Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Tomo Otosaka And The Revolution

I discovered a couple of months back that former Yokohama DeNA Baystars outfielder Tomo Otosaka was playing for the York Revolution in the Atlantic League.  Otosaka had been the Baystars fifth round pick out of Yokohama High School in the 2011 draft and spent ten years with his hometown team.  After DeNA released him after the 2021 season he spent 2022 in the Mexican League playing for the Bravos de Leon and the Saraperos de Saltillo.  He'd had previous experience playing in Mexico, spending the 2017-18 and 2018-19 offseasons playing for the Yaquis de Obregon in the Mexican Pacific Winter League.  He joined York this year and is having a pretty good season for them, hitting .322 and stealing 39 bases as of Sunday's games.

York isn't very far from me - maybe an hour and fifteen minutes - so last Saturday night I decided to head over and see if I could get him to autograph a card for me.  It took a little while at the ballpark to figure out where the players came out to the field - usually I look for where the autograph hounds with their binders of cards are stationed but I didn't see any of them.  I eventually realized that the Revolution players would be coming out from the right field corner.  I briefly talked to one guy hanging out there whose cousin was a relief pitcher on the team.  I felt bad for him - he hadn't been able to see his cousin pitch and as it worked out, his cousin didn't pitch in that night's game either.

I didn't have to wait too long before Otosaka appeared.  I called out to him as he walked past and he smiled and nodded to me as he kept going to the dugout.  I was confused for a minute before a nearby kid told me he'd come back out after dropping his stuff off.  And sure enough, a few minutes later Otosaka reappeared and headed right to me.  He smiled to see a Japanese card and was kind enough to pose for a photo after signing the card:

Here's the card he signed:

2021 Epoch NPB #353

Otosaka was batting second and playing center field that night.  He went 1-for-4 on the evening, legging out a double in the fourth inning and coming around to score on Drew Mendoza's single.  He got on base a second time on a fielder's choice in the eighth inning but was thrown out trying to steal second.  The Revolution won the game 2-0, a far cry from the OTHER Atlantic League game I went to this summer.  Here's a couple other photos of him from the game:

On Deck

Legging out the double


Patrolling center field - don't know why the field is in such bad shape

Warming up between innings

More patrolling

Out at second

One last photo - it was a fireworks night but I didn't stick around to see them.  I had parked a little way away from the park and took a look back at it as I headed for my car.  I thought it looked really cool lit up like this:

It's really a shame that Yoshitomo Tsutsugoh signed with the Giants after spending just twelve games with the Staten Island Ferryhawks of the Atlantic League.  The Ferryhawks are in York this week and it would have reunited him and Otosaka.  They were teammates on both the Baystars and Yokohama High School.

Monday, August 28, 2023

Yohei Ohshima

Last Saturday Yohei Ohshima of the Chunichi Dragons became the latest member of the 2000 hit club in Japan.  Ohshima attended college at Komazawa University and spent several years playing for Nippon Life in the corporate leagues before being taken by Chunichi in the fifth round of the 2009 draft.  He pretty much became a regular right away and has been a steady if unspectacular contributor for the Dragons ever since.  He's a five time All Star, a nine time Golden Glove award winner and a one time Best 9 award winner.  He led the Central League in steals in 2012 and hits in 2019 and 2020.  He's been with the Dragons long enough that he's actually played in a couple Nippon Series for them - 2010 and 2011 - I think Nobumasa Fukuda is the only other player on the Dragons who appeared in either Series.

Here's a handful of his cards over the years:

2010 BBM Rookie Edition #014

2010 BBM 1st Version #070

2011 BBM Tohto 80th Memorial #51

2012 BBM 1st Version #394

2012 BBM All Stars #A67

2013 BBM 1st Version #368

2016 Calbee #064

2017 BBM 1st Version #317

2019 BBM 1st Version #290

2021 Epoch NPB #315

2022 Bowman NPB #43

2023 BBM 1st Version #314

Sunday, August 27, 2023

Card Of The Week August 27

I picked up one of the "2001" inserts from the 2023 Topps NPB set recently.  It's...ok but I remain baffled by their decision to use white borders on the cards instead of the original green - especially since the backs have green on them:

I guess the other design decision that's odd is including the "Topps 50 years" stamp on the card but I guess since Topps didn't update the "40 years" logo on their cards using the 1991 design in the 2021 Archives set, I shouldn't expect it here either.

Saturday, August 26, 2023

RIP Kenji Furusawa

Former Tigers, Lions and Carp pitcher Kenji Furusawa passed away earlier this week from cancer.  He was 75.  Furusawa dropped out of Niihama Higashi High School at age 16 to sign with Hanshin in 1964 and made his ichi-gun debut in July of that year.  At 16 years and 117 days, he was the youngest player to debut in NPB since the war ended.  It would be almost a year before he got his first victory, a complete game shutout of the Taiyo Whales in June of 1965.  He spent the rest of his teens and the 60's mostly on the farm although generally getting into a handful of games with the top team, usually working out of the bullpen.  He spent all of 1969 and 1970 on the ni-gun team but emerged in 1971 as one of the Tiger's top pitchers, going 12-9 with a 2.05 ERA.  He followed that with a down couple of seasons but was a mainstay in the Tigers' rotation for four years from 1974 to 1977.  He tied with Hiromu Matsuoka and Yoshiro Sotokoba for the Central League lead in shutouts with four in 1974 and tied for the lead again (this time with Senichi Hoshino, Shigeru Kobayashi and Takenori Emoto) in 1977 with three.

After a down year in 1978, Furusawa was dealt to the Seibu Lions as part of the blockbuster trade that sent future Hall Of Famer Koichi Tabuchi to the Lions in exchange for Akinobu Mayumi, Masashi Takenouchi, Masafumi Takeda, and Yoshiharu Wakana.  He posted ERAs over five for his first two years in Tokorozawa, getting moved out of the starting rotation into the bullpen or the farm team.  He bounced back somewhat in 1981, posting a 2.01 ERA in 32 games, mostly as a middle innings reliever.  He began 1982 on the farm team and in June he was traded along with Tetsuya Ohara to the Carp for Naoki Takahashi.  He spent the remainder of the season working out of the Carp bullpen, a role he'd continue for the next two seasons.  After spending the entirety of the 1985 season on the Carp's farm team he decided to retire as a player.  He was a two time All Star (1974 and 1977).  Despite having played for pennant winners in both his first and last seasons at the ichi-gun level (1964 & 1984), he never pitched in the Nippon Series.  He was a TV commentator for a few years after he retired before coaching for both the Carp, the Tigers and the Guangdong Leopards of the China Baseball League.

The bulk of Furusawa's baseball cards that came out when he was an active player are from Calbee and Takara.  He's appeared somewhat frequently in OB sets over the past 20 years, popping up in several OB team sets for the Tigers, Lions and Carp along with a couple more general sets.  Here's a handful of his cards:

1975/76/77 Calbee #522

1982 Takara Lions #51

1984 Takara Carp #16

2005 BBM Tigers 70th Anniversary #32

2013 BBM The Trade Stories #25

2020 BBM Time Travel 1985 #74

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Micah Franklin

A few years back I was in Sacramento for work and took in a River Cats game one evening.  I was sitting in the section behind home plate and noticed a gentleman a few rows ahead of me wearing a Yomiuri Giants hat.  Since I assumed he was a scout, I finally asked him if he was working for the Giants.  He said he wasn't, he just liked the hat, but he had played in Japan.  He turned out to be former Nippon-Ham Fighter and Hanshin Tiger Micah Franklin, who was scouting for the Mariners at the time.  I told him that I probably had a Japanese baseball card of him and let him get back to his job (or hobnobbing with the other scouts).  

Fast forward to earlier this season...

One of the things I try to do when the new baseball season rolls around is take a look at who's coaching for the teams close by to me - the Aberdeen Ironbirds and the Wilmington Blue Rocks.  (It's kind of odd that despite being much closer to Aberdeen, I end up at more Blue Rock games as I usually go with some of my friends who live in Delaware.)  I also will check the rosters of the other teams in the league as well.  Basically I'm looking to see if there are any coaches who played in Japan.  I'm not a big autograph collector but it's kind of fun to get autographs of former NPB players (both coaches and players although I usually don't go after active non-Japanese players who've played in Japan).  So I was kind of happy to discover that Wilmington's hitting coach this season was Micah Franklin.  I decide to try to get him to sign.

I made one attempt in Wilmington last month but despite planting myself at the one gate where all the players and coaches come out to the field as soon as the gates opened, I never saw him.  I don't think he came out to the field until close to game time, at which point I had had to abandon my post.  But last week the Blue Rocks were playing in Aberdeen so I decided to take another whack at it.

I arrived at Ripken Stadium soon after the gates opened and positioned myself down the right field line where the visiting team comes onto the field.  I talked a little bit with a much more serious autograph collector who actually works for the Blue Rocks.  He confirmed what I had thought about Franklin - he usually doesn't come out until close to game time.

It was getting closer and closer to game time and still Franklin had not appeared.  I asked Mark Harris, the Blue Rocks' Development Coach if "Coach Franklin" would be out soon.  Harris replied "Yes, but he's manager Franklin tonight!"  Apparently Franklin was managing the team that evening in place of Mario Lisson.  I have no idea why.

I was a bit dismayed by this news, figuring there was no way he was going to sign now but I decided to stick it out, even after the more serious autograph collector headed out.  It soon paid off as Franklin appeared, walking over to his players who were warming up by the foul line.  I called out to him, fully expecting him to blow me off but he surprised me by coming over to the stands and signing the card I had for him.  I think he was a bit surprised to see a Japanese card and he said something like "Wow!  The Fighters!".  I had originally thought that I might mention having talked to him once in Sacramento but since he was managing the team that night and it was almost time for the game to start, I just thanked him and wished him good luck.

Here's the card he signed:

2000 BBM #358

Franklin had spent two seasons in Japan  - 1999 with the Fighters and 2000 which he split between the Fighters and the Tigers.  I have a couple other cards from him:

1999 BBM #425

2000 Konami Field Of 9 #176

2021 Epoch JRFPA #32

Franklin could have used a little luck in that night's game.  The Blue Rocks took a 2-0 lead in the top of the first and kept the Ironbirds off the board through the first five innings.  In the bottom of the sixth, however, they pulled started Brad Lord from the game and replaced him with Carl Edwards Jr, a member of the Nationals who had joined the Blue Rocks on a rehab assignment.  To say it didn't go well would be an understatement.  Edwards gave up a triple and a home run to the first two batters he faced to tie the game up.  After getting the third batter to ground out, the fourth batter homered to put Aberdeen up 3-2.  The fifth batter singled and that was all for Edwards.  The Blue Rocks would tie the game on a solo home run in the seventh but the Ironbirds walked it off in the bottom of the tenth for a 4-3 victory.

Here's some photos I took of Franklin during the game:

Coaching third

Calming down Daylen Lile after he took a called third strike to end the first

Talking with the home plate umpire

In the dugout

Walking out to relieve Edwards

That makes two former NPB players I've gotten autographs from this year - Franklin and Yoh Daikan.  I'm hoping to get a third in Tomo Otosaka with the York Revolution this weekend but I was disappointed that Yoshitomo Tsutsugoh signed with the Giants yesterday after spend about two weeks with the Staten Island FerryHawks.  I had planned to see them in Lancaster the week after Labor Day and try to get him to sign then.

Sunday, August 20, 2023

Card Of The Week August 20

I decided to highlight two events from the past week.  On Friday Hawks pitcher Shuta Ishikawa threw NPB's first no-hitter for 2023 while beating the Lions 8-0 in Fukuoka.  Ishikawa struck out eight while walking three and hitting a batter.  On Saturday, Dragons outfielder Yuki Okabayashi went 0-5 against the Swallows, bringing his 29 game hitting streak to a close just four games short of the record - 33 games by Yoshihiko Takahashi of the Carp in 1979.  Okabayashi's streak is now the longest in Dragons history, surpassing Michio Nishizawa's 25 game streak from 1949.

Here's a fun fact about the drafting of each of these guys.  For Ishikawa, it's that he was drafted as an ikusei or development player by the Hawks in 2013.  I was briefly wondering Friday if he was the first former ikusei player to throw a no-hitter before realizing he wasn't even the first one for the Hawks - that'd have been Kodai Senga back in 2019.  For Okabayashi, it's that the Dragons originally drafted him as a pitcher in 2019 but converted him to the outfield by spring of 2020 (his 2020 BBM Rookie Edition card has him as a pitcher but his 1st Version card has him as an outfielder).  Here's a draft pick card for each of them:

2014 BBM Rookie Edition #028

2019 Epoch One #756

Thursday, August 17, 2023

NPB Cards From When Topps Had Balls

I wanted to do a quick post about a couple home brew cards I recently acquired.  The "When Topps Had Balls" blog creates a lot of custom cards using Topps designs from the 1970's and earlier and Gio, the site's proprietor, actually prints up some of his customs and makes them available for purchase.  I recently came across one of his creations on Twitter - a Shigeo Nagashima card using the 1971 Topps design.  I loved the card and asked him if I could buy one and if he had any other NPB cards available.  He said he had one - Sadaharu Oh using the 1977 Topps design - and he'd sell both cards to me for $5 total.  I sent him the money, he sent me the cards and I got them earlier this week.  Here's the front and back of both cards:

I really feel like both of these cards really look like they could have been from the original sets.  The 1977 set was the first Topps set I ever completed so I have a lot of fond memories of it and the Oh card just seems to fit right in.  As I've said ever since Topps started doing NPB cards in 2021 - this is the kind of thing that they should be doing!

Gio let me know that he's planning on doing cards of Isao Harimoto and Katsuya Nomura later this year.  His blog has a post for Nomura showing a card of him using the 1979 Topps design.  I'm somewhat astonished that Gio found a photo of Nomura in a Lotte Orions uniform - Nomura only played one season for Lotte (1978) and for the longest time I had never seen a card of him with Lotte.  Now I've seen two.

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

RIP Masataka Tsuchiya

Gaijin Baseball had a tweet this morning commemorating Munetaka Murakami hitting the 8500th home run in Swallows team history.  In the tweet and the thread that followed, he mentioned two interesting things.  Number one was that the first home run in Swallows history was hit by Masataka Tsuchiya on March 24th, 1950 and number two was that Tsuchiya had passed away two weeks ago at the age of 98.

Tsuchiya was born in Hiroshima in October of 1924, which possibly makes him (and not Shigeru Sugishita) the last living former professional player born in the Taisho Era.  His Japanese Wikipedia page doesn't list any military service during the war which seems unlikely but after the war he played baseball at Hosei University, leading the Tokyo Big Six in batting during the autumn season in 1947.  He spent a couple years playing for Columbia of the corporate leagues before joining the Kokutetsu Swallows in their inaugural season in 1950.  He played under the name "Goro Tsuchiya" with Kokutetsu.  Besides hitting the first home run in Swallows history, his main claim to fame was leading the Central League in stolen bases with 52 despite not having accumulated enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title.  Those 52 steals are the most in NPB history by a player who did not qualify for the batting title - the only other such player with at least 50 steals was Ukyo Shuto who had 50 in 2020 (and also led his league).

Tsuchiya spent five years with the Swallows before moving on to the Carp (and reverting to "Masataka Tsuchiya") for the last two seasons of his career.  He was a broadcaster and a contributor to Nikkan Sports after his playing days.

Tsuchiya didn't have a lot of baseball cards.  From what I can tell, most of his cards were bromides from the early 1950's.  (There was another Masataka Tsuchiya who played for the Giants, Swallows and Tigers between 1955 and 1965 who appears to have had more cards so it's a little confusing if you're just taking a quick look.)  The only card I have of him from his professional playing days is this game card from the JBR 87 set from 1950:

Now you may be wondering why I phrased that like that.  It's because I kind of have a card of him from his college days.  He is identified as having a card in the 1947 JDM 11 set but I think it's a tough call to say it's a card of him.  Let me start off with showing why Engel lists this as being a card of Tsuchiya.  Take a look at the back:

The vertical text in the brown box has the "土屋" of Tsuchiya's name followed by his position (which I haven't been able to decipher).  It looks to me like the brown box is superimposed over "法政大" which translates to "Hosei".

So all good so far.  But let's take a look at the front of the card.  See if you can see what's odd about it:

That's a Meiji player!  I asked Gary Engel about this a while back and he said that all of the Tsuchiya cards were like that.  I have one other card from the set but it's not completely clear if the front of that card matches the back either. 

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Jingu On Cards

One of the things I've lamented about Japanese baseball cards over the year is the lack of cards depicting stadiums.  Besides the subset in the 1992 BBM set depicting all eleven stadiums then in use, there's only been a handful of Calbee cards over the years that show a somewhat random collection - a couple showing Korakuen Stadium in the 1974/75 and 1975/76/77 sets, a rare card showing Hiroshima Municipal Stadium in the 1975/76/77 set and seven cards in the 1988 set showing the newly opened Tokyo Dome.

And it turns out that there's a card of Meiji Jingu Stadium in the 1974/75 set!  I recently came across this card on COMC by way of Ebay and bought it.  It shows the pregame ceremonies at the ballpark for the Opening Day game on April 5th, 1975 between the Carp and the Swallows:

1974/75 Calbee #748

The Carp won the game 5-1, a good start to a season that would see them win their first ever Central League pennant.  The announced attendance was 26,000 which seems a lot considering how few people appear in the stands.  This was also the first NPB game ever managed by an American who was not of Japanese descent - Joe Lutz, who would only last 14 games as Carp manager before being replaced by Takeshi Koba.

I'd kind of hoped that there several cards in the 1974/75 Calbee set showing stadiums on Opening Day of 1975 but it appears that the only other one is of the Giants/Whales game at Korakuen Stadium (#728).

This photo is somewhat striking if you're at all familiar with Jingu Stadium in that it doesn't look anything like what Jingu Stadium looks like today.  You can see what the ballpark looks like now either in the image in the background of my blog (photo taken in 2013) or this card from the 1992 BBM stadium subset (despite being over 30 years old):

1992 BBM #482

The big changes are that there are now seats in the outfield, the scoreboard has been completely redone and the dominant color of the park is now blue rather than green.  It's also not obvious from the photos but the grass was real in 1975 and it's fake now.  I did a little dive into the Japanese Wikipedia page for the ballpark to see when the changes occurred.  The outfield seats were installed in 1978, the new scoreboard* was installed in 1980 and the outfield walls became blue in 1982.  The grass was replaced with artificial turf in foul territory in 1980 and in the rest of the field in 1982.

*To be completely accurate, the scoreboard installed in 1980 is not the current scoreboard.  It's been updated at least twice since then in 1995 and 2008.