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Taking this weekend off. Be back whenever you see some posts from me!
That's the second largest autographed baseball I've ever seen!
The last full day of the trip! Even though I was ready to go home, it still felt like I had unresolved business out in Japan. I wanted to go home and be back in my apartment and not traveling, but I also wanted to stay and watch more Japanese baseball and chow down on more curry.
After an early morning check-out from the Tokyo Garden Palace and a short taxi to the train station, we made our way deep into the station’s bowels, down several storeys on our way to the station that housed the shinkansen bound for Sendai. Along the way I got my last taste of onigiri, only this time it finally looked like it normally did in the cartoons.
Finally, onigiri that lived up to the expectations and stereotypes I held.
Deep in the cavernous depths of the station, the stations were so tall that I saw my first double-decker trains. The Poke-craze continued down there too as I saw whole trains decorated with Pokemon characters.
A summer travel-themed Pokemon train.
The train ride to Sendai was rather uneventful. Once again I failed at napping, but I did get more Devil Survivor time in and achieved another of the six or so endings of the game, but this is all boring, so let’s fast forward. Sendai is one of the major cities of the Northern part of Japan, but we didn’t really have much time to explore. Our train arrived in what seemed like the heart of the city and we left the station to go to our hotel, a grueling 300 meters away. We were too early to check-in, but our bags remained while we all spread out to explore and I set out to get Min a gift.
Pictrued: What I should have got Min. Not pictured: The book of piano music that I actually did get him.
If you saw the spoiler above, you already know what I got Min. Thinking that I might see something cool in there and looking to kill time, I stepped into a music shop to see what kind of stock they had. Since an instrument was totally out of the question, I was about to head out of the shop when I noticed a huge shelf of music books. Inspiration struck and I remembered that Min is a pretty good piano player who plays both on a keyboard in his room and on a grand in a Hopkins practice room. Shelf browsing produced a book containing a “greatest hits” piano selection from the Final Fantasy series.
Unrelated: This public sink does everything. Soap dispenses from the left, water from the right, and holding your hands over the inside (closest to the handwasher) activates a hand dryer.
My next task was to find a replacement sake cup for the one I broke. Lucky for me, there was another Seibu Loft right next to the train station. After exploring the building with the music shop and seeing a convenience store and an anime/manga store, I went back to the station to explore the Seibu Loft, hoping that they would have the sake cup, unlike the one in Tokyo. Lucky for me, they not only had the same set, but an even better looking one. I decided to keep the more spartan one whose glass I replaced and get a new set for a gift.
I did see a ridiculous timepiece at the Seibu Loft that I have to share here:
When retro goes too far.
Another welcome surprise in Sendai was spotting some Eagles-themed vending machines. Like the Carp in Hiroshima, the Fighters in Hokkaido, and the Hawks out in Fukuoka, the Eagles are pretty much the only team in their region, allowing them to spread out and create an identity for the team, unlike the over-congestion of teams in the Tokyo area. This sight started to turn me to the Eagles, but for the time being I was still wearing my Marines jersey and looking to root for Chiba that night.
Looks like the lame crushed penny machines are on this side of the Pacific too...
Lunch that day was pretty cool too. I ordered a dish that was the “kitchen sink” of this omelet restaurant. It was complete with shrimp, crab croquettes, hamburger steak, a tempura shrimp, and the Japanese-style omelet that has rice nestled inside the egg.
Rice inside omelets...strange, but delicious.
Once enough time had elapsed, it was time to check-in and then hop on the train toward Kleenex Stadium.Miyagi. As I waited for my bags to be retrieved from the back room, I noticed a steady stream of surprisingly Marines-themed dress coming out of the elevators. It suddenly dawned on me that we were staying in the same hotel as the Chiba Lotte Marines. These were the players coming down to the lobby to head over to the stadium to prep for the game!
Instead of freaking out, I decided that I would play it cool. When one player walked by, I pointed at my jersey and then at him and nodded to show my support. Since I’d received my bags by then, I shot out a smooth ganbare as I passed by him. When the elevator discharged another Marines player, I said the same and headed upstairs to my room.
After dropping some stuff off and settling in, we met again downstairs to take the train to the JR station. Like other teams in good fan regions, the stadium station, nicknamed Baseball Station, was chock-full of Eagles decals, colors, and spirit. My kind of station.
The Baseball Station in Sendai has a lot of Eagles pride.
Kleenex Stadium Miyagi has a pretty unfortunate name thanks to the evils of corporate name sponsorship, but it’s actually a really nice ballpark. Since the team is so new (started in 2005, I think), the stadium is filled with open hallways, bright colors, and a modern look.
It's unfortunate that thinking about this place makes me think of blowing my nose.
Outside the ballpark they had a stage with live music being played and a bunch of food stalls and games for kids. Also present were these go-karts that had the names of the mascots written on them…but there was something strange about the naming convention.
...and...Mr. Carrasco...? Where did he come from?
Since the Eagles were having a great year (they ended up finishing in second place), they were also advertising for the Climax Series and selling merchandise, but they chose a different phrase from the Lions and Hawks.
It's super different. Now it says "Go *TO* Climax"
The other great thing about the stadium was that all the employees were dressed like Gordon’s fishermen.
They make fishsticks in between innings.
Before the game, I picked up a Masahiro Tanaka jersey, one of the two real ace pitchers for the Golden Eagles. When I noticed that he would be taking the mound for the game that night, I decided to switch allegiances and throw on my Tanaka jersey that night. It turned out to be a good choice for me, since the Eagles won 9-5 and I found myself drawn to the team, allowing them to become my Pacific League team.
Batting Practice at Kleenex Stadium Miyagi
The only real downside of the Golden Eagles is that they suffer from too many mascots. Aside from Clutch, Clutchina, and Mr. Carrasco, there were two walking cacti, a hawk-man with wings and talons, and three gnomes. Too many mascots…
You can see tons of the mascots in the distance.
Another great thing was this group of drunk salarymen whose boss had way too much to drink. All game long (that he was there for), he was yelling and rooting for Todd Linden, no matter who was up. It was hilarious and the crowd around him started to join in and scream about Linden too.
The outfield and the scoreboard.
The game was fun, but the most hilarious part was when I got back to the hotel. Right when I arrived, staff was setting up spaces for people to wait for the players to arrive, but I quickly noticed that all of the fans awaiting the players in the hotel were young ladies. I got to walk past a bunch of groupies who cared nothing about me on my way up to my room. Another crazy early morning was ahead of me. The last day…
It’s time for Wednesday Morning Quarterback, your weekly sports round-up.
We now know all the participants in the championship series for both countries. In the states we have the Philadelphia Phillies squaring off against the New York Yankees starting tonight. Both of these teams are pretty solid, so it should be a competitive and close series. If it goes to Game 7, I’ll be ecstatic. There hasn’t been a Game 7 World Series since 2002 and we’re in dire need of some drama.
The key to Philadelphia winning has got to be their performance against left-handed pitching. Between Sabathia and Pettitte, the Yankees have got some potent, left-handed pitching and the Phillies are notoriously bad at hitting against lefties. With such powerhouse pitching, the normally home run-reliant Phils will have to be sure to manufacture some runs with intelligent stealing and timely hits instead of the long ball.
Yankee victory can be easily assured by making sure the series ends fast and hoping their bullpen and Girardi don’t botch the series. Philadelphia has a weak bullpen too, but weakness from Joba Chamberlain or Phill Hughes will put the Yankees in a tough spot when trying to get to Rivera. Other than that, they’re the clear favorites for the World Series with a slightly stronger lineup and great pitching. The downside to that pitching and the reason they should finish fast, is that they’ve only got three quality starters. That three-man rotation nonsense they’ve been pulling might not keep working if they have to send C.C. out three times.
One thing’s for sure, this will be an interesting series.
In Nippon, the Japan Series teams have been set and I’m pretty disappointed with the results there too. Neither of my teams won. Instead, the Giants and the Fighters will be competing on the national stage for dominance.
I don’t know enough about these teams to really say anything conclusively about their chances, but I do know that without Yu Darvish on the mound, the Fighters chances are diminished. The Giants have a strong lineup that is mostly composed of power hitting, for which the only known cure is strong pitching. It’s often said that pitching wins the world series. It’s up to Nippon-Ham to stifle the Giants bats if they want even a slight chance of winning.
The Nippon series starts this Saturday.
When you’re on a 2.5 week trip, it hardly seems like it’s ever going to end, but it was my last day in Tokyo and it felt pretty surreal. It would be my last chance to tie up all my loose ends, so I headed out to get my final souvenirs and replace that stupid sake cup that I broke.
The plan was to go over to the Square Enix store to grab a CD for Min, the Tokyo Seibu Loft to try and replace the sake cup, somewhere to find another bag because my suitcase was now too full to travel, the Tokyo Dome to get Fighters jerseys for Eric, and maybe a CD shop to look for a live Persona music DVD/CD.
It would be a busy Thursday as I worked to get everything done and have enough time to see the sumo tournament I had tickets to and catch the ballgame that night. It doesn’t sound like a whole lot, but it involves a lot of train switching and walking and nothing really opens until 1000 or 1100.
They text just as much as we do out in Japan, if not more.
To make a long story short, my day was met mostly with adversity. The first two or three stores I went to didn’t have travel bags. As I mentioned in a previous post, the Square Enix store was closed because it was Thursday, so the long trip out there was a waste of time too. The only real highlights were being able to get Eric and Danielle’s jerseys, the Persona DVD/CD (and a few other soundtracks), and my final CoCo curry lunch of the trip. All the running around the city got me back to the hotel with barely enough time to get to sumo (only an hour and a half left of matches that day) and a guarantee that I’d be late to the stadium in Chiba.
Frustrated, I finally reached the station by the sumo venue. How did I know it was the right one?, I hear you ask.
Lucky guess, I suppose.
Sumo has a religious context to it too, a first for any sporting event I’ve ever seen. Because of that and probably the national germophobia, I was required to purify my hands at the gate after entering with hand sanitizer. It was strange, but I also got a sweet sumo fan out of it, so I couldn’t really complain.
Exhibit A: Sweet sumo fan.
A nice usher lady took me to my seat in the arena and I saw some great bouts. There’s a lot of starting and stopping in sumo that I really didn’t understand, so each match takes a really long time. Rather than explain it, I took a video of the match:
There are so many videos because of the limit in how long an upload can be on Flickr.
Once I’d had my fill of watching the most awesome wrestling style on the planet, I decided to head on over to Chiba Marine Stadium. Before I got too far, I noticed barricades being set up for spectators to wait and watch the departing sumo wrestlers. A steady stream of those already done with the day’s matches flowed out of the stadium and excited fans waited for a chance to take a picture.
Leaving the arena for the night.
One older lady walked right up to a sumo wrestler, but he brushed her off. As I was walking toward the station I noticed a much younger, very good-looking lady stop to talk to the same sumo and he gladly stopped to chat with her. It’s comforting to know that sumo wrestlers are men just the same.
They may have the mass of three men, but they still have the brain of one.
By the time my train and taxi made it to Chiba Marine Stadium, it was already dark out and the game was just getting started. I bought my jersey, but not before almost going insane listening to the Marines fight song on endless loop, and made my way to the seats.
Your usual fake grass outdoor ballpark. At least the dirt is real here.
The Marines are one of the few Japanese teams managed by an American, Bobby Valentine, in this case, and, contrary to what you might think, the fans of the team totally love Valentine. Despite the fan adoration, the team did not renew his contract in Chiba, so it was his last year managing the team. Fan response was vehemently against letting Valentine go, so much so that the cheer section carries a large Bobby Valentine flag with them to every game. Still, the team is looking to go in other directions, so they’ve even ignored the fan petitions and pleas to keep Valentine. With his dismissal, the lone, remaining American manager is Marty Brown, who was fired from the Carp this season, but will go on to manage the Eagles next year.
An early shot of the scoreboard.
Since Ken was there and, if you recall, he loves the Lions, I was actively rooting for the Marines, even though we were seated within the Lions section. I was lucky this game, because it was one of the few where the home team prevailed, with the Marines eventually winning 6-3, bucking the home team loss trend of the trip once again.
The last out for the Lions walks dejectedly off of the field. Reminds me of the episode "Good Grief" in Arrested Development.
Chiba Marine Stadium was nothing really to write home about. The decoration was mostly spartan and kind of reminded me of late 80s stadiums in the States. Most of the atmosphere comes from the ōendan. If you remember from that Buffaloes game, those guys go nuts all game long, waving their flag and jumping up and down to their fight song. They really get into it and make it lots of fun.
Yet another shot of the field
Another game marked off, we now had only one left and only one more full day. Since we had to catch a very early shinkansen, I had yet another boring night as I packed up what I could and turned in for the night. To Tohoku and Sendai tomorrow!
Deep from the trenches, it’s time for your Monday video feature: Embedded Reporter.
We’re back to everyone’s favorite day of the week: Monday. This week I’ve got a few selections for you to watch and enjoy.
First on the agenda is the latest in my favorite ad campaign in a long time, the Sony VP of [Insert VP Title Here] ads.
I really hope this ad campaign sticks around for a while, it’s the first time that I think Sony’s really “got” it. Too often their ad campaigns are unnecessarily arty, bizarre, and alienating. I’m sure the idea behind those campaigns was to get people thinking about the product to look it up themselves, but it’s really more effective to have a solid, funny, VP of Epic Footage to help sell the system.
I really hope Han shoots first…
Our next video comes from a really awesome fan project:
Star Wars: Uncut Trailer from Casey Pugh on Vimeo.
In case you didn’t understand or didn’t watch the video, the idea is that each fan will get to film his or her own interpretation of any scene in Star Wars and the project will then cobble together all of the results into a full version of Star Wars. It’s a brilliant idea. This is why the Internet was invented. Wow…that’s kind of a depressing thought, isn’t it?
I think power is getting to his head
We here at I Bring Nothing to the Table love a lot of things made more awesome by the virtue of us loving them. In that vein I bring you the latest in a series that we have always vigorously promoted, Auto-Tune the News.
I really have no idea what Chavez is doing there, but it seems like too much power is going to his head. In other Chavez-being-strange-related news, it’s kind of awkward to say that you “smell hope,” but maybe that awkwardness comes from my mostly English, partly Spanish brain not recognizing the phrase.
It looks like a lawsuit waiting to happen…
Now, I’m not typically one for rap and hip-hop nowadays, but this video is great. I even kind of like the song too.
Sneaking it in…
Oh? What’s this video here? I didn’t even notice it join the crowd. Well, we may as well show it, right?
This Tuesday the demo goes live to pre-orders. I can’t wait to get my hands on it, I’ve already pre-loaded the demo on to my hard drive.
Insert another credit, because it’s time for your weekly video game news and you’ve just hit the Game Overview screen.
We’ve gone and hit the mother lode, folks. A Left 4 Dead 2 trailer was “leaked” (I don’t believe in PR leaks of things this awesome…) and is making its way around the nets. Just watch it below. It is drop dead sexy.
As far as I’m concerned, Game Overview is done with that. How do you top it? (Answer: You don’t!) I’ll continue anyway since I’ve been getting lazy and I’ve gotta write more than just that.
It’s A Good Time For Sequels…
My other most anticipated sequel (now that Uncharted 2 is out and I’ve beat it (SO GOOD!)) got a release date last week. Bioware’s space epic, Mass Effect 2 will be launching 26 January, wisely dodging the release of Modern Warfare 2 by a few months.
It’s cowardly, but I can’t complain about it, I mean, all it does is give me tons of space to enjoy this holiday season’s releases. Still, I can barely wait to see what Commander Shepard’s got in store for the alien threat that’s attacking humanity. Despite it being a rather typical hard science fiction space opera, it was a really neat story and it looks like Bioware is learning all the right lessons from the first game.
He’s Just A Poor Boy From A Poor Family
LEGO Rock Band has been rolling out a bevy of LEGO-ified rockers for the game, including Iggy Pop and David Bowie which seem to have everyone intrigued. The latest announcement: LEGO Queen.
Along with the other Queen songs that got added to Rock Band 2, we should be able to get a pretty sick rock show full of Queen songs played by LEGO versions of the bandmates. I can’t wait. I’ve even got “Somebody To Love” and “Don’t Stop Me Now” stuck in my head. Too bad half of those aren’t in either game…(the “Don’t Stop Me Now” half).
And that’s all we’ve got for this week. Another short newsweek, but most of the news has to do with new releases. Go out there and play a game or something!
How awesome would it be to see this guy outside your window during a flight?
After a fun few days in Sapporo, it was finally time to head back to Tokyo. We were officially on the home stretch of the trip with only three teams left to see. I was starting to see the end of the trip in my sights and, I’ve got to admit, it was depressing to think that all the fun would be done so soon, but I was also ready to get back home to my own apartment.
The first thing I did that morning when packing was promptly break one of the sake glasses I got as a souvenir. Damn.
Since I had discovered that the walk from Sapporo Station to the hotel was pathetically short, I opted out of a taxi and walked to the station. Along the way I ran into the most evil-looking bird I’d ever seen. I’m sure it could sense how afraid of its evil I was, because it allowed me to get really close with my camera without even budging.
He's tough to intimidate. Must be from the 9th Ward.
The rest of the walk was uneventful as was the trip to the airport. Once I got into the airport, the language barrier became an issue as I had gone up to baggage claim without first checking in and getting a ticket. It’s a bizarre process, but it’s required, so I was sent to the check-in queue and then back to the luggage queue.
I also learned that Sapporo’s airport is way more vigilant than Kansai International. Security pulled me aside to empty out my very full carry on bag. I was confused until the security officer managed to get out the phrase “dining set” and I remembered that I had stuffed some ANA utensils (a knife and spoon) into my bag. He also checked that the water bottle I was carrying on board was sealed and water. What this amounts to is that the staff at Kansai allowed me to travel with a dinner knife and a bottle of water without investigating. That’s some crack security work there guys. Reminds me of Seinfeld’s bit about airport security in the pre-terrorist attack days.
While I hunted for food in the morning, I noticed a model of the Pokemon-themed ANA planes that were in service out here in Japan.
The cutest way to get from A to B.
I’d heard about this line of ANA planes before, but I’d never seen one in the flesh, much less been on one. tim rogers made references to them being used mostly for domestic flights and, lo and behold, here was a model of one for domestic flights. Boy, wouldn’t it be cool if I got to fly on one of these…
I totally got to fly on one of these.
So, what’s the difference between a Pokemon ANA plane and a normal ANA plane? Not a whole lot. The seat covers that are used in every ANA plane are now Pokemon themed…
…And the drinks come in Pokemon-themed cups.
Orange Juice! I choose you!
The flight attendants were all dressed in their normal uniforms and there wasn’t any special Pokemon entertainment on board, so it’s really just an aesthetic thing (and a half-assed one at that). Still, I flew on one of the famous Pokemon planes and I think that’s pretty neat.
I just noticed that the jet turbines have pokeballs on them. That's awesome.
Nintendo’s missing out on a huge opportunity here. Could you imagine how much business they could drum up if they offered exclusive Pokemon downloads on these planes? They’d make ANA a racket and have to officially sell their souls, but still…think about it.
We took a taxi to our favorite place to stay, the Tokyo Garden Palace Hotel, and, after putting my stuff down, I rendezvoused with Susan to catch a pre-game dinner before she left for America. Susan and I stopped in a Chinese restaurant and had a nice dinner as we shared our stories about what we’d been doing since the tour split up. I had to run to the game after that, since I was running late, but it was totally worth it and I’ll have to be sure to see Susan and Marc the next time I’m in NYC.
I see what you're doing here Tokyo, but you don't need the "New." You're not New Tokyo...
By the time I managed to make my way through the Tokyo railway system and get to Yokohama Stadium, it was already the third inning and Yokohama had struck first. The Swallows were down by two, which made me very happy, and the BayStars could very well shut down the Swallows for the entire trip for me (I don’t count the tie as a win, so the Swallows were 0-2-1 in games I’d attended). Things were looking up, even though I was late!
An outside scoreboard had me jumping for joy as I entered the ballpark. Surely this last place team couldn't botch a small lead...
The outside of Yokohama Stadium is pretty plain and it’s nestled within a city block, like most of the stadiums in Tokyo. Perhaps it’s because I was late to the game, but it was also pretty empty outside the ballpark, a major contrast with most other stadiums that feature food stalls and merchandise outside the gates. The interior hallways were pretty bare and empty, kind of like the ones at Meiji Jingu, where the Swallows play.
I spotted the BayStars mascot taking pictures with kids in the hallways.
Since I was already late, I decided that I would look around for a jersey before I took a seat. It was proving to be pretty difficult, since the stands all seemed to only offer a polo shirt-type thing that wasn’t the full button down. What kind of bush league stadium doesn’t sell their team’s official jerseys? I thought to myself as I wandered around the various stalls. Then I noticed something in one of the publicity photographs/posters on the wall and the full horror of the situation began to become clear: those abominations were the jerseys.
Now, there will be a post about the jerseys coming soon, but I won’t be giving much away to say that this one was the worst of the pack. I almost considered not buying it.
The interior is probably as nice as your typical AAA American stadium. For some reason, all of the seats within the stadium are orange or blue, but the uniforms are blue and white and all of the seats are that molded, rough, hard plastic that you might expect to see in an outdoor setting, but haven’t seen in a baseball stadium in ages.
The seats were pretty uncomfortable. The row we sat in even moreso.
Worse still, the row we sat in was right at the front of the second bank of seats. Instead of having a bar or something to separate us from the walkway, we had nothing. If I stretched my legs at the wrong time, I was liable to kick a poor beer girl right in the face. Standing up to cheer for big plays was almost impossible thanks to the diminished leg room and lack of forward stability. The endless torrent of beer girls and fans made it almost impossible to see the plate or concentrate on the field. On the plus side, our increased visibility got us on the jumbotron (Did I remember to mention that I was on the jumbotron at Koshien too? I’m pretty sure I forgot).
That's right, I was on that very screen, but not at the moment of this photograph.
If I had to go and give the BayStars just one compliment, I’d say that their cheerleading squad stands out as the most attractive of the bunch I’d seen and the only one that had similar cheering maneuvers to American squads. Then again, I drank more beer this game than any other because the stadium, game, and team were so atrocious, so take my opinions with a grain of salt.
They also had this weird black bear with “TBS” written across a t-shirt he was wearing. I have no idea what he was there for, but I like him a lot more than their usual mascots. He’s the one who should be going on the road.
My assessment seems to be right about some of these cheerleaders...I mean, what a strange bear thing, huh?
There was a ballgame that night too, wasn’t there? The BayStars put two up, and then checked out for the rest of the game. Not able to let me be happy with their failure, the Swallows went and scored six, which, for those of you keeping score, means they won. Since the Tigers were knocked out of the Climax Series by the Swallows by one game, I’m going to blame Yokohama for screwing this up for them. Way to go, chuckleheads.
He probably struck out...man this team sucks.
Really, how much this team sucks makes a lot of sense when you stop to think about it. Starting with the name, the BayStars, you start to get the feeling that they have no idea what a good team name might be. It turns out that the former name for the team was the Yokohama Whales, but whaling restrictions and a believed curse put upon the team by dead whales (their parent company makes a lot of money from whale products) caused them to change the name…to the BayStars. It’s bad enough that the team name makes no sense, but then they go and make their mascot a couple of human bodies with star-shaped heads. It’s dumb.
They really are the dumbest mascots I've ever seen.
Feeling dejected by the loss, I headed home to sleep and re-energize after the early morning I had in Sapporo. As I drifted off to sleep, only one thought crossed my mind: What in the world was that black bear?
You can't go wrong with dreams about strange bears and cheerleaders. Too bad the Stars were there too.
ONE SECOND! Totally forgot about this awesome Engrish:
It makes sense as a sentence in English, but it mostly doesn't.
Things aren’t looking good for the Dodgers. Their supposed strong point, their bullpen, is being totally trashed by the brutal Phillies offense. In fact, their starting pitching, Kuroda excluded, has been their most dominant factor and the only thing that’s been keeping them afloat most of these games. Still, you can only blow so many leads before I stop believing that your team can actually put wins on the board. In fact, the Dodgers are nice and down three games to one with little hope of winning tonight to actually make this a series. Padilla will be pitching against Cole Hamels and, since Vicente is responsible for the only Dodgers win, this is really their last chance.
In American League news, the Yankees are totally annihilating the Angels. The games have all been close, sure, but the relentless Yankees lineup just won’t cut the Angels any slack. It’s tough to play a team when you know that no matter what kind of lead you put up, no matter what inning it is, there’s always a chance for them to come back with the win. Yankees relief has been top notch while the Angels have all but given away the games that they’ve lost.
The big story of the playoffs this year has to be the rampant bad umpiring. Whether it’s the abysmal foul ball call on Mauer’s hit in the ALDS or the constant close plays that are being repeatedly missed. I have yet to see a game go by without some complaint by the announcers about the calling and a call for automated umpiring. While some of these calls are absolutely ridiculous, what would they do to fix them? Put sensors in the ball and along all the lines? It doesn’t seem like the right answer. I like the human element of baseball umpiring, but there’s also no glory or joy in seeing your team win or lose based on an incorrect call. Perhaps the proper thing to do, for now, would be to train these umpires better, because they’re doing a terrible job this year.
Besides, Bud Selig has made all the changes he needs/wants to make. Nothing more will happen along these lines until we have a new commissioner.
In other postseason baseball news, the NPB is ready to begin its semifinal round, the Climax Series. The best of three series between the Swallows and Dragons and the series between the Eagles and Hawks have resolved in precisely the way I’d want them to. Despite my hatred for DH baseball, I found myself quite fond of the Golden Eagles after seeing them play out in Japan. Darvish is still my favorite Pacific League player, but the Eagles have got to be my favorite team. They completely spanked the Hawks 11-4 in the first game and dispatched them with similar ease with great games from their starting pitching. Tanaka, Iwakumi, and the Eagles will go on to face the Fighters, sans Darvish, who is currently out with a back injury.
While my beloved Carp may not have made the playoffs, I’ve still got my second favorite Dragons to root for and they had an exciting series against the Swallows after losing the first and coming back with two wins to make it to the Climax against the Giants. Can they manage to beat the behemoths of the Central League? I certainly hope so.
This guy is rocking a sick happi. I wish I had one too.
Three days in Sapporo. One to fly in, one to catch a game, and one to fly out. We really only needed two, but the remote location and the unpredictability of flights and baseball game lengths warrant three. It’s a real shame too, because if we had rolled our arrival date into our baseball watching day, we would have seen Yu Darvish pitch.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that not getting to see Darvish pitch was the biggest disappointment I suffered the whole trip. Who wouldn’t want to see one of the best pitchers in the world toss a sweet victory after coming off the disabled list?
Disappointment aside, we had a whole day ahead of us before the game was set to start, so I decided to explore downtown Sapporo.
My usual procedure when I explore a downtown is to first head into any electronics store I can find to start off with something familiar. After seeing the many copies of Japanese MLB Power Pros littering the store shelves around me, I was getting antsy and seriously considering buying a Japanese Wii just to play the games. Thankfully, better judgment prevailed, since spending $250 just to play a $50 game is a little on the extreme side (the Wii also dropped in price by $50 after I left, I would have been super mad for overpaying).
Instead, I decided to go with the easy option and just pick up a copy of Professional Baseball Spirits 6 (or Pro Yakyū Spirits 6, depending on your source) a PS3 NPB baseball game since the PS3 is not region locked like the Wii. I also picked up some Sambomaster music, but that was the extent of my electronics store purchasing.
Maybe it's just me, but I find Japanese electronics stores very intimidating. There are tons of products crammed into small spaces and lots of bright colors (usually red, but blue in this case) advertising things I can't read.
Since I was in Sapporo Station already, I thought I would check out the Sapporo Pokemon Center to see what it was like.
A classy logo for the store. BONUS: Who's that Pokemon?!
It was what you might expect, just wall-to-wall Pokemon paraphernalia meant to lighten your wallets with cute plush Pikachu toys. The cool thing about the store was that, just like how the Nintendo Store in NYC is always stocked with Wiis, the Pokemon Center always has copies of Pokemon games, including the recently released Heart Gold and Soul Silver that were sold out everywhere else in Japan (believe me, I checked). They also had some pretty neat limited edition Nintendo DS consoles for sale that I didn’t buy.
Each Pokemon Center Emblem features Pikachu and two other, unique Pokemon.
My Pokemon curiosity was sated, but it was time to grab a bite to eat. I went upstairs in the shopping center (the interesting thing about all Japanese department stores/shopping centers/malls is that they almost always have restaurants on the top floor) and sat down in a place that advertised English menus. The tonkatsu set I ordered came with rice covered with a sweet, but unpleasant (due to temperature differences) yam layer on top of it and miso soup and it was a pretty good meal.
On a scale of 1-10 I'd rate it pretty good.
At the table with me was a man who spoke some English, so he took the opportunity to talk to me a bit. When I told him that I was in Japan to watch baseball, he brought up that Ichiro had just successfully hit his 200th hit in a season for nine straight seasons. I agreed with him that it was huge news, but I didn’t agree so much with his assurance that it wasn’t a big deal in the states. Sure, it was a MUCH bigger deal for the Japanese to have a player from their country break a longstanding American MLB record, but we didn’t exactly trivialize it, did we? (I guess we kind of did…? Did any of you even know about this before now?)
With hunger no longer an issue, my next task was to shop around and find some more souvenirs. I knew that one of my friends wanted a bento box and another a sake set, so I wandered down into the basement of the building I had just had lunch in and came upon a Seibu Loft store. Bob suggested to me that the best place to find a bento would be a department store, since a specialty store would just overcharge, so I wandered up to the cookware floor and eventually spotted the large bento area.
There were tons to choose from, from small, cute ones with pandas on them to more serious, spartan affairs with dark, muted colors. Many of them even had chopsticks to match their color schemes. I found a simple pastel colored box with matching chopsticks and continued my hunt for the sake set.
Before I found the sake glasses, I came across some sweet chopsticks.
Owning a set of Carp chopsticks would be so awesome, but...
That’s right, NPB-themed chopsticks, a set for every team. My mind rushed as I thought about the gift possibilities. I wanted a set, of course, but would Eric appreciate them? He’s certainly got a ton of chopsticks already and no love for NPB teams…hey, waitaminute! That’s right, each set of chopsticks cost ¥1365 (¥1300 + 5% consumption tax for those of you astute readers who noticed the smaller number on the price tag below the actual price). It was far too much to pay for chopsticks, no matter how cool it would be to have the Carp represented on them. I really have no idea why they’re so expensive, but perhaps the label on the back of the sticks, representing the life cycle of these chopsticks might be an illustration of the reason they’re so expensive.
From the dirt to the hands of the ballplayer, then straight to your hands!
If this cute little cycle on the back of the packaging is meant to be accurate, then these chopsticks come from broken bats used in NPB games. That’s a big if! Beyond that, it’s still a huge ripoff to pay so much for one pair of sticks.
I found a nice sake set, paid for my goods, and wandered around Sapporo for a bit before heading home. On the way home, I noticed a nice park on the right. It seemed to be populated by a bunch of employees on breaks, which looked like an awesome idea. If I had the ability to eat a nice lunch or take a quick break outside my building in a park, I think I’d totally be on top of that.
They've got to enjoy it while they can. Cooler weather was already hitting Sapporo when I was there.
Another neat thing I noticed on the way back was that Sapporo seemed to have more bicycle traffic than any other city I’d seen in Japan. Almost every sidewalk in the city that allowed it was filled with the bicycles of the many employees who rode to work that day. It seemed like most of them were unlocked too, which seemed mighty trusting, but that’s Japan for you, I guess.
After a quick stopover at the hotel, it was time to head out to the Sapporo Dome for the evening’s game. The route was fairly simple: take the subway, switch lines, get off, and follow the crowds to the dome. It was a cakewalk and it would have been a nice walk, if it weren’t for the rain.
Dan and I were in the stop for the Sapporo Dome, but it's still a 10 minute walk to the dome from here.
After getting thoroughly soaked (man am I glad I brought my jacket with me), we eventually saw the Sapporo Dome in the distance. Let’s just say it’s got a rather bizarre façade and leave it at that.
It looks like a UFO or a giant metal space slug or something...
I popped into the gift shop to get myself a Yu Darvish Fighters jersey (I got the gray Away jerseys because they say “Nippon-Ham” on them instead of “Fighters”) and look around. The store also had a great shirt that had some baseball terms written in both English and Japanese in red text on a black shirt. I decided I must have one, so I got one.
The best shot of the field I've got. Lighting in the Sapporo Dome is such that it's difficult to get a good picture that isn't ruined by the super strong lights.
Entering the Dome was much more pleasant than the Tokyo Dome. My ears didn’t pop and the temperature inside was well below the 80s. In fact, it was borderline chilly inside the stadium, but that might have been due to the water evaporating off of my clothing.
One of the stadium's employees.
Since the Sapporo Dome houses more than one sport and team, its concessions and facilities don’t completely reflect the Fighters. There are plenty of signs, but nothing is themed. The place feels a lot like a gigantic airplane hangar that someone decided to play baseball inside. The corridors are unnecessarily huge and sparse, making the place feel cavernous, empty, and dark, but the field itself is very well lit and rather nice despite all the aesthetic issues with its corridors.
Remember how sparse the Fighters cheering section was at that Lions game? This dwarfs it many times over.
If there was one major area that I’d say the Fighters suffer, it’s that the team is too remote. Like the Hawks, they’re the only team on their island, but unlike the Hawks, you can’t get to Sapporo via train. It’s plane or nothing, so when the team travels, it’s much harder for a dedicated cheer section to follow. Conversely, it’s a lot harder for a team to represent its own colors in Sapporo. One would have to wonder how high attendance would be if the Fighters were a Central League team and they played the Tigers. It seems like Tigers fans flood any ballpark that their team is at, but would they go all the way to Sapporo to prove their dedication?
My first time using a set of thunder sticks or spirit sticks or whatever you're supposed to call them.
This game marked the first time I got my hands on thunder sticks (or spirit sticks or whatever you’re supposed to call them), which was a lot of fun. Clapping isn’t difficult, but it does wear on your hands if you’ve got to do it all game. The sticks do a great job of projecting noise and protecting hands, which is probably why they became so popular. I would love for them to catch on in the states, if for no other reason than that I hate seeing people swing towels around like idiots to be like the Steelers fans.
This dude was posing in the stands before the game. I snapped a shot before he (she?) noticed me and threw up a peace sign.
In the end, the Fighters won 5-2 and great fun was had by all. We had a flight to catch in the morning, so I wasn’t really interested in going out and getting crazy, so we went back to the hotel and turned in for the night.
A presser celebrating the Fighters victory.
On Rocktober 13th, two great games came out: Uncharted 2 and Brütal Legend. So far I’ve finished Uncharted 2 (still gotta go back and get the Platinum Trophy), so I’m working on Brütal Legend and both have been great stories so far.
Like almost any review says, Uncharted 2 is a fantastic action movie with great dialogue and character interaction. I’m glad they didn’t have Nazi Zombies this time, but their replacement was kind of annoying too. Also annoying: the final boss! Took me a while to finally get a workable strategy against Lazarević, but once I did, things were going better, but I was still losing. Ever had it where you can’t complete a gaming task, so you shut down a game and then come back to it and beat it in one go? Thanks for being kind of late Saturday morning Eric, if you hadn’t, I wouldn’t have beat the boss. I am not looking forward to battling him on Crushing mode for what will probably be my last required trophy. The ending of Uncharted 2 was great and it had some hilarious lines in it. I’m kind of debating whether or not I should make Eric watch the cinematics from the game, because they make a decent, if disjointed, movie.
Brütal Legend has been pretty fun too. I’d say I’m about 1/2 to 3/4 done with the game’s story and I’m definitely enjoying it. The Heavy Metal paradise that the game is set in is just way cool to run around in and the game is really well written and very funny. Best of all, Jack Black doesn’t overpower the game with his Jack Blackness. Instead he’s all Eddie Riggs (the protagonist) and he does a fantastic job of being it too.
Embedded are some video reviews, one of each of the games. Enjoy!