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Jackie Robinson Day: Yesterday’s Scores That Matter [WMQ]
Apr 16th, 2010 by Dan

Brooklyn - Crown Heights: P.S. 375 Jackie Robinson School - Mural

Yesterday was the anniversary of the day that Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier and made his MLB debut. Per usual and in honor of the event, baseball had every player taking the field adopt Jackie Robinson’s uniform number for the day, 42. It makes for confusing baseball if you don’t recognize the faces of the players, but it’s a great gesture that always brings a smile to my face.

It should be noted that the number 42 is not retired in Japanese baseball, which can be jarring for MLB fans who are not used to seeing players wearing the famous number out there. At least it was for me.

Yesterday was also tax day, but that’s way less cool.

15 April

NPB
Yakult Swallows (2) at Hiroshima Carp (1). Maeda had himself another fine start where he held the Swallows to only two runs, but the Carp couldn’t provide significant run support. Hiroshima falls to 6-11-0 and are still only a tiny, half-game out of fifth.

Rakuten Eagles (3) at Seibu Lions (7). Killed by the Lions. Brutal. 7-13-0 and in fifth.

MLB
Washington Nationals (7) at Philadelphia Phillies (5). The Nats finally notch another win against the Phillies and will hopefully get a chance to win some games now that they won’t be playing the NL Champions in six of their last nine. Washington is 4-5 and still not in last.

Cincinnati Reds (2) at Florida Marlins (10). Josh Johnson finally came out looking like the ace that he is and served up six strong innings with 10 strikeouts. The Marlins are now 6-4 and 1.5 games out of first.

Baltimore Orioles (2) at Oakland Athletics (6). I wasn’t up late enough to catch this west coast game, but it looks like it was a pretty ugly one for the Orange Birds. Oakland is surprising a lot of people with their start this year. Baltimore’s 1-9 start is too, but not in the way they might have hoped.

In Which I Post a Higher Quality Version of the Same Shot: Yesterday’s Scores That Matter [WMQ]
Apr 15th, 2010 by Dan

It was pretty cold that night

14 April

NPB
Yakult Swallows (3) at Hiroshima Carp (6). I’m not sure, but this might be the first series the Carp have won this year. Their record rises to 6-10-0, but they’re still sitting in last by about half a game.

Rakuten Eagles (5) at Seibu Lions (6). 7-12-0 keeps the Eagles in fifth as they drop the entire series to the Lions.

MLB
Tampa Bay Rays (9) at Baltimore Orioles (1). David Price has the outing of his career and goes deep with few walks. Tampa Bay sweeps the Orioles and ties for first with their 6-3 record.

Washington Nationals (7) at Philadelphia Phillies (14). An ugly game where both starters are knocked out in the second inning. Washington continues to give up too many runs and falls to 3-5 on the season, but remains in fourth.

Cincinnati Reds (3) at Florida Marlins (5). Chris Vosltad has a solid game and the Marlins finally notch a win on Cincinnati. The tying game for the series will be played tonight and it’s important for the Fish to win, since their 5-4 record has got them in sole possession of second by half a game on the Braves.

The One In Which I Appear On TV: Yesterday’s Scores That Matter [WMQ]
Apr 14th, 2010 by Dan

I figured that my Rays gear might put me on the tube.

When you go to a sparsely attended game where you’re rooting against the home team, chances are you might appear on TV.

13 April

NPB
Yakult Swallows (2) at Hiroshima Carp (3). A close, 10th inning, walk-off win. The Carp are proving to be quite the thorn in Yakult’s side. Their record rises to 5-10-0, but they remain in last.

Rakuten Eagles (3) at Seibu Lions (5). Not so lucky for the Eagles who fall to Seibu and fall to 7-11-0 two games out of fourth.

MLB
Tampa Bay Rays (8) at Baltimore Orioles (6). Brian Matusz and Jeff Niemann both pitch strong games into the eighth where their bullpens start giving runs up. Another extra innings affair that put me on TV and notched yet another ‘W’ in the Rays hat. Tampa Bay rises to 5-3 in third while Baltimore falls to 1-7 in last.

Cincinnati Reds (10) at Florida Marlins (8). Florida’s gonna give me a heart attack soon. Their teams continues to have these dramatic come-from-behind attacks that just don’t seem to be holding up. Their game goes 11, but the Fish can’t quite hold on. Florida is 4-4 in second place.

Wow, A LOT Has Happened [Wednesday Morning Quarterback]
Jan 6th, 2010 by Dan

I’m pretty sure that I haven’t mentioned anything about the NFL this year, which I find hilarious, considering that I use a modified football saying as my sports category. Now’s as good a time as any to talk about it, I guess, since the regular season is over. As far as the playoffs go, I’d like to see the Ravens advance to the Super Bowl, but that’s just because they’re the local team. If we’re lucky, we’ll also get to see Brett Favre face-off against the Green Bay Packers (and hopefully knock them out) too in this postseason. Beyond that, I haven’t paid enough attention to the NFL this year to really care one way or another.

While I’m talking about football, I also haven’t talked too much about the Gators, who handily won their bowl game 51-24. It was Tim Tebow’s final game for UF and I’m excited to see where he ends up in this year’s draft class.

Again, let’s keep the subject on football, only to mention that I’m actually glad that the USA is in the same pool as England for the World Cup. One victory against the Queen’s team would be enough for me to make fun of Phil for the rest of my life. If Team USA can knock them out of the World Cup, I’d die a happy man, even if they were to lose every match afterward.

Beyond that, I’ve mostly been focusing on baseball (no surprise there!) in both the USA and Japan. A lot of huge moves have gone on so far, most notable among them Matsui leaving the Yankees for the Angels, but the other big move (to me) was the whole Cliff Lee/Roy Halladay trade involving Philadelphia and Seattle (and Toronto and Oakland (I think)). After seeing Cliff Lee absolutely dominate the Yankees in the World Series, it makes nearly zero sense to see the Phillies trade him away, but Halladay should be a fully adequate (and scary) replacement for the team that will most likely top the NL East yet again. Seattle also gets their hands on one of the finest pitchers in the league which should allow Wakamatsu to make a real move against the Angels who lost a lot of pitching and some offense this off-season.

In Japanese baseball news, the Seibu Lions drafted the best pitching prospect, Yusei Kikuchi, who should be ready to start tossing for the team as early as next year. Whether or not he appears in relief in 2010 is an interesting question.

My team, the Carp, avoided picking Kikuchi to go mostly for pitching, getting some of the best talent left in the pool. Their season was looking up until they lost one of their aces, Colby Lewis, to family issues stateside. It will be interesting to see if they can actually finish this season in the top three this year as they haven’t reached a Japan Series since 1991. They’re the team most removed from their last league championship and last Japan Series victory, so they’ve got a lot of catching up to do.

Man, I miss baseball season. Hurry up April!

World and Japan Series Results [WMQ]
Nov 18th, 2009 by Dan

It’s time for Wednesday Morning Quarterback, your weekly sports round-up.

It’s all old news by now, but the World Series champions for this year were the New York Yankees. Powered by a ridiculous performance by Hideki Matsui, the Yanks pulled far ahead early in the game as Matsui clobbered anything Pedro Martinez threw at him. It wasn’t a massacre, but it wasn’t pretty either.

World Series Time-Lapse by Robert Caplin from Robert Caplin on Vimeo.

Across the pond (the other pond…the one to the west), there was much disappointment to be had too. Not wanting to be left out, the Giants ended their drought (since 2002) and won their 21st Japan Series title (NOTE: Yankees are on their 27th). In the end, Darvish didn’t get to pitch again, but that’s probably a good thing for his health.

The NPB also had its amateur draft happen and my beloved Carp got themselves some great talent. Top pick, Yusei Kikuchi, selected by six teams, went to the Seibu Lions via lottery, continuing the trend of fantastic pitchers headed to Saitama started by Daisuke Matsuzaka. Whether or not he will make an impact remains to be seen, but expect to see him starting the season off in Ni-gun (that’s their AAA) and pitching in the NPB next year. He may not pitch as fast as Strasburg, but I have a feeling both will end up on a professional roster before year’s end.

Super Ichiban Travel Blog W Jersey Special [II]
Nov 13th, 2009 by Dan

The pride of my trip to Japan no doubt has to be the 12 jersey collection I brought home with me. Here is a quick rundown of each of the jerseys, a little background behind each, and what I think of it. I’m gonna cover them in the order that I got them, so that puts the Giants jersey a little later, even though that was the first game I went to.

Jersey #1 – Orix Buffaloes

The genesis of the Jersey Project began on a ridiculously sunny day outside Skymark Stadium. As you may or may not remember, I collect fitted, official baseball caps at each of the MLB stadiums I go to, so I was looking for something similar to collect at the Japanese parks. Unfortunately, neither of the two teams I’d seen had fitted caps. I had initially ruled out jerseys in the states because I knew how expensive they ran, but then I noticed that the Buffaloes jerseys they had for sale in their outdoor stalls were only ¥3500 (about $40 at the exchange rate I suffered). That was only $10 more than I was used to spending on caps in America!

My first NPB jersey!

My first NPB jersey!

It’s a pretty nice jersey and after I tossed it on in the ballpark I was certain that I’d made a good souvenir choice. The B’s on the front and the Orix patch on the left are both legitimate, sewn on patches. It’s a pretty sharp color scheme too. The white contrasts very nicely with the dark blue and the red/yellow trim around the sleeves and patches looks pretty good. All that said, it’s still kind of a generic jersey. There’s no team name, no city name, no prominent company name. I like it, but the other, more creative jerseys just look better.

Rank: 8 of 12. Solid, but just too generic.

Jersey #2 – Hiroshima Toyo Carp

Hiroshima is a city that’s really dear to my heart. Of all the places I visited in Japan, it left the most lasting effect on me, both from the team spirit and the indomitable spirit of the people who rebuilt the city with vigor. Beyond all that, the team’s most prominent color is red and, to quote Andy Bernard, my blood runs Big Red. Housed in Mazda Stadium, a brand new ballpark with all the amenities, the Carp had one of the more robust team stores filled to the brim with red from boxer shorts (complete with catcher signs over the crotch) to the all-important jerseys and caps.

One of my favorite jerseys.

One of my favorite jerseys.

This time the jersey fetched a heftier fee, ringing up at around ¥5500, if I remember right, with the premium version selling for ¥6500. Concerned with saving money, I’m pretty sure I went with the cheaper edition of the jersey, which is kind of a shame now that I think about it. I’m not sure if the more expensive one actually had sewn on names (or even if the real jerseys do), but the names on the jersey are printed on and it lacks the ridges on the premium jersey. Despite all of that, the Carp jersey gets extra points from me for being red, quite fetching to look at, distinctly Japanese with Hiroshima printed across the front, and it features my favorite Japanese ballplayer, Akihiro Higashide.

This guy hit his 1000th hit with me in the stadium watching. I love this guy.

This guy hit his 1000th hit with me in the stadium watching. I love this guy.

With all of these things going for it (and it being the jersey of my favorite team), one would expect it to top the bill, but I have to take some points away for its cheaper design and printed text. If it weren’t for those things, it would definitely rate higher.

Rank: 3 of 12. Ok, it doesn’t rank all that low, but still, it’s not #1!

Jersey #3 – Saitama Seibu Lions

You all remember how this jersey believes lions, right?

Makes me laugh every time...

Makes me laugh every time...

There’s one thing that the brand-conscious among you will notice right away upon viewing a picture of the jersey. I’ll give you a second to check it out…

Kind of plain, but made with nice material. Whats up with the armpits though?

Kind of plain, but made with nice material. What's up with the armpits though?

That’s right, the Lions are sponsored by none other than Nike, no doubt a deal that was penned (if it wasn’t already in place) following their victory in the Japan Series last year and, wouldn’t you know it, a brand-name jersey costs a lot more than the regular Joe editions pushed by the other teams. Already not a fan of the Lions because they play in the Pacific League in a strange quasi-dome, here I had to pay something like ¥7200 for this jersey. My little quest was starting to get quite expensive and I wasn’t happy about it.

Beyond that, there’s nothing really wrong with the jersey. It’s got a solid, old-school baseball look, but there’s not much to it beyond that. Grey is a terribly bland color (I suppose I could have bought white, but those were even plainer. There weren’t even blue highlights, if I remember correctly. The Saitama patch on the right arm and the Lions-ball-grasped-in-a-paw patch are both pretty generic looking too. The best feature is the “i believe lions,” but you can’t see that if the jersey is buttoned up or even in normal wear. All of that pales in comparison to the bizarre underarm of the jersey. For some godforsaken reason, the jersey does not have full armpits. Instead there are these vents, I guess to help get air to the underarm. I always wear an undershirt, but with these little vents exposing my armpits to the world, this jersey kind of forces the point.

Rank: 7 of 12. What’s up with the armpits on this thing?

Jersey #4 – Tokyo Yakult Swallows

By the time I showed up at Meiji Jingu for the Swallows game, I’d already seen the team play once. Counting that day, I was to see them play three more games. If you’ve been reading the blog, you know that I’m not a fan of this team, but they’ve actually got one of the nicer jerseys that I picked up.

That top red button really sells it for me.

That top red button really sells it for me.

The Swallows have a jersey that’s just different enough from the MLB sets that it really sells the whole “Hey, we play baseball in Japan, not America” thing. From the red accents on the side (can you tell I love red?) to the great patches on both the arms and above the team name, to the coup de grace, the red top button, it’s just a well-designed jersey. I don’t have the other buttons done, but they’re white, not red, which would normally annoy someone so obsessed with symmetry and patterns, but I love it in this case. It’s like the rising sun sits right at the top of the jersey. Best of all, the jersey returned to a more reasonable price. I don’t remember how much I paid for it, but it was definitely between ¥4000 and ¥5000. I still can’t believe how much I paid for a Lions jersey that doesn’t even have a marketable player’s name on the back.

Rank: 5 of 12. It’s the Rising Sun on my jersey!

Jersey #5 – Yomiuri Giants

The Yankees of Japan. What team do I hate (fourth) most in the states? Which jersey do I loathe from my collection?

This one hurt to buy.

This one hurt to buy.

I’ll admit, this is a jersey I hate for completely non-aesthetic reasons. Aside from being rather plain, I am a fan of the orange and black on the jersey. Beyond that, there is one major reason why I hate this jersey. Make that 12000 reasons. That’s right, I had to pay ¥12000 to get this thing. Why?

1. They’re the Giants. The most popular team in Japan
2. It’s another name brand. Adidas

I dont even know who this guy is...but he does have a great number.

I don't even know who this guy is...but he does have a great number.

Since I didn’t know that I was collecting jerseys on this trip when we saw the Giants the first night, this one comes from the day Dave left and I went to Tokyo Disney Sea. I will say that I saw the jerseys in the store that night and thought they were far too expensive, but here I was, stuck buying the premium jersey. Why? I hear you ask. It’s because there are no non-premium jerseys. Pay less than ¥12000 and you can get a t-shirt that looks like a jersey, but you will never get a jersey. I bit the bullet and bought the thing, but I still get mad thinking about it.

Rank: 11 of 12. Sure, I’m being petty, but it’s my list and my criteria.

Jersey #6 – Fukuoka Softbank Hawks

After paying so much for my Giants jersey, prices became mostly trivial, so my dislike of the Hawks jersey comes not from paying between ¥6000 and ¥7000 for the thing, but more from an aesthetic dislike.

White jersey with yellow armbands. Way to break the creativity bank guys...

White jersey with yellow armbands. Way to break the creativity bank guys...

Uninspired and lazy is what I think when I see this jersey. The most creative part of it is the goofy-looking Hawk mascot on the right sleeve and we all know how I feel about that bird and his kin. Two yellow stripes? That’s the best you can come up with?

Worse, the Hawks are thinking of changing their jersey next year to be more like the BayStars. Just you wait until I get to that abomination…

Rank: 9 of 12. Stupid mascot and yellow bands.

Jersey #7 – Chunichi Dragons

It’s probably time to call me inconsistent, but I rather like the Dragons jersey. Maybe it’s the old-school look with the linked ‘C’ and ‘D’ or maybe it’s the delicious shade of blue that the team uses (it’s the closest to Cubs blue that I saw in Japan and I love me some Cubs blue), but I really like it.

Its all about letter design.

It's all about letter design.

The player is pretty forgettable, but they don’t really sell Fukudome jerseys in the stadium anymore. I hear he’s a veteran who’s been playing a long time and he had a decent game, but he didn’t call out to me like Higashide or Toritani.

Araki is getting close to the end of his career, but I love his number and the fact that he plays second base.

Araki is getting close to the end of his career, but I love his number and the fact that he plays second base.

Beyond that, I like the wedge-shaped highlights on the sleeves and up the sides, but it’s a shame that the jersey doesn’t really have any patches.

Rank: 6 of 12. A solid effort, but the ones above it either have more sentimental value or sharper designs..

Jersey #8 – Hanshin Tigers

This is a jersey done right. Everything about it just exudes tight design. Pinstripes are a staple of baseball while the black and yellow interact fantastically everywhere they’re paired together.

Sharp.

Sharp.

Even the textures are nice on this sucker, with everything sewn on and a ridged surface, it’s also really nice to feel. Check out that fierce Tiger patch. Scary.

Toritani! My second favorite Japanese baseball player.

Toritani! My second favorite Japanese baseball player.

I almost unintentionally ended up falling in love with numbers and players that were part of the middle infield. While I’ve got a few pitchers thrown in there (and a first baseman), I’m pretty sure most of the jerseys I own with names belong to the middle infield. If that’s not supported by the data, then my favorite ones do, so can it. Takeshi Toritani is a fine shortstop and he was a clutch performer in the games that I saw.

Rank: 2 of 12. The highest ranked “traditional” jersey, this guy just gets it in all the right places. Pinstripes, black accents, yellow trim, and a badass tiger.

Jersey #9 – Hokkaidō Nippon-Ham Fighters

Back-to-back superstar jerseys. The Nippon-Ham I bought has everything going for it that you’d want in a Japanese jersey. How’s about a quick peek before we go over all the highlights.

Worth it just to see the faces as they read Nippon-Ham

Worth it just to see the faces as they read Nippon-Ham

Sure, Fighters jerseys fetch about ¥9000, but you really get what you pay for in this case. When the Fighters moved to Sapporo (they used to play in Tokyo and share the Dome with the Giants) they totally revamped their image and went with this completely non-traditional look. The most glaring difference is the left sleeve. Beyond the nifty, sewn-on patch, it’s an entirely different color from the rest of the jersey (this is the case for the home, away, and interleague versions of the jersey too). That bold accent, coupled with the hilarious Nippon-Ham adorning the front already seal the deal on this being my favorite jersey, but the best part is the player I got.

I was so close to seeing Darvish pitch...

I was so close to seeing Darvish pitch...

Yu Darvish is a superstar. No other pitcher in Japan approaches how great this guy is right now. He was hurt for most of the season, but he even came out to pitch in Game 2 of the Japan Series while hurt. Instead of pitching to his usual velocity, the guy just relied on curveballs and other tricky pitches and still only gave up two runs on one home run. The guy’s a stud on the mound. I really hope he comes to pitch in the states one day.

Rank: 1 of 12. Darvish + the off-color arm = win

Jersey #10 – Yokohama Baystars

From first to absolute worst. I don’t even know where to start with this guy…

Worst. Jersey. Ever.

Worst. Jersey. Ever.

Oh wait, how about the fact that its NOT EVEN A JERSEY! The traditional jersey has buttons. There are no buttons on this jersey. Everything on it is printed, even the cheesy stars on the shoulders that, I kid you not, I did not notice until two minutes before I wrote this sentence. Everything about this jersey screams forgettable.

Is he any good? Who would know on this team.

Is he any good? Who would know on this team.

At the very least Uchikawa is pretty good. He led the league in 2008 in batting average, but, beyond that, I couldn’t care less. He plays for a garbage team.

Rank 12 of 12. I’m so glad I only had to pay ¥4000 for this thing. It’s not even a jersey!

Jersey #10 – Chiba Lotte Marines

When I first saw these jerseys I thought they looked kind of cool. The different colors and zig-zag of the sleeves look kind of cool from far away, but something about this jersey soured me to the idea not long after I got it.

What kind of a jersey sponsor is The Hartford?

What kind of a jersey sponsor is The Hartford?

When you look closely at the jersey, the most bizarre thing pops out at you. They prominently display the logo of The Hartford. An investment firm on a baseball jersey? Just doesn’t feel right.

I think I have more corner infielders than middle. Oh well, I still like the middle fielders more.

I think I have more corner infielders than middle. Oh well, I still like the middle fielders more.

I know I’m being nitpicky here, but I don’t really like the design they chose for the numbers on the jersey. I also don’t like that it cost me ¥11000 and it doesn’t fit all that well.

Rank: 10 of 12. I can’t explain precisely why I don’t like it, but it’s not that great.

Jersey #12 – Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles

I was really pulling for the Eagles to make it to the Japan series this year. After seeing them battle back and beat the Hawks with a grand slam and watching Masahiro Tanaka turn in a stellar pitching performance, the team became my favorite in the Pacific League.

Check out the wings on the team name!

Check out the wings on the team name!

Beyond that, just look at what they did with a fairly simple jersey design. There are no fancy patches or color swatches, but they did do something neat with the logo on the jersey. Instead of going with the regal, refined look, they put freaking wings on the thing. It’s sweet.

Tanaka - my second favorite Japanese pitcher.

Tanaka - my second favorite Japanese pitcher.

The plentiful red is always appreciated and so is Tanaka’s name. A fine jersey and one of the better teams I saw on the trip.

Rank: 4 of 12. Wingtips! On the name!

What do you think of the designs? Would you arrange them differently?

Super Ichiban Travel Blog Part XVI: Unstoppable Force, Meet Immovable Object [II]
Oct 27th, 2009 by Dan

When you’re on a 2.5 week trip, it hardly seems like it’s ever going to end, but it was my last day in Tokyo and it felt pretty surreal. It would be my last chance to tie up all my loose ends, so I headed out to get my final souvenirs and replace that stupid sake cup that I broke.

The plan was to go over to the Square Enix store to grab a CD for Min, the Tokyo Seibu Loft to try and replace the sake cup, somewhere to find another bag because my suitcase was now too full to travel, the Tokyo Dome to get Fighters jerseys for Eric, and maybe a CD shop to look for a live Persona music DVD/CD.

It would be a busy Thursday as I worked to get everything done and have enough time to see the sumo tournament I had tickets to and catch the ballgame that night. It doesn’t sound like a whole lot, but it involves a lot of train switching and walking and nothing really opens until 1000 or 1100.

They text just as much as we do out in Japan, if not more.

They text just as much as we do out in Japan, if not more.

To make a long story short, my day was met mostly with adversity. The first two or three stores I went to didn’t have travel bags. As I mentioned in a previous post, the Square Enix store was closed because it was Thursday, so the long trip out there was a waste of time too. The only real highlights were being able to get Eric and Danielle’s jerseys, the Persona DVD/CD (and a few other soundtracks), and my final CoCo curry lunch of the trip. All the running around the city got me back to the hotel with barely enough time to get to sumo (only an hour and a half left of matches that day) and a guarantee that I’d be late to the stadium in Chiba.

Frustrated, I finally reached the station by the sumo venue. How did I know it was the right one?, I hear you ask.

Lucky guess, I suppose.

Lucky guess, I suppose.

Sumo has a religious context to it too, a first for any sporting event I’ve ever seen. Because of that and probably the national germophobia, I was required to purify my hands at the gate after entering with hand sanitizer. It was strange, but I also got a sweet sumo fan out of it, so I couldn’t really complain.

Exhibit A: Sweet sumo fan.

Exhibit A: Sweet sumo fan.

A nice usher lady took me to my seat in the arena and I saw some great bouts. There’s a lot of starting and stopping in sumo that I really didn’t understand, so each match takes a really long time. Rather than explain it, I took a video of the match:

There are so many videos because of the limit in how long an upload can be on Flickr.

Once I’d had my fill of watching the most awesome wrestling style on the planet, I decided to head on over to Chiba Marine Stadium. Before I got too far, I noticed barricades being set up for spectators to wait and watch the departing sumo wrestlers. A steady stream of those already done with the day’s matches flowed out of the stadium and excited fans waited for a chance to take a picture.

Leaving the arena for the night.

Leaving the arena for the night.

One older lady walked right up to a sumo wrestler, but he brushed her off. As I was walking toward the station I noticed a much younger, very good-looking lady stop to talk to the same sumo and he gladly stopped to chat with her. It’s comforting to know that sumo wrestlers are men just the same.

They may have the mass of three men, but they still have the brain of one.

They may have the mass of three men, but they still have the brain of one.

By the time my train and taxi made it to Chiba Marine Stadium, it was already dark out and the game was just getting started. I bought my jersey, but not before almost going insane listening to the Marines fight song on endless loop, and made my way to the seats.

Your usual fake grass outdoor ballpark. At least the dirt is real here.

Your usual fake grass outdoor ballpark. At least the dirt is real here.

The Marines are one of the few Japanese teams managed by an American, Bobby Valentine, in this case, and, contrary to what you might think, the fans of the team totally love Valentine. Despite the fan adoration, the team did not renew his contract in Chiba, so it was his last year managing the team. Fan response was vehemently against letting Valentine go, so much so that the cheer section carries a large Bobby Valentine flag with them to every game. Still, the team is looking to go in other directions, so they’ve even ignored the fan petitions and pleas to keep Valentine. With his dismissal, the lone, remaining American manager is Marty Brown, who was fired from the Carp this season, but will go on to manage the Eagles next year.

An early shot of the scoreboard.

An early shot of the scoreboard.

Since Ken was there and, if you recall, he loves the Lions, I was actively rooting for the Marines, even though we were seated within the Lions section. I was lucky this game, because it was one of the few where the home team prevailed, with the Marines eventually winning 6-3, bucking the home team loss trend of the trip once again.

The last out for the Lions walks dejectedly off of the field. Reminds me of the episode Good Grief in Arrested Development.

The last out for the Lions walks dejectedly off of the field. Reminds me of the episode "Good Grief" in Arrested Development.

Chiba Marine Stadium was nothing really to write home about. The decoration was mostly spartan and kind of reminded me of late 80s stadiums in the States. Most of the atmosphere comes from the ōendan. If you remember from that Buffaloes game, those guys go nuts all game long, waving their flag and jumping up and down to their fight song. They really get into it and make it lots of fun.

Yet another shot of the field

Yet another shot of the field

Another game marked off, we now had only one left and only one more full day. Since we had to catch a very early shinkansen, I had yet another boring night as I packed up what I could and turned in for the night. To Tohoku and Sendai tomorrow!

Super Ichiban Travel Blog Part XII: The Curse of the Colonel [II]
Oct 13th, 2009 by Dan

The greatest sign Ive ever seen anywhere in the world.

The greatest sign I've ever seen anywhere in the world.

This was one of the days I was most looking forward to on the trip. The Hanshin Tigers may not have the raw popularity of the Yomiuri Giants, but they’ve definitely got the most rabid fanbase in the entire country. Beyond that, Koshien Stadium is said to be the “soul of Japanese baseball,” most likely because, beyond the already crazy Tigers that play there, everything from college games to the high school championships are housed within Koshien. It’s a storied stadium most often compared to Wrigley Field or Fenway Park here in the States.

A statue-type thing in the open-air vendor area outside of Koshien.

A statue-type thing in the open-air vendor area outside of Koshien.

We’re not ready to get too far into that yet, I’ve still got a little bit of Kyoto to cover before we got on the train to head for Nishinomiya. My morning was mostly occupied with wandering around the Kyoto station area to check some stuff out. I started out with going to the local Bic Camera to check out the games in stock. It turns out that quite a few others had the same idea, as there was a queue outside the shop just before the shop opened at 1000 that morning.

Maybe theyre trying to get some shopping in before the work day starts?

Maybe they're trying to get some shopping in before the work day starts?

Out of curiosity, I asked about the availability of the new Pokemon games that had come out the day before. They were predictably completely sold out. Browsing the shelves, I found a copy of a game I’ve been wanting to import since I played Elite Beat Agents, Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan. The sequel was nowhere to be found, but I definitely picked up the game to play during my downtime on the tour.

Not Ouendan, but the Japanese boxart of the game I played the most in Japan, Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor. The US boxart is near identical, the only difference is the placement of the title to accomodate the ESRB rating.

Not Ouendan, but the Japanese boxart of the game I played the most in Japan, Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor. The US boxart is near identical, the only difference is the placement of the title to accomodate the ESRB rating.

My need to browse video games now sated, I headed into The Cube to take a look around and grab breakfast. I spotted a Mister Donut, one of the more famous donut shops in Japan, and I decided that I would break my Western food boycott for the morning to sample this Japanese take on an American staple. Boy was I surprised when I spotted the donut you see below this text. Not only did the Japanese understand that donuts should be tasty and sweet, but here they were, out-American-ing the Americans with their chocolate donut, topped with powdered sugar, and filled with cream.

Just looking at that picture has probably raised your blood sugar to dangerous levels.

Just looking at that picture has probably raised your blood sugar to dangerous levels.

After taking about a week off of my life just by eating that donut, I decided to climb back up to the top of The Cube to see what it’s like in the daylight and snap some shots for David.

A different sight in the daylight, this is The Cube. There are folks gathering for a concert that will begin in an hour or two.

A different sight in the daylight, this is The Cube. There are folks gathering for a concert that will begin in an hour or two.

At the top was the familiar Happy Terrace, which looks completely different without the ambient light and lovers seated at the benches.

Sorry folks, no creepy happy picture of me this time. I didnt have someone else to hold the camera.

Sorry folks, no creepy "happy" picture of me this time. I didn't have someone else to hold the camera.

Still, it’s a completely relaxing rooftop to hang out on and I could see myself taking lunch breaks up there.

Its very peaceful.

It's very peaceful.

Dave and I were excited about the prospect of taking pictures of the Kyoto skyline from the top of The Cube, but it turns out that the Kyoto skyline isn’t really that interesting (to me).

Thanks to my amazing photographic skills, you also get to see my ghostly reflection in the glass as a bonus.

Thanks to my amazing photographic skills, you also get to see my ghostly reflection in the glass as a bonus.

After that it was about time to start taking trains to head to Nishinomiya, so I made my way down to the platform and eventually hopped on a local line. It was reassuring to see the number of Tigers fans increase the closer we got to Koshien, especially since some of them have very elaborately decorated clothing.

An example of an extremely customized jersey. The name, number, and other patches on his jersey were all hand-sewn (or ironed) on. Not content with what he already has, he seems to be shopping for more patches.

An example of an extremely customized jersey. The name, number, and other patches on his jersey were all hand-sewn (or ironed) on. Not content with what he already has, he seems to be shopping for more patches.

We eventually reached Nishinomiya and swapped onto the Hanshin train line that conveniently (and coincidentally!) ran to Koshien where we were immediately greeted by a sea of yellow and black jerseys and merchandise, both on display and on the tons of fans in the area. I don’t think I saw a single Baystars fan in the area. I made my way around and eventually bought a Takashi Toritani jersey and an awesome super deformed patch to eventually iron or sew on at home.

The area just outside the subway platform is lined with stalls selling all kinds of Tigers gear.

The area just outside the subway platform is lined with stalls selling all kinds of Tigers gear.

One of the most interesting things about Koshien Stadium is that there is a shrine just next door. Even more interesting is that this shrine seems to cater to baseball-related prayers.

A baseball-themed statue housed within the shrine.

A baseball-themed statue housed within the shrine.

For those unfamiliar with Shinto traditions (as I am), worshippers are able to go to shrines, purchase ema, wooden plaques for prayers and wishes, and pin them to the prayer/wish board. I’m oversimplifying, but that’s the basic idea (you can learn more from the wiki link I put up earlier or through your own research).

Most of the ema for sale at this shrine are baseball and/or Tigers-related.

Most of the ema for sale at this shrine are baseball and/or Tigers-related.

I’ve been told that many of these boards are prayers for the Tigers to succeed. I think that’s way cool.

I dont think I can spot a single non-baseball-related ema.

I don't think I can spot a single non-baseball-related ema.

If there’s one thing I absolutely love about Tigers fans, its those loose, flowing pants they love to wear. They’re typically yellow, white with pinstripes, or black, and they also typically feature pictures of Tigers or sewn on patches. The Tigers definitely have my favorite fans in all of Japan.

Its a long-distance shot, but you can see a few pairs of Tigers pants in this shot.

It's a long-distance shot, but you can see a few pairs of Tigers pants in this shot.

While it’s not totally unheard of to see a rival mascot at a ballpark (see the Buffaloes game for reference), I don’t think I’ve ever seen the rival mascots posing for pictures around the rabid fans of the home squad.

Im hoping that I missed the part where they all boo him and throw fruit at him.

I'm hoping that I missed the part where they all boo him and throw fruit at him.

Worse still, I saw the opposing mascots hanging out together!

Now heres a couple of Benedict Arnolds. Shameful.

Now here's a couple of Benedict Arnolds. Shameful.

For all their rabid love for the team, the Tigers haven’t won a Japan Series or really come all that close (aside from a loss in the 2003 Japan Series) since their only win in 1985 thanks to the Curse of the Colonel! :cue scary music:

This is the scariest picture of the Colonel Ive ever seen.

This is the scariest picture of the Colonel I've ever seen.

There are a few American fast food franchises that have made it big in Japan and Kentucky Fried Chicken is one of the bigger ones. While locations in America have all but abandoned the Colonel statue as a fixture of their stores, just about every KFC I’ve ever seen in Japan has themselves a statue of the famous Colonel Sanders, sometimes dressed up for whatever location he’s occupying.

One such Colonel Sanders, lightly decorated in Lions garb.

One such Colonel Sanders, lightly decorated in Lions garb.

The story goes like this: After finally winning their first Japan Series (the Tigers were founded in 1935) in 1985, the fans, already rabid without a reason to celebrate, went absolutely crazy to celebrate the victory. As the mob made its way to Ebisubashi Bridge, they began a pretty cool ritual where they called out a player’s name and a member of the mob who looked like him would jump into the canal the bridge spanned. Unfortunately for the Tigers, not one of the Japanese fans looked like one of the key components to their championship team, Randy Bass. Since all gaijin look alike anyway and, more importantly, the Colonel had a beard, one rabid fan grabbed a Sanders statue from a local KFC and tossed it into the canal in place of an actual person. Little did he know that this casual disregard for the property of a KFC would anger the spirit of Colonel Harland Sanders, cursing the team to failure until the day they finally recovered the statue.

You know, he doesnt seem all that much like a vindictive evil spirit to me.

You know, he doesn't seem all that much like a vindictive evil spirit to me.

As I said earlier, the team has really only come close to even approaching a Japan Series title once in 24 years, with most of the other seasons ending in last or near-last place. The moral of the story, never anger the spirit of a chicken-loving Southern gentleman.

You can dress him up in your teams colors all you want, but that wont guarantee hell come around.

You can dress him up in your team's colors all you want, but that won't guarantee he'll come around.

There is hope for Tigers fans who actually believe in curses. Just this year, on 10 March, the upper-body of the cursed Colonel statue was located while completing a beautification project on the Dōtonbori River. The right hand and the lower-body were located the next day, but his glasses and left hand remain at large. What does this mean for Tigers fans hoping for a return to glory after 24 years? So far, nothing. Despite a weak start to the season, the Tigers were in serious contention for the Climax Series up until their last game with the Swallows. Unfortunately, the Swallows were able to knock the Tigers out of the playoffs, but perhaps next year the curse will be lifted and the Tigers can once again win a series.

After spending 24 years in the drink, this Colonel statue looks surprisingly...who am I kidding, it looks disgusting.

After spending 24 years in the drink, this Colonel statue looks surprisingly...who am I kidding, it looks disgusting.

Koshien Stadium is, thankfully, one of three ballparks with actual grass growing in them (Skymark and Mazda are the other two) and it features an all-dirt infield that it seems like they over-water before the game.

You can tell its real because its patchy. Dont they have groundskeepers to take care of that?

You can tell it's real because it's patchy. Don't they have groundskeepers to take care of that?

The fans at Koshien are definitely dominant and so rabid, but I was legitimately shocked at how tiny the cheer section that was allotted to the Baystars was. Unlike other ballparks which give whole sections of the outfield, these guys were relegated to a small section. I don’t know if this is just because the Baystars are a marginal team or if this is a legitimate action by the Tigers. If it’s the latter, it just seems contrary to the Japanese culture of polite fairness.

The most pathetic (in size) cheer section we saw on the trip. The flag is being waved by a random Baystars fan in a clsoer section.

The most pathetic (in size) cheer section we saw on the trip. The flag is being waved by a random Baystars fan in a closer section.

That night’s game featured some solid, National League-style baseball with low scoring and plenty of small ball. The final score was 2-1 and the ever-famous Japanese closer, Kyuji Fujikawa, came out to finish the game.

Getting to see a legendary pitcher close out a game is always a plus.

Getting to see a legendary pitcher close out a game is always a plus.

One post-game celebration later, we were on our way back to Kyoto!…Except that the trains were furiously backed up thanks to all the post-game traffic. Our eight-man crew braved the line for about a half hour before even getting down to the platform. The train ride was fairly uneventful, but I was told by Ken that the gaggle of women on the train to Kyoto to go out that night were not interested in me because I “wasn’t tall enough.” I hate to set these girls up for disappointment, but I’m pretty sure that I’m well over the average height for the entire country. Them’s the breaks, I guess.

After we arrived in Kyoto, we all headed back to our rooms. The next day would be spent flying to Sapporo, so we had to get our rest to be up in time catch the proper trains and make our flight. It was also the final day that Jill and Nora would be on the tour, since they had to get back to their jobs at the university they worked at. Our group was down to six, but we were definitely going strong. Only four games to go.

Can they finally break the curse and win the Japan Series this year?

Can they finally break the curse and win the Japan Series this year? Nope. Maybe next year.

Super Ichiban Travel Blog Part VII: i believe lions [II]
Oct 1st, 2009 by Dan

i believe lions was printed on the interior of the Lions jersey I bought.

"i believe lions" was printed on the interior of the Lions jersey I bought.

After an intense and draining day, it was finally time to get back to Tokyo for the last leg of the main tour and to catch some more baseball action!

It’s hard not to love Hiroshima and the Chūgoku region in general. Nowhere else in Japan did I see such devotion to a baseball team as I did in Chūgoku. Convenience stores in both the smallest regional stations and the largest Shinkansen stations sell Hiroshima Carp tea, Hiroshima Carp trinkets, and even Hiroshima Carp onigiri.

I bought Hiroshima Carp-themed food as often as possible. Gotta support my favorite team!

I bought Hiroshima Carp-themed food as often as possible. Gotta support my favorite team!

The city had to pull itself out of extreme tragedy and I don’t think you can fault a place whose mayor personally sends a letter of protest in response to every single nuclear test that its known about since the city was reestablished. Tokyo has excitement, Kyoto has history, but Hiroshima seems to have a lot of heart and I dig that.

Unfortunately, Hiroshima is far from Tokyo, so most of our day was eaten up by a bullet train back.

When asked why he slept all the way back, Dave responded There was no action.

When asked why he slept through the whole train ride, Dave responded, "There was no action."

Have I mentioned that all shinkansen have snack carts that sell bentos, snacks, and drinks throughout the trip or that they’re punctual to a fault? Other than that, there’s not much to say. We got back to Tokyo, put our stuff down, had a bite to eat, and then began our journey to the Seibu Dome to see the Saitama Seibu Lions play.

I don’t know if I’ve talked about this before, but the most fundamental difference between Japanese baseball teams and American teams has got to be the corporate ownership. Sure, there are teams in America who have corporate shareholders or who are fully owned by a company, but I think that the culture is geared more toward a single owner, like George Steinbrenner, for example, rather than huge companies.

If you hadn’t guessed, it’s the opposite in Japan. The naming convention for most teams goes City/Area Name of Origin, Company Name, Team Name. So, in the case of the Lions, you have the city they’re in, Saitama, the company that runs them, Seibu, and the team name, Lions. It’s kind of complicated and it’s interesting that in most cases (the Carp excluded), the city gets left out and gets marginal billing. If you’ve heard of the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters, chances are you didn’t even know they were in Hokkaido, just that they were owned by Nippon-Ham (which consequently meant they had a funny name).

Why do I mention this? Well, as I’ve mentioned before, it was really seeming like none of the teams had any identity in their hometown. Sure, there was Tokyo Dome City for the Giants, but the area not immediately surrounding the stadium had almost no reference to the fact that the Giants played there.

All that changed when I noticed a lone sign in the train station on the way to the Seibu Dome.

Its not anywhere near as dirty as it sounds.

It's not anywhere near as dirty as it sounds.

Finally! A poster representing the team we were going to see! Cryptic, bizarre, and slightly sexual message notwithstanding (explanation to follow), here was evidence that someone in Saitama loved the Lions.

The illusion came crashing down when I remembered one key fact: I was about to board a train on the Seibu line. While they’re certainly not the only team to own a private rail line that stopped at its stadium, Seibu was cheating, at least in terms of what I was looking for. Of course the company that owns the baseball team is going to advertise its team on the train that will eventually lead to its stadium. So, again, unlike Hiroshima, this was not a region that clearly adored its team, with decent reason, I suppose. Tokyo is a complicated city to love a team in, considering that there are four teams within a reasonable distance to root for (and most root for the Giants).

Now to address the poster. The playoff series in Japan is called the Climax Series. It makes sense when you think of the definition of climax, but it’s one of those things that you’d never see in the states without eliciting laughter (like when they tried to bring Calpis (read it aloud) to the states). The Climax Series is also unique in that, unlike the way it’s done in the states, it has only three teams competing in each league. The first place team gets a bye while the second and third slog it out in a best of 3. The next stage is a best of seven, but the first place team starts off with one win to reward their excellent play in the regular season. After that they play the Japan Series, which is the Japanese version of the World Series (also best of seven, but with no advantages).

On the Seibu line, we met some fellow baseball fans en route to the park. One of the fans was so devoted to the Lions that she had her toenails painted blue to show her support. The other girl was a closet Fighters fan who loved Yu Darvish, but explained that he just came off the DL, so he wouldn’t be pitching in that night’s game.

Save it for the athletic center!

Save it for the athletic center!

Much like Skymark Stadium, the Seibu Dome stop was immediately adjacent to the Seibu Dome (how about that?), but the area was better decorated to reference the team with shops, stands, and blue Christmas lights.

The Seibu Dome...or is it?

The Seibu Dome...or is it?

Dave and I wandered the area, taking in the sights, and I picked up a nice Lions jersey. While the quality was great, it turns out that the team is sponsored by Nike, meaning the jersey was a bit pricier than I had hoped. Another strange aspect of the jersey (beyond the “i believe lions” printed on the inside of the button flap) was that the armpits had “holes.” Maybe they were intended to allow better air circulation, but they’re just confusing and uncomfortable and it means you must wear an undershirt with the jersey, unless you want hair poking out of your underarms.

The Lions recognize good talent when they see it. Dave and I were immediately drafted onto the roster when we arrived.

The Lions recognize good talent when they see it. Dave and I were immediately drafted onto the roster when we arrived.

If you were paying attention to the captions, you’ll notice that I implied that the Seibu Dome was not actually a dome, and that’s with good reason. Instead of the hermetically-sealed, ears-pop-when-you-enter style dome that I experienced in Tokyo, this “dome” was simply a covering that went over the field. It was more like an umbrella than a dome. The stadium was open-air, more or less, aside from the non-retractable roof. This creates an interesting effect, according to a fellow tourgoer who lives on Yakota AFB and has adopted the Lions as his team, where the climate control performs terribly. On cold days, it’s unbearably cold while the real scorchers just feel even hotter underneath the canopy.

If you look closely, you can see the outside!

If you look closely, you can see the outside!

The Seibu Dome is a bizarre stadium construction, without a doubt. It feels more like a college ballpark or something you’d watch a dolphin show at Sea World in than a real baseball stadium, but that makes more sense when some context about the team is made clearer. Up until the Lions got 50 M$ (I believe (lions) that’s the figure) for posting Daisuke Matsuzaka to the Boston Red Sox, the teams financial situation had been relatively dire. It’s only natural that the ballpark be so strange when it was open air at first (no doubt cost considerations went into that) and that it not be converted to a real dome when the canopy was deemed necessary. That’s really part of the charm of baseball, when you think about it. The game is played with a standard set of rules in considerably non-standard locations.

Posing for a shot with Dave.

Posing for a shot with Dave.

Frequent readers know I really don’t like dome baseball, but the Dome brings the best of both worlds, to the degree that one can have such a thing, by doing neither very well. I’d still prefer the pure, unhindered air on my face, but it definitely wasn’t as bad as the Tokyo Dome, so I can’t complain too much.

Hanging with the Colonel.

Hanging with the Colonel.

The start of the game heralded in something I’d yet to see in three Japanese baseball games, the Japanese national anthem. Jet lag may have prevented me from noticing at the first ballgame, but I quickly caught on to the fact that there didn’t seem to be a requirement to play the anthem before the game in these parts. I learned that the Japanese have a short national anthem too and that they seem to have different people come out and sing at each game, just like the ballparks in the states.

They may not play their national anthem, but they do have cheerleaders and beer girls.

They may not play their national anthem, but they do have cheerleaders and beer girls.

Much like Skymark Stadium, the Seibu Dome seemed to be pretty empty, which was strange considering that, unlike the Buffaloes, the Lions were in serious contention for the Climax Series. I’ll chalk the low attendance up to it being a Tuesday and leave it at that for now. Another interesting note is that their mascot resembles a grown up Kimba.

This is a cookie, but if you colored it all white, it would look more like the mascot who looks like Kimba.

This is a cookie, but if you colored it all white, it would look more like the mascot who looks like Kimba.

The reduced numbers didn’t prevent the Lions from displaying the same team pride and some of the raucous behavior I witnessed at the Carp game. Perhaps it’s due to alcohol, but there seemed to be an increasing number of fans who were more into it than others. Fans who yelled out things at players that weren’t synced up with cheers. It’s quite easy to drink too much at an American ballgame, but when you consider that the drinks keep flowing in Japan, even beyond the 7th inning (or two hours), you see that it’s easy to get that much wilder after your latest beer in the 9th.

A shot of me enjoying a fine drink at the Seibu Dome.

A shot of me enjoying a fine drink at the Seibu Dome.

Also worth noting, the drink selection is not limited to beer. Most ballparks also have some serious hard alcohol being vended alongside the beer. At our first game in the Tokyo Dome, Mayumi and a guest bought some umeshu, plum wine, there’s plenty of soju, another rice alcohol from Korea, and I even got my hands on a delicious whiskey sour-type drink at the Lions game that packed quite a punch.

We made fast friends with this couple. She gave us a banner as a gift.

We made fast friends with this couple. She gave us a banner as a gift.

I don’t really have any new observations about the game itself, but it was notable in that it was the first home team victory we had on the tour so far. Thanks to that victory, we also got to see something that they definitely don’t do in the states, the on-field interview. The players of the game are usually rounded up and interviewed on the big screen for the fans that remain. Following the interview and a quick photo shoot, the players throw balls into the stands for the fans and head into the locker room.

Impromtu field press conference.

Impromtu field press conference.

Pose for the cameras!

Pose for the cameras!

Another unique feature of the Seibu Dome is that they allow the fans to run the bases and toss the ball around the field after the game.

Fans celebrating on the field.

Fans celebrating on the field.

After we got our fill, we headed back to the hotel. It was the penultimate full day in Japan and David and I were ready to get our fill of Tokyo before he had to go home.

The area just outside the stadium at night.

The area just outside the stadium at night.

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