Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Trip Overview Part 9 - Days 11-12 - Shizuoka, Tokyo and Tokorozawa

Tuesday morning June 4th saw me catching an east-bound Shinkansen in Nagoya.  I was returning to Tokyo after a week of running around Western Japan.  I had a quick stop to make on the way however.

On November 20th, 1934 the MLB All Stars took on the All Nippon team at Kusanagi Baseball Field in Shizuoka.  Eiji Sawamura started for All Nippon and pitched very well - taking a no-hitter into the fifth inning and at one point striking out Charlie Gehringer, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx in succession.  Gehrig homered off of Sawamura late in the game for the only run in the MLB team’s 1-0 victory.  This loss was All Nippon's highlight of the 1934 US tour - to put it in context All Nippon had been outscored by the All Americans 50-10 in the previous three games of the tour.

The ballpark, which opened in 1931, is still standing although it has been renovated a number of times over the years.  It is occasionally used as an alternate park by NPB teams and I think there are some collegiate games that are regularly played here.  In the early 1990’s statues of Sawamura and Ruth were erected outside the park to commemorate Sawamura’s feat.  My plan was to stop off in Shizuoka that morning and see the statues.

Shizuoka is only about an hour east of Nagoya as the bullet train rolls so it wasn’t long before I was getting off the train and finding a locker in the station to store my luggage in.  I made a somewhat impulsive decision to store my backpack as well as my suitcase in the locker, deciding to free myself temporarily from the otherwise ever present weight on my back.  It wasn’t until I was outside of the station that I realized the mistake I had made in doing that - I had left my rented MiFi in the backpack which meant I had no internet access as I made my way towards the ballpark.

I briefly considered going back into the station to retrieve my backpack but I decided that I knew enough about where I was going that I could probably get there without internet access.  I remembered that I needed to head a couple blocks north of Shizuoka Station to get to the light rail line so I walked off in that direction.  Sure enough I soon saw signs for the light rail station in the Shin-Shizuoka Cenova Mall and I was shortly on a train heading towards the ballpark.  It certainly helped me that the light rail stop closest to the ballpark was called “Prefectural Sports Park” - if it had been a Japanese name there’s a pretty good chance I’d have missed it.

The ballpark was only a block or two from the station and I was soon greeted by the sight of the two statues:

I quickly realized that not only was the ballpark open, but there was a ballgame going on.  I walked in to take a quick look:

I only stayed for a few minutes, nowhere near long enough to figure out what level of ball I was witnessing.  I sent a photo of the scoreboard to Deanna Rubin who said it was “Itoh” against “Shizuoka” but she wasn’t familiar with either of those teams.  She figured it was probably some sort of local baseball club.  The ballpark’s website wasn’t much help as it didn’t have any events listed for the day.

I’d have stayed longer but I was hoping to limit my Shizuoka stay to just about an hour so I hurried back to the light rail station and caught the next train back to the Shin-Shizuoka Cenova Mall - the station I needed to get off at was the westbound end of the line so again it obvious where I needed to get off.  I took what turned out not to be the most direct path back to Shizuoka Station however and I wasn’t able to catch the train I wanted.  After getting my backpack and suitcase out of the locker I ended up spending 40 minutes or so just hanging out on the platform - obviously had I known what was going to happen I’d have just stayed at the game longer.

Shizuoka is about half way between Nagoya and Tokyo so it was another roughly hour long Shinkansen ride to get back to Tokyo Station.  A couple short train rides later and I was dropping my suitcase off at my hotel.  After having stayed at seven different hotels over the previous 11 nights (no stay longer than two nights) I was really looking forward to spending my last six nights at one hotel.

After grabbing some lunch down the street from my hotel I decided that I would head up to Mint Urawa, the store that I had planned on going to a week earlier but didn't because I was too hot and tired.  I took a train to Ueno Station and transferred to what I thought was a train north to Urawa.  After about 10 minutes I realized I was on the wrong train and got off.  I decided to postpone Urawa for another day and headed back south.  I ended up going to Jinbocho and stopped off at two card shops - Mint Kanda and Biblio.  I also took a quick look at the baseball books and magazines at the Shosen Grande bookstore although I didn't buy anything.  I then headed back to Takadanobaba to find if Quad Sports had moved yet and where they had moved to.  I was unsuccessful - the old location was closed although there was no signing saying that they were moving on the door and I couldn't quite figure out where the new location was.  There was a sign for them on the ground floor of their new building that indicated they were on the fifth floor but I couldn't find them on that floor.  I finally gave up and called it a day, heading back to my hotel to watch that evening's Carp-Lions game to prepare myself for the next day when I would be attending the game in person.

I was going to be spending most of Wednesday the 5th out in Tokorozawa but first I wanted to visit one more former ballpark site.  Tokyo Stadium was home for the Daimai/Tokyo/Lotte Orions from 1962 to 1972.  If I'm understanding what happened correctly, the company that owned the stadium went bankrupt and the ballpark closed after the 1972 season, forcing the Orions to move to Sendai for the next couple seasons.  It was torn down in 1977 and the Arakawa Comprehensive Sports Center was built on the site.  I wasn't sure if there really was anything to be seen although Ryan had told me there was some sort of monument or display there.

Unfortunately when I got there I realized I wasn't going to be able to see anything as the building was completely closed due to renovation:

I was able to see the field behind the building.  I'm pretty sure this originally was the ball field itself:

In retrospect it was probably not worth the trip up to Arakawa even if I'd been able to see whatever display they had for the ballpark in the building.  It wasn't a bad little out-of-the-way trip but I could have done the "Ultraman Boulevard/Toho Studios" walk that I ended up never getting around to instead.

The rest of my day was going to involve two Lions games in Tokorozawa.  First up was an Eastern League game between the farm teams of the Lions and the Swallows at Seibu #2 Field at 1300.  After that I'd be seeing the top team Lions take on the Carp next door at the Seibu Dome at 1800.

I was a little concerned about whether or not there'd be any food for sale for the farm team game so I stopped off at a news stand in Ikebukuro Station and picked up a sandwich and chips to eat at the game.  It turned out I needn't have worried - not only did the Lions have a couple food stands open near the train station at the ballpark but there was a FamilyMart just across the street from the station as well.

I guess I should point out that the Seibu #2 is pretty much right next door to the Seibu Dome - there's a long rectangular building that houses an indoor ski slope in between the two fields.  Normally it's a fairly short walk from the train station to the field but the Lions are building a new dorm and/or training facility between the station and the field and everyone heading the field had to take a bit of a detour around the far side of the new building to get there.

If you had asked me before this day what the most primitive ballpark I'd ever seen professional baseball at was I'd have told you Thomas Run Field, the makeshift home of the Aberdeen Arsenal, an Atlantic League team that existed for just the 2000 season.  The ballpark was on the campus of Harford Community College and was part of a complex including two other fields used for softball.  There were only temporary stands at the field and the ballplayers had to use the same bathroom facilities as the fans.  The field was close enough to the softball fields that it wasn't uncommon for foul balls hit on one field to land in the other.  The owners of the Arsenal had greatly overestimated the willingness of the local residents to pay to see indy baseball in a lousy ballpark - it frequently appeared that there were more people on hand to watch the softball games than to watch the Arsenal.

Still, makeshift as it was, Thomas Run Field had several amenities that Seibu #2 lacks.  Like food vendors.  And bathrooms.  And seats.  OK, I exaggerate a little.  Seibu #2 does have a vending machine that dispenses drinks as well as a handful of benches.  But other than that, there's not much there.  The one thing it has going for it is that there's no admission charge.  I should also point out that all this really wasn't a surprise.  Not only had I read Deanna's post about a game out there but I had asked her for advice about going there.  So I knew what I was in for.

The Lions apparently don't let fans into the ballpark until maybe a half hour before game time so I discovered a line of people waiting to get in when I arrived:

Once the gates opened the few benches that are there were quickly snatched up.  I ended up sitting on the ground at the top of an embankment down the left field line, right behind the Lions' bullpen.  Here's some photos I took from there - you can see the Dome peeking over the Indoor Ski Slope in the background:

Deanna had seen the posts I did on Facebook about being at the game and turned into the Pacific League TV feed to see if she could see me.  She posted a screen shot that I'm visible in - I added the red arrow to make it obvious where I was sitting:

I stayed sitting there for a little over half the game.  Around the sixth inning or so I decided to try my luck elsewhere in the ballpark.  I stood behind home plate for a little bit:

I lucked into a seat on a bench down the right field line.  There was a young woman sitting there by herself and she was nice enough to let me sit next to her.  The downside of this seat was I had to look through the Swallows bullpen to see home plate:

As for the game itself, it was fairly uneventful.  The most interesting thing was that 38 year Shohei Tateyama started for the Swallows.  Tateyama was at one time a workhorse starting pitcher for the Swallows - he's a four time All Star and led the Central League in wins in 2009 - but he's missed a lot of time since 2012 with injuries.  The Swallows lineup also featured 36 year old Kazuhiro Hatakeyama, another former Swallows star trying to come back from injuries.  Hatakeyama is a two time All Star, a Best 9 winner, a two time Golden Glove winner and led the CL in RBIs in 2015 but he's missed a lot of games over the past three or four seasons.

Despite the Swallows having the more interesting players, the Lions ended up winning the game.  Tateyama struck out six Lions in four innings but also gave up two runs in the bottom of the fourth.  The Swallows scored a single run in the top of the seventh to make it a little closer but they weren't able to get anymore.  The final score was 2-1 in front of an official crowd of 278 (I have no idea how they calculated the crowd size - maybe someone walked through the crowd and counted?).  PLTV doesn't have a summary video for the game available for non-subscribers but they do have a clip of Waturu Takagi's double off of Tateyama that scored Aito (Takeda) and Haruka Yamada with the Lions' two runs:

I didn't know it at the time obviously but this would be the last time I'd see the home team win on the trip.

The ni-gun game ended at about a quarter to four, giving me two hours to kill before the start of the ichi-gun game.  I took a look around the team's gift shop in the Indoor Ski Slope building before heading over to the Dome itself.

With the Carp in town there was a huge crowd there for the game and I decided to head to my seat pretty early.  Seibu Dome is a bit odd in that it's essentially built into the side of a hill.  The only gates into the park are in center field - there's one gate for the first base side of the park and one for the third base side.  If you follow the sidewalk on the top rim of the ballpark you end up walking uphill to go towards the area behind home plate.  You can only go as far as the sections containing your class of tickets - there are additional check points as you go where you have to show your ticket to pass through.  Luckily my seat was in the section between home and the visitor's dugout so I was able to go pretty deep into the park.

As I said, the Carp were in town and there were a lot of Carp fans at the game.  And unfortunately I was surrounded by them.  It wasn't a problem for me rooting for the Lions as I wasn't in the Carp cheering section but it would have been nice to have been sitting on the third base side with all the Lions fans.

I didn't realize it until later but Ibraki Golden Golds manager Ayumi Kataoka threw out the first pitch that evening:

The pitching matchup was Daichi Ohsera for the Carp against Ken Togame of the Lions.  The Carp got on the board first with a run in the third inning but the Lions tied it in the bottom of the fourth on a solo home run by Shuta Tonosaki.

Ohsera was pitching decently but he was racking up a high pitch count and I was hoping that the Lions would be able to capitalize on getting into the Carp bullpen early.  He did leave after six innings and 122 pitches but if you've been following the 2019 Lions at all, you'll know which team's bullpen is more likely to be a problem.

The Carp put up three runs in the top of the seventh off of Togame and two relievers - Ryuya Ogawa and Ryosuke Moriwaki.  I was still hopeful that the Lions would be able to pull it out as a three run lead wasn't insurmountable considering Seibu's line up but then the top of the eighth happened.

The inning started with a tremendous home run from Xavier Batista off Moriwaki.  It was now 5-1 in favor of the Carp.  Still I was thinking that the Lions could come back from this.  But then five batters later with the bases loaded, Kosuke Tanaka drove a Hiromasa Saito pitch into the Carp cheering section in right field for a grand slam, putting the Carp up by eight runs.  The hoped for Carp bullpen never materialized - the Lions went 1-9 with one walk against Kyle Regnault, Kyohei Nakamura and Makoto Aduwa.  The final score was 9-1 in favor of Hiroshima.  Here are the highlights from PLTV:

One additional note about the two games - Deanna had mentioned something in a post she did years ago that "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."  I saw this in action on this day as Aito Takeda and Ryusei Satoh played in both games - they started in the farm team game and came in as late inning replacements in the evening game.

Following the game I got on a very full train to head back to Ikebukuro and then caught another couple trains to get back to my hotel at around 2330.  I was pretty exhausted after a long day and promptly went to bed.


Sean said...

Awesome write up, you sure packed a lot into that trip!

Fuji said...

Wow. That's quite the awesome experience. That's kinda cool that players play in two games for different teams on the same day. I wonder how many times a player has played a minor league game during the day and ended up playing in a MLB game that evening.

NPB Card Guy said...

Most NPB farm team games are played during the day - a lot of the parks don't have lights - and with a couple exceptions (the Fighters for one) the parks aren't far from the top team's park so it's probably easier to have this happen in NPB than in MLB. You could have someone in the Giants organization play in San Jose in the afternoon and San Francisco that night easily except that San Jose doesn't play many day games. There's also a lot more roster flexibility in NPB - anyone on either the team's 70 man roster or their ikusei squad can play in the farm team game - I don't believe a player would need to be taken off the ichi-gun roster so that they could play in a ni-gun game. MLB's roster rules are a lot more strict.