Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Ohshima and Blanco Named to Best 9

Congratulations to Yohei Ohshima and Tony Blanco who were named to the Central League's Best 9.  It was Ohshima's first nomination and Blanco's second.  Ohshima was second in the voting amoung outfielders, only 17 votes behind Yomiuri's Hisayoshi Chono, and is currently working out and playing with Team Japan.  It hasn't been determined yet if Ohshima will be selected to play for Japan in the upcoming World Baseball Classic.  Blanco is currently a free agent and hoping to get a multi-year deal from a NPB team.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Sep. 22, 2012 Ni-Gun Dragons vs. Carp

When I was in Japan for a week in September we were able to make it to Nagoya for a ni-gun game.  The ichi-gun squad was out of town and I had been wanting to go to a ni-gun game anyway, mainly because they play at the old Nagoya stadium and because baseball is better outdoors.  Nagoya Kyujo opened in 1948 and was the home of the Dragons until 1997 when they moved to Nagoya Dome.  It was renovated in 2010 to make it more useful for ni-gun purposes, at that time they removed a majority of the seating and constructed a multi-story indoor practice center out near left field. 

The day we went was a Saturday and happened to be the last ni-gun game of the season, so there was a good-sized crowd.  The crowd seemed bigger than the recorded 2,290 as the seats in the section behind home plate were entirely full and the bleachers along the third-base side were mostly full.  The stadium itself had the feeling of being pretty old, the seating seemed to be much older than 2010 and concessions and merchandise were very limited.  Still it was a fun place to see a game, even with the weather being as hot and humid as it was.

There wasn't any reserved seating and we were only a little early, but we were still able to find seats for my wife, my daughter and myself about two-thirds of the way up behind the tunnel on the first-base side.  The Dragons had a very recognizable lineup that day with Takeshi Yamasaki, Shuhei Takahashi, Tatsuro Iwasaki and Atsushi Fujii all starting and Kenichi Nakata on the mound for a pre-playoffs tune-up.  As the game went on it became pretty clear that it was a ni-gun game as the defensive play was very inconsistant.  Takahashi made a nice play charging a ball in the first, but later missed on a play that he should have been able to make.  Both teams had some communication issues, including when Dragons right-fielder Shingo Ito collided with second-baseman Shigeo Yanagida on what should have been an easy pop out.  While there was plenty to laugh about, there was also plenty to cheer about.  Iwasaki made some fine plays and Satoshi Kato answered Hiroshima's 3-run (1 ER) 3rd-inning with a booming home run out to left field.  Kato then hit another, almost identical, home run in the 5th.  The two home runs were his first and second as a professional.  Chunichi was down 4-2 in the 7th when Yanagida tied the game with two-run home run, but the rally wasn't over.  The Dragons took the lead on yet another unearned run when Ryoji Nakata (AKA bu-chan) became my wife's favorite Dragon by legging out an RBI triple.  It was probably the highlight of the game, we were all surprised at how fast the big guy got around the bases and he beat the relay from right field by a good margin.  The Carp made it interesting in the 9th, but Chunichi was able to hang on for the 6-5 victory.

Being the last game of the season ni-gun manager Suzuki made a speech and thanked the fans for their support.  After that a number of the players came out and signed autographs.  I'm not much of an autograph hound, but my neices who are members of the Dragons' fan club and so can get into ni-gun games for free said that the players were more accessable there and they had been able to get some autographs before.  I had a ball that I was hoping  Fujii would sign, since he's from Toyohashi where my in-laws live, but he's kind of a popular ni-gun player and had hit third in the lineup that day so he had a big crowd of autograph seekers.  I still tried, but he and the other guys got called away to practice before it was my turn.  I told my wife that it was no big deal, but she was dissapointed for me, which was nice of her.  She said we should wait around outside the stadium to see if any players would come, but I wasn't really interested.  After leaving the stadium we headed over to the park across the street so my daugher could swing and run around before the train ride.  We hung out there for a bit, I watched some of a rec softball game which was happening on the field at the park while she played, then we headed off towards the train station.  As we passed the indoor practice building we noticed that there was a small group forming near the fence.  Apparently someone had convinced former Dragon outfielder/first-baseman and current coach Yonetoshi Kawamata to come outside.  One of the guys said that he was a friend of Kawamata's and had called him outside and then the crowd had formed.  Anyways, we hit him up for an autograph and so didn't leave empty handed.  Looking at his stats Kawamata had a long career with Chunichi and even led the Central League in sacrifice flies in 1986.

Box Score

Some historical photos of the stadium from wikipedia:

And Photos from our visit:

Pre-Game Warmup

Takahashi At Bat

Post-Game Speech

Kawamata Obliges our Request

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Hidenori Kuramoto Calls it a Career

This is kind of old news, but Hidenori chose to retire from playing at the end of the season after the Dragons did not offer him a contract for 2013.  The Dragons did, however, offer him a job as an assistant coach, which he chose to accept rather than trying to catch on with another NPB team or another pro team somewhere else in the world.  He is currently listed as the ni-gun outfield and baserunning coach and has been working with the team during fall camp.

Hidenori's career with Chunichi spanned fourteen years, with ichi-gun appearances in twelve of those years.  He was never really a full-time player due to his hitting, he finished with a .236 career average, but was a good athlete and a skilled defender and baserunner.  Those skills kept him on the team as a pinch-runner and late-inning defensive replacement allowing him to appear in 884 games for the Dragons.  He'll be remembered for his spectacular plays in the outfield, some can be seen in this video (highlights start at 1:25):

Gen from yakyubaka translated his retirement interview which had this fantastic quote:

"I was a Dragons fan the day I was born.  It was like being a superhero on a TV program and fighting enemies every day."

With his love for the game and text-book outfield play he should make a great coach!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Keep up on the Hot Stove Talk

It's the time of the year when rumors fly. Not much has happened yet in the way of free-agent signings, but there is plenty of talk and that's often more interesting than what eventually results.  Here's a few things that are out there:
  • The BayStars would like to aquire most Chunichi's foreign players: Blanco, Soto and Sosa
  • Hisashi Iwakuma got a two-year deal with an option for a third from the Seattle Mariners.
  • The L.A. Dodgers submitted the highest bid for Korean (Hanwha Eagles) pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu at nearly $26 million.
The two websites I check most frequently for hot stove updates and rumors are yakyubaka for NPB/Asia and MLB Trade Rumors for MLB.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Dragons and Nagoya Gear now available at Ebbets Field Flannels

Lots of good stuff put up over the last week on the Japanese Baseball Card blog, including an interesting post on uniform history and some links to new NPB items at Seattle's own Ebbets Field Flannels.  Two of the new items include a 1966 Dragons T-Shirt and a very slick 1937 Nagoya Baseball Club Flannel, which is currently the flannel of the week.  Here is a photo of a former Nagoya player wearing the 1938 version, which looks about the same, from mimflyer's Flickr collection.
EFF has now done something for each of the Central League franchises, but it looks like some of the items aren't available any more, like the cool Sankei Atoms cap they used to have.  So these Dragons items may not last forever, but custom orders for flannels and caps are available.
This summer I was able to see a whole team outfitted by EFF, the PSSBL Cascade Orioles, who were playing after our game, had EFF make them St. Louis Browns uniforms and hats.
The uniforms they had made were polyester instead of flannel, for breathablilty, but the lettering was done in felt and the hats were in the classic style, plus they had brown striped stirrups to complete the look.  I didn't want to ask how much they cost, but they did look damn good.
Here's a picture I found on the Orioles' team facebook: