway at 9:57 am, which I am sure is the earliest I've ever seen a pitch thrown. Not much happened until the 3rd when a sacrifice fly brought home the game's first run for Kokushikan. Senshu, alma mater of Dodgers starter Hiroki Kuroda, replied with two in the 4th, helped by an error, but they left the bases loaded. In the bottom half, right fielder Mizuguchi (below) smacked a homer to tie the game, but Senshu responded quickly with a Konoue double to regain their 1-run lead.

In the bottom of the 7th, a leadoff single and a throwing error put a man on second with nobody out for Kokushikan, still trailing by 1. A sacrifice and then a perfectly executed squeeze brought the runner home and we were tied. Nothing was settled in the next two innings, so we headed to extras. After reliever Higuchi struck out the Senshu side in the 10th, Kokushikan's leadoff hitter Shimazu bunted for a single and advanced to second when Senshu pitcher Kataoka threw wildly. The next batter also bunted and the throw to first went wild again, allowing Shimazu to trot home with the winning run. Three errors by Senshu were their downfall as they lost 4-3 in 10 innings, with two unearned runs making the difference.

Senshu's Konoue pops up here

There were 6 sacrifice bunts in this game as well as two strikeouts on bunts. Really an overused option here in Japan. Kokushikan starter Izawa went 9 innings and 137 pitches, scattering 12 hits but only giving up those 3 runs (1 unearned). He didn't get the win though, but at least his team did. Otherwise not much to comment about in this game, it took 2:41, which seems to be a bit long for this league. But it was still a decent match that ended on the last play.

Game 2 - Tokyo University of Agriculture 1 at Nihon University 5

I didn't keep score for this game, but the star was Nihon's starter Togame. He went 9 innings, giving up only a homer among 7 hits, and striking out only 1. His defense was great, which it has to be when your pitching to contact. What I found most interesting was his unorthodox delivery. He would throw with all his might and then drop his head down so low as he released that his hat would fall off on nearly every pitch. Even when warming up, he threw so hard that he would stumble if the footing wasn't right. It was fun to watch, the pics below show what I mean.

Look at his face in the left picture, then check out how his head drops and his hat falls off. You could have a great drinking game predicting how many times his hat falls off for each batter.

I thought Togame's mound opponent Yoshihara was also quite good for Nodai (Agricultural U in Japanese), but a bases clearing double was his undoing in the 5th and Nodai never threatened to make it close after that. This game took just 1:57, which has to be the shortest game I have ever seen in Japan. If someone can explain to me why the big leagues take so much longer here, I'd love to know.

Fouled off by Nodai's Tanaka

Cheering Sections

As is the norm in Japan, cheering sections were present today. For both games though, only the side on 3rd base had a full cheering section. The first base teams had some students yelling support but nobody actually leading cheers. I'm not sure if this is a rule within the stadium or just a coincidence. In any case, the cheering groups are rather small - Senshu had 3 female cheerleaders, a guy with a saxophone, and two male cheer "managers" who wear black suits and perform exaggerated arm movements when leading the cheers. They are pictured below.

The Tokyo University of Agriculture had far more supporters, with about 8 or so managers and a 10-member band, along with 3 female pom-pom pushers. But the funniest bit was when they scored their only run of the game. The cheer squad pulled out two daikon each (daikon is a large white radish) and danced while waving them in the air. As they are the "Farm" school, it only makes sense to celebrate with a large vegetable. Turns out that this celebration is famous throughout Japan and there's actually a Daikon Dance performed on other occasions. Check out the pic below - if you click on it and look at the larger version, you will see the daikon under their seats!

Nihon University had a section of about 20 well-dressed students (below) who sang their school song (I'm guessing that's what it is) whenever they scored. Kokushikan had just a few students supporting them, but hey, it was 10am on a Monday, so I'm sure everyone else was in school!

Random Thoughts

The round-robin rules are quite interesting. If a team won every series 2-1, it would have a 10-5 record for 5 points, whereas a team that won 4 series 2-0 and lost one series 1-2 would have a 9-2 record but only 4 points. But the 5 points would win the title for that season.

There are plenty more university baseball leagues around the country, but it's tough finding reliable up-to-date info on all of them. I wish Japan would upgrade their sports info with something like ESPN, where I could track this stuff in one place. I'm sure some of these guys will be drafted, particularly Togame, but I can't find much useful stuff on him.

It amazed me how many people showed up for the game at 10 am. Although 1,300 yen is not cheap (compared to free for the minors in some cases), the location of the stadium is close enough that I save on the transport cost, so it's about the same at the end of the day. I really enjoyed the games today, even though it was only division 2, and will make an attempt to see some division 1 games later this week.

Nihon University players bowing to their fans after the game



Canada Takes Bronze at the Baseball World Cup!

It continues to amaze me that the more I look for sporting events that I could travel to, the more I discover. This past couple of weeks saw the 2009 World Baseball Cup played in Europe. Hosted by 8 countries with the finals held in Italy; the competition featured 22 teams, from powers like the USA and Cuba down to European minnows such as Sweden and the Czech Republic. I would have loved to have been able to make a trip to a few of these games, although I expect the logistics would have been difficult. Still, making this sort of trip is what I aspire to.

I won't go into detail here on the outcome, other than to say it's great that Canada grabbed 3rd place in the tournament. It's true that some countries were unable to send their best players. Japan, for example, could only send players from their industrial leagues as their university leagues are currently in action (more on that in a future post). So it's not entirely surprising that they were knocked out after round 2. But Canada did send a strong team and they were rewarded with a 12-3 composite record and the bronze medal. I didn't realize that Canada is ranked 7th in the world, but here's hoping that they're able to keep things going for the 2012 Olympics. Oh wait. Baseball's out of the Olympics. So guess it's the 2012 WBC to hope for.

The USA defeated Cuba 10-5 in the final to take their 2nd consecutive World Cup and 4th overall. Cuba still leads with 25 titles, including 8 consecutive between 1984 and 2005.



Sunday, September 27, 2009

Giants Win the Eastern League - Why Ties Suck in Baseball

It was an interesting finish to the Eastern League here in Japan. The Yomiuri Giants had gone on an 11-3 run in September and with 1 game left in the 108-game slate, they were tied for first with both Shonan and Lotte. However, Japanese baseball allows tie games, so their records were not identical. Both Yomiuri and Shonan had 59-46-2 records for a .562 winning percentage, while Shonan was 60-47-0 to stand 3rd at .561. You might wonder how that is: all 3 teams are 13 games over .500 and have played 107 games - their percentages should be the same, right? Nope, ties are ignored in the calculation. So Shonan is punished for not tying two games. Imagine if a team went 1-0-107, tying all but one game. Their percentage would be 1.000 - a perfect season! Another way of looking at it is that 0-0-2 is considered better than 1-1-0. Coming from a hockey background, where ties count 1 point and wins 2, I find this rather silly and unfair. Ties should be included in percentage calculations as 1/2 a win.

Anyway, Lotte and Yomiuri played each other today at Giants Stadium. The winner would notch the championship, while idle Shonan (who close out the season tomorrow against Yakult) could only watch. Interestingly, if Yomiuri and Lotte tied their game today, then Shonan would have a chance for the pennant tomorrow. But sadly it was not to be. The Giants defeated Lotte 9-5 to clinch the title; their 23rd. And with the big-league Giants also winning the Central League, it marks the 15th Kyodai V (brothers victory) in their history. Ugh. I didn't realize the junior team had the same obnoxious attitude as their much-hated CL counterparts, but next season, I'll be rooting for everybody else to put them in their place. Preferably last place.

Sadly, I was otherwise occupied today so couldn't go to the game, but I'm not sure I'd have enjoyed watching the baby Giants celebrate. The Giants will now play the Western League champion Chunichi Dragons next Saturday in Toyama, which is rather far from Tokyo. So I won't be going there either.

I also missed the Big 6 university games on Saturday due to a sudden visit from an old friend, so I'll try to go in the next couple of weeks. I also found out about another college league that plays weekday games, so I might see some of those should I find time this week. Finally, there's also a women's tennis tournament in town this week, so I'm going to try to catch at least one day of action. So it should be a busy week as I return to sports-watching mode. Check back mid-week for updates and some photos.



Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Giants Clinch, Frontale Wins the First Leg, NRL Playoffs

Giants win their 3rd consecutive title behind Obispo

A few weeks ago, I watched Wifrin Obispo pitch in a minor league game for the Giants against Yakult. While I was in Hawaii, he was recalled to the big club and has been pitching well. Today, he started against Chunichi and pitched 7 good innings, giving up only 5 hits and a walk. Unfortunately, one of the hits was a 3-run homer from veteran catcher Motonobu Tanishige, but this was the only blemish. The offense managed to put together 5 runs and the bullpen held the lead, giving Obispo 5 wins against only 1 loss, with a tidy 2.66 ERA.

Sadly, this victory gave the Giants their third straight Central League title. Their celebration was an orgy of beer spraying as the players tried to soak each other with bottles of Asahi. Such a waste! I am not a fan of the Giants, who dominate Japanese baseball in much the same way the Yankees and Red Sox do in MLB, so 3 titles in a row is particularly bothersome. And with the Yankees clinching their playoff berth on the same day (in Japan at least), it's doubly depressing. But I'm glad to see Obispo succeed, and I know that I lucked out watching this kid pitch from 100 feet away for free just three weeks before he started a critical game.

I should note that Chunichi is solidly in second place in the CL and will host Hanshin, Yakult, or Hiroshima in the first round of the Climax series. These 3 teams are all within 1.5 games of each other but are about 8 games below .500. So it's a rather ugly race and I'd expect Chunichi to dispose of whichever team takes 3rd place and challenge the Giants for the CL title.

In the Pacific League, the Nippon Ham Fighters are choking away their lead and now have only a 3.5 game cushion on the Softbank Hawks . The Rakuten Golden Eagles stand 3rd with a 2-game lead on 4th-place Seibu. It's certainly a much more interesting race than anything happening in MLB. But the bad news is that the only Tokyo-area team to host games in the playoffs will be the Giants and I don't know if I can stomach a game there.

Frontale knocks off Nagoya

Today was the first leg of the Asian Champions League quarter-finals. Kawasaki Frontale hosted Nagoya Grampus in an afternoon tilt. A first-half goal from Aussie national Joshua Kennedy gave Grampus a 1-0 lead, but Frontale replied with two in the second half from Kengo Nakamura and Juninho to win 2-1. They travel to Nagoya next week for the second leg, and if Frontale can hold on, they'd advance to the semi-finals against either an Uzebekistan or Saudi Arabian team. They'd play the first leg on the road in one of those two countries - now there's a road trip worth thinking about!

NRL semi-finals this weekend

Back in May I saw Brisbane defeat the Gold Coast in National Rugby League action in Australia. Well, it's a long season there, and the playoffs are finally underway. In the first round, the Broncos, who finished 6th, visited the 3rd place Titans in a rematch of the game I saw, and won 40-32. Due to the odd playoff system, both teams advanced to round 2, where Gold Coast lost to 8th-place Parramatta Eels, while Brisbane beat the 1st place Dragons (who were upset by the Eels the week before).

This weekend sees Brisbane travel to Melbourne while the surprising Eels take on the Canterbury Bulldogs. The two winners meet in the Grand Final on October 4th. I'll be cheering for Brisbane, but they are heavy underdogs. I'll let you all know what happened next week.



Rakuten Golden Eagles 7 at Yomiuri Giants 12 (Eastern League) - September 22, 2009

The minor league season is drawing to a close here in Japan, and I wanted to visit Giants Stadium one more time as it is the best place to watch a game for me. My friend Hiroshi, a Giants fan who had never seen a minor league game, joined me.

I've described the stadium previously, but there was one small difference today: there was a shuttle bus from the station to the stadium. The bus only runs on weekends and holidays though, but we're in the middle of a 5-day long weekend, so it was available. It runs every 20 minutes from 11:00 to 12:40 for the 1:00 game, and saves you the 10-minute walk up 283 stairs.

The shuttle bus

Due to the holiday I was expecting a large crowd and wasn't disappointed. There were 1,823 people there, compared to an average weekday crowd of around 400. By the time the game started, nearly every seat was taken and the atmosphere was comparable to a minor league game in the States. We were able to get two seats behind the plate, but they were relatively far away as all the front row seats were filled. So there aren't many pics from this game.

The Giants were hosting Rakuten, who I had seen two weeks earlier in Lotte. In that game, they made 4 errors and only had two hits while being shut out. In today's game their offense was hitting on all cylinders as they took a 6-0 lead in the 5th inning. Unfortunately their defense was abysmal yet again: 2 errors in the 5th allowed the Giants to score 5 runs (4 unearned) and 2 more miscues in the 6th led to 2 more runs. Rakuten had managed to score a run in between, so we were tied at 7 after 7 innings.

The Giants then brought in ex-Blue Jay Micheal Nakamura (pictured below) who pitched a perfect 8th inning. In the bottom half, Rakuten veteran pitcher Hiroki Yamamura threw away a sacrifice bunt  (their 5th error!) and Yomiuri capitalized, scoring 5 runs, highlighted by a monster 3-run homer from Seung-Yeop Lee. Nakamura pitched a quick ninth and the Giants had overcome a 6-run defecit to win 12-7.

Another ugly game from Rakuten who knocked out 16 hits but allowed 8 unearned runs. There's a reason they are in last place. The Giants meanwhile took over the lead in the Eastern League, a half-game in front of Lotte and Shonan. The Giants have a home-and-home with the Marines this weekend which should settle the pennant. I'll let you know who wins next week.

Thoughts on the Japanese minors

I was planning to see a Futures game today down in Yokosuka, but I'm not feeling all that well, so I'll skip it. Which means that my minor league schedule is finished for the year. Overall, I really enjoyed going to all these games - high-quality baseball, often for free. Sure, some of the stadiums are terrible, but it beats the big leagues here. I often wonder why the NPB doesn't upgrade their minor-league system as they could easily draw decent crowds with night games in proper stadiums, but I'm not complaining. I feel like I happened upon a secret and I'm happy if it stays that way. Next year I'll either be working or out of Japan and won't make any weekday games, which is rather depressing. But if I'm still here, I do hope to make it down to Kansai for some Western League games - there's still 5 parks I've yet to see. As always, check back here for updates.



Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Sportsless in Hawaii

I've just returned from a fantastic 10-day trip to Hawaii. I don't want to get into the details of the trip, but would highly recommend Volcanos National Park on the Big Island - hiking through volcanic craters and watching lava flowing at night are just two highlights.

What was unique about this trip was that I didn't watch a single sporting event - not live nor on TV. Obviously, Hawaii doesn't have any pro sports teams, but the University of Hawaii has several teams and there was a women's volleyball tournament going on while I was in Oahu. But when there's beaches and sunsets and plenty of other stuff to do, it's tough to go watch a sport I really don't like. So I didn't.

Still, I expected to watch a game or two on the tube. But I forgot that Hawaii is 6 hours earlier than the East Coast and 3 hours earlier than the West Coast. Which means most weekday games are on between 1 pm until 7 pm. This is prime beach time followed by happy hour time, so I didn't make an effort to watch a single game (helped by the fact that the MLB pennant races are pretty dull). I did catch the scores on ESPN after getting back, but I was usually too tired to watch SportsCenter, so I missed lots of news, such as the fact that the NHL pre-season has started.

Weekend games are a bit better, starting at 7 am, but even then you don't want to spend time indoors when you could be outside in the glorious sun. And with college football on now, there wasn't much MLB to be seen. After a couple of days, my mind actually stopped thinking about sports. It wasn't until I was at the airport yesterday afternoon that I remembered the NFL and caught the last quarter of the Bears-Steelers game at a bar before boarding the plane.

Now I'm back in Japan and will check out a couple of minor league games to get back in the swing of things. It's a 5-day weekend here so I expect some big crowds, especially for today's game which features the Rakuten Golden Eagles against the Giants. Look for the report here tomorrow.



Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Rakuten Golden Eagles 0 at Chiba Lotte Marines 5 (Eastern League) - September 9, 2009

Lotte Urawa Field was the first minor league park that I had seen this season, and I had arrived rather late not realizing how few seats are available. I ended up at the end of a very uncomfortable bench that did not provide a good view of the action. I wanted to see this place once more from a different perspective, so I got out to Musashi Urawa station early enough to grab a seat right by the fence on the 3rd base side. Unfortunately, I was still pretty far from home plate; it looks like the real fans are there about 90 minutes before game time to take the best spots. Even then, the closest seats are halfway down the baseline, there are no seats next to home plate like at Yakult Toda Field.

The Game

There's no need to describe how to get here or the park itself; I've done that before. I'll just mention some of the game highlights.

Satoru Komiyama started for Lotte - you might remember him from his one season with the Mets back in 2002, (although you probably don't, he didn't do much). Komiyama has had a long career in Japanese baseball, first pitching for the Marines back in 1990. From what I can gather, he was sent down earlier this year as he posted an ERA over 10 in just 11 innings with the big club. But he's only pitched in 13 innings for the minor league team, which suggests he's been hurt for most of the season. When his named was announced as the starter, the Lotte fans murmured appreciatively. He's one of Japan's most famous pitchers, and to see him here was a nice surprise. He's warming up in the picture below.

Rakuten sent En-Yu Lin to the hill. He's a Taiwanese prospect with only 4 innings in the minors this year, which leads me to believe the injury that caused him to miss the Olympic qualification last year was quite serious.

It looked like a good pitching matchup, and it was. For 2 innings. Komiyama faced 6 batters over 2 frames, walking one but getting him on a double play. I guess it's was a rehab start since he was replaced by Yoshihide Kanda, a 7-year veteran whose never been good enough to stick for a whole season with the top team.

Meanwhile, Lin pitched 3 scoreless innings himself before being replaced by Hiroshi Katayama, a young pitcher who has struggled this year in the minors. That's when the pitching duel ended.

Kanda maintained the pace set by Komiyama, going 6 strong innings, yielding only a single and a hit batsman.

Katayama was not nearly as effective, loading the bases with nobody out in the fourth, only to escape on a pop out and double play. In the 5th, he loaded the bases again with nobody out. This time, he was not so lucky as DH Akira Otsuka, a Lotte veteran, doubled to center for 2 runs. The throw to third got away (the first of 4 Eagle errors) and another run scored as Otsuka moved to third. He came home on a groundout to make it 4-0 Marines.

Naotaka Takehara on second after a double

They added another unearned run in the 6th and really, with Kanda pitching so well, the game was over then. Tomohiso Nemoto pitched a quick 9th to end the game as the Marines rewarded their faithful fans with a 5-0 victory. The Eagles had only 2 hits and those 4 errors, which is not a recipe for success.

The game took only 2:22, which was great as rain was threatening near the end. Certainly the story was Kanda, who was pitching with confidence and baffling the Rakuten hitters. I should note that Lotte leads the Eastern League while Rakuten is in last place; this game certainly made that clear.

Chase Lambin

Before the game, I was sitting next to the field with my friend Joe as Chase Lambin, a one-time Marlins farmhand, walked by. He noticed our two pasty white faces and was surprised - not many foreigners make it out to these games. He asked "What language are you guys speaking?" - clearly not used to hearing English around Musashi Urawa.

After the game, we were just hanging out next to the park, where the players have to walk past to get to the clubhouse. I was taking pictures of Komiyama as he signed autographs. I saw Lambin walking and Joe went up to congratulate him. Lambin, who displayed a great sense of humour, said "For what?" Joe, who knows little about baseball, said "Ummm, for having a good game". As Lambin was 0-4 with an error, I think he knew that Joe had no idea what he was talking about and said, "Oh, cuz we won". Pretty funny.

After that, Lambin chatted with us for a few minutes while signing autographs for other fans. I was interested in his routine playing for the minor league team. Turns out he lives near Chiba Marine Stadium where the big team plays and has to take an hour and a half train out to Musashi Urawa, leaving at 7 am. They start stretching at 9:30 for a 1 pm game, and he said he doesn't get home till 6 or 7 most nights, so it's really a full-time job. Just like a Japanese salaryman I thought. Anyway, it was fun chatting with him and his wife Sara and their interpreter and I thank Chase for giving us some time. He's wearing #43 below.

I did a little research after I got home and found out that he played in Albuquerque last season, hitting .300 with 14 homers. Not sure why those numbers weren't good enough for a September call-up or a look-see with another team. But when he had a chance to try out for a Japanese team, he jumped at the chance, winning a spot with the Marines. Unfortunately, he was only hitting .192 here with the big club in limited at bats so they sent him down. He's hitting around .220 in the minors, so it looks like he's having trouble adjusting to the Japanese game, but he seems to have a very positive attitude so here's hoping he's back here next season.

What is most interesting about Chase is that he has his own blog. He's articulate and funny, and it's fascinating reading about his experiences in Japan, especially his thoughts on playing in the games. There's some great non-game stuff on there that most athletes would be loath to make public, including a video of him dancing on a table at a bar in Sapporo. I encourage you to have a look if you have time; it's definitely one of the better ballplayer blogs you'll see.

Thanking the Fans

Today was the last game of the season at Lotte Urawa. After the game, the players all formed along the 3rd-base line to thank their fans for their support, as you can see below. It was a nice touch and the fans all stood and applauded. I think this is true fan appreciation and something that could be done elsewhere.

Lining Up for Autographs

Finally, I mentioned that Komiyama is a very famous pitcher in Japan. After the game, he was singing autographs on the road that leads to the clubhouse. In the States, I would expect a mob of people to surround him, pushing and shoving to get an autograph. But here everybody lined up and waited their turn; one-by-one Komiyama signed their memorabilia until there was nobody left. It was nice to see the respect the fans have for each other as well as the players.

Break Time

I'm off to Hawaii in 2 days, and won't be updating the blog much while I am gone as there's not much to see in terms of live sports. I'm back on the 21st and will see two minor league games and then a college/major tripleheader to finish off the regular baseball season. Check back in two weeks for updates.



Minor League Playoffs - Another Road Trip Plan

Every year at this time, I like to check the minor league playoffs to see if I could do a road trip and see a game every day, ending up in Oklahoma City for the AAA championship game. Of course, since it's the playoffs, you can only plan the first few days of the trip and then hope that certain teams advance to the next round. So it's a bit of a logistical problem. I've never done such a trip, but it's always in the back of my mind, should I ever return to Canada to live.

The trip I would like to take starts in the Northeast with the NY-Penn League, whose playoffs start today. Both Brooklyn and Staten Island are in and have home games on the first two days, so NYC as good a place to start as any. Then Connecticut is home the next day, and New Britain the day after that, facing each other in Eastern League action. I guess that's not much of a road trip when your only driving 200 miles or so.

After that, it becomes difficult to plan, because the remaining first round games are TBD. But Reading, Scranton, and Wilmington are all near by, so hopefully one of them takes a series to 5 games. After that, who knows. It'd be the second round, and you'd have to wait until those teams were decided before moving on. But I'd want to go west to get closer to Oklahoma, so I might move onto the Midwest League, maybe heading south to Louisville or Memphis in the Interational League and then over to the Texas League for their championship series.

I'll update this post as the playoffs progress. For now, here's the first four games I'd see, along with the miles I would drive.

Sept 8: Mahonging Valley at Brooklyn (NYPL) - 450 miles
Sept 9: Lowell at Staten Island (NYPL) - 25 miles
Sept 10: New Britain at Connecticut (EL) - 160 miles
Sept 11: Connecticut at New Britain (EL) - 60 miles
Sept 12: Reading/Scranton?

Update: I'm back from Hawaii and while I was gone, the entire playoffs were completed, except for the AAA championship. Here are the games I would have seen from Sept 12.

Sept 12: Gwinnett at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (IL) - 180 miles
Sept 13: Wilmington at Lynchburg (Car L) - 400 miles
Sept 14: Greenville at Lakewood (SAL) - 400 miles - unlikely to make this drive with game in Durham next day
Sept 15: Scranton/Wilkes-Barre at Durham (IL) - 460 miles
Sept 16: Sacramento at Memphis ( PCL) - 750 miles - tough drive
Sept 17: Lakewood at Greenville (SAL) - 530 miles
Sept 18: Jacksonville at Tennessee (SL) - 150 miles
Sept 19: Midland at NW Arkansas (TL) - 750 miles
Sept 22: Durham v Memphis at Oklahoma City - 205 miles

OK, this trip is just stupid. Two 750 mile drives to see minor league games? I doubt I'd be able to do that alone. But it's always fun to plan it. Maybe next year?



Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Yomiuri Giants 8 at Yakult Swallows 5 (11, Eastern League) - September 7, 2009

I'd seen Yakult Toda Field a few weeks ago, going by bicycle and getting soaked by a passing rainstorm on the way home. Despite the unfortunate ending to that day (my camera suffered irreparable water damage) I had enjoyed my time there, and I wanted to go back as the ballpark provides an incredibly close view of the action. This time though, I took the train.

The ballpark is located near Musashi Urawa, the same station at which Lotte Urawa Field is located. Yep, there's two minor league stadiums within 10 minutes of each other, both of which offer free baseball. I wonder how many people who live around here just go to games every day - it'd be a great way to spend the summer. Today both stadiums had games; in fact these were the only 2 pro games on the schedule as the major leagues had the day off.

Getting There on Transit

To get to Yakult Toda Field, you need to take the Takeura 01 Bus from Musashi Urawa station (schedule). The bus stop is located right next to the station, board without paying and get off at Saiko-Doman Park Iriguchi, which is 8 stops or so from the station and takes about 10 minutes. When you disembark, you will pay 200 yen at the front of the bus. The return stop is just across the street; you'll board here after the game (schedule).

Once off the bus, cross the street and walk through the residential area to the grassy hill on the other side. You'll see some stairs to your right, you can walk up these to the top of the hill from where you can spot the stadium in the distance. You'll have to walk down the hill through overgrown weeds to get there, a truly surreal experience. I've discussed the stadium itself elsewhere, so won't describe it again. I will say that it's difficult to believe that there is a ballpark located here that provides such a high quality of baseball for nothing. It's really in the middle of nowhere. Despite that, when I arrived over an hour before the game, there were already well over a hundred fans milling about. I guess it's the popularity of the Giants, but all the seats were taken. I had planned to stand next to the fence anyway, but was fortunate that one lady who had been sitting next to the fence for batting practice left just before the game began. Nobody else seemed interested in her spot, so I grabbed it and sat down to watch the game.

The Game

The starting pitcher for the Giants was Wirfin Obispo, a tall, lanky Dominican who has been with the Giants for 3 seasons. He's actually pitched in 11 games with the big club this season, going 3-1 with a 2.45 ERA. His opponent was Kyohei Muranaka, a young lefty who has struggled in his time in the bigs this year.

Obispo throwing in the first inning

Both pitchers were great, working quickly and getting lots of outs. After 6 innings, the score was 1-1 and the game was only an hour and a half old. The Giants took the lead in the top of the 7th on a bases-loaded wild pitch, but Obispo couldn't hold it, giving up two solo home runs in the bottom half, including an impressive shot to center field from catcher Ryohei Kawamoto. Muranaka then blew his chance at the win by giving up a 2-run dinger to Daijiro Tanaka in the top of the 8th and the Giants had regained the lead 4-3.

Takahisa Ueno was brought in to relieve Obispo, who was in line for the win. Unfortunately for him, Ueno gave up a 2-run longball to Yuichi Matsumoto (a Brazilian-born Japanese who goes by his first name) and the Swallows were back on top 5-4 after 8. It was a topsy-turvy battle!

In came Masato Hanada for the save. The girls next to me said something to the effect that the Swallows will lose for sure now, and their lack of confidence was well-founded. A lead-off double by Daisuke Fujimura was followed by a weak single from pinch-hitter Hidetoshi Tsuburaya and the Giants had men on 1st and 3rd with nobody out. Takanori Hoshi then lined to first and Tsuburaya was caught off base - a double play! One out to go! Or so I thought. The Giants Ryuichi Kajimae pinch-hit and was jammed but the ball managed to get over the second baseman - the game was tied game on a weak squib single. The Swallows choke again.

Giants 2008 1st round pick Taishi Ohta whiffs

The Swallows did nothing against Norihito Kaneto in their half of the 9th and we were headed to extra innings. I should note that in the Eastern League, tie games are called after 11 innings. What's interesting about this is that the last time I saw these two teams play, the game went to extras and the Giants won it with two out in the bottom of the 11th, avoiding the tie. Would I see similar heroics from the Swallows today? Not bloody likely.

Rafael Fernandes, a developmental player who I saw pitch for the Futures a few weeks ago, was brought in to pitch the 10th for Yakult and he shut down the Giants in order. But the Swallows couldn't get anything going against Kaneto in their half and we were headed to the final inning tied at 5.

Fernandes then lost his command to start the 11th - he walked the first 3 batters of the inning before being replaced by rookie Ryo Hidaka. Hidaka got two quick outs; unfortunately both were deep fly balls that scored runs. Takayuki Terauchi then knocked in the 3rd inherited runner with a triple and it was suddenly 8-5 Giants. Ugh.

Levi Romero, a 6'5" Venezuelan was brought in for the save. His fielding was weak - he made two errors by my book (only one was counted, the other was called an infield single by the home scorer) but he did get two strikeouts, fanning Kawamoto to end the game. The Giants win another extra inning affair, 8-5 in 3:47. Really a great game with lots of lead changes but as a Swallows fan, rather disappointing that they blew the lead twice.

This picture shows Fernandes in the top of the 11th. Note the score still tied at 5-5, but the ominous ball 1 is lit, a foreboding sign of what is soon to follow.

Interesting Notes

I was surprised to see Seung-Yeop Lee starting for the Giants as the DH. Considered one of Asia's greatest home run hitters and a key part of Korea's gold medal performance at the 2008 Olympics, Lee has been hurt recently and is down as part of a rehab assignment. This was his 10th game in the minors, so I suspect he'll be back with the big boys shortly. He didn't do much in this game though, although it was his leadoff walk in the 11th that got the bases on balls rolling for the Giants.

Seung-Yeop Lee fouls one off

Levi Romero was a developmental player when I saw the Giants previously. He got the win in that 1-0 game back in July, but his uniform number was 111. Now that he's a full-fledged member of the roster, his number is 38. I suspect he'll be up with the Giants in the next season or two; he is certainly intimidating on the mound.

It was a treat to watch Wirfin Obispo. Although he didn't pitch particularly well, giving up at least one baserunner per inning and walking 3 through seven, I did like his fastball and his poise. He has a bit of a quirky delivery in that he kicks his left foot as he is throwing. Swallows manager Hiroshige Saruwatari complained to the umpire about it, perhaps suggesting it was a balk (it's not) in an attempt to get Obispo off his game. It didn't work in that inning and when Obispo struck out the final batter with a blazing heater, he glared into the Swallows dugout with a F-You look on his face. Despite not liking the Giants, I liked his response to the bit of gamesmanship shown by the Swallows and I'll look for him next time he's called up.

Players as Grounds Crew?

A sign that things are really tough in the minors - when batting practice was finished, the players helped move the screens outside the field. I suppose the Swallows can't afford a full grounds crew for the second team, so they get the players to chip in. Even those players who have spent considerable time in the majors are not exempt from the additional work. It also gives autograph seekers a chance to grab a signature or two as the batting screens are moved out of the field into a nearby open spot where the fans can congregate. In the picture below, two Swallows (Yuji Onizaki and Jun Otsuka) get a stray baseball off one of the batting screens.

Next Game

I am going to see another game up in Musashi Urawa, this time at Lotte Urawa Field. I was planning to go today, but I'm exhausted and there's a slight threat of rain, so I'll go tomorrow. I'll have one final post on that game and then it's off to Hawaii.



Colorado 14ers Moving to Texas

It's old news, but I just found out that the Colorado 14ers, defending NBA D-League champions, have been bought and are to be moved to Frisco, Texas for play starting in 2010. I saw them play when I did my Colorado sports trip back in April and really enjoyed the experience. I thought that the value for money paid was great but perhaps the local residents didn't agree.

To be fair, in these minor leagues, franchise instability is not uncommon, especially when the economy is failing. I suspect the owners were losing money and saw a chance to get out. As someone who has seen hometown teams move elsewhere, I feel for those fans in Broomfield who liked high-quality basketball at an affordable price. I hope the D League can return here in the near future.

In a related note, the Rocky Mountain Rage, the other tenant in the Broomfield Events Center, are also suspending play for the 2009-10 CHL season, but they hope to return to the league after that. It does look like the economy is responsible for a lot of these franchise difficulties, so when things finally pick up, these teams should be able to return to play.



Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Wrong Message

I heard about Oregon's LeGarrette Blount's season-long suspension for throwing a punch and was shocked. Really?! A whole season?! In hockey, you get 5 minutes in the box and are back on the ice. Seriously, when did sports become so genteel? I understand that this is college sports which operates under a different paradigm than the pros. But it's football, a physical, adrenalin-filled game that is violent between the lines. Does an after-game punch require such a serious response?

Have a look at this article from ESPN's Ted Miller, which is well-written and reflective. Miller agrees with the 1-year suspension and suggests a lifetime ban was also possible. But he also says that Blount is lucky that assault charges won't be filed. This bothers me. This wasn't a random punch a la Woody Hayes so many years ago; Byron Hout from Boise State was taunting after a victory. Apparently Blount was mouthing off before the game and I guess Hout was giving back after Boise State won. But good sportsmen win gracefully and don't rub their opponents faces in it, no matter what. If you do, accept the consequences, even if it's a punch to your jaw. The fact that you can run your mouth and then run to the police should your opponent take offense physically is disturbing.

I'm not condoning Blount; he should have been more mature (especially given his checkered past) and just walked away. But a 2 or 3 game suspension would be adequate in this situation. Frankly I think the university realized that the out-of-shape Blount was not going to contribute this year and suddenly received a handy excuse to get him off the field.

The lesson being taught is that it's OK to get in the other guy's face and taunt, because he can't do anything in response. If you've no fear of repercussions, you can just be a complete ass without worry. I guess that's the world that we live in, particularly with the internet, where anonymous hypercriticism is the rule of the day. When you can say whatever you want without having to back it up, you will say whatever you want.

I know that trash talking is part of sports: it's gamesmanship. But once the contest is over, shake hands and say "Good game", regardless of the outcome. That's what we should be teaching young athletes in college: sportsmanship. Hout's post-game behavior was poor and he should get a 1-game suspension. Blount missing the entire season and Hout playing in Boise State's next game sends the wrong message in my mind - obnoxious loudmouths are OK, short-tempered responses are not. Let's be fair - neither is good for sports and neither should be tolerated.

Update: Blount was reinstated after missing eight games. He went on to a very respectable nine-year NFL career, including three Super Bowl rings (two with New England, one with Philadelphia). Hout is now a coach and uses this as a "teachable moment".



Saturday, September 5, 2009

More Updates

Just a quick post to update you on some of the goings on that I've discussed in the past few months.

Japanese Baseball Game Times

I mentioned that the NPB is trying to speed up the game here in Japan, but it turns out that they're failing miserably. The average 9-inning game is now 3:08 (up 3 minutes from May) and 3:14 if all games are included (a 2-minute increase).

I checked the time for some recent games and was amazed to find out that a 3-3 tie (tied Japanese games are stopped after 12 innings) between Yakult and Yomiuri took 5:27! That's nearly 30 minutes for every inning - but only 6 runs were scored! OK, there were 24 hits but only 3 walks, so I can't imagine what took so long. (Edit: turns out this was the Central League record for game time.) I stand by my contention that the snail's pace of NPB games is what makes attending the games so difficult. The minor league games don't suffer from this - one game yesterday took 2:14 - why can't the big boys follow suit?

Playoff Races in Japan

A couple of weeks ago I said that there were no pennant races in Japan - mainly because 3 teams in each league make the playoffs and there was a 10-game gap between 3rd and 4th in the Central League. Well, in that time Yakult has fallen apart and Hanshin has become hot, so the gap is suddenly just 3.5 games. With 30 or so games left, there actually might be a race to see who makes the Climax Series in the CL.

Meanwhile in the Pacific League, Rakuten has come on strong while Seibu has faltered. A month ago Rakuten trailed the Lions by 4.5 games, but now they have a 2-game lead for the 3rd and final playoff spot. So it looks like both leagues have reasonably interesting races - just not for first place. I guess the term pennant race is not really accurate, so I'll use playoff races.

As an aside, there's little pennant race excitement in MLB right now. The closest pennant race is in the AL West where Anaheim leads Texas by 3.5 games. The two wild card races are much more interesting, particularly in the NL where Colorado is up on San Francisco by just a game with Florida 4 back and Atlanta 5. Still, there's not a lot of compelling action right now, here's hoping that one or two teams suffer a Mets-like collapse to add a little spice to September.

Kawasaki Frontale in two tournaments

I try to follow J League side Kawasaki Frontale and watched them in an AFC Champions League game back in April. They've now advanced to the quarterfinals where they take on Nagoya Grampus. The first game is on September 23rd at National Stadium in Tokyo, but I'll be watching a Futures game in Kanagawa that afternoon. The 2nd leg is in Nagoya on September 30th, so I'm thinking about heading down there as the Chunichi Dragons are at home that week as well.

Frontale is also into the semi-finals of the Nabisco Cup, Japan's equivalent of the League Cup. They are playing Yokohama F. Marinos and have already taken the home leg 2-0. They visit Yokohama tomorrow and just need to avoid losing by 3 goals or more in order to advance to the final. I've already seen them play in Yokohama this year, so I won't go tomorrow, but if they advance to the final, I'll make sure to watch that on November 3rd.

U.S. Open Cup

After watching the Ottawa Fury in June and studying up on the USL, I found out about the U.S. Open Cup. The final was played a couple of days ago and the Seattle Sounders, an MLS expansion team, defeated D.C. United 2-1 to take the trophy. It's amazing that a first-year club can win such a competition; I'm not sure what this says about soccer, the Cup itself, or MLS's expansion when compared to other leagues, which force new clubs to suffer through seasons of failure by preventing them from acquiring good players early on. Turns out that the Chicago Fire also won the U.S. Open Cup in their inaugural season, so I'm guessing that MLS does try to give expansion teams a chance to be competitive immediately.

World Cup Qualifying

In one of the first posts, I talked about a potential trip to Denmark to see some World Cup Qualifying games. With the work visa situation still unresolved, I don't think this trip is going to happen unfortunately. Today (September 5) and September 9th are both match days, so I'll be following those games as we should have some more teams qualifying or being eliminated.

Design Changes

If you a regular reader, you have noticed that I changed the layout of the blog - the original format used only about half of the screen, which was OK for the small laptop I use. But when viewed on a big screen like the Imac, much of the available space was empty and it looked crappy. I switched to a full-screen format with a white background, which is what you see here. It looks much cleaner, but I realized that all the old posts with pictures were no longer properly displaying. So I've gone back and edited all the existing posts by moving the pictures around so that it's all much neater now. I've also corrected spelling errors and tried to make the writing a bit tighter, so if you notice changes to older posts, that's what happened.

That should put us all up-to-date on the comings and goings from the past few months. I'll be going to a couple of minor league games next week and will have some brief reports on those. As well, the US minor league regular season ends, so I'll be putting together a road trip plan for that. Of course, I won't be taking the trip itself, but it's one of my favourite planning activities, and I'll tell you all how I go about it next week.



Friday, September 4, 2009

A day with MLB.TV

I may have mentioned that MLB.TV finally lifted the stupid blackout that had affected Japan for at least 5 years. So when they put the rest of the season on sale for $35 at the beginning of August, I jumped at the offer. So now I can watch every MLB game live on the computer! You can watch four games at a time (although obviously only one audio feed comes through). Over the past few weeks, I've been catching up on the majors - watching bits and pieces of six or eight games most mornings. I thought it might be fun to write a running diary about a day of watching all these games, much like The Sports Guy does on I won't be nearly as funny or interesting though, but thanks to him for the idea.

I chose today because there are only six games to watch from 8 a.m. Japan time and the pitching matchups look fantastic. Chief among them is Tim Lincecum vs. Pedro Martinez in the SF-Philly game, but the Clay Bucholz-David Price battle also looks intriguing. Rookie sensations Ricky Romero of the Jays and Tommy Hanson of the Braves are also pitching in the early games. The two late games aren't as interesting although Jon Garland is pitching for LA against Arizona, who traded him a few days ago. The four early games on one screen are shown in the below photo.

Let's get started.

8:07 First pitch from Pedro Martinez and the connection fails. By the time I get it reset, Eugenio Velez has homered. 1-0 Giants.

8:10 Kung-fu Panda Pedro Sandoval doubles and waddles into second. Bengie Molina follows at the plate. The Giants are certainly aptly named - these two guys are big. Molina strikes out btw.

8:13 All four games are underway. Randy Winn strikes out to end the inning for the Giants.

8:14 The Yankees Johnny Damon walks with 1 out.

8:15 Victor Martinez singles for Boston with 2 out, while Mark Teixeira singles to push Damon to 2nd.

8:16 The Braves are out 1-2-3 in the first.

8:17 Shane Victorino is using the new ultra-protective helmet, but he pops out.

8:18 Kevin Youkilis singles to the wall, well played by Carl Crawford to keep Martinez at 2nd.

8:19 Lincecum strikes out Chase Utley to end the first. Meanwhile, Romero walks A-Rod to load the bases.

8:20 Ugh. Hideki Matsui singles to right to score 2, but Travis Snider lets the ball go under his glove, all the way to the wall and another run scores. 3-0 Yankees.

8:21 Jason Bay doubles in two runs to give Boston the lead. David Ortiz strikes out to end the inning but Tampa Bay is already down 2-0.

8:22 Cameron Maybin doubles for Florida.

8:23 Jorge Posada singles in Matsui. 4-0 Yankees. I want to cry.

8:25 Jason Bartlett leads off with a single for Tampa Bay.

8:26 Pedro gets the Giants 1-2-3 and has struck out 4 through 2.

8:27 Robinson Cano grounds into a DP ending a disastrous first inning for Toronto.

8:28 Bartlett moves to second on a deep fly ball and scores on a single from Ben Zobrist. Smart baserunning from Bartlett contributes to a run for the Rays.

8:29 Ryan Howard strikes out - Lincecum looks good again tonight.

8:30 Jinx. Jayson Werth crushes a hanging curve from Lincecum. 1-1.

8:32 Hanson strikes out John Baker to escape a jam. Atlanta and Florida is the only scoreless game after 1 inning.

8:34 Adam Lind walks for Toronto.

8:35 I love watching pitchers hit. Lincecum strikes out against Pedro flailing.

8:36 Brian McCann leads off the 2nd for Atlanta and homers. 1-0 Braves.

8:37 With runners on 1st and 2nd, Evan Longoria doubles down the line. One run scores and Tampa has tied the game 2-2, still in the first.

8:38 Edgar Renteria strikes out - 7 Ks for Pedro through 3!

8:39 Atlanta is done in the 2nd while Toronto's Lyle Overbay flies out to end the 1st.

8:40 Gregg Zaun strikes out to end the inning for Tampa Bay.

8:42 Romero strikes out Nick Swisher. Interesting Stat #1. Swisher has 23 homers this season, but only 3 at Yankee Stadium.

8:43 Melky Cabrera called out on strikes - looked low to me. Pedro Martinez strikes out. Some Marlin strikes out. All at the same time.

8:44 Rocco Baldelli homers for Boston. This game looks like a 4-hour marathon.

8:45 Jimmy Rollins doubles with 2 out. Meanwhile Romero strikes out Derek Jeter - he struck out the side! Still 4-0 Yankees though.

8:46 Shane Victorino grounds out. Done 3 in Philly, while Andy Gonzalez of the Marlins is out to end things for the Marlins. All four games are on break for 10 seconds before the Jays game returns.

8:49 Jeter makes a great play to get Randy Ruiz. The Jays still looking for their first hit.

8:50 Snider gets hit on the ankle. I wasn't talking about that sort of hit though.

8:51 Another 1-2-3 inning for Pedro.

8:52 Jose Bautista grounds out to end Toronto's 2nd. Still hitless.

8:56 B.J. Upton steals second on a pitchout! That's some fast.

8:57 Howard strikes out again, that's 7 Ks for Lincecum as well.

9:01 Raul Chavez doubles for Toronto. Every team has a hit now, so we'll have to wait for the late games for a chance at a no-hitter.

9:02 After 4 innings, both Lincecum and Martinez have identical lines. 2H, 1ER, 1HR, 0BB, 7K.

9:03 Aaron Rowand singles for the Giants after Martinez had retired 13 in a row. But Lincecum strikes out.

9:05 Not much going on in the other games.

9:07 Lyle Overbay flies out stranding two runners for the Blue Jays.

9:12 Cameron Maybin doubles in a run to tie the game for Florida. This kid looks impressive.

9:13 Five innings in just over an hour in Philly, still 1-1. Great pitching duel.

9:16 Velez leads off the San Fransicso 6th with a double.

9:17 Jorge Cantu grounds out, leaving Maybin on 3rd. 1-1 after 3 innings down in Florida.

9:19 Interesting stat #2 - Sandoval and Molina lead the league in percentage of swings. They both swing at 57.4% of pitches they see. They also lead the league in percentage of food eaten. They eat 100% of the food they see.

9:20 Cabrera singles in Matsui and the Yankees are up 5-0. I wish there was another game I could tune in. Updates from this affair will be temporarily stopped.

9:21 Longoria doubles again to lead off the Tampa Bay 4th.

9:22 Atlanta does nothing in their 4th, still 1-1 there.

9:23 Gregg Zaun doubles in Longoria. Other than the Jays getting hammered, the games are all tied.

9:24 While switching audio, I accidentally close the Boston-Tampa game. When I reconnect, Gregg Zaun is batting again! He doubles again! I guess there is some time lag depending on when you connect to the game.

9:29 After Chase Utley is hit by a pitch, Ryan Howard smacks a double to give Philly a 2-1 lead. 113 RBIs for Howard!

9:30 They're done 4 in Florida, still 1-1. Also done 4 in Tampa, 3-3. And after 6 in Philly, it's still 2-1 for the home team.

9:32 Jays have the bases loaded with 1 out. I predict a double play.

9:34 Juan Uribe doubles for SF with one out.

9:35 I'm proven wrong as Raul Chavez dumps a single to right to score Toronto's first run. The bases remain loaded.

9:37 Ryan Church doubles for Atlanta who are threatening with runners on 2nd and 3rd with nobody out.

9:38 Aaron Rowand grounds out to end the Giants' threat.

9:39 Marco Scutaro gets a sac fly to bring the Jays within 3.

9:40 Bad news in Tampa. B.J. Upton collides with Carl Crawford on a fly ball and crumbles to the ground in obvious pain. Looks like an ankle injury.

9:41 Aaron Hill singles in another run for the Jays! And out comes Girardi to make the first pitching change of the day as Alfredo Aceves replaces Chad Gaudin, who couldn't even last 5 innings for the gimme win.

9:42 Chipper Jones drives in a run and it's 3-1 Atlanta over Florida. Looks like I missed the second run while watching Upton's injury replay.

9:43 Upton is walking off, so let's hope it's nothing serious. Akinori Iwamura comes in to play second while Ben Zobrist moves to center field.

9:45 Matt Stairs is pinch hitting for Pedro but strikes out. 11 Ks for Lincecum who is scheduled to lead off but with the Giants trailing, he is pinch-hit for. Ryan Madson takes over for Martinez.

9:46 Adam Lind strikes out to end the Jays 4th. They're back in it though.

9:48 Phils-Giants are in the top of the 8th. The other 3 games are only in the top of the 5th!

9:50 Atlanta has the bases loaded but a shallow fly and a line drive to first end their 5th.

9:52 Madson retires the Giants in order.

9:54 Romero walks two to start the Yankee 5th.

9:55 Zobrist dribbles a grounder along the first-base line. Bucholz picks it up and bumps into Youkilis. Zobrist wins the race but is called out! The replay proves it - the ump made a mistake.
Really, does Boston need any additional help here?!

9:56 A-Rod singles in Johnny Damon. 6-3 Yankees and my hope for a Jays comeback is immediately shattered.

9:57 Sergio Romo is pitching for the Giants now. He gets the Phillies in order and so Brad Lidge comes on for the save.

9:59 Lidge has a 7.03 ERA?!

10:00 Hanson gets the Marlins in the 5th and is now set for the win. Meanwhile, Romero gives up another run and is mercifully taken out of the game.

10:03 Sandoval strikes out and the ball is nicely blocked by Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz, who throws him out at first.

10:05 Molina pops out and the Giants are down to their final out.

10:07 The two hour mark is reached as Randy Winn singles to keep the Giants alive.

10:08 An error in Florida as Andy Gonzalez makes a poor throw that is dropped by Nick Johnson. I think Johnson should get the error, but it's meaningless as the next batter flies out.

10:10 Winn steals to put the tying run in scoring position for San Francisco.

10:11 Price is taken out of the game for Tampa Bay and replaced by Russ Springer, who gives up a sac fly to Mike Lowell. 4-3 Boston.

10:12 Jose Uribe walks and the Phillies fans are suddenly quiet. Fred Lewis pinch hits for Travis Ishikawa.

10:13 Atlanta starter Tommy Hanson is replaced by Kris Medlen.

10:14 Phillies win! Lewis grounds to Utley who tags Uribe for the final out. Great pitching here, with 2 walks and 23 strikeouts. Game time was a beautiful 2:08.

10:15 Still two close games to follow. Boston leads TB 4-3 in the bottom of the 6th while Atlanta is up 3-1 on Florida, also in the bottom of the 6th. Jays down 7-3 after 5 but I've pretty much given up on that mess.

10:19 Brett Carroll doubles in a run for Florida who are within one. Batting leader Hanley Ramirez pinch hits for Gonzalez. Apparently he and Dan Uggla had a confrontation the previous day. Doesn't matter to him as he singles to tie the game. Matt Diaz lets the ball get by and Ramirez goes to second where he is pinch-run for. And Tommy Hanson won't get the win.

10:24 Jacoby Ellsbury singles with one out in the 7th.

10:25 Cody Ross doubles to right and the Marlins have taken a 4-3 lead!

10:26 Pitching change in Tampa as Chad Bradford comes in to replace Brian Shouse. Ellsbury promptly steals second.

10:27 Medlin is taken out. Wonder what he says to Hanson? "Sorry, buddy, really blew your win there."

10:28 Dustin Pedroia singles to send Ellsbury to third, then Victor Martinez singles to give the Red Sox an insurance run.

10:29 Chipper Jones drops a foul pop and Chris Coughlan takes advantage of his reprieve with a run-scoring double off Eric O'Flaherty. 5-3 Marlins.

10:30 Boston adds another run on a force out by Youkilis. Jason Bay then doubles.

10:31 The error given to Gonzalez has been switched to Johnson. Johnson is so angry that he singles in another run and it's 6-3 Marlins.

10:33 A Travis Snider double, passed ball by Jorge Posada, and a double by Raul Chavez bring the Jays back within 3.

10:35 Jorge Cantu singles in Johnson and it's 7-3 Marlins, who have batted around and plated 6 runs in their 6th inning.

10:36 Atlanta can't get a break as John Baker gets a weak infield single to keep the inning alive for Florida.

10:37 I'm looking forward to the two late games starting soon. These 3 games are suddenly rather dull, much like this blog post. Seriously, what was I thinking, trying to blog 4 games at once? Is anybody reading this? Update: No.

10:38 Toronto's Marco Scutaro reaches on an A-Rod error and a run scores. Suddenly the Jays game is the closest one at 7-5 Yankees.

10:41 Bryan Sanchez comes on to pitch for Florida while Billy Wagner is on for Boston.

10:46 Neither Atlanta or Tampa can cut their deficits. It's break time for me.

10:55 I'm back to see that Florida has added another run somehow to make it 8-3. The Braves bullpen is woeful.

10:56 With runners on 2nd and 3rd, Pedroia grounds to Iwamura who throws home to get J.D. Drew. After a ground out, we enter the bottom of the 8th with Boston up 6-3.

10:57 None of these games will finish by the time the late games start. I'll stop watching the Braves-Marlins game I guess.

11:02 Randy Ruiz is hit by David Robertson, the 3rd Jay to be hit by a pitch today. Brawl! I wanna brawl! The Jays don't oblige.

11:03 Vin Scully is announcing for Prime Ticket. I'll be listening to that game I think - can't get tired of him. Interesting note is that Jon Garland is starting for LA against the Diamondbacks. When the series began 3 days ago, Garland was actually playing for Arizona but was traded during the first game and now faces his former team. Jim Thome may also make his Dodger debut tonight.

11:04 Jays are done in their 7th inning, still down 7-5.

11:05 I see that Bobby Cox was ejected earlier, missed it when that happened.

11:08 Three hours in. The Braves ground into a double play to end their 8th. I switch over to the Seattle at Oakland game where Ichiro leads off with a single. It's his 189th hit, only 11 left for his 9th season of 200 hits.

11:10 Daniel Bard has retired the Rays in the 8th.

11:11 Wow, Franklin Gutierrez smashes a homer to left for Seattle. His 15th of the season scores Ichiro as well and it's already 2-0 M's.

11:12 Dodgers-Dbacks getting under way. Justin Upton is scratched because of a contact lens issue?! Did he lose them? Put them in the wrong eyes? Bizarre, but not a good day for the Upton boys.

11:13 David Ortiz grounds hard to first - Carlos Pena can't pick it up but Iwamura backs up the play and gets the ball to pitcher Lance Cormier covering. The old 3-4-1 groundout.

11:14 Stephen Drew singles to lead off the game for Arizona. Meanwhile Adrian Beltre smacks a double to left for Seattle.

11:15 Bill Hall CRUSHES a pitch to center. 4-0 Mariners still in the first.

11:16 Jonathan Paplebon is in to close the game out for Boston.

11:21 Adam Kennedy singles to lead off the game for Oakland.

11:22 After a walk from Garland, Mark Reynolds singles in Drew and Arizona leads 1-0.

11:23 Brandon Allen grounds into the 1-6-3 DP and LA is coming to bat.

11:24 Florida has held on to win 8-3.

11:25 With runners on first and third, Ryan Sweeney grounds to Beltre who throws home to Kenji Johjima for the tag.

11:26 A-Rod homers with two out in the 9th to extend the Yankees lead to 8-5.

11:27 Paplebon gets Iwamura to fly to center and Boston has won the game 6-3. TB is now 6 games back in the Wild Card race. Game time was 3:16, not quite the 4 hour marathon I predicted earlier.

11:28 Billy Buckner starts for Arizona. No relation to the infamous Bill Buckner. He retires the Dodgers in order.

11:29 Ex-Ottawa Lynx Jack Cust walks to load the bases for Oakland.

11:30 A's catcher Kurt Suzuki singles to drive in two and the Mariners lead is cut in half; it's now 4-2.

11:31 Earthquake in Tokyo! A small one though.

11:32 After Hideki Matsui walks, Posada hits a monster shot to right to make it 10-5 Yankees. Nightmare game for the Jays pitching staff.

11:50 Safari crashes wiping out the last twenty minutes of updates (thought the blog was autosaved every two minutes). Piece of crap. Jays lost, the game was 3:37. Dodgers tied the game on a Ronnie Belliard single.

11:54 A very strange error in Oakland. Runners on first and second with two out, grounder to short, Jack Wilson picks it up and tries to underhand to Jose Lopez but flips it well over his head, and a runner scores. It's the M's first error in 11 games and it's a costly one as the A's close within 1.

12:00 Stephen Drew homers to give Arizona a 2-1 lead.

12:02 With only two games going on, things are pretty slow.

12:03 Seattle is retired in the 3rd, still leading 4-3.

12:09 Mark Reynolds makes a nice diving stop at 3rd to mark the four-hour mark. (Three marks in the same sentence!)

12:10 Andre Ethier is hit by a pitch and Manny Ramirez comes to the plate, but Ethier is caught stealing to end the inning.

12:11 Both games are through 3 innings with the visitors up by a run.

12:12 Mike Carp is batting for Seattle. I saw him in Binghamton last season and sat near his girlfriend. She was talking to somebody and saying that she hates baseball. Found that rather amusing. Wonder if she hates rain too? She'll have plenty of both as long as Mike remains a Mariner. Meanwhile, Carp flies out.

12:13 With Bill Hall on first, Johjima drives one to left center. It's the 3rd 2-run homer for Seattle and they are up 6-3.

12:18 Ichiro grounds out to end Seattle's 4th just as Chris Young strikes out. With both games between innings, I'm forced to listen to the MLB.TV commercials. They only have three ads: one is for the MLB.Com shop which plays the "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" theme; one is an ad for the MLB Umpire Camp; the last is for MLB GameDay premium. I'd much rather see the local commercials myself.

12:21 Manny Ramirez leads off and crushes a pitch to center to tie the game at 2.

12:27 Belliard singles in another run and the Dodgers take the 3-2 lead.

12:28 The A's get two runners but can't score in their half of the 4th. I'm getting hungry.

12:35 Garland gets the Dbacks in order and has now has retired eight straight.

12:36 Ken Griffey Jr. grounds out (great stretch by A's first baseman Daric Barton) and I have to listen to the ads again.

12:41 The Dodgers go quickly but the A's don't - the games are staggered now so I hope I don't have to hear those ads anymore.

12:46 Another 1-2-3 inning for Arizona as Garland now has set down 11 in a row.

12:47 Ian Snell has reached 107 pitches in the 5th inning! That's horrible, but he might get the win as the A's strand two more to end the 5th.

12:50 Cool highlight from 1995 - Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome playing for the Indians; now they're on the Dodgers together. Thome is not playing btw. And those old shots of ManRam make him look much smaller than he is now. Hmmmm. Can't tell if his head is bigger due to the dreadlocks.

12:54 With two out, Carp hits his first career double but he's stranded as we go to the bottom of the 5th, still 6-3 Mariners.

12:55 James Loney singles to load the bases for LA.

12:57 Belliard gets his 3rd RBI beating out a double play ball. 4-2 Dodgers.

1:00 Tomko's out of the game for Oakland as Brad Ziegler comes in with runners at first and second. Ziegler has a weird sidearm motion but he gets Jack Wilson to end the inning.

1:02 There's a new ad! Some sort of house paint. But the other game starts so I don't wait to see exactly what brand it is.

1:07 Garland has retired 14 straight as they stretch in LA and I hit the 5 hour mark.

1:08 Done 6 in Oakland, still 6-3 Mariners.

1:13 Both games moving fairly quickly now as Seattle is set down in order by Ziegler. I need to get something to eat soon.

1:18 Finished 7 in LA, Dodgers maintain their 4-2 lead.

1:21 George Sherrill replaces Garland for LA in the 8th inning.

1:23 Oakland cannot score in the 7th.

1:24 Justin Upton has fixed his contact lens problem and pinch hits, driving a double to the right field gap. He's 7/15 in the series.

1:29 Two ground outs later though and the inning is over for the Dbacks.

1:33 Seattle does nothing in their half of inning number 8.

1:36 The Dodgers come up empty in their half of the 8th. Jonathan Broxton is on for the save.

1:38 Daric Barton homers for Oakland, and they're within 2.

1:39 Miguel Montero singles for Arizona, bringing the tying run to the plate with nobody out.

1:40 Oakland is retired in the 8th, they still trail Seattle 6-4.

1:42 Broxton strikes out Mark Reynolds and Brandon Allen. Arizona down to their last out.

1:43 Mike Carp singles to lead off the Mariner 9th. Jeff Gray is now pitching for Oakland.

1:44 Gerardo Parra flies out to end it the game in Los Angeles. Dodgers win 4-2 in 2:31. Great performance from Garland.

1:45 Johjima singles, the Mariners have 1st and 2nd with nobody out.

1:47 Ichiro is walked intentionally after a sacrifice bunt.

1:48 Seattle squeezes with Gutierrez at the plate - the run scores and it's 7-4 Mariners.

1:54 With two out, Jose Lopez fumbles an easy one and the Athletics stay alive.

1:57 David Aardsma strikes out Kurt Suzuki to end the game and this running diary. Thank your lucky stars. It's Aardsma's 34th save, tying him with Papelbon. Game time was 2:47.

Well, there you have it. Nearly six hours of baseball, line by excruciating line. One great game in Philly, two decent late games, three crap games earlier on including the Jays being blown out.

I tried this style of blog post just to see what's it's like. I've been watching a lot of games on MLB.TV over the past month and have been enjoying it immensely. I was hoping to convey some of that enjoyment, but reading about these games after the fact is not much fun. Not a lot happened today - the games were pretty routine. Recent days have seen walk-off homers, near perfect games, and other gripping excitement. Unfortunately, nothing of the sort took place today.

This is likely the least interesting post on the blog, which is saying something. If you've actually read this far, well, you must be bored, but I do appreciate your persistence.

Next week I'll look into potential minor league playoff road trips.