Thursday, June 13, 2024

Rintaro Sasaki Goes To Frederick

I was sitting on the couch Monday night, browsing Twitter, when I came across a tweet that stopped me in my tracks:

"Wow," I thought to myself, "I didn't realize he was going to play in that league.  I should check Frederick's schedule and see when Trenton's coming to town."  I live in north east Maryland (not to be confused with North East, Maryland).  Frederick, Maryland, home of the MLB Draft League's Frederick Keys, is about 70 miles away so it's not an outrageous trip for me to get out there.  In fact, I did it last summer to see Yoh Daikan play against the other Frederick minor league team - the Spire City Ghost Hounds of the independent Atlantic League.  

I went to the Keys' web page, looked at the schedule and was surprised to discover that Trenton was in town THIS week.  In fact, Sasaki's US debut was going to be in Frederick!

I was back and forth for a little bit about whether I wanted to go out there on a Tuesday.  Traffic was going to suck and it was going to be a late night getting home.  My wife, however, encouraged me to go, basically saying while I might see Sasaki some other time this summer, this was the only opportunity I was going to have to see his US debut.  I was a little surprised at how good a seat I was able to get on the Keys' website.  I was able to get a front row seat above Frederick's dugout despite it being their home opener.  The real attraction of the seat was that I'd be close to Sasaki at first base and probably get some good photos of him in the field.  What I didn't realize is that I'd have a pretty good view of him at the plate as well.

I got to the ballpark around 6:30, a half hour before game time.  The drive had taken me around an hour and a half which was about what I had figured in rush hour traffic.  After entering the park, I headed to the third base side.  The clubhouses in Frederick are on the concourse of the ballpark so all the players have to walk through the stands to get to the field.  As you expect, this is where the autograph hounds congregate.  

Sasaki hadn't come out yet when I got there.  There were only two other people standing around waiting for him.  One guy had printed out some photos of Sasaki and was hoping to get them signed while the other guy was just awaiting with his camera.  There was another guy standing around, talking to the two guys who I assumed was a club official.

Sasaki eventually came out and shook his head at the guy who wanted the autograph.  He quickly made his way down to the field and started his warm ups.  There was a small number of members of the press down by the field that he had to pass as well.

The guy I had assumed was a club official stepped over and started talking to me.  It turned out he was a reporter for the Frederick New-Post.  He had originally been assigned to cover the Keys' Home Opener but with the Sasaki story breaking the day before, he was covering that aspect of it as well.  He wanted to know why I had come out to see Sasaki and what my interest in Japanese baseball was.  We talked probably for about five minutes or so with me probably telling him more than he ever wanted to know about Japanese baseball and Japanese baseball cards.  He ended up quoting me in his article, filtering my babble down to probably the most pertinent comment I made.  

I grabbed something to eat and made it to my seat in time for the national anthem - it helped that the Opening Night "festivities" (which were basically the team's owner thanking everyone in the front office) delayed the start of the game by about ten minutes.

Sasaki was batting fourth but since Trenton went three up, three down in the top of the first, his first activity on the field was at first base in the bottom of the inning.  As I planned, I had a pretty good view of him - other than the foul ball screen running to the end of the dugout:

He led off the top of the second.  Here's the result of his first at bat in the US:

A routine ground out to first on the second pitch of the at bat.

His next at bat came the following inning.  The score was tied 1-1 at that point and there was a runner on with two outs.  This one had a somewhat different outcome (NOTE - I tried to upload my video directly to this post but Blogger is not loading it for some reason so I'm going to go with the video I tweeted out at the time):

I was too busy watching the ball fly to follow it with the camera.  It went over the wall in right field for a two run home run.  According to the game log, it went 352 feet, leaving the bat at 99.7 mph with a launch angle of 41 degrees.

The other batters in Trenton's lineup were having a pretty good night as well and Sasaki found himself at the plate again the next inning, his third at bat in four innings.  This time he flew out to shallow center.

His next at bat in the sixth inning came with two outs and two men on.  He came through again, hitting an RBI single to right field, making the score 5-1.  He would come around to score two batters later on Ryland Zaborowski's double.  Trenton would score five runs in that inning and lead 9-1.

He struck out swinging to lead off the eighth and I assumed his night at the plate was over at that point, especially after Trenton went down in order that inning.  But Trenton rallied in the top of the ninth, although the inning looked over when Landon Frei, the batter just before Sasaki in the batting order, hit what looked like an easy fly ball to right field.  Somehow, however, right fielder Tervell Johnson dropped the ball for an error, bringing Sasaki to the plate with runners on second and third.  Sasaki walked to load the bases but the next batter struck out to end Trenton's offensive night.  Frederick got a couple batters on in the bottom of the ninth but was unable to bring either of them in so the game ended with an 11-1 Trenton victory.

Sasaki would end the evening having gone 2-5 with a single, a home run, two runs scored and three knocked in, along with a walk and a strikeout.  Not a bad debut for a nineteen year old.

I'm no scout so I can't tell you anything about how Sasaki appeared at the plate.  I will say that he seemed very comfortable and confident on the field for a teenager playing his first actual game a long way from home.  I didn't get a good photo of it, but he appeared to be joking around with the first base umpire a lot of the game:

It was a fun night and I'm glad I decided to make the trek out to Frederick, despite getting home late.  It's going to be interesting to see how Sasaki does in future games.

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Topps Now Samurai Japan Cards - 2024 Global Baseball Games

One of the items I received from Ryan when I met up with him in Tokyo was the latest set of Samurai Japan Topps Now cards.  This iteration of the set was for the two game "Global Baseball Games" that the National Team played against Team Europe back in March.  Samurai Japan won both games rather handily, winning the first game 5-0 and the second one 2-0.  That second score was deceptively close though, as six Japanese pitchers combined to throw a perfect game against the Europeans.

There are eight Topps Now cards, seven of which feature a single player.  The other card features all six pitchers who combined for the perfect game although they are not named.  I thought at first this was because two of the pitchers were college players (Yumeto Kanemaru from Kansai University and Yuto Nakamura from the Aichi Institute of Technology) but both Kanemaru and Nakamura have cards in the Topps Now Samurai Japan team set that I think just got released.  (The other four pitchers were Shinya Matsuyama, Shota Watanabe, Chihiro Sumida and Atsuki Taneichi.)  Each game is represented by four cards.  Here's all eight cards:









I bash Topps' Japanese baseball products a lot (and for good reason) but I do really like these cards.  It helps that I'm a sucker for Samurai Japan cards.  The one thing I wish Topps would do is put just the slightest amount of effort into the backs of the cards  As has been standard for all their Samurai Japan Topps Now cards, all the backs have is information on where and when the game was played - they don't even show the score.  Here's the back of Munetaka Murakami's card:

Monday, June 10, 2024

Food With A Side Of Cards

One of my big regrets from my 2019 trip to Japan was that I missed out on opportunities to get baseball cards with my food at the ballparks.  I ultimately only got cards at two different stadiums on that trip.  I was determined to do better on this trip and I think I succeeded.

You might ask why I would expect to get baseball cards with a meal at a ballpark?  Most (if not all) NPB teams sell "bento boxes" - basically a meal in a little tray - that feature a player or coach on it.  Usually the player has somehow endorsed the particular meal.  Deanna had told me years ago that these meals frequently included baseball cards (she frequently has tweets with the theme "Deanna Eats/Drinks Things To Get Baseball Cards") so I knew to be on the look out.

My first game on this trip was Seibu Dome, home of my biggest meal-related disappointment from last trip.  I had seen the stand selling bento boxes outside the ballpark, identified the meal I want to buy and incorrectly assumed they were available INSIDE the ballpark.  I could have gotten my hand stamped and gone back outside when I discovered my mistake but I didn't feel like going against stream of Carp fans coming into the ballpark.

I was determined not to make that same mistake again but I need not have worried - the Lions have redone some things around the gates to their ballpark and the bento stand is now inside the gate.  Ryan and I were able to easily pick up meals before heading to our seats.  We both bought the Takeya Nakamura bento:

I don't remember what everything in the box was but it wasn't bad.  The one gripe I have about all the bento boxes is that they're served cold.

You can see the baseball card I got in the top photo but here's a scan of it:

I was at Jingu Stadium the next night but I was unable to find any baseball cards with the meals - there were some "player collaboration" meals but they had little flags with the player's picture on them, not cards.  The following week, though, Deanna discovered there was a gyoza stand there that had Munetaka Murakami cards.

Two days later, I was up in Sendai and I again had success.  There was a bento stand just after you had your ticket scanned and I picked up the Hideto Asamura meal:

Deanna confirmed for me that this was beef tongue which is apparently a region delicacy in Tohoku.  Having had it at the ballpark made me feel better about not looking too hard for it for dinner that night.

As you can see from the lower photo, the baseball card is transparent plastic.  It's harder to tell that in this scan:

It did not appear that the bento boxes in Nagoya or Osaka had baseball cards with them although I have to admit, I didn't ask so it's possible I missed them.  My next success story was at Koshien Stadium.  There were two key differences here.  The first is that I think the baseball cards were only available for a few week - these signs were up in various places around the ballpark:

Normally there's just a player key chain being given away with the meal.

The second thing is that the card (and the key chain) are in a sealed pack and you don't know who you're going to get - it isn't necessarily the player on the box.  I bought the Takumu Nakano meal but neither the card or the keychain were Nakano:

The food was pretty good though.

The card I got was Yusuke Ohyama and the keychain was Shoki Murakami:

The next day I was in Hiroshima.  I had eaten lunch at an okonomiyaki place before going to the ballpark so I wasn't too interested in getting a bento box.  They did have them but the baseball cards with them were postcard sized player caricatures so I wasn't all that interested in them anyway: 

I asked at both Fukuoka Dome and Tokyo Dome if the bento boxes had baseball cards and was told "no" in both places.  I did get a "rice bowl with steak" at Tokyo Dome that included a Hayato Sakamoto sticker (I had gotten an order of bibimbap in Fukuoka that was endorsed by Yugo Bandoh but there was no sticker or card of him with it):

For the past few years the Lotteria stands at the Chiba Marine Stadium have given away baseball cards if you buy the appropriate hamburger meal and I scored a card here.  The postcard sized card comes in a sealed pack so, like at Koshien, you don't know who you've got a card of until you open the pack.  I got Takashi Ogino but decided to give the card to Steve since Steve had gotten the tickets for Deanna, Noal and I to join him at the game and Ogino is Steve's favorite player.  And also since the card was oversized, I wasn't sure if I could get it back to my hotel in one piece so maybe I wasn't being completely altruistic.

My final game on the trip was in Yokohama and I was again successful.  I got a Keita Sano bento box featuring a pork meal:

Here's a scan of the card:

I always say that one of the great unknowns about Japanese baseball cards is how many fan club and/or team issued cards there are.  This is another aspect of it that I believe is even less cataloged.

Sunday, June 9, 2024

Card Of The Week June 9

On Friday night, Daichi Ohsera of the Carp threw the second no-hitter of the 2024 NPB season, shutting down the Marines 4-0 in the first no-hitter pitched in the Carp's current ballpark.  It was a kind of messy game, with Ohsera walking five and only striking out two but nevertheless, he didn't give up any hits or runs and he won the game and in Japan, that counts as a no-hitter.

I couldn't decide which of these two cards for Ohsera to use for this post, so I decided to go with both of them:

2018 BBM 1st Version #165

2023 BBM Carp #C05

Saturday, June 8, 2024

2024 Bushiroad Dream Order Cards

Dream Order cards are the latest collectible card game for NPB.  Produced by the company Bushiroad, the initial sets were published back in late April.  There were basically fourteen sets issued at that time - a starter deck for each of the twelve NPB teams along with a "booster pack" set for each league.  The starter decks contain twelve unique player cards along with a bunch of other cards used for game play.  The "booster pack" sets contain another twelve player cards for each team.  A player may appear in both the starter deck AND the "booster pack" set but they are distinct cards with different photos and card numbers.  The "booster pack" sets also contain six "Tactics" cards per team that have an action photo of an unidentified player on the team (although it's pretty easy to figure out who it is).  As the name implies, the "booster pack" sets are sold in packs of eight cards.  The booster packs were labeled "Vol. 1" so I guess there's an underlying assumption there that there will be updates as the season goes on.

I'm not a big fan of collectible card game cards so while I was curious about these, I didn't plan on trying to build a complete set or anything.  I ended up buying the Lions starter deck and a "booster pack" for each league.  The starter deck was 1500 yen and I think the booster packs were 500 yen a piece but I could be misremembering.

I was kind of surprised when I opened up the starter deck.  The box included a game board and detailed instructions on how to play the game (all in Japanese of course) which I had more or less expected but what I didn't expect was the number of cards in the deck - there's 48 in all!  I had mentioned earlier that there were "twelve unique player cards" in the deck - I said it that way because there's three identical copies of each player card in the deck.  The rest of the cards in the deck are split between six (five unique) "Tactics" cards (that do not have photos on them) , a "team" card and five identical "time" cards showing the team logo.  I assume these cards are used somehow in game play but I have not learned how the game is played.  Here's a photo of the contents of the box:

The first card in each team starter deck is a foil card with the player's name in gold embossed text.  For the Lions deck, that player is Sosuke Genda.  Here's his card along with a couple other cards from the deck:

#PSD05-L01 (Sosuke Genda)

#PSD05-L07 (Shuta Tonosaki)

#PSD05-L08 (Takuya Nakamura)

#PDO-04 "Infield Caution" Tactics



All the cards in both the starter deck and the "booster packs" have the same backside:

Each "booster pack" contains eight cards.  There are five base set cards, two parallel cards and one "Tactics" card.  The parallel cards are both foil with one of them being a little fancier than the other - I'm sure there's some technical term for it but I don't know what it is.  Here are the contents of the Central League pack:

#CBP01-T11 (Seiya Kinami)

#CBP01-C10 (Ryosuke Kikuchi)

#CBP01-S07 (Masanori Ishikawa)

#CBP01-DB10 (Yamato)

#CBP01-G11 (Takayuki Kajitani)

#CBP01-G06 (Yuto Akihiro)

#CBP01-C11 (Shota Suekane)

#PD0-03 "Full Swing" Tactic (Keita Sano)

And here are the cards from the Pacific League pack:

#PBP01-T12 (Taiga Hirasawa)

#PBP01-H09 (Yuki Tsumori)

#PBP01-B10 (Koji Ohshiro)

#PBP01-L10 (Ryusei Satoh)

#PBP01-E12 (Hiroaki Shimauchi)

#PBP01-L05 (Tatsushi Masuda)

#PBP01-F08 (Naoya Ishikawa)

#PDO-05 "Outfield Caution" Tactic (Takuya Hiruma)

The photography on the player cards is decent and I especially liked the photos on the Tactic cards.  Enough so that I bought a couple at Mint Urawa, gambling that I hadn't gotten them in the pack I bought (since I didn't open the packs until I got home):

#PD0-03 "Full Swing" Tactic (Jose Osuna)

#PD0-05 "Outfield Caution" Tactic (Yuki Okabayashi)

There seems to be a big marketing push on this set.  I think almost all of the Mint stores were carrying these cards (with the possible exception of Mint Hakata) and I saw them for sale at gaming stores that I passed by but didn't stop at.  There was basically a billboard for the cards on two sides of the building directly across the street from the Akihabara Radio Hall building that houses Mint Akihabara:

There was a promotion going on with the Eagles the day I went up to Sendai.  There was a stand selling the cards outside the ballpark:

The first pitch ceremony of the game was thrown by the "Dream Order Producer" - Nobuto Kobayashi:

The best part of it all is on the way into the ballpark, I was given a Takahiro Norimoto card:

I think they were also giving away Hideto Asamura cards.  As far as I can tell, this is a promo card with no equivalent card in any of the Dream Order sets so far - Norimoto has a card in the Pacific League "booster pack" set but it doesn't look like this.