I was staying at a Toyoko Inn just north of Asakusabashi Station which put on the Sobu-Chuo JR line just one station east of Akihabara. That was my first destination that morning. Akihabara of course is a Mecca for people interested in anime and manga but as usual I was only interested in baseball cards. I got to the Mint Akihabara store located very close to the JR station just after it opened at 1000.
After finishing up there I made my second attempt to get to Urawa. This time I got on the right train - probably because I got on in Akihabara and didn’t have to deal with Ueno Station - and found myself near the Mint Urawa store with some time to kill before they opened. I ended up getting an early lunch at a chain curry restaurant that Ryan had recommended - CoCo Ichibanya.
By the time I was finished eating the store was open. I ended up spending a while in this store as they were attempting to put together an Epoch NPB set for me. I spent so much time here that I was late getting to my next scheduled event - meeting up with Dan Skrezyna of Korean Cardboard.
Dan had arranged a trip to Tokyo to coincide with the end of my trip. He’s another blogger who I had communicated with on-line for years and it was great to finally meet him in person. He flew over from Korea that morning and the two of us met up at Akihabara Station to catch the train to Chiba.
The timing of Dan’s trip worked out very well. I was planning on going to ten NPB games during my trip and had bought single tickets for nine of them through JapanBall Tickets. For the other game I decided I wanted to experience sitting in the Oendan section (this was before I discovered I was going to be sitting in the visiting fans Oendan section at the Carp game). Since I was too chicken to do this on my own, I reached out to Steve on Twitter. Steve's a Marines fan who used to write a blog about the team (We Love Marines). I asked him if I could invite myself to got to a Marines game with him and sit in the Oendan section. I offered to pay for the tickets and to buy him a beer. He agreed and we picked tonight's game against the Hanshin Tigers* as the game we were going to go to. Tickets for the game had not gone on sale when Dan told me he was going to meet me in Tokyo so Steve was able to get tickets for both of us for the game.
*I have somehow forgotten to mention that this particular week was the beginning of the interleague portion of NPB's schedule
So Dan and I were heading to Chiba to meet up with Steve but first, of course, we had to make a stop in Chiba city itself to go to another baseball card store. Mint Chiba is located in a shopping mall about a quarter of a mile or so from Chiba Station. After spending some time at the store, Dan and I picked up the Chibatochi Monorail from Chiba Station over to Chibaminato Station to pick up the JR Keiyo line to Kaihimmakuhari Station, the closest station to Chiba Marine Stadium. It was about a 20 minute walk from the station to the ballpark, although we made a pit stop to check out a Marines team store in Plena Makuhari Mall near the station:
We followed the rest of the fans heading to the game and were shortly greeted by the sight of the ballpark:
I had heard there was a Marines museum outside the ballpark that I was interested in checking out but Steve had warned me that a lot of the museum stuff was inside the ballpark now. Sure enough - the Marines had turned the museum into a big team store. But there was still some jerseys and pennants hanging on the walls:
There was also a giant bobblehead of Nazo No Sakana, aka the Mysterious Fish:
We met up with Steve outside the store just before 1800 - he was coming directly from work where he'd had a late meeting. Luckily the game didn't start until 1815 so we still had time to get to our seats before the game started. We ran into a bit of a snag on the way in. Dan's a huge fan of Lee Seung-yeop, the legendary Korean slugger who spent two seasons with the Marines (2004-05), so he'd brought a Samsung Lions Lee jersey to wear to the game. A security guard stopped him on our way into the stadium saying he couldn't wear a Lions jersey in the Marines Oendan section, even though it was a Samsung Lions one and not a Seibu Lions one. Dejected, Dan removed the offending jersey but was able to put on one of the souvenir Marines jerseys that Steve had thoughtfully brought for us to wear (I unfortunately was too big for the one he gave me).
We got to our seats and met up with Steve's friend Jerome who was sitting with us a little before game time and got to participate in one of the team's pregame cheers (I apologize ahead of time for the video going sideways in the middle):
I'm sure Lotte will be hearing from Disney's lawyers at some point.
Here's the view from the seats - the Marines cheering section is in the right field stands:
It was a lot of fun sitting in the section and learning about the cheers from Steve and Jerome. Here's another video I took during one of Seiya Inoue's at bat (and it also goes sideways in the middle):
And I finally, after seven NPB games, took part in an NPB custom - I bought a beer from a beer girl:
OK, technically Dan bought the beer. I paid for his ticket and Dan paid for the beer. Steve won't let me pay for his and Jerome's tickets and since he had driven to the ballpark, he wasn't going to have a beer. I felt bad that I wasn't able to pay him back for his hospitality.
As for the game itself, the pitching match-up was Haruto Takahashi, who I had seen pitch for the Tigers against the Giants a week earlier, going up against Atsuki Taneichi. The Tigers scored two runs in the top of the first but the Marines got one of them back in the bottom of the inning. The Tigers increased their lead to 3-1 in the top of the third with the Marines scoring a second run in the bottom of the fourth. That's the way the score stayed until the bottom of the ninth. Tigers closer Rafael Dolis was in to finish off the game and the Tigers fans in the left field stands had already inflated their victory balloons but with two outs, the Marines scored the tying run. It was Dolis' first blown save of the year. We were amused at how quickly the Tigers victory balloons disappeared.
Unfortunately the joy was short-lived. The Tigers scored a run in the top of the 10th and the Marines went in order in the bottom of the inning. Final score was 4-3 in favor of Hanshin (and the Tiger fans got to shoot off their victory balloons just one inning late). Tigers relief pitcher Hiroya Shimamoto, a former ikusei player, got the save. It was the first one of his career, an event that was immortalized on an Epoch One card.
Here's the game highlights from Pacific League TV (UPDATE - for some reason this video is no longer available on PLTV, so here it is from their YouTube channel):
Dan and I needed to stop by Ryan's apartment in Funabashi on the way back to Tokyo after the game. Ryan wasn't there - he was on vacation that week - but he had left some items in a mailbox in the building's lobby for the two of us and had let us know what the combination was. We had been planning on taking a train over but Steve was nice enough to give us a ride over as it wasn't too far out of his way. It was my first (and last so far) car ride in Japan. Steve dropped us off about a block from Ryan's apartment and Dan found it without too much trouble. It was a short walk from there to Funabashi Station and we caught a train heading back into Tokyo. It was almost midnight by the time I got back to my hotel, making it two late nights in a row.
UPDATE - I almost forgot that I wanted to thank Steve for his hospitality and generosity in putting up with Dan and I at the ballpark and especially for giving us a lift to Funabashi. He and Jerome were a lot of fun to hang out with and it was one of the best evenings I spent in Japan. Thanks again!