Friday, September 23, 2016

Movie review/synopsis, "Aozora Yell"



I haven’t really seen anything written about this in English so I thought I would at least try to write some kind of review or synopsis.  I'm in Japan again for the last two weeks of September, mostly watching baseball, but the country seems to have decided to rain the entire time I'm here.

Yesterday (Sept 22) was yet another rainy day and so the baseball games I wanted to see were rained out, so instead I went to see a movie called Aozora Yell.  I had seen posters for this outside Jingu, with a manga-style picture of a high school baseball player and a high school girl with a trumpet.  And that is literally all I knew about the movie going in, since I'm not into manga, but it is apparently based on a fairly popular baseball manga that just recently finished.

Funny thing is, I went to see it because I thought it was a baseball movie, but actually, it was about 35% baseball and about 65% marching band.  Fortunately, I like baseball movies AND I like band movies (like, “Swing Girls” is still one of my favorite Japanese movies ever).

The main character in this movie is a girl named Tsubasa Ono.  Tsubasa is short and shy and mostly stares at her feet a lot and has a quiet voice and has very little confidence.  She wanted to come to Shirato High School because when she was young, they represented Hokkaido at Koshien (did I mention it takes place in Sapporo?  I kinda felt like Shirato is kinda based on Hokkai) and she loved hearing the brass band playing, and vowed that one day she would play trumpet for Shirato at Koshien.

The other main character in this movie is a boy named Daisuke Yamada.  Daisuke is a catcher for the school’s baseball team.  Ever since he was very young, he also saw the same Koshien game where Shirato represented Hokkaido, and he also decided that one day he would play at Koshien for Shirato.  Daisuke is super-tall (the actor playing him is 185cm, but even in the manga they show him as standing a full head over Tsubasa) and very confident and is such a nice guy that it is actually cartoonish (intact, that is my one issue with the way Ryoma Takeuchi played him — and maybe it’s just the way he is in the manga — but Daisuke has like, no depth at all, he’s just a super cheerful super nice boy with a super smile and a lot of apparent baseball skill).

Tsubasa and Daisuke first meet when they are entering school at Shirato.  The school has their awards display case for brass band next to their awards display case for baseball, and so the two of them are staring at the cases and are both like, in unison, “I’m so glad I’m here, I can’t wait to…” and Daisuke completes the sentence with “play at Koshien” and Tsubasa completes it with “play at the national band competition”.  They both laugh and share that they had both seen that same Koshien game as kids and wanted to come to Shirato ever since.  Daisuke says, “Well, I’m going to definitely get to Koshien with the baseball team.  So when I do, will you be there in the stands cheering for me?” and Tsubasa, in that typical holy-crap-i-cant-believe-this-good-looking-guy-is-talking-to-me way is like “…okay…” and he’s like “Great!  It’s a promise!  Bye!” and walks off.

Naturally Tsubasa and Daisuke end up in the same homeroom.  I almost worried it was going to turn into one of those plots where Tsubasa gets bullied by the popular kids, but instead, after all the students introduce themselves, a really pretty girl named Himari comes up to Tsubasa like “we were at the same middle school!  Let’s be friends!”.  Himari, also, I cannot figure out her motivation exactly, but her personality is really bright and for whatever reason she really does become friends with Tsubasa.  And Himari is like “let’s go hang out after school!” and Tsubasa’s like “…actually I want to join the marching band…” and Himari’s like “omg what, it’s soooooo strict” but then Tsubasa explains that she made that promise to Daisuke and all.

In the meantime there’s another boy in their homeroom named Kido, who also joins the baseball team with Daisuke.  Kido has a huge crush on Himari.  He wears glasses and at first it isn't clear what he’s doing baseball-wise but along the way while working with Daisuke as a catcher and best friend, Kido eventually becomes the school’s ace pitcher.  (Ironically the actor who played him was also an ace pitcher in rubber baseball at his own high school.)

Tsubasa goes to join the brass band and it is… difficult.  Like, she tells them how she’s there because she wants to cheer the baseball team, and to play trumpet, basically everyone is like “WTF, you should just leave, little girl”.  The brass band director (played by Juri Ueno, who I immediately recognized as having played Nodame Cantabile 10 years ago — holy crap) is like “Can you inflate this fuusen balloon from zero?  No?  Come back when you can.”

So Tsubasa goes off and trains to get better lung capacity and eventually comes back and joins the club, and they start teaching her to play trumpet, and so on.  I found this part actually pretty unbelievable because I joined marching band in college having not played a brass instrument before, and they started me on euphonium, and while I was able to learn to play a B flat scale in 3 weeks and marched with the band that semester, it took me a LONG time to be able to play decently, AND there is no way I could do that with a trumpet.  Trumpet playing is HARD.  The embouchure alone is tough to master, let alone playing it in different registers and making it sound good.  But whatever, it’s a manga and a movie and so of course she magically becomes adequate within a relatively short period of time.

Of course, all of the band members are kind of jerks towards her, or at least many are.  There’s a boy named Mizushima who entered the band and already gets all the trumpet solos even as a freshman because he’s just that damn good.  He’s also just that damn big an asshole, and pretty much almost everything he says to Tsubasa in the first year of the movie is something to the effect of “why won’t you quit the band already, you suck”.  He is somehow the only boy in the trumpet section (to be fair — the JHS I taught at, the brass band club was entirely female as well, so I guess it’s not that weird that 70% of their brass band club in the movie is female).  The section leader is named Kasuga and she apparently is REALLY pissed that the school hasn’t won a gold medal in the 3 years she’s been there.  There’s a girl named Mori who is really good at trumpet but sprains her wrist at some point in the movie and then hides it from the rest of the band (but Tsubasa sees her leaving the doctor’s office, and Mori threatens her if she tells anyone).

Anyway, despite all this, Tsubasa does persevere and stays in the band and does her best, and Daisuke does his best in the baseball club, and as freshmen, they do go to the prefectural final game, where Shirato barely loses the game, and it’s at least somewhat Daisuke’s fault.  His senpai gives him batting gloves that he wrote “go to Koshien” on.

Written artifacts are kind of a thing in this movie.  There’s the gloves, and also, one of the days when Tsubasa is crying in their homeroom after getting yelled at by Mizushima and the rest of the trumpet players, Daisuke comes up to her and draws a happy face on her shoes like “look, you can stare at your shoes… and when you do, you can think of me and get courage”.  Also, a side plot is that during a festival, Tsubasa and Daisuke get pushed together date-like by Himari and Kido (in a somewhat funny scene where the two of them are spying on Tsubasa and Daisuke and Kido is like “hey you know… we could also go out together huh?” and Himari’s like “haha very funny I have no interest in you silly boy”).  So Tsubasa and Daisuke go off to write ema — the wooden prayer tablets — and Tsubasa writes hers as “aim for the National Band Competition”.  Daisuke won’t show her his, but (spoiler) later in the movie she comes back to the shrine to pray for him after he gets injured, and it turns out he’s written a bunch of them over the years that all say “I want to take Tsubasa to Koshien”.

At the end of freshman summer Tsubasa does confess to Daisuke that she loves him and he’s like “I’m really sorry but I have to focus on baseball”.  And Kido and everyone are like “are you an idiot?  you clearly like her and she likes you and…”

Time cuts to two years later.  They are all 3rd-years and the brass band still hasn’t made it to nationals and neither has the baseball team.  Daisuke is captain of the baseball team, Mizushima is the president of the brass band club, and Tsubasa still kinda sorta sucks at trumpet but is doing her best (but, of course, she ends up like, mentoring a freshman on how to play better, and that freshman makes the cut for ensembles while Tsubasa doesn’t).  There’s a new manager girl in the baseball club named Akane who has a huge crush on Daisuke, so she’s always telling Tsubasa to get lost whenever she comes to watch the team play.  (She eventually comes to her senses when she sees how much Daisuke actually likes Tsubasa and gets inspired by the marching band but it takes a while, and until then she’s a total bitch, but I’ve seen that plot before so it was pretty obvious what would happen).

I’m going to cut out on the synopsis here for two reasons: 1) it really would be spoiling the ending if I tell what happens during their 3rd year, and 2) I have no more time to write this right now, so if I leave it hanging, I won’t get around to posting it.  Suffice it to say that it is a happy ending and almost every one of these plots and characters gets tied up in a way that is beneficial for them (although it is never clear whether Kido and Himari ever hook up or not).  

I enjoyed this movie because I enjoy cheesy Japanese high school baseball movies.  Also, even though Daisuke has so little depth as a human being, Ryoma Takeuchi is so adorable that it’s worth watching anyway, even if he seriously looks like a living manga character (you have to see him smile).

Tsubasa is a surprisingly deep female character to be honest — while her growth from shy mousy freshman into confident senior is what you expect out of the movie, I felt like her conflicts were real and her emotions were real, and only mildly cartoonish, all things considered.  When Daisuke turns her down the first time she is distraught, but he says he wants to be friends and she does her best to stay friends with him, even saying at one point like “does it bother you that I’ve said I like you?”  Tsubasa also takes a lot of shit from Mizushima and yet she keeps trying to get him to crack his stubbornness and his gloominess, and finally does get him to smile and to work with her and to bring the band together.  Like, she has some real moments where you don’t expect her to be the one who steps out to support the upperclassmen who have been terrible to her, but she does.


If you’re not into predictable cheesy Japanese high school movies based on shoujo manga, though, this definitely is not the movie for you.  You’ll cringe every time Daisuke smiles, you’ll want to smack Tsubasa for having no backbone, and you’ll find everything in it pretty predictable.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Fighters Spring Camp - Two-Shot Friday!

I mean, that's not an official thing or anything, but I was surprisingly lucky today in getting photos with and talking to a whole ton of really interesting and awesome people!

Yesterday was an off day for the team, so Dani and I went to tour Chase Field.  I'm not going to write a separate entry about it (maybe some other time), but it cost $7 and we got to go all around the concourse (and past the pool in CF!), down into the visitor's clubhouse and bullpen, into the press room, up to the Diamond Level suites, and then down onto the field for a bit (well, standing on the warning track in front of the dugout).  I've been on several stadium tours now, and I think this one you at least certainly get your bang for your buck.



At the end of the tour, we went into the gift shop.  I didn't really want to get anything big, since I know I won't wear a Diamondbacks t-shirt, but I got a small Chase Field pin, AND this is relevant a bit later, I saw that they had Diamondbacks chapstick, and so I bought one for Kagiya.  (This sounds weird unless you watch enough Fighters variety shows like Dani does and find out that he actually has a problem with dry lips and is always carrying around chapstick in his pocket.  Dani even gave him a bunch of chapsticks earlier in the week and is probably going to kill me for mentioning that here.)

After getting back to Peoria, the only Fighters-related thing that happened to me for the rest of the day was, I went to the nearby mall to get food, and... nearly walked right into Hiromi Oka out on the concourse.  I said hi, but he ignored me.  Probably he was as surprised anyone recognized him as I was to see him.  At the food court, then, I saw Takumi Ohshima and Yuya Taniguchi standing at the Jamba Juice with Takahiro Nomo (Hideo's son, and a translator for the Fighters).  I wasn't really sure what to do other than to pretend I didn't see them and move on.  It isn't surprising that several of the guys on the team would spend their off day shopping; it's a typical hobby for young Japanese men, and I'm sure they wanted to bring back some souvenirs to Japan.

Today, Friday, was my last full day in Peoria, as I'm flying out tomorrow evening.  It was another practice day, so I packed light.  I got to the stadium, got out of the car, and thought that my bag seemed a little TOO light -- get this, I had prepared my dSLR camera and then completely not taken it with me when I left the hotel.  Oops.  I figured I could maybe go back for it at lunchtime, but for now I wanted to enjoy the craziness of the morning practice session.

And believe me, it was CRAZY.  Do you want to know why?  This is why:



Yes, Yu Darvish came to visit camp this morning.  Some of the fans didn't seem surprised -- he had apparently either mentioned it on Twitter or it had surfaced in the media that he would stop by camp at SOME point during the two weeks, but nobody knew when.

Ohtani must have been relieved since for an hour or so this means the media throng was following somebody else around for a change.

So that was sort of nuts.  Darvish walked around mostly inside Field 6 and the bullpen area and seemed to just be hanging out watching stuff.  Also in exciting things, Romash Tasuku Dass, if you remember him (he was a half-Indian Fighters pitcher that got cut from the team after 2011), was hanging around camp as part of Darvish's entourage.  I actually did say hi to him like "Long time no see, what are you up to now?" and he basically said he's working as an assistant for Darvish.

Eventually Darvish got whisked off on a cart and things got back to "normal", whatever that means.  I talked to a whole bunch of random fans in the morning, and I also met Keith Werman, who played in the Mariners system for a year or two and is now working for the Fighters and Padres and apparently helped facilitate the Fighters coming to the USA.  (There aren't many non-Japanese people around in camp with Fighters gear; 99% of the non-Japanese people around are either scouts or are random Peoria people who just came by to see what was going on because they're regulars at the PSC.  So I wondered what his story was and decided to just ask.)

I caught Kagiya as he was coming off the field at one point and was like "Hey-we-went-to-the-Diamondbacks-stadium-and-I-saw-this-lip-cream-at-the-store-and-thought-of-you-so-here-you-go-it's-major-league-lip-cream" and gave him the chapstick.  He laughed and thanked me.  I guess that was a success.

The foreign pitchers all kind of came off the field at the same time so I asked Chris Martin and Anthony Bass if I could get photos with them, and I also managed to get Kuriyama-kantoku, and then Luis Mendoza came out and we chatted about basketball for a while!  That was really cool.  He said that he went to the game with two of the other players (Nakamura and I forgot who the other one was).  I was like "Didn't the rest of the team go to a hockey game?" and he was like "Yeah, but I wanted to see the Warriors, they're such a good team, it's fun to watch Stephen Curry play and all."

Bizarrely there was another fan there -- a Japanese woman who lives in Arizona now but used to live near me in the Bay Area -- who had also been at the game!  That was pretty random.

(I didn't find Dani until almost noon, so I ended up making friends with a whole bunch of random other Japanese fans who were around, because I needed to bug someone to take photos for me.  And people were interesting -- one woman was there with her son, because her husband was cooking the meals for the Fighters.  Another woman, a Masui fan, had come in from Osaka for the weekend and told me she was going to Okinawa next weekend.  Another man, Tanaka-san, had lived in Arizona for a few years so his English was pretty good and we ended up hanging out together for a lot of the day just because we were always in the same place.)

I kind of intended to leave and go back to the hotel around then, but interesting things kept happening.  For example, a bunch of umpires showed up at the field and were hanging around!  Curiosity got the best of me so I chatted with them for a while.  They said that umpires do have spring training too, of course, and so they were also going to work out with the team for the afternoon.  I mentioned how I could immediately tell during the game that they had Japanese umpires there because of the way they called the strikes (it sounds like "TORAAAAAAII"), and they were joking how one of the umpires is the "quiet man" because he doesn't do that.  I dunno, it was funny.  I got a photo with the younger one, Tomoya Ishiyama, number 25:



I dunno, I have several friends who are big fans of some of the umpires, crazy as that sounds.  And of course, I've always kept an eye on Kengo Iwashita since he graduated from the Hosei baseball team and became an umpire as well.  And one of my old junior high school students is currently studying to become an umpire too, crazy as that sounds!

A little bit after that, I guess to start preparing for fielding practice in the afternoon, Makoto Kaneko came out to the field we were hanging out next to, and I was like "Kaneko-saaaaan" and he was like "chotto matte ne?" and then when he came back I asked if we could get a photo and holy crap he said okay!



I had seriously been all prepared to pull out the pouting "But I even wore my Kaneko shirt todaaaay" like I had done on Saitoh the other day, except I didn't even need to!

So at that point I was like "Great!  Now I can leave for lunch and go get my camera so I can take pictures at afternoon fielding practice and all," and so Dani and I walked from Field 6 over to Field 4, just to see what was going on there on the way out.  And so Tanaka-san was hanging out there, AND we all went over and got a photo with Takashi Saito, who was surprisingly nice as well!

And then I got to talking with this older guy from Minnesota who spends his winters in Arizona -- his name was Duane and he is also relevant to this story quite a bit -- he was saying how he'd seen us at the game the other day, and was also saying how he'd been sitting with Seguignol and with Matt Winters, and I was like "dang, I've always wanted to meet Matt Winters, he's such a legend within the team."

"Well -- Matt's right over there, why don't you say hi to him?"

"Wait WHAT?"

And he points out a guy in a blue polo shirt and calls out like "Hey Matt, this girl wanted to meet you."

And Matt Winters, legendary Fighters outfielder of the 90's and scout for the last ten years comes over and is like "HEY!  You're the girl who wrote the Fighters blog for all those years!  I was such a big fan, why did you stop writing?"

If you've ever met me, you know that I am rarely speechless -- infact, usually completely the opposite -- but for once I really had no idea what to say!  I mean, my friends still wear their "Winters 10" jerseys sometimes!  And he had read my blog to keep up with things back in the day!  How crazy is that?

I ended up talking to Matt for about an hour or so.  It was just really awesome.  He is completely full of crazy stories about both playing for the Fighters as well as scouting for the Fighters.  Like he would tell funny stories about him and Rick Schu and Kip Gross and all hanging out back in the day, and then talk about things like how he just happened to see Brian Sweeney pitching in Omaha one day and said "This guy is perfect, we need a pitcher, can we get him?"  And, oh man, Matt brought up the entire Jason Botts debacle that I may have partially contributed to back in 2008-9.  That was about as nostalgic and embarrassing as my blogging history gets, certainly.

Matt eventually had to actually run off and talk to some more relevant people, so I went to sit back down with Dani and Tanaka (who had gotten a photo and autograph from Winters as well), and he's like "So you wrote a blog about the Fighters?  In English?  Can you give me the URL?" and so we traded business cards, and I wrote this blog's URL on the back of mine, and then something even weirder happened:

A guy behind me is like "HEY!  Did I just hear you wrote a Fighters blog?  Are you Deanna?"

And that guy turns out to be Dan Evans.  Yes, former GM for the Dodgers and such.  We follow each other on Twitter.

And then he's also like "Do you know if the other girl, Dani, is she here?"

Dani was standing next to me talking to someone else in the stands so I'm like "Dani!  Turn around, this is Dan Evans, you need to say hi to him!"

And he's like "Can I get a photo with you guys?  We have to put this on Twitter."

(Yes, you read that right.  An MLB executive asked if he could get his photo with us.  Like I said, this day couldn't possibly get any weirder.)



No, seriously, Dan is a very cool guy and it was great to meet him and chat with him for a while.  Like Matt, he also had real relevant work to be doing and people to talk to besides a bunch of crazy fangirls, but he said it was great to meet us and that he learns lots of interesting NPB gossip from following us.

Next thing that happened was, there was this half-Japanese boy there wearing a Kansai little league t-shirt.  I didn't get why this was relevant until Sho Nakata came out of BP, saw the kid, gave him a big hug and a baseball bat and his batting gloves, and of course the whole media was very WTF over this.  The Fighters official photographer even took a picture of them together, and they were chatting together for a few minutes.  So while the media swarmed Sho, I asked the boy what his story was, and he was like "Oh yeah, I grew up in Kansai and I played at the same little league that Sho played in, a few years later, and he visited us, and so now I'm here in Arizona in college and Sho invited me to come out to see him at camp."

And my jaw dropped like "That is so awesome!  You're so lucky and I hope you're enjoying it!"

And before I could ask more, the media swarmed up to him to ask him a bazillion questions, so I excused myself and went back to sit down.

I noticed that the Fighters' director of operations, Toshi Shimada, was standing near us so I said hi to him -- not that I'd ever spoken to him before, but I was basically like "Matt Winters was talking about you!" and he laughed like "Yeah, I think Matt's bitter that I get to boss him around now unlike the old days," since he was Matt's interpreter, and then he was like "Oh, and I saw you on TV the other night with the Kagiya jersey," and I was like "I hope you don't think I'm too stupid," and he said no, it was nice of me to be such a big fan.  And we got to talking for a while, about the future of the team coming back to Arizona and some other stuff.  His take on it all was pretty funny -- like, the players were a lot more enthusiastic their first few days in the US but are now kinda like "let's go home already", but he also said that of course, when they go to Okinawa, it'll be the same way -- a few days of "woo Okinawa!" and then a week of "Okay, let's go home already".

So that was cool too.  I feel like this week has been great for getting to meet people all across the Fighters organization, from the players to the staff to the front office.

By this time it was already 2:30, and I was starving, but there was no point in leaving.  I was talking to Duane again, the guy from Minnesota who had introduced me to Matt Winters, and Duane mentioned that since he had the season tickets to the normal Peoria spring training, he had gotten comped tickets for the Fighters vs. Lotte Giants cames on Monday and Wednesday.  And I was like "Are you kidding me?  That's so cool, those shouldn't even exist!"

"Wait, do you want them?  I'll go get them for you.  I'm probably just going to throw them out, but a super fan like you, you should get them signed or something, put them in a scrapbook of this trip!"

And he seriously said he'd meet me back by the front gates in about 15-20 minutes with them.  Dani and Tanaka and I walked out there a bit later since practice was winding down anyway, and... and he showed up with the tickets!  He had two for Monday and two for Wednesday, so I kept one of each and gave one to Dani and one to Tanaka (it's not like I needed four, but having one of each day was kind of awesome).

And finally at THAT point I went and got something to eat, dropped off some things at my hotel, put on more sunscreen, and came back to wait around for players to come out.

Except it turned out they were having some big party that evening - a barbecue with some Padres people, supposedly including Trevor Hoffman.  So after waiting for like an hour none of the players had come out, and we were all a little worried.  Two girls in particular, they were both leaving tomorrow morning and had bought Valentine's presents for Taniguchi and Nakashima, and were a little despondent.

Eventually all of the players did come back through to go to their party.  Well, most of them anyway.  We never did see Nakashima.  But Taniguchi came by and I got him to sign one of my tickets, and I got Kaneko (!) of all people to sign the other.  So that worked out.  I spent a while talking to all the people there, and I hope they managed to find the players they wanted to see, or otherwise had good evenings.  I did feel really sorry for the Nakashima fan girl.  I left around 6pm when it became dark.

Okay.  I don't have any action photos from the day, so you're going to get a ton of my two-shots with people plus a funny Ohtani pouty face in the dugout.  Enjoy!


Yukihiro Nishizaki retired a year or two before I started following NPB, but he's often been around as a commentator on Fighters TV.  I saw him pitch in the Master's League once.


There were some holes in the dugout fence wall, so I poked my camera in to see what I could see, and came out with a pouty Ohtani face.


Chris Martin is much taller than me.


Anthony Bass is only mildly much taller than me.  :)


Manager Kuriyama!


Recently retired Satoshi Nakajima, who has been parading around in Padres gear all week


Takashi Saito!  Who actually has every right to parade around in Padres gear, or several other teams :)


Matt Winters!


Winters still signs the way he did when he was a player, with number 10 and his name in katakana and all.  Tanaka thought that was really cool (he's been a Fighters fan for 25 years so he actually remembers Matt as a player!).


Shota Ohno, who I have seriously wanted to meet since he was in college.  No joke.  I just wish I hadn't been so shy back then.  Now he's captain again, just like he was at Toyo.


Sho Nakata talking to the boy from his little league.


Hayao Segawa, who I'd never met before, and I couldn't find my camera at the time, so this was taken with my cellphone.  He was nice and waited a second for me while I scrambled to find something to take the picture with after I asked.  Segawa's one of the oldest rookies the team's ever had, but he's also from Hokkai HS originally so I hope he's successful with the team!


And last but not least -- these are those tickets that Duane gave me!  He said to go get 'em signed and put them in my scrapbook, so here they are!  It's really neat having tickets to a game that didn't have tickets.  :)  The Japanese fans were all calling these "幻のチケット", like when you have tickets to a postseason game that doesn't happen, that sort of thing.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Fighters Spring Camp Day 3 - Bravo Fighters and Other Game Day Craziness

Today camp featured another game between the KBO Giants and the Fighters.  Same teams from Monday's game, although this time they switched which uniforms they were wearing, so I have a completely new set of pictures that I'm never going to finish going through.

I slept in slightly this morning, by which I mean I got to practice around 10:15, by which point they were already winding down to get ready for the game.  BUT, I did get to catch up with Fernando Seguignol for a while, which totally made my day.  This winter I spent a week in Costa Rica over the holidays, and there were bananas everywhere, and I kept telling my fiance about how we used to have this player on the Fighters who was from Panama and people would wave bananas during his at-bat -- and well, get this, when I mentioned it to Seggy, it turns out I was in the part of Costa Rica that is only a few miles away from his hometown in Panama!  How crazy is that?



After that Dave and I wandered over to the main field.  On the way we saw Kagiya running in the Field #3 outfield, and I was looking over at him, and he smiled and waved at me while I was debating if I should wave or not!  So I felt like slightly less of a big dork smiling and waving back at him.  That was good.

The posted "menu" for the day actually had the lineups for the game on it, so that meant I also knew that Ohtani would pitch two innings, then Arihara 2, then Yagi 2, then Segawa, Inui, and Kanehira each 1.  I feel kind of silly for not having looked at it on Monday, since I would have known Kagiya was pitching too.  Go figure.

We did enter the stadium at opening, although despite there being a lot more people for the game due to Ohtani starting, those people were mostly scouts and sat behind home plate, so we had no competition to sit behind the dugout.  So, I set up behind the dugout, behind the opening in the fence, and put up my Ohtani towel that I brought with me that day, with the idea that in theory he'd have to see it when he came back to the dugout.

Then I hung out for a while just taking photos and stuff.  Dani didn't come until around 11:40, so it was a little harder to go around as we only had two of us to watch stuff.  So like, at one point, Sho Nakata threw a ball far back into the stands and I was like "Oh, that was at Inaba," so Dave ran off to get Inaba's signature, for example.

I spent about ten minutes really wanting to say something to Kaneko and finally at some point when there was a lull in the pre-game stuff and he was just kind of standing around I called down to him,

金子さああああああん!  (Kaneko-saaaan!)
はい?  (Hmm?)
アメリカに来てくれてありがとうございます!  (Thank you for coming to the US!)
ああ、どうも。 (Oh, sure.)
来年も来てください!!  (Please come back next year!!)
(笑) (laughs)

I'm somewhat jealous since Dave managed to get Kaneko's autograph before I showed up this morning, but that's beside the point.

Anyway, I was able to run and get a hot dog and drink from concessions before the game started, which was good -- and they even had souvenir cups for Padres/Mariners spring training, so I got one of those, and asked them for as much ice as possible, and it ended up lasting me all game!

Let's see if I can sum up the game to mention the things people might actually care about that happened.  I mean, overall it ended up being a 1-1 game, so not a lot of scoring to speak of.  The Fighters run came in the 6th inning when Haruki Nishikawa led off with a double and scored on a single by Go Matsumoto.  The Giants run came in the 9th inning when Dong Su Kang led off with what ended up being a triple into left-center, and scored on a single by Yeung Sek Son.  I pretty much completely lost track of which Giants pitcher was on the mound when, so I don't know who gave up the Fighters run, but I do know that Masashi Kanehira gave up the Giants run.

Shohei Ohtani pitched the first two innings.  He faced 7 batters and it basically went: Fly out to center, ground out to short, single to right, strikeout, strikeout, strikeout, strikeout.

I know this sounds lame, but I just don't know enough about the Lotte Giants to know what to say about them.  There was a somewhat funny moment when Jun Seok Choi, the Lotte DH who is around 6' and 235 pounds and thus looks utterly not Asian in build, hit what could have and maybe should have been a double, but since he was lumbering around the basepath he got tagged out on a 9-4 play before he actually got to second base.

Ryo Watanabe looked really good at second base, I have a bunch of stars next to plays he made for various reasons I can't remember now (although one I remember being him jumping to catch a line fly).

Speaking of Ryo, they had in a row in the lineup Ryo Ishikawa, Ryo Watanabe, and Ryosuke Kishisato, or as Dani was saying, the "Ryo Trio", because the announcer kept pronouncing their name like "Rio Ishikawa".  So I was singing "His name is Rio and he dances on the sand..."

Apart from game action, most of the wackiness of today arose from when I decided to go for a walk around the 5th-6th inning.  This was mostly because I realized that I wasn't really going to get to see the stadium if all I did was sit behind the Fighters dugout the whole time.  Also, it was really hot out, so I thought taking a break in the shade for a bit would be nice.

This turned out to be my downfall, as basically, I went to stand in the shade for a minute and I ended up getting approached from this guy with a big TV camera, and he was like (in English) "Hi, I'm with a TV show, can I ask you a question?" but I was looking at the board he was holding, which said "Who would you choose as your boyfriend?" which is a variation of a TV segment "恋人選び", which I know I've seen at least one version of.  Like, sometimes it's "which member of AKB48?" or "which guy on the national soccer team?" and so on, and they survey a bunch of people and try to figure out the most popular.

So, Bravo Fighters was going to do this in Arizona and ask random American women to look at a group of Fighters players and choose someone.

Except that I am the least random American woman you could possibly find there.  Which should have been obvious by my custom signed pinned pimped-up Fighters gear, but maybe not.

He shows me this board:



and I'm thinking, like, there are several Fighters players I find quite adorable and charming, except ABSOLUTELY NONE OF THEM ARE ON THIS BOARD.  I wonder if they put it together for "guys we think might be appealing to American women", because there's no way you'd do this for Japanese women without including Taniguchi.

So I answer, "Huh?  Kagiya's not on there?"

And he's like "Kagiya?"

I turn around to show him my uniform like "Yeah, he's my favorite player, the pitcher, number 30".

"Oh, sorry.  No, no Kagiya.  How about out of this list of guys?"

I pause for a bit.  "Huh, I don't know.  Maybe Sugiya?"

"Okay, Sugiya.  Why Sugiya?"

"Because he's really funny.  He's always laughing and makes me laugh a lot."

Anyway, I told him he should wait for my friend to get back since she's wearing a Nishikawa uniform, and sure enough Dani came by and I had him interview her too, and she didn't even know what happened during my exchange but also picked Sugiya.

He ended up talking to me for a while and filmed part of my scorebook as well, because I was keeping score after we talked, and I showed him how I had some games from the Sapporo Dome last fall, and stickers of guys like Kisanuki on the front, and so on.  I'm a big dork, these things happen.

When I first started writing this entry I just knew that the segment had aired, which was possibly one of the most mortifyingly embarrassing things to happen to me in a while, since a bunch of friends in Hokkaido emailed or tweeted at me saying they had seen me on TV, and a few even sent screencaps.

However!  Since I didn't finish this entry before falling asleep, in the morning, someone had found the episode of Bravo Fighters for me on Youtube!  So you can watch it all, in its glory.  My appearance is at about 12:35, though the entire segment starts at about 11:00 when Ikeda-san explains his idea to do the Koibito-Erabi schtick.



Or if you don't feel like watching that video, a few screencaps:


Me saying "Ehh?  No Kagiya?"

They subtitled me as a "Big Kagiya Fan"

Captioned as "Fighters fan since the Tokyo Dome era"

Me saying "Well, Sugiya is the funniest guy..."

Yeah.

Oh, also, if you watch the rest of the clip, you might notice the first half is all about Ohtani's start, and all the scouts who showed up to watch him, and Dani and I make a brief cameo at 2:47 or so with our cameras out behind my Ohtani towel hanging from the dugout:



So aside from telling the entire island of Hokkaido about my crush on Kagiya, the other funny thing that happened while walking around was that Dani and I ran into Minivish, the somewhat infamous Yu Darvish cosplayer who's been around for the last few years.  He's from Ibaraki but lives in LA; I met him a few times before, like in Oakland and also at Yankee Stadium for days Darvish was starting.

Before the game, actually, a bunch of Fighters players were pointing and laughing like "Hey, there's that crazy Darvish cosplayer", and someone else at the game even tweeted how WOW MINIVISH IS HERE by taking a photo of him talking to me.

So Dani and I went to chase down Minivish and next thing we know he's getting filmed for a segment on Bravo Fighters as well, although obviously not asking who he'd choose as his boyfriend.



After all of that excitement I just walked around the stands for an inning or so.  Made it all the way to the bullpens in right field, where we saw Hakumura walk by and said hi, and then Dani went back to the seats and I walked to the left field area.  There's a lounge there that looks really nice, but it wasn't open for the game.

I came back to our seats and mostly didn't move again for the rest of the game for fear I would manage to embarrass myself even more.

As mentioned, the game ended in a 1-1 tie.  Knowing this time that we'd get thrown out of the stadium pretty quickly afterwards, rather than dawdling behind the dugout until we got ejected, Dani and Dave and I went up to the area behind home plate and took some photos with the stadium in the background and stuff.  Then Dave left, since he had to pack up to head back east afterwards.  Dani and I went into the Peoria team store, which had a ton of awesome Mariners and Padres spring training gear that we totally didn't want to buy because it was all stupid expensive!  I found a cool t-shirt or two and they were all like $40.  I mean, I have a good job now and can afford whatever, really, but I have a LOT of t-shirts and these days I try hard not to buy things that I'm not going to use or wear if at all possible.

So, Dani and I both bought eco-friendly shopping bags, since they were both cheap and actually useful, plus they weren't branded Mariners or Padres -- just about every piece of merchandise was branded to one team or another.



I thought about maybe trying to get some of the Fighters to sign my bag, except that I think then I won't bother ever using it, so instead maybe I'll see about getting a postcard signed and I can put that on my desk at work or something and it might be nice.

Dani went back to meet players after the game and all, but I had bought a ticket to the Warriors-Suns game, so I couldn't really stay around all that long.  Oddly, most of the Fighters team had gone to the Coyotes-Canucks hockey game, which I even knew was happening, but I figured that rather than stalking the Fighters at the hockey arena, I'd be better off going to another Warriors game -- and I was able to get a lower-level seat for $70, which is pretty much impossible to do in Oakland.  Like, when the Suns come to Oakland in a few weeks, there ARE no tickets for under $100, not even in the upper deck.  So I thought I'd take my opportunity to see the best team in basketball a little closer up.  (We were at the Warriors-Thunder game on Sunday, and paid like $150ish to sit in the upper deck, and were lucky.)

I was originally going to bring a Warriors shirt with me, but my luggage space was a bit tight and I wasn't sure how well it would go over in an away city.  Turns out that probably half the arena or more were wearing Warriors gear and carrying Warriors signs; I completely didn't feel guilty cheering any of the many many times Stephen Curry made a 3-point shot or Klay Thompson pulled points out of thin air as well.  (They ended with 26 and 24 points each respectively.)

So instead I went in Fighters gear:



And then it turned out that Luis Mendoza was also at the game!  Alas, we were on opposite sides of the court, so I didn't see him.  Probably just as well, really.

Anyway, if you've read this far, you deserve to see some actual real, relevant photos:


Haruki Nishikawa


Team huddle while Shirai talks


Makoto Kaneko


Bit wider shot of the huddle for irony's sake -- you can see the other side of this in the Fighters PR tweet.  And Dave is at the left standing there over the dugout.


Sho Nakata


Whole pile of scouts sitting behind home plate for the first few innings.


Some guy throwing a 98 mph fastball


Our view of the whole thing!  (You could see the other side from that screencap earlier.)


Daikan Yoh


Sho with his "TB okay" bat donut


Seung-Taek Oh


Ryo Ishikawa's broken bat


Dani's favorite player Joon-suk Choi, with Shogo Yagi pitching


Yu-yeong Kim -- not sure why but several people came over to take photos of him from our side


Yuto Takahama


Masashi Kanehira


Final score


And here's me and Dave!  So now if you ever hate our blogs or want to argue about baseball cards you can go hunt us down in real life, or something.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Fighters Spring Camp in Arizona, Day 2

Today was just a practice day at the Fighters camp.  This was the posted "menu" for the day:



(It's funny how many Japanese-English words I've just gotten used to; while Dani and I were both like "Duh, it's the menu," Dave was like "The WHAT?  Can I order some Nakata or Ohtani?")

Basically, what that paper describes, if you haven't seen something like it before, there are several different groups of players, and several different kinds of activities, and several different fields they'll be happening on.  The left side is for position players and the right side is for pitchers.  I didn't get there until around 11am, to be honest, so I didn't have a ton of time to decipher what was going on with pitchers exactly.

When I showed up, I basically said good morning to a whole bunch of people on my way in, and then found Dani and Dave over by Field 5.  I was wearing my Tokyo Big 6 t-shirt, and Dani had her Kagiya jersey on, so for a while I put my Kagiya jersey on too, but in reality it was pretty hot and having two things on made it worse.  Though -- I ended up getting a photo with Brandon Laird, and then I saw Takayuki Katoh come out of the pitcher's practice area and I asked him if we could get a photo and then told him how I'd seen him pitch with Kazusa Magic a few years back and thought he was awesome and was so glad he'd come to the Fighters.  He still seems like a nice guy!

Kagiya came out of the pitcher's practice too and I was basically like "Hey, the photo we took together last night was really dark and awful, would you mind getting another photo with me?" and he was like "Sure, whatever" and we took two, because the sun was at a bad angle, and I apologized profusely for bothering him, and he was like "dude, it's okay, really!"  He's such a nice guy and I just feel lucky that he's been so nice to me all along because I'm such a big dork about him.

I got Dave to show his picture of Kunitomi from Keio to Hakumura, who was basically like "thanks, that's really cool to know he's doing well out here".

I also helped Dave get cards signed from a few people, mostly by just knowing who they were and knowing which cards Dave had with him, so it was like, "Oh, Dave, that's Masui, you have one of his cards," as Masui walked by.  Or calling over to Masato Yoshii who is like the nicest guy on the planet.  Things like that.  Like, it was a little weird since I wouldn't help the binders-of-cards-hey-wheres-ohtani guys waiting outside the day before, but I mean, I know Dave, he knows more about Japanese baseball than a lot of people, and he really does care about it, but since he hasn't spent a ton of time around the guys, he doesn't know most of them by sight, so having us around to point out who all the players were was helpful for him.

And, actually, something really funny happened -- Yuki Saitoh was coming out of the bullpen session where Yoshii had been coaching him, and so a few people managed to get him to sign things, including Dave, and I was like "Saitoh-kun, can we get a photo together?  please?" and he was kinda like "I don't really do photos..." and I'm like "BUT I BROUGHT MY TOKYO BIG SIX T-SHIRT WITH ME ALL THE WAY TO ARIZONA" and he was like "Oh wow you really do have a Tokyo Big Six shirt" and I'm like "Pleeeeeeeeeease?" and then Dave took a photo of us and it was like, dang, I just got a photo with one of the most famous and elusive Japanese baseball players ever.  Crazy.



I posted that to Twitter and a friend of mine in Hokkaido wrote back: "I saw that on TV!  He had just come out of the bullpen and you were talking to him and took a photo, it was on GAORA."

Yeah, that's how my life goes in general.  Oh well, at least now I'll have lots of conversation starters with my Fighters friends when I'm back in Japan, for sure.

(Infact, right before that all, I had been chatting with a guy named Yusuke out by the bullpens, who turned out to be from Obihiro, and he was like "I've seen you on TV cheering during games a ton over the years...")

Right around then Chris Martin and Anthony Bass also came out of the bullpen to ride the golf cart back to wherever, and a few people stopped them for autographs, so I was like "Hey you guys, I sound like the worst person ever but you are both super-tall dudes with beards and I want to be able to tell you apart -- do I have it right that you're Chris and you're Anthony?" and they were like "Yeah, you got it" and I said "Great, hope to see you do well with the team this year!" and then they drove off on their cart.

We waited around until the end of bullpens because I wanted to talk to Masashi Kanehira.  Well, not exactly.  More like, my friend Yuki, up in Sapporo, is a gigantic Kanehira fan.  Like, as in, she follows him around Japan as much as possible, sends him gifts, etc.  I think that's fairly normal for a NPB super-fan, although MLB people might not understand.  Anyway, she had sent me a message like "hey, if you run into him can you tell him for me that I saw him pitch at the intersquad game and he was so good and that I sent him some stuff to the team hotel?" and I was kinda like "okay that's a little weird but sure, I'll do my best" and asked her to type to me specifically what she wanted me to say, so she basically wrote a short letter to him in a message to me.  I owe Yuki a favor or two because she gave me a ton of Kagiya stuff during his rookie year, a few posters and a towel and pinbadges and whatnot.

So Kanehira comes out and I'm like "Hey, Kanehira-kun," and he's like "Hm?" and since I didn't obviously have anything to sign or anything like that he looked a little confused, and I was like, "This is going to sound really weird, but you know Yuki?  In Sapporo?  Your biggest fan?" and he's like "Yeah..." and I'm like "She wanted me to give you a message.  Please read this!" and I handed him my phone.  And he read it and laughed like "Ahhh, sugeeee...." which is kinda either "AWESOME!" or "CRAZY!" and honestly could go either way given the situation.  I was like "I know that was kinda weird, but she's such a big fan and she knew I was here and...was the message okay?" and he was like "No that's cool, thanks." and I was like "Thanks for reading it, it means a lot to her."



Anyway.  At that point we decided to take off for lunch, since it was already noon.  The players officially had a lunch break on the schedule from 11:30-12:20, though when we were walking to leave the park, we nearly got run over by a golf cart driven by Sho Nakata.  Seriously, I forget who he had on there, it was Haruki and Shingo and a few others, and they were all holding on for dear life, and I yelled "ABUNNAI ABUNNAI ABUNNAI" at them.  Laughing, but still.  I hope they realize I was joking, although I hope Sho doesn't kill anyone with his driving...

Dani and Dave and I went to say goodbye to Joe, who was catching a flight out in the afternoon, and then we got lunch at Red Robin, which was also funny since I kept apologizing to Dave like "We must sound like complete crazy people to you," and he was like "It's actually really cool to be around people talking about Japanese baseball."

We headed back to camp around 2pm, by which point they were doing the fielding/catching stuff listed on the schedule.  Honestly, while we knew the schedule, we mostly just hung out looking for interestingness, so to speak.  Like, for example, Ohtani was getting ready to take batting practice at Field 5, so... lots of people were there, of course, so we were too.

I sat down with Barden for a bit (he's a "friend of the Fighters" that I first met years and years ago on the field at Chiba when I used to get field passes from Bobby) and watched Kaneko throw batting practice to Taniguchi for a while, which was really cool in its own way, and then Kaneko switched out to watch Ohtani take batting practice, and of course all of the media also geared up to watch.  Yoshinori Tateyama came and stood right in front of us inside the fence, and Dani was like "OMG he's right in the way" and he turned around and said in English, "Oh, sorry.  Can you see?" and we were like "Yeah it's fine, thanks".  Tateyama is so funny, at some point he got a ball during the BP, and he threw it into the fence, then was like "OW!" and we cracked up and he said in English, "I can't throw!"

After Ohtani's BP was over, Shirai-coach yelled at the media something to the effect of, "OKAY HE'S DONE!  ALL YOU CAMERA GUYS CAN GO TO SOME OTHER FIELD NOW!"  So when he walked by us I was like "Shirai-san, omoshiroi!!" and he's like "Not omoshiroi.  I'm always serious.  Very serious."

Only a few minutes later Dave went to get his signature... and Shirai at the time had just dove headfirst into a golf cart, so his butt was sticking up in the air and I was laughing like "Shirai-san, Shirai-san, mite mite, you have got to see this, he has your card from a long time ago!" and so he signed the card for Dave.

I also called out to a few other people for Dave, like Nakajima, and Yoh, and whoever else, I forget.  We also lined up to try to catch Ohtani when he was coming out, but like, he obviously wasn't going to stop for anyone, and I don't really blame him.  Later I found out that apparently the team told him to "watch out for people just getting your autograph to sign on Ebay", so that probably makes him even more wary, which sucks for all the real fans.

The catchers came by with Shinji Takahashi and I asked him if I could get a photo with him and he was kinda like "...with me?  Why me?  Don't you want one of the players?" and I was like "Dude you were like my first favorite catcher with the Fighters ten years ago, come on" and he was like "Really?" and so we took some photos because the sun was bright and all but it worked out okay.  I swear that Shinji would have never posed and smiled and been so nice in photos when he was still a player -- so I guess that is one nice thing about all of my old favorite players being retired now... but still.  I asked him how things were in Shinano and he said they were good.

We watched the catchers do their stuff for a bit and eventually it was like... wow, there aren't really any other people hanging out here anymore and you can't even really see what's going on, so we decided to wander out.  I thought I had a meeting for work to call into at 4pm anyway, so I came back to my hotel, and while the meeting had been cancelled, I spent an hour or two answering work emails and doing some work stuff, and basking in the glorious airconditioning in my hotel room.

I came back to the field around 5-5:30 and hung out for a bit more with people there.  I was honestly mostly just there to help out Dave get a few more autographs.  Somehow it's easier for me to yell out to people for someone else than it is for myself, isn't that weird?

I got a photo with Takumi Ohshima because I'm wearing my Big 6 shirt, and I was like "I know it's not quite the same but you were from Waseda so... please?" and I also got a photo with Hiromi Oka (which is weird since he hates everyone but he even signed Dani's Meiji shirt for her), and I also got a photo with Kishisato and Naberyo, well, Dani took a picture of them and I was like "Can I do a... three-shot with you guys?" and they were like, okay, sure.  Ryo Ishikawa came out eventually and a bunch of girls swarmed him, and I was just like "hey -- hit another home run tomorrow, please?" and he laughed like "uh, okay".  Kagiya also came by and I called out otsukaresama but I wasn't going to bother him yet again after everything else.

A gaggle of coaches came out including Shirai and Kawana, and I knew Dave had a Kawana card from 1991 as well, like he did for Shirai, so I was like "wait!  Kawana-san!  this guy has one of your old cards, would you sign?" and he waited for us to find it and signed it, and I told him how I'd never seen him as a player since for the whole 14 years I've been a Fighters fan, he's basically always been a coach.  Weird, right?

Anyway, it got super-dark around 6:30, and of course that's when most of the players came out, and I wasn't about to bother people I couldn't even really see.  So I went back to my hotel at that point.

Although, I walked over to the nearby mall to get dinner around 8, and of course I saw two of the Fighters ANA bicycles parked outside when I was leaving.  It would have been incredibly stalkerish and weird to go back in and look for them, so I didn't.

Wow, this did end up being a longer entry than I thought.  It's not like there was much action today -- just a lot of hanging around camp watching guys practice and occasionally talking to them -- but it was still memorable and there were a lot of funny interactions.

Some (more) photos:


The media tower where the GAORA folks have been broadcasting from.  I think during normal spring training, the Padres front office guys can sit up there and watch all the practice fields.


Practice field 3, I think.


Takayuki Katoh!  When last we met him he looked like this.


Chris Martin and Anthony Bass about to get driven off on a golf cart.  Sho Nakata wasn't driving, so I assume they survived.


I wanted to take a photo of the big baseballs all over the place, but without a human being for scale, it wouldn't really look as impressive.


Who's got two thumbs and is having a blast in Arizona?  Me and Shinji Takahashi, that's who.


Satoh and Shiroishi failing to drive a golf cart through the opening in the fence.


Kaneko throwing batting practice!


Ohtani getting instruction from Kaneko, or something


Kazunori Yamamoto -- former pitcher with the team, now BP, it was nice to see him pitching again.


My "three-shot" with Ryo Watanabe and Ryosuke Kishisato


Takumi Ohshima was all smiles!


Hiromi Oka is never all smiles!