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Tuesday, May 29, 2018

May 2nd: Dragons vs Swallows - A day in the life

For those not aware, I went back to Japan for a bit over 3 weeks for a holiday with my family. While I didn't get a whole lot of baseball watching done I thought I'd give you a run down of my baseball day. This will be a bit of a journal entry about Japan as well as about the game itself. I hope you enjoy it.

Picking up my new license

The day started off a little bit differently as I went to get my Japanese driver's license renewed. I had been away when it expired, but I was able to renew in the end. Given how often I travel to Japan and how much an international driver's permit costs per year, I thought I'd go down this route. I trotted of the Kaihin Makuhari station to transfer to get over the Licensing Centre where after about 2 hours of waiting in line to get the write stamps and paperwork and have an eye test, I had to sit through a 2 hour lecture on road rules and road safety. Why you ask? I actually took my license in Japan and had only held my full license for 2 years. I needed to take a refresher to then extend my license for a further 3 years. Most renewals are for 5 years. It was about 12:30 by the time that had finished and I hopped on the train to go to Chiba as I wanted some new glasses.

New Glasses at Zoff Chiba

This is a silly thing, but I really like the frames at Zoff. Zoff are a chain store vendor of glasses. They can test your eyesight onsite and the frames are very reasonable. I'm quite fond of a malleable plastic frame that's marketed as a sporting glasses frame as my daughter likes to try and grab them off my face from time to time.
I wandered in and had a refresher eye test, my prescription hadn't changed and they were able to file up some lenses to fit the frames in about an hour. I paid ¥9,800 for my frames and lenses which is quite a bit cheaper than it is usually in Australia. Hence my fondness.

While waiting for my glasses to be readied, I wandered over to Matsuya, a gyudon restaurant and had a grated white radish version with ponzu sauce to tide me over. After retrieving my lenses I set out to Shinjuku to pick up a new shirt. I had planned to make a stop-over in Suidobashi to visit the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame but I ran out of time unfortunately.

Before getting on the train in Chiba, I went looking for something to read at the station book store and eventually found an NPB guide book to flick through. It cost me about ¥250. Produced by Chunichi Sports there's a fair lean toward the Dragons, but the information is still there for all the other teams. I managed to waste a good hour looking over just Central League players.

Travelling off to Shinjuku

I'm not a huge fan of Shinjuku station as I've gotten lost and frustrated there more times than I can count. I've given up a few times too. It's busy. I'm not great with crowds like that, and it's big. I did however find my way to my destination at Selection-J, a largely American sporting good store. They keep a fair share of NPB gear in their baseball shop along with a lot of MLB gear. They also sell a lot of NBA and NFL merchandise.

I had a bit of trouble finding a top that I was happy with, but I settled on an Oshima home jersey even though I was more keen on a Shuhei or Ogasawara visitor jersey but I'm still happy with my choice. It was a replica jersey, so it only set me back ¥5,000. If you want the more authentic look, they're about ¥7,500.
The cashier was a mighty jolly fellow who was quite happy to have a chat with me in Japanese quizzing where I was from. He even snapped a photo of me which went up on the website.

オーストラリアからお越しいただきました!めちゃくちゃ日本語お上手でたくさんお話できてよかったです!また遊びに来てください!See you again!【Ohshima】

If you really want Dragons merchandise this isn't the best place to go. The selection was modest for the Dragons while teams like the Tigers and Giants had a lot more stuff. As I mention below, the visiting store that was set up at Jingu had quite a bit more in terms of variety. Still, if you're in Tokyo or Osaka and are looking for gear Selection-J is still a good place to have a look at. They have all the NewEra Chunichi caps that are available, which is unfortunately all of two. There's the Ochiai era blue cap which is similar to the current version only with a white button on top or the early 90's, Imanaka "D" which is similar to the Dodgers current spring training cap. 

Off to the game

Rain had started to fall by the time I had exited the shop, so I headed back to Shinjuku station to get back to Shinanomachi to walk over to Meiji Jingu Stadium. I stopped over at a local convenience store first to pick up some snacks including a pack of dried squid, some wakame seaweed and a 500ml can of beer. At Jingu you can pour out your beer into a cup and bring it into the stadium. It's a good way to enjoy your first and maybe second beers. 

I had bought tickets via the Lawson Loppi machines for a general admission ticket in the visitors stand and I took a seat near the left-field boundary pole. Most of seats were taken up by groups of fans about 20 minutes before the ceremonial first pitch so if you want good seats you might need to go in a bit earlier. Either that or sit in the reserved section.
 The beer disappeared fairly quickly and I was already hailing the beer backpack laden lasses by the end of the first inning not showing any favouritism but for my favourite beer on show that night, Yebisu. At ¥750 they're a bit heavy on the wallet, but I didn't really care by the 3rd one....

The game started off with a guest appearance from the Philly Phanatic whom I don't have any specific love for. But between him, Doara and Tsubakuro there were plenty of mascot hijinks. 

In with the fans I had failed to memorise any of the chants but tried my best to at least connect properly with "kattobasse (player name)". By my third beer I had really gotten into the chance themes and while kind of singing half the lyrics, made up my own. " Enemy no toshu wo muite, omae ga utanakya,dare ga utsu la la la la la la la, go, go (player name)". Needless to say I was a bit off after looking back at the proper lyrics which are "Minagiru toushi wo furutate, omae ga utanakya dare ga utsu, ima shouri wo tsukame, oi oi, (player name)." Quite simply, I got about half of it right...nevermind. 

The game started with Tetsuto Yamada launching a homer into the visitor stands in a magnificent arc off Shotaro Kasahara's first pitch. The Dragons pulled 2 runs out of the bag through Almonte giving them the lead but Sakaguchi and Hirooka took the lead for the Swallows again. 

During one of the scoring moments, a group in front of my was dealing out high fives like no one's business until they turned around, saw me, and then decided better of the idea. I don't blame them. I came by myself and I hadn't had a shave in a week and a haircut in about 4 months. Gaijin is one thing, scraggly, 6'4" gaijin is another. 

By this time my stomach was rumbling and I head down to the galley for some grub. I found a vendor that was selling chicken nanban, essentially fried chicken with tartare sauce on it which is what was meant to Nori Aoki's selection. It was served in a number 23 golden helmet with some wedges. It was quite enjoyable though I can't recall the price. I later went in and got myself some more wedges at around the 7th inning but they went cold while I was cheering. 

The Dragons would overcome the Swallows in the 7th as a diving slide from Kyoda followed up by hits from Fukuda and the pinch-hitting Fujii set-up a 3-6 win on a damp night. 

Perhaps one of the big events of fan service on the night was the ascension of Hitoki Iwase to the mound in a saving position in the 9th. The couple in front of me appeared to be big fans of the record breaking closer as they brought along an Iwase sign made from felt. It was here there was a slightly heart warming moment as when the decision was made to bring Iwase into the game a young primary school aged boy was standing near where we were sitting. One of the fans in front of me said 「絶対勝つぞ」(We're definitely going to win) to which the young boy replied 「だって、岩瀬だもん。」(Of course, it's Iwase!). I don't know why that made me feel so warm and fuzzy, but the fact that one player can bring joy to someone so young just made me feel pretty good.

On exiting the stadium I later realised that around Jingu there were visiting team stores where I could have bought a shirt...or some other...stuff. I was also thanked by two jolly Chunichi supporters on my way out which was nice. They both gave me a handshake for whatever reason. 

I wandered back to Shinanomachi station for the long trip back into deepest, darkest Chiba. I picked up a 500ml Strong Zero for the walk home in the rain. Unfortunately it wasn't all that nice when it was lukewarm so the last quarter of it ended up unfinished. 

Overall it was a great day out. I did also hum and hah about making a trip out to Tokyo Dome the following week, but I decided to spend that time with my family instead. There'll be another time. When my daughter's a bit older I plan to take her to a game with me.

A few bits and pieces

I was able to get a bit of swag while I was in Japan mostly care of a delayed Christmas present from my sister-in-law. A book that I had eyed off called ドラゴンズあるある which is a book that was published in 2012 about the things that most Dragons fans experience. There are a few that ring true with me so far such as "Even though the Dragons won, they appear as the opponent on recap shows" and "You love (Shinji) Imanaka even now." There are a few others and is a little bit dated given it was published 6 years ago, but it's a bit of a laugh. I also received a box of どあらの恋人 (Doala's lover; a play on 白い恋人 shiroi koibito, white lover, which is a famous confectionery company in Hokkaido) white chocolate biscuity things

I unfortunately had to leave behind my 80 Years Anniversary Book and my terracotta Dragons beer mug again as we ended up with a lot more luggage than expected, but them's the breaks. 

I hope you enjoyed my little day journal. I had a lot of fun writing it.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Series Wrap: Dragons vs Carp @ Mazda Stadium, 25 April - 27 May; Sweet, sweet fishkabob; The Tank rolls in

We've been somewhat good against the Carp this year. I consider this karma for the amount of come from behind losses we suffered to the pennant winners last year. We still however haven't been able to do it consistently in Hiroshima. At Nagoya, we seem to hold the upper hand but among those seas of red, the Dragons have a point to prove.

Game 10

Dragons 3 - 6 Carp

Good things: Yanagi given a run-out
Bad things: Yanagi getting out-classed

Daichi Ohsera continued his decent record against the Dragons as he claimed a win over Yuya Yanagi.

Yanagi collapsed in his second inning. A Seiya Suzuki homer started things off before consecutive hits to Aizawa, Nishikawa, Ohsera, Tanaka and Kikuchi quickly racked up 6 runs on the board. Mori kept the faith with Yanagi this time for whatever reason and the former Meiji Uni hurler got through a further 4 innings unscathed picking up a total of 2 strikeouts before Kento Fujishima showed off his wares with 2 scoreless frames. Koji Fukutani rounded out his steady comeback with a scoreless 2-strikeout inning in the 8th.

Batting wise, scoring didn't start for the Dragons until the 6th. Hitting didn't really start either as Viciedo's single in the 2nd was the lone hit up until Kyoda's triple in the 6th inning which scored Shuhei. Shuhei himself would put his name up in lights with solo homer in the 8th and Almonte too would add another to score with fence clearer of his own.

Overall, not a great performance where the starting pitchers proved the difference.

Game 11

Dragons 8 - 7 Carp

Good things: Garcia somehow wins again, Beat the Carp
Bad things: Pitching wasn't too great.

Well, when you've got it, you've got it and whatever it is, Garcia has it as he somehow claimed winning honours in a tight win over the Carp.

Garcia dealt 6 innings with 8 strikeouts surrendering only 3 runs. Hiroshi Suzuki would continue to keep things scoreless while the usually unfallable Iwase let in one run. The Shinji Tajima Experience (not unlike the Fernando Rodney Experience in the MLB) meant that many a butt was clenched as the shaky closer put the clamps on a close game despite giving up 2 runs.

Bats did what they needed to do and the top order of Kyoda, Oshima and Almonte put together 6 hits and 3 RBIs. Shota Ono would chip in with a 2RBI single while a pinch hitting Donoue and Kamezawa also put runs on the board while a costly error in the 2nd from the fielding of Francois proved costly as the Dragons ran away with an unlikely victory.

Game 12

Dragons 8 - 7

Good things: Winning, duh, Viciedo clutch hitting like a madman
Bad things: More butt clenching.

Yudai Ono, presumed to be grazing on the farm until this point, was brought up to pitch the final game of the series. The former "ace" has torn it up in the Western League but hasn't shown the conversion to the first team this year. It wasn't to really be good enough this time around either.

Ono pitched an archetypal Ono game giving up 2 runs in the first inning after loading the bases with walks, having a batter score on a ground out, walking a batter again and seeing another batter ground out but have a scoring run. Seiya Suzuki's 2-run dong in the 3rd would pile on the pressure by which point Mori had seen enough. Koji Fukutani got through 2 scoreless innings of relief, while Okada gave up one in his only frame. Hiroshi Suzuki gave up 2 earned runs but ended up the winning pitcher as Sobue and Tajima cleaned up the 8th and 9th.

The bats went bananas in today's game mashing 19 hits! No fewer than 4 Dragons picked up modasho's today with Almonte and Shuhei bagging 4 hits, and Oshima and Viciedo smashing 3 a piece. It was a late flurry from the Dragons that brought in the runs as Viciedo's double in the 5th started things. Viciedo would once again pop up in the 7th with a 2RBI single while Ryosuke Hirata's 2-run homer evened the scores at 5-5.

Viciedo would be again in the thick of it in the 8th as his double drove in 3 to give the Dragons the lead and ultimately the win.

Dayan Viciedo finished the night with 6 RBIs in a maginificent performance from the Cuban slugger who has really picked up the pace since his one week absence in early May.

An event that took 4 years in the making, the Dragons finally took a series off the Carp in Hiroshima. You have to go back as far as 2014 to see a 1-2 series win-loss line at Mazda Stadium in favour of Chunichi. Granted the last few years have marked Chunichi's decline from the Golden Era and Carp's ascension into arguably another of theirs, but it is a big win in the context of the pennant race as the Dragons continue to be a thorn in Hiroshima's side this year.  7 wins and 5 losses so far this year against the Carp. Let's keep them honest.

This series is the last before we head into the Interleague break where we come up against some Pacific League opponents. First up is the Orix Buffaloes at Nagoya Dome with Raidel Martinez starting against Andrew Albers.

Series Wrap: Dragons vs Baystars @Yokohama Stadium, 22 May - 24 May; I am Yamai, destroyer of 'Stars; Bats fail to connect

The Dragons faced off against the Baystars in a 3 game series that was to be shortened by rain to be a 2 game series in Yokohama. The Baystars have been struggling this year but have started to pick themselves up again while the Dragons have just about been themselves.

Game 1 of the series was to however bring a massive surprise as 40 year old Daisuke Yamai was brought to the mound to start the game. I didn't give the veteran much of a chance...but he proved me wrong.

Also, just a warning, as I've lost track of what game number of the season we're up to, I'll just go by the game number against the Baystars.

Game 7

Dragons 0 - 8 Baystars

Good: Just about everything, but how about that Yamai CGSO?
Bad: My predictions.

As mentioned in the preview, Daisuke Yamai, the man that hasn't pitched with the first team all season was given the chance to start in Yokohama this time around. Yamai has a bit of a good record against the 'Stars however. Last year he got a win in Yokohama after averaging 7.30 on the farm and if you go back to 2013 where Yamai got his no-hitter, that was against the Stars too. All in all, it proved a good omen as Yamai's unique-ish slider fooled many a batter as he threw down 9 shut-out innings with 6 strikeouts.

On the batting side of things, well, it was a bit weird. Oshima went yard not once, but twice in consecutive at-bats.

Dongers from Viciedo and Hirata rounded off a very powerful batting performance. Fukuda also picked up the modasho for getting 3 hits.

Yamai became the member of a very select club in completing a 40-year old complete game joining former teammate Masahiro Yamamoto. He is the 9th man in NPB history to achieve the feat.

Game 8

Dragons 2-3 Baystars.

Good: Well, Yoshimi wasn't bad.
Bad: Well, the lineup wasn't well jointed.

Kazuki Yoshimi had another start as his rotation with Matsuzaka continues. His opponent was Katsuki Azuma, the 2017 first draft pick for the Baystars.

Yoshimi kept the Dragons in the game for the most part pitching out 7 innings for 3 earned runs. Those three earned runs however came off consecutive homeruns to Blast Brothers, Jose Lopes and Yoshitomo Tsutsugo. Azuma kept the Dragons honest through 6 but it was a story of missed chances.

Hirata would kick things off in the first scoring Oshima and it was Oshima who would find the middle of his bat once more as he whalloped his 3rd homerun in 2 games.
 The Dragons were a able to muster 11 hits but the lack of a good bat in a clutch situation meant that many good chances went missed. Both Hirata and Oshima took home modashos but it was perhaps Fukuda's inability to convert anything into a hit that was most glaring.

Overall, a series with a big win and a game of missed chances. You can't complain too much as the Dragons were in with a chance in the second game. Signs still looking okay as the season progresses. Next up, the Carp.

If you missed it: important news of the last month.

As I've missed a fair chunk of reports and news reporting I thought I'd fill in those of you that aren't as glued to Chunichi news as some of us. Some of the major movements with the team and some other tidbits and impression.

* You might have noticed that Dillon Gee hasn't been on the team sheet of late. Unfortunately the Texan hurler elected to return home after discovering a blood clot that needed surgery. Whilst the team were happy to see him recover in Japan, Gee decided that the US was the best place to be. His recovery time seems uncertain and it's fairly unlikely we'll see him again this year. Gee has said on his Instagram that he "could possibly have time to go back." I wish him all the best in his recovery and hope that he does come back. In the mean time however, the Dragons have signed Cuban development player, Raidel Martinez to a first team contract to cover for the departed Gee. Martinez seems like he needs to get stretched out a bit more but he has a 1-1 record so far, but needs to tighten up. Ironically the game he won against the Carp was his least impressive performance.

* Southpaw reliever Toshiya Okada has finally made his comeback to the first team after suffering from an injury to his arm in the months following his participation in the World Baseball Classic last year. Given the lack of lefties in the bullpen who aren't name Iwase, this is great to see. Okada brings plenty of experience and skill to the bullpen. Welcome back.

* Who would have thunk it but the man in the spotlight, Daisuke Matsuzaka hasn't made a complete fool of himself. The former Red Sox pitcher has put together some very respectable statistics in his handful of starts. The Dragons have used Matsuzaka sparingly, giving him one start every 10 games or so, but he has so far done pretty well. A 2-3 record with 26.1 IP and 20 punch outs for a 3.08 ERA is pretty good for a 37 year old who throws a good 10 km/h slower than he did in his prime. Whether the aura of the man who's name represents a generation of players is throwing people off is one thing, but I'm pleasantly surprised by the results. Just don't look at his WHIP. They amount of walks and hits he has doled out is borderline crazy. Matsuzaka's WHIP stands at 1.367 for this season. Ouch.

* Rookie hurler Hiroshi Suzuki has been pretty good too. Suzuki has found himself as a very reliable set-up man. Constantly picking up strikeouts and very rarely leaving too many runners on base, Suzuki has had a shining start to his career. A few small blips are here and there, but overall he might well have almost done enough for an All Star call-up if he keeps up his current production. Hopefully he'll take over from Tajima as closer soon, but given that Tajima hasn't been too awful, I doubt that'll happen any day soon.

* Zoilo Almonte has been real good. His presence has also added +10 to
Chunichi's facial hair department. The Dominican leads the league in average with .363, doubles with 19, is second in hits, second in OPS with 1.037, 3rd in RBI's with 34 and 6th in homeruns with 8. I think we found ourselves a worthy successor to Guerrero and Nanita in left field. Almonte has been a revelation and one can only hope he'll continue his great level of production for as long as possible. His right-left splits as a switch-hitter a both pretty great with the majority of his PAs batting left-handed to righty pitchers. He also has a .475 average with RISP so all I can say is, I love you Zoilo.

* Lastly, Onelki Garcia leads the league in ERA at 1.69. The former Dodgers farmhand has been much better than expected seemingly holding on and doing a fantastic job as a starter. So far in two games against the Giants he has only let in one run in 15 innings. Garcia pitched his first career shutout taking 5 strikeouts to calm a 40,000 strong crowd at the Tokyo dome on the 12th of May. Exceeding all expectations, Garcia has been a great little addition to the starting rotation adding a reliable lefty.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Blog Update: Slowly coming back

To my readers,

I apologise for not being able to provide the content that you've enjoyed so much over the last couple of years. I know I haven't been consistent for any one season and that is something that weighs on me.

With work and family commitments it has been difficult to devote even an hour a day to the blog, but I should be able to get back to some contributions once more over the next few weeks.

I spent the last 3 weeks in Japan and ironically enough I couldn't find much time to watch baseball as it was go-go-go with family outings and other bits and pieces of fun. I was however able to see one game early in May against the Swallows at Jingu on a wet night where the Dragons prevailed. I'll do up a short post with photos and a video I took. It's nothing special but hopefully it gives you a small taste of what it's like at the games.

Otherwise I should be able to get back to doing some reports. Tonight's rain out in Yokohama has given me a bit of a breather to get restarted so I'll hopefully have a short write-up on yesterday's game later tonight that I'll publish in a series wrap maybe tomorrow night if the game doesn't run too late.

Once again, my apologies for the sudden cut to coverage but until someone decides they want to pay me a full-time wage for this or until I win the lottery, I can't do a whole lot better but I will try.

Thanks for all your support.