Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy New Year!

I attended a gokitou ceremony for the first time today at the Tsubaki Grand Shrine in Granite Falls, WA. We have visited the shrine on New Year's Day several times before, but this is the first time I've attended a ceremony here in Washington or in Japan. I enjoyed it, the setting and tone of the ceremony was very relaxing and a great opportunity to reflect on the past year and focus on goals for the new year.

I would recommend visiting the shrine to anyone from Japan or in the U.S. and interested in Japan. It's about as close as you can come to experiencing Japan while still being in the U.S. I believe it is one of only two Shinto shrines currently operating in the lower 48 States and it's located in a very scenic wooded area near the Pilchuck River. If you are going on New Year's Day I would suggest going early because parking is limited. Also dress warm because when its a cold day it's even colder in the shade down by the water.

Happy New Year everyone, have a great 2015!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Take Me Out to the Yakyu


<a target="_blank" href="http://www.amazon.com/s/?_encoding=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&field-keywords=take%20me%20out%20to%20the%20yakyu&linkCode=ur2&tag=fromsmaltowni-20&url=search-alias%3Daps&linkId=Y3HKATC2HNNWB5OQ">take me out to the yakyu</a><img src="https://ir-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/ir?t=fromsmaltowni-20&l=ur2&o=1" width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;" />
Came across this book the other day at the library. It's an award-winning childrens' book written and illustrated by Aaron Meshon. The book gives a fun comparison of baseball and the baseball experience in the states and in Japan. It's completely full of colorful artwork and has a Japanese-English Baseball Dictionary in the back. I definitely recommend it, good holiday gift, I will be giving one. And by the way, in his bio he says he saw his first NPB game in Nagoya and his dog is named Chubu, so I'm thinking he's a Dragons fan. Happy holidays everyone!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Upcoming Free Agency

Lots of NPB free agency rumors out there right now as the period for free agents to declare themselves is now open.  Eligible players with free agency options still have several days to declare so at this point it's still unclear who exactly will be available to sign.

After missing the last two post-seasons Chunichi should be a player in the free agent market, but based on recent history they probably won't be much of one.  The Dragons have obvious needs at catcher, middle infield and starting pitching and there are some potentially useful players out there.

Lets take a look at their options at the following positions:

Catcher:
This may be Chunichi's greatest need, but unfortunately it looks like the two most promising catchers eligible for free agency will be remaining with their current teams.  Motohiro Shima would be a great pick up, he's a good all-around player and from the Chubu region.  Unfortunately he has chosen to remain with Rakuten.  Ginjiro Sumitani of the Lions was another potential target, though his offensive numbers are nothing special, he probably would have been upgrade for the Dragons.  He was linked to the Dragons in several articles during the season, but in the end he chose to remain with Seibu for at least one more season.

Middle Infield:
There are a few potential difference makers out there.  Hiroyuki Nakajima, Kensuke Tanaka, Yuichi Honda, Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Eishin Soyogi could all be on the market.  If I could have my choice I'd take Tanaka or Nishioka.  Tanaka is just a pro in every way, he'd look great as the two hitter in Chunichi's lineup and at second base every day.  Sounds likely though that he will be returning to the Fighters for the upcoming season.  Nishioka is one of the youngest of the group and though he's coming off of a tough injury, he has already re-acclimated himself to the NPB and had some success in 2013.  Nakajima will likely be expensive and may not be what he once was, I highly doubt Honda will exercise his option and I've never really been a fan of Soyogi though he's coming off of a couple solid seasons and I doubt he'll be leaving the Carp.

Starting Pitching:
Chunichi's first order of business in free agency was to lock up Daisuke Yamai who earned his free agent option for the first time after last season.  Yamai, coming off of his best season, will be staying with the Dragons and at a reasonable price.  Some interesting potential free agent starting pitchers are Chihiro Kaneko, Yoshihisa Naruse, Atsushi Nomi and Hiroki Kuroda.   The Dragons haven't been linked to any of these other starters so it's probably a long shot for them to go get any of them.  If they have a chance at any of them it's probably Naruse, he's going to end up somewhere.

UPDATE:
Yakyubaka has posted a list of the players who have filed for free agency, linked here.
Ryoji Aikawa has filed and would be a nice pick up.  He's 38, so not a long term option, but could be a useful catching option for a couple years.  None of the domestic infield options I listed filed, like usual, a very limited NPB free agent class.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Some Mildly Surpising Names on Chunichi's Senryokugai List

Over the last week or so yakyubaka has been posting each teams' players who will not be offered contracts for next season, at least at this time.  It's always seems strange to me that these are released prior to the end of the season.  The teams that are still alive in the playoffs now each have a handful of guys that are like dead men walking going into the biggest games of the season.  I guess it could have a motivating effect on those guys given they get a chance in the playoffs, but sadly that is not an issue for Chunichi this year as they failed to make the playoffs for a second straight season.

On October 1st Chunichi officially announced the following players will not be back:

Takehiro Tsuji
Kosi Inoue
Kento Yachi
Kohei Oda
Daisuke Tanaka
Ryoji Nakata
Yuto Morikoshi
Shingo Ito
Takehiro Donoue
Sang-Hoon Song

Kohei Oda is not a surprise as he's been a career backup at catcher who has managed to have a 17 year NPB career despite never getting more than 95 plate appearances in a season.  Though he has never been on the field much he has had some memorable playoff hits and has contributed at times when given a chance.  He's definitely been a good bench guy, but at 37 years old he probably knew that his time could be running out.

The two names that I was most surprised to see were Takehiro Donoue and Ryoji Nakata.  Both are under 30 years old and had solid years at ni-gun.  Nakata has yet to develop the power that Chunichi had probably hoped when they drafted him; only two home runs at ni-gun this year, but slugged .423.  He's currently pretty deep on the depth chart at the positions he can play and struggles with weight problems, but at 26 years old I still had hope for him.  Takehiro Donoue is a little older at 29 years old, but has shown some ability to hit at the ichi-gun level.  He was a guy that I had hoped would get more playing time a couple years ago.  I think that it could be a bit of a mistake to let him go though Hirata seemingly has looked down the right-field position and Fujii is now the go-to fourth outfielder.  Still, guys get hurt and Wada probably doesn't have more than a year or two left.  Donoue gives you a little depth, I can't understand why they are letting him go.  I wouldn't be surpised at all if both of these guys are picked up by other teams.





Friday, August 29, 2014

Dragons Streaking the Wrong Way: Dreadful August Puts Them Out of Contention

It's been a rough month for the Dragons.  Chunichi is currently 7-18 in August with only two more games to play.  What was shaping up to be a five team race for the Central League playoffs has turned to an undramatic three team race with Yomiuri, Hanshin and Hiroshima separating themselves from Chunichi and Yokohama over the course of the month.  Chunichi's uncharacteristic lack of pitching depth has come back to haunt them as they've given up six runs or more in 11 of their losses this month.  That's not going to get it done and so they are left to hope for next year.

Chunichi's talent level isn't that far (if at all) behind teams like Hanshin and Hiroshima so there is hope for next year.  The Dragons didn't get a ton out of their foreign players this year except for Hector Luna, while the Tigers and Carp have gotten quite a bit, so there is room to improve there.  Chunichi's young pitchers may do better next year with more seasoning and with better health and a little luck they could be back in the playoffs.  Unfortunately though 2014 will not be their year.  Fortunately though for me, as this has been a backwards, flip-flopped year, while my favorite NPB teams Chunichi and Rakuten are near or at the bottom, my two favorite MLB teams the Mariners and Royals are now contenders after years of mediocre play.  I guess a guy can't have it all.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Justin.tv Says Goodbye

Justin.tv has unfortunately been shut down.
It's been a great resource and allowed me to enjoy Japanese baseball in a way I would never have guessed years ago when my in-laws were still sending/bringing us VHS and DVD recordings of games.
It has also been the best, easiest place to find recorded playoff games the last few years.
But now it's gone and there are alternatives out there, Reddit NPB is a good resource for finding games.

Update: Where the heck am I going to watch college football games?  Go Dawgs!