Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Picture Is Worth 2008 Words

Happy New Year 2009, everyone. May you all spend as much time watching baseball as possible. I certainly did:

77 games attended, between minors, majors, college ball, etc.

Fighters games: 26 (counting minors)
Marines games: 20 (also counting minors)
Baystars games: 15 (but I only cheered for them at 11)
Dragons games: 8 (and I only cheered for them at 6)

...Carp games: 1 (in Hiroshima. Man, I seriously neglected them)

Pitcher I saw start the most often: Lotte's Shunsuke Watanabe, 8 times
Runner-up: 5 times, Fighters' Ryan Glynn.

(Technically, Kazuhito Tadano and Shaggy Shugo Fujii and Hiro-chan Kobayashi were also 5 but due to split-squad and rainouts, I'm not counting them)

Number of different stadiums: 17
Teams I saw home games of: 12/12 (yes, every major-league team in Japan)
Stadium I went to the most: Tokyo Dome, 17 games
1st Base side: 22 games
3rd Base side: 50 games
Neither: 5 games. Yeah.

Days of week:
Sunday: 30 games
Monday: 20 games
Tuesday: 5 games
Wednedsay: 8 games
Thursday: 3 games
Friday: 7 games
Saturday: 4 games

Which makes sense, given that I had Sunday/Monday weekends.

42 day games, 35 night games.

There's certainly more stats I could pull out of this, I'm sure.

I wonder if I'll go to MORE games in 2009 or not. It's kind of a scary thought, isn't it?

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Happy Holidays, From My Neighbors

It's really bizarre living in Philly sometimes, but this is seriously on the door of one of my neighbors' apartments down the hall:

Too funny not to post.

(If you don't get it, see here, among others.)

Hope you are all enjoying whatever you celebrate over this week!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

How I'm Spending My Winter Vacation, Part 2: The Von Hayes Fan Club

I have been really busy with non-baseball things this past week, so I've had no time to write anything. I really do intend to continue the Leagues series I started. Honest.

What sucks more is, I actually DID do something really cool and baseball-related -- I went on a tour of the Nationals new stadium in DC last Thursday! But I haven't had time or brainpower to crop photos and write it up. I was the only person on my tour and I told the tour guide about this blog (I had to explain how I knew so much random Washington Senators history), so I really should do that soon. I promise.

For now, here's something funny that I found while visiting my mom's house. See, when I was a left-handed kid growing up watching the Phillies, my first favorite player ever was Steve Carlton. I loved Lefty. Then he went away, so my next favorite player was Von Hayes. He hit two home runs on my birthday one year, and he had a funny name. People in Philly always called him "Five for One", and never really appreciated how awesome he was, but I sure did. If there had been a Von Hayes Fan Club when I was a kid, I would have totally been a member.

I was looking through some old photos from the days when my brother and I used to go to all the baseball player appearances in Northeast Philly, and sure enough, found the one from when Von Hayes came to our neighborhood West Coast Video to sign stuff. I remember that I was about 11 years old and way too shy to say anything to him because he was my favorite player -- I think you can tell that he has this look on his face like "Why do you look so terrified of me, kid?"

Oh yeah, and I did get one of the signed photos...

Now here's where it gets kind of weird -- one of the other guys at this particular signing was Brian Propp:

Why exactly they had a Phillies guy and a Flyers guy together is beyond me, but what I do recall is that I wasn't afraid to talk to Propp, mostly because I had no clue who he was. This should be obvious in the fact that it actually says "to Deanna" on the signed headshot.

The next set of photos and stuff in the album had a photo of my brother with Ron Hextall and a signed headshot as well. The 80's really were a good time to be a kid and a sports fan, weren't they?

Oddly, since going to a Flyers game two weeks ago, I have actually found myself wanting to get into hockey, but it seems unlikely that I'll get back to a game this year. And from what Simon said about the Seibu hockey team folding, it doesn't seem likely I'd be getting into hockey in Japan any time soon either.

Another fun set of things I found at my mom's was all of her old baseball yearbooks, which go all the way back to the 1959 Phillies, although she doesn't have every year or anything, and there are certainly random ones in there that both of us were like "Why is this here?" such as a 1963 Yankees yearbook, or a 1966 Orioles yearbook.

I scanned in a few pages from various old Phillies yearbooks. Here are Von Hayes's pages from 1986 and 1987, respectively:



Let me digress for one second to say this: if you're not in the habit of buying baseball team yearbooks, I recommend buying some. Now. They should be discounted from last year's teams soon enough. Buy it, read it, put it in your attic, forget about it for 20 years. Just trust me on this one. These 1980's ones aren't so far removed from today's, but you should see the 1960's era ones. I can only imagine how things will progress 20 years from now...

Anyway, here's what Von had to say back then:

If I weren't a baseball player, I probably would have been a financial manager
My childhood heroes were Ted Williams and John F. Kennedy
My closest friend on another team is Chris Bando
Every New Years I resolve to be a better person
If I had more time I would become a gourmet cook
If I've learned one thing in life, it's to experience all you can while you are young because life is too short

If you were stranded on a deserted island and could have one thing with you, what would you choose? Flipper, because he saves everybody
If they were making a movie about your life, what actor would you want to play you? Harrison Ford
If you could spend a day with one person throughout history who would you pick? Babe Ruth, so I could teach him how to do five-way situps

You see, the weird thing is, to that last question, almost everyone on the team answered "Jesus Christ".

Amusingly, Mike Schmidt had said that every year he resolves to stop eating vanilla ice cream with chocolate syrup before he goes to bed.

I'm glad my mom was nuts enough to go to the neighborhood Phillies events when I was a kid. I just wish I hadn't been too shy to talk to anyone except the Philly Phanatic. (Seriously. You know how some kids get yearly photos taken with Santa? Looking through our photo albums, I can pretty much track my childhood through photos with the Philly Phanatic every summer. I suppose that shouldn't be too surprising to most of you.)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

How I'm Spending My Winter Vacation, Part 1: National Portrait Gallery

Sorry I haven't written in a week and haven't finished another installment in the Japanese league series. I've been down here in Washington DC for the last few days, staying at my brother's house and visiting with him and his wife and my new 5-week-old niece. She's very cute.

I was wandering around the city the other day, and had just eaten lunch at the Chipotle in the Chinatown area, and was trying to decide where to head next, when I looked across the street and saw this:

I started arguing with the half of my brain that inhaled a billion books about Ty Cobb a few years back, and it went something like this:

Me: "Is that..."
Brain: "I think so."
Me: "But he's smiling."
Brain: "He smiled sometimes, you know."
Me: "But people didn't like Ty Cobb, would they paint him smiling?"
Brain: "Maybe? I think it's him."
Me: "I'm not sure. You know what we need to do, Brain?"
Brain: "Try and take over the world?"
Me: "No, we need to go in there and find the portrait of this mysterious Detroit Tigers player which is probably Ty Cobb and confirm it."
Brain: "Sounds good to me, it's cold out here."

So I go into the National Portrait Gallery and ask the little old lady at the front desk who the baseball player's portrait is outside. She has no clue what I'm talking about, but informs me that on the third floor, there are a lot of portraits of sports people.

I go up there and find the "Champions" exhibit, and sure enough, there's a whole bunch of artwork of sports stars, mostly paintings and a few sculptures. It's not all baseball, but there's certainly enough to be interesting...

It was, indeed, Ty Cobb, pictured here in a 1916 oil painting for Baseball Magazine.

There was a really neat Nolan Ryan painting as well.

One of the sculptures was of Casey Stengel during his tenure as the manager of the "Marvelous Mets".

A little more relevant now thanks to the Phillies championship, but this is Robin Roberts.

There were two Maris portraits... this one was an unpublished Time cover of him with Mantle. Very nice.

There were some others, including a gigantic canvas of Carlton Fisk, that were pretty neat.

It was a nice exhibit. I wouldn't necessarily say people should run right down there and see it, but if you're in the DC area and looking for some things to stumble onto, it's definitely interesting, and I believe it's a permanent exhibit anyway. The rest of the gallery is also kind of cool.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Look at the Japanese Leagues -- Part 2: Eastern and Western, or Down on the Farm

This is Part 2 in a series.

I mentioned this in the first part, but each pro team has exactly one farm team. In the sense of "minor leagues where the players are actually controlled by pro teams", there's basically only one level of minor league play, roughly defined as being "below the pro leagues". Most of the players are young guys who still haven't broken through, along with your usual assortment of veterans hanging on or players rehabbing or trying to work out issues.

With the exception of the Yokohama Baystars, whose farm team is the Shonan Sea Rex, and the Orix Buffaloes, whose farm team is the Surpass, all of the farm teams bear the same name as their corresponding pro team.

Since players are all really considered to be on the same 70-man organizational roster regardless of whether they're on the top team or the farm team, they keep the same uniform number when going between the majors and the minors. For 10 out of the 12 teams, this means guys wear the EXACT SAME UNIFORM no matter what their status is, although the Surpass and Sea Rex players do wear different uniforms than their corresponding top team, albeit with their same uniform number.

Unlike the pro leagues, which are semi-arbitrarily historically organized into the Central and Pacific Leagues, the minor leagues are organized geographically into the Eastern and Western Leagues:

Eastern League

Team City Prefecture Stadium (Year opened)
---- ---- ---------- ---------------------
Yakult Swallows Toda Saitama Yakult Toda Stadium (1977)
Yomiuri Giants Kawasaki Kanagawa Yomiuri Giants Stadium (1985)
Shonan SeaRex Yokosuka Kanagawa Yokosuka Stadium (1949)
Rakuten Golden Eagles Higashimurayama Yamagata Yamagata Stadium (1980)
Seibu Lions Tokorozawa Saitama Seibu #2 Stadium (1979)
Lotte Marines Urawa Saitama Lotte Urawa Stadium (1989)
Nippon Ham Fighters Kamagaya Chiba Kamagaya Fighters Stadium (1997)

Western League

Team City Prefecture Stadium
---- ---- ---------- -------
Softbank Hawks Fukuoka Fukuoka Gannosu (1991)
Hanshin Tigers Nishinomiya Hyogo Tigers Den Naruohama (1994)
Hiroshima Carp Iwakuni Yamaguchi Yuu Stadium (1993)
Chunichi Dragons Nagoya Aichi Nagoya Stadium (1948)
Surpass Kobe Hyogo Ajisai Stadium (2000)

You might notice that yes, one league has 7 teams and one has 5. Yes, that IS stupid. No, it wasn't always that way. From 1979 (when the Crown Lighter Lions moved from Fukuoka to become the Seibu Lions in Saitama and brought their farm team with them), the leagues actually had 6 teams each. Then in 2004 when the Orix Blue Wave and Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes merged to form Voltron -- er, the Orix Buffaloes -- their corresponding farm teams also had to become one. Fujiidera Stadium ceased to exist, along with the Kintetsu minor-league team that played there, and Surpass Kobe, which had been the Blue Wave's farm team, became the farm team for the new combined organization.

With the formation of the Rakuten Golden Eagles, and a farm team in the northeastern Tohoku area, naturally the geographic split now favored the eastern side of the country.

Geographical Difficulties

While it would theoretically make sense to even up the leagues somehow, geographically it simply doesn't really make any sense to move one of the Eastern teams into the Western League. All of the EL teams except for the Eagles' team are based in the Kanto region, which roughly means "the area near Tokyo", and only one farm team isn't within an hour train ride of its top team: the Fighters, who built their stadium and training complex in Kamagaya in 1996 back when the Fighters still shared the Tokyo Dome with the Giants.

Fighters fan digression for a second: The Fighters had a facility on the Tamagawa river in the western part of Tokyo, but it was apparently completely inadequate both in terms of clubhouse and fan amenities, plus when the Tokyu Toyoko trains went by it would actually pause the game action. So, the Fighters built a nice new place for their farm team in the middle of nowhere in Chiba with great facilities. Then they ended up moving the franchise to Hokkaido a couple of years later. However, moving the farm team to Hokkaido would have not only meant vastly increasing the travel budget for the Fighters' minor-leaguers but also for all OTHER teams in the Eastern League, who would have to fly to Hokkaido rather than bussing around Kanto -- so in the interest of keeping things cheaper and easier for everyone, the farm team stayed in Kamagaya.

As for the Western League, while the teams are not nearly as close by as all of the Kanto teams in the Eastern League, the furthest apart are the Osaka-area teams and the Hawks' team in Gannosu (which is in the northern boonies of Fukuoka).

The interesting thing is, due to the rosters being so nebulous sometimes, and the farm teams usually being located so close to the top teams, it is NOT entirely uncommon for a player to actually play in two games in one day, both a farm game and a top team game. On weekdays, almost all farm games take place at 1pm, and almost all top team games take place at about 6pm. And sometimes on the weekends, the Lotte Marines will actually have a "doubleheader" where their farm team plays a game at Chiba Marine Stadium starting half an hour after the major league team finishes an afternoon game. So you might see a player working out with the farm team early in the day, then playing in a top team game at night, or you might see a farm team player practicing with the top team on a day the farm team doesn't play.

Scheduling and Seasons

Thanks to having an odd number of teams, there ARE a lot of days where at least a few farm teams aren't playing, too. However, a day without a scheduled game is not usually a "day off": players will still have their daily practices and be out on the field working out nonetheless.

Since 2005, the 7-team Eastern League teams have played 96 games per season, while the 5-team Western League teams have played 88 games each. There is also a minor-league All-Star Game, played a day or two after the pro All-Star Game. This has gone on since 1963, although it used to be called the Junior All-Star Game and is now the "Fresh All-Star Game". At the end of the season, the top team in the Eastern League plays a farm championship game against the top team in the Western League.

The season runs for almost the same duration as the pro season: games are scheduled from the end of March until early September, and then makeup games take the season into mid-late September. The farm championship game happens at the start of October, right around when the pro season is winding up its final makeup games.

Exhibition games and Futures matches

The NPB farm teams also tend to play a LOT of exhibition games when they don't have official games. These can be against anyone from "amateur" industrial league teams such as JR, ENEOS, Honda, etc, to various "club" teams such as the NOMO Baseball Club and the Ibaraki Golden Golds, to teams from the independent regional semi-pro teams (Shikoku, Hokuriku, and certainly the new Kansai one, to be covered in a future post).

Another interesting diversion is what they call the "Futures" games -- these are played between one Eastern League farm team, and then a "futures" team which is made up of players from the rest of the Eastern League's teams. The only requirement is that players on the "Futures" team have never seen action at the top team level. A lot of them will be instructional (ikusei) players, who are already a super long shot to make the majors anyway.

The "Futures" teams have also been known to play against club teams -- a sort of famous incident was when Golden Golds female infielder Ayumi Kataoka got a hit off of Lotte's pitcher Kurotaki in one of those matches, singling to left.

(It's really interesting going to those games -- the players wear a Futures jersey and the rest of their uniform is from their home team, so you can spot the Searex guys with their bright teal outfits.)

Whither DH?

Whether or not a farm team game incorporates the DH basically depends on who the home team is. If the home team is a Central League farm team, they will not use the DH. If the home team is a Pacific League farm team, they will use the DH.


Farm team games are REALLY fun to go to. At some of the stadiums, games are even free -- there's simply no point in charging admission at a place like, say, Lotte Urawa Stadium, which has 3 benches on each side and a vending machine selling canned beverages, and that's about it. The Fighters stadium in Kamagaya charges admission (1000 yen for general admission, 500 yen if you're a Fighters fanclub member), but it's also a full grandstand with concessions and a mascot wandering around and mid-game activities and nice bleachers and bathrooms and everything. Your mileage may vary. Show up early and stake out a good seat.

Unlike the pro games, you can often very easily stalk players for photos and autographs and such -- in most cases, there is no clubhouse within the minor league field itself, and the players all have to exit the field to get back to their bus or to walk to the training facility nearby. The atmosphere is a lot more relaxed, though, and the young players are usually happy to sign stuff, or are at least very polite about it. Sometimes the veterans are happy to sign stuff too, if they're not in a sour mood about being stuck in the minors at the time :) Japanese fans, who are really diehard in terms of supporting their team, are also generally very respectful towards the players, so there is a relatively good relationship between the groups.

I'm a camera geek, and what I love best about the minor league games is being able to just sit right up in front by the field, so I can take a ton of photos. I usually end up there with a few other friends and we all chat about the players and snap photos. We often cheer or yell things to the players, and sometimes they even yell back. It's just a very intimate way to see a game.

Most minor-league parks do not have ouendan (the big organized cheering groups with the trumpets and flags and all), which may be a plus or minus depending on who you are.

The only caveat is, if you're a non-Asian foreigner, especially at some of these more out-of-the-way places, be prepared for a lot of staring and a lot of "gaijin" comments.

(Here are some of my minor league game posts, with plenty of photos and stories.)

So, those are the minor leagues. Next up will be, most likely, either the independent leagues, or the college leagues.

Please comment if you can add to this or correct it, as I'm considering it a work in progress.

Monday, December 08, 2008

A Look at the Japanese Leagues -- Part 1: Central and Pacific, and Pro Yakyu

I'm getting kind of frustrated when I read misguided blogs who say all kinds of crazy things like "Tazawa comes out of the independent leagues in Japan, the same place where they just drafted a 16-year-old girl".

So, I think I will basically braindump everything I can about all of the leagues in Japan, into a couple of posts. I admit that I'm on a bit of hiatus from baseblogging while I'm back in the US and here in Philly visiting my dad (who only watches football for the most part), and I apologize for that, but I'm really not into the offseason. This is the worst time of the year -- it's cold and there's no baseball. (I'm going to a hockey game tomorrow, but that's another story.)

Anyway. Let's start from the top:

Pro Yakyu -- Central and Pacific Leagues

If you want Japan's equivalent to the major leagues -- the National and American Leagues -- this is it.

There are 12 pro teams total in Japan, 6 in each league. The Pacific League uses the DH, the Central League does not.

There are no divisions within the leagues -- for playoffs (which started in 2005 in the PL and 2007 in the CL) -- they just take the top 3 teams in each league and have the 2nd and 3rd place teams face off, then the 1st place team plays the winner of that series. Playoffs are still in their infancy, and the format changes every year. Currently it's a best-2-of-3 for the first stage, then a best-4-of-7-but-the-first-place-team-gets-a-1-game-advantage for the second stage, with all games being played at the higher-ranked team's home field. Then the two playoff winners face each other in the Japan Series. It's a mess. But quite exciting.

One major difference between Japanese baseball and the MLB is that tie games are possible. If a game doesn't have a winner after 12 innings, it is over and counted as a tie. To determine rankings, teams calculate based on won-loss percentage without counting the ties.

Unlike in the US, the teams are almost uniformly owned by companies and bear the name of that company instead of a specific locale, although recently teams have been adding their city or prefecture or region's name to their moniker in a way to identify more with the specific region. As of right now, these are the leagues and teams:

Central League

Team City Prefecture Stadium (Year opened)
---- ---- ---------- ---------------------
Yomiuri Giants Tokyo Tokyo Tokyo Dome (1988)
Hanshin Tigers Nishinomiya Hyogo Hanshin Koshien Stadium (1924)
Chunichi Dragons Nagoya Aichi Nagoya Dome (1997)
Hiroshima Toyo Carp Hiroshima Hiroshima Mazda Zoom-Zoom Stadium (2009)
Tokyo Yakult Swallows Tokyo Tokyo Meiji Jingu Stadium (1926)
Yokohama Baystars Yokohama Kanagawa Yokohama Stadium (1978)

Pacific League

Team City Prefecture Stadium
---- ---- ---------- -------
Saitama Seibu Lions Tokorozawa Saitama Seibu Dome (1979)
Orix Buffaloes Osaka Osaka Kyocera Osaka Dome (1997)
Kobe Hyogo Skymark Stadium (1988)
Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters Sapporo Hokkaido Sapporo Dome (2001)
Chiba Lotte Marines Chiba Chiba Chiba Marine Stadium (1990)
Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles Sendai Miyagi Kleenex Stadium Miyagi (1950)
Fukuoka Softbank Hawks Fukuoka Fukuoka Fukuoka Yahoo! Dome (1993)

I include two stadiums for the Orix Buffaloes because they still play a signficant number of home games at Skymark Stadium. They were formed when the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes and Orix Blue Wave were merged prior to the 2005 season. Orix played in Kobe and Kintetsu played in Osaka, so the combined team plays in both. Rakuten was created as a new team at the same time the other teams merged.

The Hanshin Tigers, despite being a symbol for Osaka and the Kansai Region and even having been called the "Osaka Tigers" at a distant point in the past, technically do not actually play in Osaka.

Geographical notes

Geographically, many teams are fairly close to Tokyo. Japan has four islands, and Tokyo is the capital city on the biggest island, Honshu. Ten of the teams are based on Honshu as well:

In Tokyo proper: Giants, Swallows
Within an hour of Tokyo by normal train: Baystars, Lions, Marines
About 2 hours from Tokyo by shinkansen: Eagles (north), Dragons (west)
About 3 hours from Tokyo by shinkansen: Tigers, Buffaloes (Osaka area, west)
About 4 hours from Tokyo by shinkansen: Carp

The Hawks are based on Kyushu, which you can get to in 6 hours by shinkansen or 2 hours by plane.

The Fighters are in Hokkaido, which you can get to in something like 26 hours by train, or 2 hours by plane. Needless to say, any road trip for the Fighters generally involves an airport. There's supposed to be a shinkansen to Sapporo eventually, which will take 4 hours from Tokyo, but it's probably not happening for the next, say, 10 years or so.

You will notice that the Pacific League teams are a lot more scattered around the country than the Central League teams.

Japan is a fairly small country, though, and as a result of this, visiting team fans often show up in pretty huge groups.

Every stadium has designated areas for home fans and visiting fans, although depending on the stadium and the particular team, the exact lines might blur. Yomiuri, Hanshin, and Lotte have the fans most notoriously willing to travel and very loudly support their team no matter where they're playing. If you go to a Giants game at the Tokyo Dome, you'll probably be surrounded by orange-towel-waving Giants fans everywhere in the stadium except in the designated visiting team cheering area -- except when they play against the Tigers, when the entire 3rd-base side is in yellow.

If you go to a Baystars game at Koshien, you'll probably be surrounded by yellow-wearing Tigers fans even if you have a "visitor's cheering area" ticket. (Seriously, this happened to me.)

Another stadium note: Pro baseball started in Japan in 1934 when Matsutaro Shoriki founded the Dai Nippon Pro Yakyu Club, subsequently called the Giants. A lot of the current teams started at the end of the 1940's. However, both Koshien and Jingu predate professional baseball by quite a bit. Koshien stadium was built to house the annual nationwide high school baseball tournament, and Meiji Jingu Stadium was built mostly for use by the Tokyo Big Six college league and other college ball clubs.

People often say that the Giants are "Japan's team". This may still be true in that there are plenty of people who are Giants fans because their parents were Giants fans, or because when they were kids the only team they could watch on TV was the Giants. And to be fair, if you only have terrestrial TV, the Giants are the only team that are on TV regularly -- channel 4 shows almost all Giants home games, though they start at 7pm and cut out at 8:54pm, despite the game starting at 6pm.

Despite this, though, there has been a rising "Anti-Giants" sentiment for quite a while, and almost every CL team's cheering group has a "defeat Yomiuri" cheer of one variety of another, some more vehement than others. Also, several parts of Japan which previously didn't have a local team to embrace -- notably the northern areas -- now have their own regional teams either in the form of the Fighters or Eagles in Hokkaido and Tohoku, or the independent BCL teams in the Hokuriku area on the north coast of Japan. (Which I'll get to in another post.) These factors have taken away from the Yomiuri grip on the nation, but the Giants still have a strong hold on the country nonetheless.

Team Structure

Unlike the MLB, where every team has a cascade of several minor league farm teams of varying levels of play and who play different length seasons, Japanese pro teams have one farm team. One. That's it.

Because "major-league" often means the MLB, there are a few ways people tend to refer to the split. Often you'll either hear "Top team" and "Farm team", or perhaps "Ichi-gun" and "ni-gun", which literally mean "first troop" and "second troop".

There are a couple of rosters on the team:

1) The 70-man roster, which is everyone currently registered to play baseball for the organization -- top team, farm team, injured players, everybody...

...except it does NOT actually include the ikusei players -- ikusei meaning "instructional" players, sometimes referred to as "taxi squad" players. They are drafted after the normal draft, sign slightly different contracts, are paid very little money relatively, and wear uniform numbers above 100. In order for them to actually play in an ichi-gun game, they have to sign a new contract and be put onto the actual 70-man roster, and onto...

2) The 28-man "registered" player list. When you hear about guys actually being sent up and down to the minors, this is the list they're getting put on or taken off of. The other caveat is that this is the list where the foreign player limit comes into play -- a team can have as many foreigners as they want under contract, sitting on the farm team, but currently, there can't be more than 4 foreigners on the top team's "registered" list, and there can only be 3 pitchers or 3 batters, not 4 of one kind.

(No, there is no "one Asian doesn't count towards the limit" rule. Koreans and Taiwanese are considered foreigners. The non-Japanese Asians on most rosters that don't count towards the limit are because they were drafted out of Japanese high schools or colleges and spent a certain amount of time there. Certain teams might or might not be taking advantage of this rule by signing Taiwanese kids and putting them in Japanese high schools, but that's another story.)

From the 28-man registered list, there is a 25-man list on any given day which is the list of players who can actually be used in that day's game.

If a player gets sent down to the farm ("de-registered"), they can't be called back up for at least 10 days. Of course, there is no lower limit on how long they can be called up to the top team for.

Service Time

Service time, in determining when a player becomes an FA, is determined by the amount of time a player spent on the top team roster, so if a guy gets called up literally to start one game and then sent down again, he gets a tiny fraction of time added to his service time. Unlike the MLB where there's this notion of "option years" and such, there is no such thing in the NPB.

If a player is registered for a full season, they get one year service time. If not, 145 days is what counts as a full season, and they add up the total registered time, and when that gets to 145 days, the player gets another full season credited to them. A player becomes a free agent domestically or overseas-eligible after a certain number of years, and that keeps changing. Currently it's 8 years for domestic moves, 9 years for overseas moves.

(If a player is injured and misses service time due to that, there are different provisions for them still getting a full service year, provided they are on the roster for a certain number of days outside of that, and I'm not sure how that works exactly.)

As a note: Foreign players who manage to get 8 years of service time in Japan count as Japanese free agents, and thus do not count against the foreigner limit on the roster. See: Tuffy Rhodes, Alex Ramirez.

So, players go up and down to farm teams. Which leads us into our second set of leagues in Japan, the Eastern and Western Leagues... and I'll continue this from there soon.

Please comment if you can add to this or correct it, as I'm considering it a work in progress.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

It's Because "Tora No Bancho" Sounds Stupid, You See


(Source photo here.)

Daisuke Miura is staying with the Yokohama Baystars!

It's not like I have as much emotionally invested in the Baystars like I do with the Fighters, but I did go to 14 Baystars games last year (and cheered for them at 11), and saw them play in every CL stadium in Japan. But after such a lousy season, and after they pretty much threw my favorite player Takuro Ishii out in the trash, and the idea of Miura leaving, I was beginning to wonder if I would ever come back to Yokohama to cheer. I like the stadium, and I'd miss Sign Guy and Westbay and Matt and all, but... no Takuro and no Bancho make Deanna something something.

But now, instead, I'm almost considering getting one of those newfangled Baystars jerseys with D. Miura 18 on the back, to replace my Takuro jersey.

I used to think Miura was just some wannabe ace who used way too much hair gel, but then I found out about all of the community service he does -- last year he even got a special service award for his work with sick kids in hospitals. There was one boy they showed on TV who was in a wheelchair and suffering from some terminal condition -- I forget what -- but Miura visited the boy many times in the hospital, even inviting him to come to Yokohama Stadium and play catch on the field before a game. He even went to the funeral when the boy died a few months later. Talk about a tearjerker.

And then seeing him work so hard this year despite how awful the Baystars were, you had to just feel for the guy.

He's always seemed to be so nice to fans, too. It's pretty much the exact opposite of what I expected the first time I saw him. Supposedly the main reason he stayed with Yokohama was the fan support, after spending all of the Fan Appreciation Day signing and chatting and taking photos and playing catch with the fans.

Besides, who else would post photos of the Baystars pitching staff in yukata on their blog? Just sayin'.

It's great that he'll finish out his career in Yokohama, or at least the next four years. They BETTER not just throw him away afterwards, though.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Random Post: Senshu-Kaicho Shuffle, Tryout Travelogue, the Knuckle-girl, etc

Happy Thanksgiving!

New Player Reps (新選手会長)

Senshu-kaicho doesn't really translate very well into English.  I mean, "captain" is not the right word, but "player rep" isn't exactly a direct translation either. It's sort of like "class president", but.

Giants: Shinnosuke Abe (taking over for Tomohiro Nioka, traded to Fighters)
Yakult: Masanori Ishikawa (taking over for Noriyuki Shiroishi)
Yokohama: Shuuichi Murata (taking over for Ryoji Aikawa, FA going... somewhere...)
Orix: Takeshi Hidaka (taking over for Hirotoshi Kitagawa, getting old?)
Fighters: Kensuke Tanaka (taking over for Makoto Kaneko... argh...)

Haven't heard of any other changes, though I have to wonder who the Softbank kaicho will be -- Kazumi Saitoh is still listed on the JPBPA site, though I could have sworn Munenori Kawasaki had taken over for him.

Chase Lambin Tries Out With Lotte And Lives To Blog About It

From NY Future Stars: Chase Lambin went to try out for the Chiba Lotte Marines and had quite an adventure. A fun read.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

They went to the Japan Series at Seibu one day after I did, for Game 5. Dang. Would have been funny to run into Bobby there, that's for sure. Though it was sort of amusing to read his stories about Bobby predicting all of the hits in Series Game 3 and thinking, "Wait a minute, I know exactly who he's talking about..."

Anyway, no idea whether Chase will end up on the Marines roster next year or not -- from his minor league stats he actually looks like a perfect candidate to succeed in Japan -- but, if he does, rest assured I'll do my best to stalk him next season.

Yes, I heard about Eri Yoshida

Actually, Simon mentioned it to me during the Asia Series, but I was too preoccupied cheering for the Lions to beat the Lions to think about it at the time.

So yes, the Kobe 9 Cruise team drafted a 16-year-old high school girl named Eri Yoshida. She throws a sidearm/submarine knuckleball, and was apparently inspired by Tim Wakefield.

(Youtube video here.)

I am a little bit unclear on whether she's really the "first professional female baseball player in Japan", namely because I don't really understand exactly what Ayumi Kataoka's status is per se. I mean, the Ibaraki Golden Golds are still probably a lower level team than the Rakuten Golden Eagles, but they do compete in the nationwide club/industrial tournaments. Those tournaments are run by the Japan Amateur Baseball Association, though, so perhaps the club players simply don't count as pros? I think Ayumi was still in college when she started playing for the Golden Golds, too.

The thing is, the independent leagues aren't exactly pro level either, and their players also have to have day jobs to make a living (there were stories of Shikoku Island League guys basically working in the fields during the week and getting paid in food, though I'm not sure I entirely believe that).

Anyway, so far this new Kansai league has four teams (Osaka, Kobe, Akashi, and then Wakayama), and I get the feeling they want to have two more teams in Nara and Shiga, to bring the league to six like the other independent leagues.

Yoshida, for the record, lives in Kanagawa, near Tokyo, so it seems she'll have to transfer schools to somewhere in Kobe if she wants to play with this team.

I think it's pretty cool, of course, given that one of the worst days of my childhood was when my mother informed me that little girls can't become professional baseball players when they grow up.

I was already making a goal of seeing Shikoku Island League and Hokushinetsu League games next year, so I'll just have to add the Kansai ones to my list as well. I wonder if Yoshida will actually play regularly though, or if she really is just a publicity gimmick for the new league and team. I'm sure plenty of people come to Golden Golds games hoping to see Ayumi and don't get to.

Unfortunately, this is definitely going to put even more of a damper on "throws like a girl" jokes. Not that Yukiko Ueno didn't do that already, but still.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Random Post 1: Fan Fests, Chono-baka and other assorted stuff

So, I've been back in the US for about a week now. I was in Seattle for a few days, now I'm staying with my father in Philadelphia for the next few months. (He has cancer. I'm here to cheer him up.) Anyone who wants to hang out and talk about Japanese baseball while I'm here is welcome to drop me a line. I'm planning to head back to Japan the first week in February.

I'm still sometimes reading news and trying to catch up on stuff, but it's really weird not being able to watch the Japanese sports news or read Shukan Baseball and other sports magazines. I try watching the sports news here, but being as I'm in Philly, it's all about the Eagles, despite that they apparently suck this year. I think there are a FEW people in town aware that the local baseball team won some big games a month ago, but aside from the big display at Modell's, and a bunch of people in red jackets, I haven't seen too much evidence thereof.

(I really want a "Phinally" t-shirt.)

So, back to NPB, what can I say that hasn't been said already?

The 2009 Schedules are out. Lots of Fighters games in Kanto during April. I'm looking forward to it.

One important thing that happened in the last week is that Brian Sweeney re-signed with the Fighters for next year. Yay! That made me really happy to hear -- both because he'll be good for the team, and because I'll get to harrass him for another year.

And of course, now we're going to start calling him a "blue-eyed Dosanko" instead of a "blue-eyed Samurai", I think. Dosanko meaning someone or something born in Hokkaido; I don't know whether "I am Dosanko" was what he said or what got put in the translation of his comments, though.

(I forget if I ever mentioned it before, but Consadole Sapporo, the soccer team that the Fighters share the Sapporo Dome with, took their name from the word Dosanko -- if you turn it around in Japanese syllables, you get ko-n-sa-do, which they added "Ole!" to the end of, to make their team name. I still think it's the coolest soccer name in Japan by far.)

That stupid trade seems to becoming official as I write this; Nioka is supposed to be taking uniform number #23 from Ozaki, in theory. I'm still in denial about the entire thing. I'm just glad they didn't make him armwrestle Tsuboi for #7 or anything. (EDIT: New Player press conference says Nioka did indeed get #23 and Hayashi is taking #19, last used by failed Hanshin tradee Yasuhiro Nakamura before he got released. And apparently Ozaki will wear #53, Kudoh's old number. That's not good for him. Tsuda-kun moved up from #48 to #70 as well.)

Fighters Fanfest happened last weekend. Darvish dressed up as a bee and ran bicycle races against Sho Nakata, or something. Of course, Imanari dressed up as a... umm... I don't know. I really gotta find someone who actually WENT to Fan Fest to explain to me what was up there.

Either way, I vaguely doubt it could be as nuts as what apparently happened at Yakult's fan fest, where Norichika Aoki, backed up by Kawashima and Okamoto, sang the title song by baka-band Shuchishin as part of the player Karaoke event.

(No, really. Check out the Youtube video. It's not great quality and was filmed from the stands, but it's FUNNY if you know the original. Of course, it's a bit more disturbing to see this one of Yoshinori and Masaru Satoh in drag...)

The Yokohama Baystars and Shonan Sea Rex fan fests happened last weekend as well. Westbay blogged about them. I can't decide how I feel about them -- whether I'd have gone if I was in Japan still or not, that is. I had a really good time at Baystars fanfest last year, but that was before they had this abysmal year and also released my favorite player on the team.

Speaking of my favorite player on the team, Takuro Ishii, he was infact signed by the Hiroshima Carp, and had a press conference last week to be introduced as a new team member. I'm glad he found a place to go, and I might have to actually make it to more than one Carp game next year as a result, assuming they actually PLAY him. He's wearing uniform number 25.

(But now I'm torn -- if I do get a Carp jersey, do I get a Takuro jersey or still go with Yuki Saitoh, #21? I'm still tending to think the latter.)

On another note, there have been a lot of people going on about this guy:

Junichi Tazawa

Yeah, I took that shot of Junichi Tazawa at the semi-final at the All-City industrial league tournament back in September before all of this stuff started. Seems he's getting the heck out of Japan fairly soon, and signs point to Boston. I don't know. I don't really like the situation -- mostly the money disparity between the two nations.

I could rant about it, but what my opinion comes down to is that it's not the NPB's problem to get more money and pay their players higher salaries; the problem is that MLB players are simply paid too much. I'm never fully convinced that the exodus really has that much to do with the "challenge", but more to do with the money.

(I should perhaps make it clear that the preceding statement is not really about Tazawa but about the situation in general. I should perhaps also mention that I greatly dislike discussing this stuff.)

As for why I didn't really write much about watching Tazawa at the tournament games: first, I'm not a scout, second, I was mostly there to watch the marching bands, and third, I was too busy booing this guy:

Yes, Hisayoshi Chono seems to have a goal of making half of the fanbases in Japan hate his guts, as this time he apparently decided he will not play for Lotte.

This follows two years after the Fighters tried to draft him out of Nihon University and he said he'd only play for the Giants, invoking the ire of Fighters fans everywhere for the snub. He then went on to play for Honda Sayama's team, and has been a fairly standout player in the industrial leagues, at least judging by the amount of space he's given in the magazines and such. (When I saw him play, he did pretty poorly, but that might have just been karma.) Now, he's turning down Lotte. Does he really expect to get drafted again in two years? I think he's basically screwed over his chances at a pro career -- I doubt a 26-year-old outfielder will be worth all that much by the time he comes up again, and the Giants really have no reason to take him.

Something funny: my Japanese cellphone automatically completes, if I type 長野 (Chono), it suggests that the next thing I want to say is 馬鹿 (Baka). That should give you a good indication of how many times I typed it when discussing the draft in Japanese.

I guess this does solve one problem for me: I didn't think I'd be able to watch him at Lotte's minor-league park next year without getting an urge to boo him, so this way I don't need to worry about it.

I'm about halfway done reading the Wally Yonamine book; I slept more on my flights home than I intended to. Alas.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Asia Series, Day 3: Photopost

I apologize for this one, but I am in an internet cafe and running out of time, and I basically fly back to America in about 36 hours. So here is Saturday's Asia Series antics, basically told as a series of photos and a few videos.

I actually woke up on Saturday with a terrible sore throat and a headache. I spent the day basically running off of adrenaline and DayQuil, and only stayed at the Dome until an hour or so into the second game of the day, before going home to sleep for 12 hours.

Watched the afternoon game of the Seibu Lions vs. Tianjin Lions from the leftfield stands with Westbay and Matt, hence very few real usable photos. Not much to say about the game either, really. The best part was probably when Okawari-kun Nakamura got his first hit of the Asia Series -- and BOY what a hit -- it was a home run that nearly hit the ceiling of the Tokyo Dome, no joke, and after sailing in a huuuuuge arch over the field, it hit the back wall in the SECOND DECK of the leftfield stands and bounced back onto the field. Yikes. Later on Ginjiro also got a home run off the left-field foul pole, which was interesting to see, and made me understand better how it was possible to have a difficult call on those in the games on the first day, because even sitting 15 feet behind the foul pole I didn't quite see Ginjiro's ball hit it.

Seibu won 16-2, much to nobody's surprise in particular.

Tianjin outfielder Chao Wang.

Seibu outfielder Takumi Kuriyama.

The Seibu stands, viewed from the leftfield foul pole.

Okawari-kun hero interview.

We wandered around Jimbocho looking at old baseball book stores with Westbay and a friend of his, and after that Matt and I returned to the Dome for the evening game. I had no intention of staying there for more than an hour, to be honest, and mostly took photos and hung out.

This is what the Tokyo Dome looks like at night during Christmas lights season.

This is Fu-Hao Liu. He hit 3 home runs in the Asia Series, including two during this particular game, for a total of 6 RBIs in the game. Crazy.

Catcher Chih-Kang Kao, who hit back-to-back home runs with Liu in the 4th inning.

One of the many mascots this team had.

Cheng-Hua Kao with Yi-Cheng Tseng. Tseng was the interesting 3/4 delivery pitcher from Friday night who would also play a major part in Sunday's final game.

Tongyi starter Yueh-Ping Lin.

Wyverns starter Byung-Yong Chei. He was HUGE. It even said in the book that he weighs like 100 kg, which puts him around the same range as Okawari-kun.

The Uni-President Lions ouendan. They were nuts. There were also a ton of Japanese people supporting them.

The nice people playing the brass instruments for the Lions ouendan.

And an abundance of cheer girls and mascots, of course. See? They actually DO have a Lion in there. Honest.

And here are a few videos of the Uni-President Lions ouendan...

Doing the Seibu running chance theme. At least, they use the same tune. Note the dude in the Seibu jersey who is DOING the Seibu running theme.

I swear this is like the Graduation March or whatever. Quite surreal.

One of their more generic cheers, but I thought it was neat how even in Chinese they had the "GO! GO! GO!" at the end.

Here's what's interesting. I only stayed until the 4th inning, so I didn't get to see it unfold, but the Lions beat the Wyverns 10-4.

What that meant is that actually, due to the tie-breaking rules -- based on how many runs the team gave up -- the Wyverns would not advance to the finals. All three teams were 2-1 in the tournament, but Seibu gave up 7 runs, Uni-President gave up 10, and SK gave up 13. Oops. SK could have lost the game 6-4 and still advanced to the finals, but that homerun by Liu pretty much clinched the spot for the Taiwanese squad.

And onward they went.

I won't have time to post about the final game for a while if at all, so I'll just say that it was CLOSE, it was 0-0 for most of the game until a walk and a sayonara double in the bottom of the 9th for Seibu. Seriously, crazy close game. Congrats to Seibu, but congrats even moreso to the Uni-President Lions for not only surviving their own league but then putting in such a great showing in this tournament, and to their fans as well.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Asia Series: Day 2, Game 2 -- Kishi Tames Tongyi

When last we left our heroes, we were getting lunch between the two games on Day 2.

I returned to the Dome before the rest of the gang, because I was meeting up with one of my friends from the Fighters ouendan. He wanted to come see Taiwan's team play; if the Giants had been in this game he was seriously going to go sit in left field and cheer for them, but since it was Seibu, he decided to sit in right field with me. I think in reality he thought the Taiwan fans were just really entertaining to watch, which is quite true.

He also brought Krispy Kreme donuts. Apparently they just opened a new location down in Kawasaki.

Eventually we reassembled most of our gang in right field; Matt and Simon were there at the game's beginning, and Pau joined us a bit later and Simon's dad a bit after that.

As for my Fighters friend, Simon had brought extra Seibu flags and offered them to us. I gladly accepted because I like waving things around and yelling, but my friend steadfastly refused, claiming that as a Fighters fan he could cheer for Japan but not for Seibu.

(Instead, we spent a while getting trash-talked at by Pau about the recent Fighters trade, which became official that morning. Our basic attitude has been "NIOKA. DO NOT WANT.")

Anyway, this game was also really close. The first three innings were scoreless both ways, with Seibu getting a few more baserunners than Uni-President. Infact they even had two runners out there with no outs in the third inning, but Kuriyama utterly failed to sac bunt and Hirao mostly failed to get a hit, so the runners were stranded.

Finally, in the top of the 4th, Uni second baseman Sen Yang led off with a double to right, and advanced on a groundout to the pitcher. Jiminez Brito hit a monster shot to center field, which Shogo Akada caught near the warning track, but it was more than enough to score Yang, who tagged up and ran in to make it 1-0. Kuo-Ching Kao followed that up with a double to left, but Tai-Chi Kuo struck out to end the threat.

So in the bottom of the 4th the Seibu Lions responded in kind. Yoshihito Ishii hit a double out to center, and Tomoaki Satoh grounded out attempting to bunt, moving Ishii to third. Hiroyuki Ohshima singled to center and that scored Ishii to tie the game at 1-1. Then Ginjiro Sumitani -- who hadn't gotten a hit all through the Japan Series, but seemed to be hitting his stride in the Asia Series -- doubled to center. Ohshima attempted to score from first, and got NAILED at the plate by the throw in from center. Oops. Two out. Shogo Akada then chose that moment to actually HIT THE BALL though, and he ALSO doubled to center, which scored Ginjiro, making it 2-1.

Which is where the score would end up remaining for the rest of the game.

The game was actually INSANELY short -- it did go the full 9 innings, but it was over around 8:35pm. Kishi struck out 10 batters in 8 innings, and Hoshino and Onodera finished ou the 9th inning for him.

As for Taiwan, their starter Wei-Lun Pan lasted the first 6 innings before being replaced by Yi-Chen Tseng, who had a really interesting delivery, kind of a 3/4ths motion that reminded me of the Fighters pitcher Tateyama. When Tseng came in the next two batters immediately grounded back to the mound, even.

We spent a while being amused by the Taiwanese cheering section; I missed Thursday afternoon's game so this was my first time seeing them. They did a whole variety of typical high school marching band songs, like Popeye and Old McDonald and Johnny Comes Marching Home and whatnot.

Also, we were sitting in the same exact place from Thursday, which meant all of the same nutso Lions fans were right behind us doing the Macarena dance and cheering for Mizuta when he came in to pinch-run and whatnot.

A few photos from this game:

Lions mascots in the field. Leo did 16 back flips. (My friend counted, then said something to the effect of, "Take THAT, Doala!")

I really wanted a better picture of the Uni-President 7-Eleven Lions away uniforms -- the home ones have the Tongyi logo but the away look kind of like Oakland uniforms except that they say 7-Eleven on the front. Alas.

The fans sitting behind us had a variety of signs. I liked this one.

In the midst of the Blue Blue and Blue flags.

Final score. Shogo Akada was game hero for that go-ahead run, though honestly, I would have gone with Kishi as game hero... I'm biased, though.

Asia Series: Day 2, Game 1 - Wyverns Whomp Tianjin Lions

I must admit that I went into the Asia Series with an attitude of, "I spent 4000 yen for this Passport, and I'm going to get the most I can out of it." Since the Japan representative was not a team I normally cheer for, I ended up treating the series mostly as a social event. Which, to some extent, it was.

For the first game on Friday, the matinee featuring Korea's SK Wyverns taking on China's Tianjin Lions, I attempted to meet up with Michael Westbay when I arrived at the dome. I was about 15 minutes late to the game; he told me to join him in the seats behind home plate... of course, you can't actually GO there with a jiyuu passport, so I gave up and found a slightly better vantage point -- first row behind the SK Wyverns dugout.

Eventually, me and my camera were joined by Westbay, Matt, and Simon, and we watched Korea pretty much stomp the Chinese representatives into the ground. Eun-Beom Song started for the Wyverns, and Wei Chen for the Lions.

The score held at 0-0 for two innings, and then the Wyverns just broke open the game in the top of the 3rd, batting around the entire order and scoring 7 runs in the process, stealing bases at will.

After that the Chinese team sort of seemed to lose concentration on the game and not only made terrible fielding errors but even simple baserunning errors. In the bottom of the 4th, there was a runner at first with one out, and the batter hit a pop fly out to left field. The runner had already gotten past second base, so when the ball was caught he started sort of jogging/walking back to first base. We were all like "DUDE, WHAT ARE YOU DOING, RUN RUN RUN" but he didn't, so the Wyverns left fielder threw in the ball and the runner was tagged out.

The game was called after 7 innings on the mercy rule with a score of 15-0. Jae-Hyun Kim just added insult to injury by blasting a home run into the empty right-field seats in the top of the 7th.

To be fair, Tianjin's players have some potential -- some great outfield arms there and a lot of speed. They just sort of gave up way too easily.

Some photos:

Wyverns starter Eun-Beom Song.

Lions starter Wei Chen.

SK Wyverns cheering section in the infield.

Jae-Hyun Kim hits a huge pop foul in the 3rd inning.

Lions catcher Min Ren goes after the foul ball and gets it.

Wyverns catcher Sang Ho Chung.

Lions pitcher Wan-Jun Zhang.

Wyverns pitcher Song is airborne for some reason.

Zhi-Cheng Liu strikes out.

Pitcher Eun-Beom Song again.

Wyverns relief pitcher Byung-Doo Jun. (I don't know why, but the lady sitting a row behind us who also had a huge camera was really excited when he came out to pitch.)

Final lopsided score.

Song was the game hero, apparently.

We were kicked out of the stadium after that, and adjourned to have lunch with Aaron from EWC and his boss. I learned many interesting things, none of which I can blog about.

And then back to the Dome for the night game, which will be in the next entry.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Game Report: SK Wyverns vs. Seibu Lions @ Tokyo Dome -- Lion Down on the Job

I went to the evening game of the Asia Series tonight. The Korean champion SK Wyverns beat the Japan champion Seibu Lions 4-3.

In all honesty, I don't have a lot to say about this game. And I only have ten minutes or so to say it anyway, so here goes, in points:

- If you have a jiyuu passport for the Series, you will have to change it in for an actual passport card, at one of the ticket selling booths, NOT at the entrance. So go do that first.

- Security is heightened. You will be scanned by a metal detector upon entering. Leave extra time to wait in long lines, or show up early if you really want to get good seats in jiyuuseki (the unreserved seats).

- Speaking of jiyuuseki, apparently they are not opening the upper decks except MAYBE for the final game? Tonight I was basically told "it's not going to be crowded enough to make us open the second floor." I think the ticketing scheme which involved the second floor as unreserved seats for Japan games also assumed there would be a popular enough Japanese team to fill those seats (ie, Giants).

- The Lions are not playing a lot of their normal top-line guys. Tonight's game basically had Kuriyama, Okawari-kun, and maybe Gotoh, of their usual lineup... it was Akada, Kuriyama, Hirao, Nakamura, Gotoh, Tomoaki Satoh, Ishii, Ginjiro, and Mizuta. Yeah. We were all like "who the hell is Mizuta?" but he actually had some huge cheering fans near where we were sitting anyway. I kinda wondered what happened to Haruki Kurose, but whatever.

- Okawari-kun Nakamura struck out three times and walked once. Sheesh.

- Kwang-Hyun Kim started for the SK Wyverns. He's that kid who not only beat the Dragons last year at the age of 19 (now he's 20!) but also kicked butt in the Olympics and was his league's MVP this year and so on. I don't think he actually got the victory tonight though because he only went 4.2 innings.

- Kazuyuki Hoashi started for the Lions. He wasn't bad but he gave up two identical homeruns that pretty much went right to the left-field corner, which accounted for 3 of the 4 runs the Wyverns scored. The second one hit the foul pole and the first, I actually lost it in the lights so I'm not sure what happened, Nabe-Q argued it for a bit but it stood.

- There were a lot of strikeouts by both sides.

- We realized there has never been an Asia Series without a Lions team. 2005 and 2006 had Samsung, last year had Uni-President, and this year has three of them. The Four-Lions Series dream is still alive, of course.

- There were NOT a lot of people there. Official attendance appears to be 9277. I wonder if it'll be any better over the weekend -- maybe Sunday's final game, but who knows. This was a Thursday night, but usually Korea draws a bigger crowd than most others.

- Oh, and the Lions fans still did a lot of their usual antics. I joined in singing and stuff actually, but not in running back and forth in the stands. Maybe tomorrow :)

Honestly, the upshot is -- I think if the Lions had their top guys out there, they would have handily defeated the Wyverns, actually. But they were basically playing their farm team, and that's gotta hurt. I have to wonder whether they will actually manage to win this series or not -- tomorrow's game against the Uni-President-7-11-whatever-the-heck Lions will pretty much decide their fate, I think. If Japan doesn't make it to the final game, that'll be... bizarre, to say the least.

I'm going to try to make it to both games tomorrow. Shame I overslept this afternoon's game, actually, because apparently China's Lions ALMOST defeated Taiwan's Lions -- it was apparently 4-3 in the bottom of the 9th with two outs and then Taiwan hit a sayonara grand slam to make it 7-4. Man.