Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Japanese Baseball Cards Blog Masahiro Yamamoto Tribute

Check out NPBCardGuys' Masahiro Yamamoto post here.
He's got card's of him from nearly every year of his career.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Uniqlo Comes to Seattle

Uniqlo, the Japanese clothing company, opened it's first store in the Northwest (U.S.) earlier this month.  The store is located in Bellevue at the Bellevue Square Mall across Lake Washington from Seattle.
We went down there the first weekend it opened to check it out.  There was actually a line to get into the store, but it moved quickly as did the long line to the register.  We didn't try the line to the fitting room, that one didn't appear to be moving much at all.  Other than that it seemed pretty similar to the locations I've been to in Japan.
Certainly, the store made a ton of money that first weekend and I'm sure it will do well in Seattle, with the area's large Asian population and Seattle's style in general.
Their Heattech shirts do make good baseball undershirts.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Free Agents of Interest

NPB free agency is now open, and as usual only a handful of players filed.  The few free agents available are supplemented though by a number of guys who have been let go by their former teams.
Here are a few guys of interest:

Bryan Bullington - Was with Orix last year and Hiroshima previously.  Has been consistently solid and Chunichi needs rotation depth.  He's 34, I would think he could be had for a reasonable price.

Matt Murton - The price would have to be right, but he could help in replacing some of what Chunichi lost in Wada.  Defense and speed is not great and coming off a subpar year, but he's been solid performer in the NPB.  Would be worth it in a buy-low opportunity.

Jason Standridge - 36 but eats innings, been dependable for 6 years in Japan.  Again, Dragons need depth.

Tomotaka Sakaguchi - Hasn't produced much in the last several years, but may do well in fresh situation.  Dragons need outfielders, but unfortunately Yakult looks like they've already scooped him up.  I haven't seen yet what they signed him too.

Andrew Brown - This guy was recently released from Korea's SK Wyverns.  The former Nebraska Cornhusker and MLB player hit 28 home runs in the KBO last year and could maybe add some pop to Chunichi's outfield situation. 

Friday, October 16, 2015

Chunichi Ends Mediocre Season on a Positive Note, Eliminate Hiroshima from Playoff Hunt and Avoid Last Place

The 2015 season ended for the Dragons as their third straight losing year.  They got off to a decent start, but began to slide after the end of Interleague play.  The bats were fairly solid, though the home run power was lacking.  Starting pitching was decent, but not spectacular, Chunichi finished third in the Central League in team ERA and Yudai Ono's performance was strong and Shunta Wakamatsu was a nice surprise.  Had the Dragons had any semblance of a bullpen I think they could have competed for a playoff spot in a very mediocre Central League this year.  Instead they fell to the bottom of a pack of average to bad baseball teams. 

Despite being a bottom-feeder this year the Dragons did have a couple of things to play for in the last week of the season.  They were playing to avoid last place and were able to do so. DeNA fell below the Dragons as the Baystars ended their season winning only one of their last seven games while Chunichi finished 3-3 in their last six games. The Dragons now have played 19 seasons since their last sixth place finish. Finishing fifth isn't much to be excited about, but it's so much better than last place.  Last place just sucks, plain and simple, and in the NPB it doesn't even get you the first pick in the draft. 

After the Dragons had "clinched" fifth place earlier in the week they played their final game of the season in Hiroshima in a game with playoff implications.  The Carp were tied for third and their final game against Chunichi was a de facto one-game playoff, if they won they would continue to the Climax Series, if not their season was over.  Masa Yamamoto started for Chunichi and ceremonially retired the first batter in what would be his last game prior to retirement.  Kenta Maeda started for Hiroshima in what may be his last game for the Carp, if he goes to MLB next year.  The game played out much like a playoff game, Maeda and Yudai Ono, who took over for Yamamoto, locked into a pitchers' duel and the game remained 0-0 into the 8th inning when Chunichi scored 4 against Hiroshima's bullpen.  Shunta Wakamatsu who had taken over for the Dragons in the seventh inning finished the game and picked up the win.  While Chunichi's season was over either way, they played like it meant something, maybe that experience will mean something for some of the younger players down the road.

Looking forward to next season, Motonobu Tanishige will be back as manager.  Hopefully he can do something to get more consistency out of the team next year.  Prolonged late-season losing streaks have sunk the team the last two years.  Finding someone who can close a freakin' game should be priority number one.  I think Yamai should remain in the bullpen next year, while he struggled as as a starter this year, he did perform pretty well as a reliever and has been one at times in the past.  More pop in the lineup and more starting pitching is always welcome, but as always their probably won't be much available on the free agent market.  Chunichi's foreign players: Luna, Hernandez, Nanita and Valdes did well this year and I think will be back, and it sounds like Drew Naylor will be back as well, so I don't know that much will change in the foreign lineup.  If the Dragons are to improve it will likely have to be done with the players they already have.  Some veterans are retiring and it will be up to the youngsters to step up if the Dragons are to succeed in 2016.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Dragons Bid Farewell to Yamamoto, Wada, Ogasawara and Tanishige (As a Player)

Over the last few weeks several Dragons from the over-40 crowd have announced their retirements, including long-time Dragons Masa Yamamoto, Kazuhiro Wada and Motonobu Tanishige.

Yamamoto, the oldest of the group, was unable to contribute much this year though continues to set records each time he pitches due to his age.  News reports suggest that he will make his final appearance in Chunichi's final game this week.  Yamamoto made his NPB debut back in 1986 and was a consistent member Chunichi's rotation from the late 80's until 2008.  He's pitched infrequently for the last several years with varying degrees of success.  He will be remembered as a Dragons' legend and is one of my favorite Dragons players.

Wada, who I believe should be a future Hall-of-Famer, will retire at the age of 43 after 10 years with the Lions and 8 years with the Dragons.  He is the newest member of the meikyukai, reaching 2000 hits this summer.  He finishes his career still being a productive offensive player, and as one of the more consistent and clutch performers in recent Dragons history.  He grew up in Gifu and had always hoped to be a Dragon.  His dream became a reality when he signed as free agent prior to the 2008 NPB season.  He immediately replaced the production of the departed Kosuke Fukudome and has been one Chunichi's best hitters since.  He will be missed.

Tanishige, Chunichi's current player/manager, will retire as a player but continue in his role as manager.  He is currently under contract for two more years as a manager.  He played in a limited role as a player this year, but finished offensively on a high note, posting his highest batting average since 1999.  He was supposed to play a limited role last year as well but was forced into action by the ineffectiveness of Chunichi's other catchers.  He's had amazing longevity as a catcher, and a very impressive career.  He's also a member of the Meikyukai, due mainly to his longevity, but to do so as a catcher is still extremely impressive.  Hopefully with a focus only on managing he can get the Dragons turned around next year.

Ogasawara joined the Dragons only two years ago after long stints with Nippon Ham and Yomiuri.  He's been an extraordinary pinch-hitter in those two years, matching his average career numbers in batting average and on-base percentage as a pinch-hitter, something not easy to do.  He's an NPB legend based on what he did for other teams, but was certainly a useful player for the Dragons in his role. 

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Dragons Now Resembling a Last Place Team

Chunichi's current poor stretch is pushing them out of the CL race, what was only a few game gap between them and playoff position has now stretched to 7.5 games as the Dragons have lost their last six games.  A freefalling BayStars team may be the only thing that prevents the Dragons from their first last-place finish in a long time.

The season started promisingly as the Dragons remained in the top three for a good portion of the first half of the year.  But with all of the CL teams bunched together so tightly it didn't take much of a stumble for Chunichi to fall to sixth.  Pitching has been their main problem, the offence has been surprisingly good with even some sizable contributions from younger players.  Early in the season the bullpen was the main culprit, costing the Dragons several games that they should have had in hand.  Since then the starting pitching has faltered as well.  Ohno has been steady, but the rest of the rotation has been uneven to bad since the start of interleague play.  Again Yoshimi, who was excellent when available, has been out for a while.  They should probably keep him on the shelf for the rest of the year at this point anyway. 

Honestly, I've been surprised by the performance of the bullpen this year.  I expected some potential shakiness out of rotation, there was uncertainty there, but I was hopeful.  The Chunichi bullpen now has 22 losses, games when the Dragons had the lead and lost it in the late innings.  That's the most in the Central, DeNA is the next highest with 17, Yakult only has 5.  Closing has also been an issue for the Dragons, long-time closer Hitoki Iwase who is still on the roster hasn't pitched this year at ichi-gun or ni-gun.  Koji Fukutani has been chosen to be the next closer and was solid early in the season, but has had some difficulties since.  Still he has been one of the better arms in the pen and may turn out to be great closer, but he's not there yet.  Takuya Asao appears to no longer be a closing option as it sounds that we will potentially transition into being a starter.

So Dragons' fans, it doesn't look good right now, but if the Dragons do turn things around it will have to start with the pitching.  They've just signed two foreign pitchers, Rafeal Perez and Drew Naylor, hopefully they will help, either way it's nice to see the front office at least making an attempt to improve the team's fortunes midseason.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

30-Minute Version of the 30-day NPB Challenge

It's been a while since I've posted anything, it was a very busy spring.  The season is about half over already and the Dragons are still hanging around, though currently in last place, they are only a few games out of playoff position.  It's been an interesting season so far with a lot of new faces.  I'm planning to do a recap at the All-Star break. 

In the meantime I noticed that Deanna at Marinerds, etc. has been participating in a 30-day twitter challenge that was originally posted by a Tigers fan.  It seemed like a fun idea and a good way to break my streak of not posting.  I don't use twitter so I will post my responses here.

1: The first NPB game you watched:
    On video: Game 1 of the 2006 Japan Series: Chunichi vs. Nippon Ham
    In person: Chunichi vs. Hanshin at Nagoya Dome in 2007
2. Your all-time favorite NPB player:
    Toyohashi's own Atsushi Fujii of the Dragons
3. Favorite CL team:  Dragons without a doubt
4. Favorite PL team:  Rakuten Eagles
5. The moment you became the fan of a player:
    Masa Yamamoto the first time I saw him wind up
6. Favorite pitcher
     Kenshin Kawakami
7. A batter you'd put all your bets in:
     Kazuhiro Wada, at least a few years ago
8. A fielder you enjoy watching:
     Kenta Imamiya, I enjoyed Hiro Ibata during his time with the Dragons as well, he seemed   to always do everything right.  I don't see the Hawks play often, but Imamiya has blown my mind a few times.
9. A player you think is the most difficult to play against:
     I can't imagine what it would be like to face Yu Darvish
10. Favorite battery:
     Masa Yamamoto and Motonobu Tanishige, an amazing amount of experience between those two
11. A reliever/closer who gives you shivers when he takes the mound:
     Scott Mathieson of Yomiuri, some good old country hardball, he seems to blow the Dragons away every time
12. A pitchers duel you enjoyed or think you would enjoy:
   I have to agree with Deanna on Game 5 of the 2007 Japan Series, Fighters' Darvish vs. Dragons'   Yamai/Iwase perfect game.  Hands down my favorite NPB game ever.
13. Most impressive moment in an NPB game:
   See No. 12, when Iwase finished off the perfect game and championship season all in one.
   Another favorite moment was last year when Atsushi Fujii hit a game-ending extra-inning home run in  Toyohashi.
14. Most disappointing moment in NPB game:
   Sayonara loss in game 5 of the 2012 Climax Series, Chunichi vs. Yomiuri, when it became apparent that the Dragons were not going to pull off a major upset in that series.
15. Funniest scene in an NPB game:
   At a game I was at in 2011 pitcher Soma Yamauchi hit a ball that bounced several feet in front of   the plate off the bounce into right field for an RBI hit.
16. Favorite team anthem:  Moeyo Dragons obviously
17. Favorite team logo:  BayStars before they got DeNAed
18. Favorite mascot: 
      Doala, I know there is some hate out there, but it's amazing he's ever able to land a twisting backflip with that giant head on.
19. Favorite uniform:  Rakuten's 2012 Eagle Star pinstripes, Favorite Cap: BayStars '90s-era
20. Favorite stadium or dome:
     I've only been to Nagoya Dome, Koshien and the stripped-down Nagoya Baseball Stadium.
     Koshien was special.
21. Coolest chance theme:
     Probably sacrilegious, but I'm not really that into the organized cheering, not exactly sure what this means.
22. Favorite cheering song:
     Seems like the one for Tae-Kyun Kim was catchy, from a non-expert I think the Marines ones are often good.
23. Manager you trust the most:  Hiromitsu Ochiai
24. A coach you wish was yours:  I have a good impression of Koji Akiyama
25. A young player you have expectations on:  Shuhei Takahashi
26. Favorite farm player who you hope makes it to the first team:  Chunichi has given almost everyone a try already, I hope one of the young catchers will run with the starting job
27. A player you wish was on your favorite team:  Shohei Otani, such an amazing talent
28. Favorite rivalry between two NPB players:  I don't have an answer for that one
29. A player you wish he was your friend that you'd be proud to show around:
     Shohei Otani:  Can I be his agent? Can he come play for my Mens' League Baseball team?
30. Your dream team:  I need more time to consider that one

Friday, April 24, 2015

DeNA Showroom

Thanks to the kind people/person at the NPB Reddit page I'm enjoying today's game along with a bunch of digital DeNA fans via the Baystars Showroom page.  I don't know too much about Showroom, but it's a good stream and free for the time being.  According to the NPB Reddit page it shows all of the DeNA home games and will be free until the end of May.  The Dragons and Baystars will go at it again tomorrow at 1PM Japan Time.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

2015 CL Predictions: Will the Dragons Finish in Last Place?

The 2015 season is off and running, here's how I think the standings will end up:

Yomiuri Giants
Hiroshima Carp
Hanshin Tigers
Chunichi Dragons
Yakult Swallows
Yokohama Baystars

According to some of the articles and message boards I've been seeing, many think this will be a dreary year for the Dragons.  Some are even picking them to finish in last place, something that hasn't happened since 1992  (since 1992 Chunichi has finished lower than 4th only once, which was in 2001).  Somehow I'm not seeing what they're seeing, barring some very serious injuries (something Chunichi's already been dealing with the last two years when they've missed the playoffs, Yoshimi, Asao, etc.) I don't see this year's team being the worst in the Central League.  Sure, they are old and have some holes, but this looks to me like another ho-hum middle-of-the-pack Dragons team.  Certainly they are not the only team with holes.

This year's team likely isn't going to score a ton of runs, but is their lineup much worse or even worse at all than their recent pitching-driven playoff teams?  I don't think so, it includes two all-star quality players in Oshima and Luna, and Hirata is just coming into his prime.  Outside of the catching position, the rest of the lineup was no worse than average last year.  Then we get to the pitching, I like the bullpen, they have some good young arms there.  Starting pitching shouldn't be a problem either, Valdes is looking like he could be a great pick up to go with Yamai and Ono and maybe even Yoshimi at some point, plus plenty of servicable guys in the back end of the rotation.  I'm just not seeing a last-place team here.  There is no doubt that the Dragons lineup needs to get younger for future success, but statistics-wise last year wasn't a bad year for guys like Morino, so why is this the year that everyone goes in the tank? 

Get fired up Dragons fans, it's a new season, we don't have to listen to the haters! ;-)  

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Dragons' Starting Rotation Announced

Per Nikkan Sports and yakyubaka the following pitchers will make up the Dragons starting rotation to begin the year:

Daisuke Yamai - Coming off the best season of his career, hopefully he can follow it up with another quality season

Raul Valdes - New foreign player, he has been very impressive throughout the preseason.

Kenta Asakura -  Not sure why he was included, he hasn't had a successful season at ichi-gun since 2009

Yudai Ohno - Currently the most promising young starter Chunichi has

Tomoya Yagi - Free agent pickup, most recently with Orix.  He's had a nice preseason and earned his spot.  My wife has been rooting for him since she saw him on the TV show "Senryokugai Tsukoku," He's the father of five children.

Yudai Kawai - Solid last year in 18 starts, should be a good end of the rotation guy

Overall looks to be an improvement over last year.  It seems unlikely that Asakura will remain in the rotation for long.  Tatsura Hamada, Shinji Iwata, Junki Ito or someone else will probably take his spot sooner rather than later.  Former ace, Kazuki Yoshimi, has pitched frequently and fairly well this preseason but is still working his way back from injury.  Hopefully he will return to the rotation at some point this year.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

A First Look at Raul Valdes and Amaury Rivas

New foreign players Raul Valdes and Amaury Rivas made their first appearances for the Dragons in yesterday's practice game against the Marines.  A replay of the game can be seen on UStream

Valdes is a 37-year old Cuban lefthander with some experience as a reliever in the Major Leagues, but was mainly a starter in the minors.  I don't know which role Chunichi plans on using him, but he did start this game.  His severely short-armed delivery looks more like a reliever's to me, but it looks like he has a variety of off-speed pitches so he has a chance to be successful as a starter.  He pitched three shutout innings yesterday and his fastball was topping out around 140 km.

Rivas is a 29-year old righty from the Dominican.  He looks more like a traditional power pitcher with a big windup and a mid-140's fastball.  Rivas was tagged for a couple solo home runs yesterday, one on a breaking ball and the other looked like a first-pitch fastball.  He did have a nice strike out on a changeup.

Overall, I had a good first impression of both pitchers.  You can't take too much from the results of a preseason game, especially a first game, but based on their stuff I think both of these guys could be useful this year.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Katsu Burger Still on Top of Their Game

Glad to say that Katsu Burger is as delicious as ever.  Back in 2012 I did a post about a new restaurant in Seattle serving Japanese-style burgers and sides.  The original store closed last summer for a couple months, but returned in the fall under new ownership.  Local restaurant owner and Katsu Burger fanatic Stephanie Kang purchased the Seattle store and has since opened another one in Bellevue.  I've visited the Bellevue store twice and it's still one of my favorite restraunts in Seattle.  Certainly stop by if you are in the area and you think you'd enjoy a delicious katsu burger.  Try the Godzilla Attack with pork. 

Tokyo Tower

Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Birth of the Modern Japanese Baseball Card Hobby Presented by NPBCardGuy

An excellent journalistic effort by NPBCardGuy can be found at the Japanese Baseball Card Blog.
He provides a great look at the beginnings of BBM through a first-hand interview and further research.  Also very interesting information about how the late-80's baseball card boom in the U.S. influenced the creation of BBM cards and influenced Calbee and the other established card-makers at that time.
Great work, I encourage everyone to check it out.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Upcoming Dragons Preseason Games on UStream

Baseball season is just around the corner.  Chunichi is already training in Okinawa and UStream has a lot of the footage.  I saw a little bit of Kaz Yoshimi's throwing session, good to see him on a mound and hopefully will be ready to go.

Here is a list of some upcoming preseason/practice games that will be shown on UStream.
UStream conveniently converted the times to Pacific Time, so PT is also included.

February 14: Dragons vs Samsung Lions 1 PM (2/13 8 PM PT)
February 15: Dragons vs DeNA Baystars 1 PM (2/14 8 PM PT)
February 21: Dragons vs Chiba Lotte Marines 1 PM (2/20 8 PM PT)
February 22: Dragons vs Hanshin Tigers 1 PM (2/21 8 PM PT)
February 24: Dragons vs LG Twins 1 PM (2/23 8 PM PT)

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!