Sunday, May 24, 2020
This past week, the Japan High School Baseball Federation announced they cancelled the Summer Koshien tournament for 2020, which was a huge blow the baseball in Japan.
Understandably, it would be impossible to organize games and travel for all schools while the Coronavirus pandemic is ongoing. Some prefectures are not as heavily affected, but several were still in a state of emergency and even students have been living an irregular life.
From schools meeting online to practices done differently, there have been too many problems to solve in order to have a Koshien tournament, which includes how prefectural tournaments can't take place everywhere.
In what has been a year of non-stop COVID-19 coverage and discussions, Japan has hit some good news when some state of emergencies were lifted in various prefectures. From a sports standpoint, the joint task force of NPB and the J-League were given the green light to have fan-free games.
The state of emergency in the Kanto area looks like it will be lifted, according to several reports. With the result of this, NPB announced their Opening Day happening on June 19.
Since our last post on this blog, the only significant sports league to resume play is the Bundesliga in
NPB's initial goal was thinking about the economics as they already saw a loss in revenue playing preseason games with empty seats. However, it's clear today that NPB Commissioner Atsushi Saito is in the process of announcing a season and organizing 2020 waiting for the state of emergency to be lifted.
As already mentioned, both the J-League and NPB were cleared to resume activities with both leagues having different resume/start targets in mind. The J-League paused their season on February 25 while NPB began playing without fans in preseason on the 29th of the same month.
The only significant NPB cancellations are the All-Star game, Farm (Fresh) All-Star game, Interleague play, as well as any irregular locations for the ichi-gun and ni-gun games.
It's very likely that the Climax Series will be cancelled in the Central League, where the first place team will face the Pacific League CS winner in the Japan Series. Rumor has it that the Pacific League will have a shorter regular season in order to keep their CS intact.
While three Hanshin Tigers players tested positive for COVID-19 and had the initial scare, all of them have been discharged and recovered since.
It was on May 19 that teams began practicing in a full manner while the COVID-19 cases have continued to go down. June 19 has been announced as the Opening Day for NPB.
With the state of emergency soon to be lifted, NPB players, coaches and fans can be ready for games to count once again. NPB and the J-League returning doesn't save everything given the how the Summer Olympics were put on hold to 2021, but having games again provides hope and a sense of normalcy for what has been a 2020 year of awkward pauses in life.
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Posted by Christian Gin at 3:56 AM
Sunday, May 10, 2020
It's been a long time since updating this blog thanks to a delayed season and the Coronavirus hitting the world. At the time of this writing, baseball is only active in Taiwan, South Korea and Nicaragua.
Rather than report the same delay of news and other stats about COVID-19, I've spent time reflecting on baseball fandom while taking a view of the KBO League.
Looking back on being into NPB, the journey to finding a team and resources to follow it were dark. Founder Wes Mills and myself knew some obvious players who came into MLB, but otherwise had little team knowledge and couldn't just go in blind.
Some advice and words from a few claim we should have watched some games to adopt someone, but that feels empty if they're winning or it's too easy because we felt it's better to have someone on Opening Day. The other option was to just go to Japan and figure things out from there, but back then, the job situations weren't stable enough to find the funds in order to do this.
The 2014 season just ended in heartbreak as our Oakland Athletics failed in another October flop. After some research, the uniforms helped influence the decision, but even the history has similarities to the Oakland A's, creating more layers to an already powerful connection.
Reflectively looking back with having experienced a Lions game in person and finally visiting Japan, it already felt like a match made in heaven. Here are some reasons I've enjoyed the Lions despite the falls and downs of the postseason:
Tokorozawa is out of the way
Tokorozawa is not an area your average tourist will visit. Sure, some diehard baseball fans wanting to cross off every park or others wanting to see the visiting team will come, but this isn't Tokyo. While slightly north into Saitama prefecture, Lions territory sums up anywhere in the West Tokyo suburbs.
Gone are the busy city skyscrapers and high traffic life and crowds. A good majority of the residents just commute towards the East while the neighborhoods like Higashikurume and Higashimurayama are quiet with open space.
This location fits my personality easily given I don't travel on the surface. You can see the Stateside map I track my marks not only by states, but counties (the equivalent of prefectures and municipalities).
Having visited or driven through everything in green, there's no gaps with no way to tell when I've taken a plane except once. Rather than just see a city, 'm all about finding gems in what are"boring" areas of the world. Rural towns have their own identity too. I'll go out of my way to find a county or hit a historic landmark such as Slab City in Imperial County, California.
The Japan equivalent map can be seen below with a few different rules (i.e. no Shinkansen train paths marked)
The Lions use flags
Flags are somethings seen among Oakland A's fans in the bleachers as they're waved throughout the game. Lions fans likely have a flag from anywhere in the Stadium, making it a cool scene when they score or there's something to chant. It's something so simple, yet effective, making it a fun adventure when at the games.
Even better, you're visible as a Lions fan at an away game when having one. It doesn't hurt that a mini flag is a perfect souvenir size too for your carry on or suitcase on the way back.
A share of Golden Era tradition exists with the Lions
It's possible to say the Lions live in the past with lots of 1980s references from their victory song (地平を駈ける獅子を見た) to their cheer song (Hoero Lions). Given that's where the best era of franchise history took place, it's understandable. Plus, the location has been the same since 1979.
While some songs are not as old as the Hanshin Tigers, they also aren't trying too hard to be new like the Yomiuri Giants. Koji Akiyama and Kazuhiro Kiyohara's songs are both used as chance themes while Alex Cabrera's old song is used as a chance theme for foreigners.
The Lions' parent company (Seibu Holdings) owns Prince Hotels
Wes Mills, our founder of Graveyard Baseball, has been "donating" to the Lions for years by occupying Prince Hotels in Hawaii. His family constantly receives advertisements in the mail as they've been loyal customers of them whenever traveling across the Pacific for a vacation on the island. It's a fun retrospect fact that it is under the Lions ownership that Wes and his family have been funding something in Seibu Holdings. While these dollars may not fund a player salary, fungibility exists.
The Lions don't draw the top crowd numbers
I had the Yomiuri Giants and Hanshin Tigers off my candidates list because they were too popular for me to like. Doesn't fit my personality to love a juggernaut. Ticket availability made it easy to find a spot, though crowds on weekends are pretty solid. On the road, the Lions usually don't pack the stands unless it's a special occasion (i.e. a clinching scenario). Having the smaller fanbase in size is relatable as an A's fan and now that I've seen it in person and going to an away event in Nagoya, it felt close-knit.
Tokorozawa has Totoro's Forest
Despite a lack of tourism in comparison to Tokyo, there will be western visitors because of Totoro. The diehard anime fan will go out of their way if they want to seek the real life locations of their favorite movies or television shows (example: Toyama prefecture for Wolf Children or Shiga prefecture for K-On) and the two parks in Tokorozawa are no different.
Anime is far from my favorite hobby, but I began watching things a little more once following NPB to get some ideas of Japanese culture. This included watching every Studio Ghibli film as an adult given I saw only one as a child, showing how behind in the times I was. Totoro is iconic enough and it's great how two forests (Totoro no Mori and Hachikokuyama) are the real life locations drawn in the film.
Nature in Japan is already easy to find, but it's great that a already famous movie can be lived through these parks, let alone one of my favorites of all time.
The Lions are structured to never be boring
Yes, struggling can happen and injuries can pile up, but the roster is structured so they aren't predictable or unwatchable. Not all teams with a losing record are dull, which can be said for some MLB teams based on how the ownership or general manager are operating.
In 2016's case, the Lions defense had its troubles, but they continued to throw out young players throughout the losing. Knowing some of them have upside and can show promise for the long run. Watching Kona Takahashi, Shinsaburo Tawata, a raw Tomoya Mori at catcher and even Nien Ting Wu made the second half interesting in building ahead.
While there is a catch to players walking in free agency to find a better payday, the Lions will not fall for the trap of hanging onto an entire team for too long like others. Call it a mixed back, but trying to reload with youth isn't completely awful than having a roster where majority of the players are older than 33.
The Lions still care about winning, even if it doesn't reflect paying players when they hit free agency
Owners and corporations understandably aren't concerned with wins and losses and it's likely Seibu Holdings chairman Takashi Goto is no different. However, those making calls in the baseball operations make transactions that make sense in a way to be proactive.
When the 2016 season was about to begin, it was thought to be a lame duck season for then-manager Norio Tanabe no matter how they finished with Tetsuya Shiozaki lined up to take his place. When the season concluded, they interviewed outside the organization and didn't go the passive route of promoting from within. The defensive blunders and errors piled up the team's management to go outside the box.
Historically, the Lions have promoted from within for their manager (Tsutomu Ito) or hired someone with ties (Osamu Higashio). While Hatsuhiko Tsuji had connections as a player from the golden era, he hadn't been employed by the Lions since 1995 and never as a coach. He had a resume of being around the game for majority of the 21st century working behind the scenes as an assistant and most recently worked on the defense and strategy with the Chunichi Dragons prior to the Lions.
Tsuji's hire meant he was the first manager who worked with another NPB team the previous season since Shinichi Eto in 1975, making him the first in Seibu history. To break these grounds showed enough to indicate they wanteed to win and were tired of one glaring elephant in the room.
Contrast this with a team like the Colorado Rockies or Pittsburgh Pirates who have shown no plan or direction outside of the few individual talents they have. There's a sense of complacency that hurts both franchises.
Lions fans made the experience authentic and welcoming
Call this an easy bias, but entering Japan with limited knowledge of Japanese felt intimidating throughout the trip. Even crazier, the English services vanish once you're in West Tokyo and away from all the city life, something I was bracing for and practicing the language as much as possible.
Being at a Lions game felt natural and almost like heaven on earth because there were no tourists or cliche pandering services that are on the surface. Compared to the locations of Tokyo Dome or Meiji Jingu Stadium having an easier location, anyone can visit either venue when on a business trip to stop by. Not many will go out to MetLife Dome unless they're baseball fans or live there.
It was a great experience interacting with fans and even being able to communicate with them without fluency. One of the nicest people I met was someone without English, but she could tell I knew the team well and watch their games from abroad when showing passion via singing the songs or knowing a universal language known as baseball.
If anyone has anxiety going around the country, it all eases when at a baseball game. I felt plenty of great hospitality and even bonus sight seeing when visiting MetLife Dome, a structure I had low expectations for. While the Lions are not for everyone, this blind choice after research proved to be the right one for myself.
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Posted by Christian Gin at 3:56 PM
Monday, March 9, 2020
NPB announced there will be a delay to the start of the 2020 season on Monday evening. In a meeting with representatives from all 12 teams, everyone agreed to this delay. Commissioner Atsushi Saito hopes to begin the season sometime in April.
With the 2020 Summer Olympics on schedule, the league initially decided to bump the baseball season up by a week to March 20. However, the Coronavirus (COVID-19) has overtaken the stories around the world, Japan included. With cancellations and postponements for concerts, events, soccer and even schools, the country has remained on shutdown mode.
A joint force was formed earlier this month when NPB and the soccer league (J-League) agreed to work together in combating the Coronavirus situation. They've done numerous research awaiting thee status of how much COVID-19 has spread or not.
Fan and player safety have been the priority in regards to this decision. They also believe in protecting the sports culture besides the team representatives.
Spring Koshien was scheduled to begin on March 19 without any spectators. The Japan High School Baseball Federation had a representative at this meeting, but it appears they will make their own independent decision on March 11 on what lies ahead. They are still gathering information.
According to Kansai University, the economic loss of Spring Koshien and being without spectators will cost about ¥23.3 billion yen or about $233 million.
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Posted by Christian Gin at 12:08 PM
Thursday, March 5, 2020
The Coronavirus (COVID-19) has been the talk of the world for the last month, setting a frenzy around the globe. While starting in China, specifically the province of Hubei with the city of Wuhan being one of the epicenters, it has spread everywhere with some cases larger than others.
Japan is pretty close to the situation given how China is a short flight or boat ride away. The country is already seeing the economic effects taking hit with tourism dropping compared to previous years. Even other parts of the world are showing empty areas. Some in the world want feel like the 2011 movie Contagion is happening and it's been popular in 2020.
Fear has built up with hospitals full in all parts of the world and no true way to prepare for this.
Economically, Chinese tourists made up for less that one third of all foreigners who visited Japan in 2019. With this number already going to be down, businesses who depend on tourism have already fallen, with some closing or even hitting bankruptcy. Any small business with this dependency is already doomed.
Several events, attractions and even sporting events are scheduled to have no visitors. In Italy, all sporting events through April 3 will have empty seats with only the players, coaches and media there. The rest of the world will follow suit in a similar manner if they already haven't.
Japan is no different, with their basketball (B.League) and Soccer (J-League) postponing their matches through March 15. The women's basketball season has been 100% cancelled. Spring Koshien will also have zero spectators as announced by the Japan High School Baseball Federation.
Other major attractions from Tokyo Disneyland, Osaka Castle and the teamLab Borderless Museum are also closed through that date at minimum with uncertainty in sight.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe already asked for schools (elementary, middle school and high school) to close through the entire month of March. While a break is already here, many students have to learn from home.
This is already hitting the work force and those with children and can't be in school. Several are also working from home and staying there.
The big reason March becomes critical, is how the 2020 Olympics happens. There have been numerous rumors and likely discussions about it, but no announcements were made. Nothing more can be said other than assuming they'll stick with what's on schedule.
At the time of this writing, everything is a wait-and-see scenario on how COVID-19 is being handled through the combatant tactics. With majority of things shut down for the first half of March and many already closed in February, time will tell how the numbers look on those who test positive.
While several places are already broken due to tourism numbers declining, Olympic cancellation would devastate the country given how much was invested into it. The universal date of March 15 around the country will be a watching period to see how much progress or not is made on COVID-19.
We'll see how it plays out. As for myself, my cancellation deadline date is later in March after the 15th. I'm unsure what will happen, but I'm monitoring the situation daily like everyone else.
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Posted by Christian Gin at 12:19 PM
Saturday, February 22, 2020
As a way of passing time for baseball season, I spent hours watching several films and anime over the last few months. One of them is Kano, a 2014 film documenting a team 1931 Koshien tournament.
In a film based on a true story, it's nothing but interesting digesting the adventure of learning about how the Kagi Agricultural and Forestry School baseball team (嘉義農林學校野球部, Kagi Nōrin, abbreviated as Kano), a school from Taiwan (Chiayi), made a cinderella run to the Koshien tournament as a representative in the finals.
This story is told in flashback form, where it begins in 1944 during World War II as Japanese Imperial Army soldiers are prepared to depart for the Pacific Theater through southern Taiwan. One soldier (Joshiya) is a former baseball player wanting to see Chiayi when the train stops there, hoping to see where Kano was born.
The full context is given to Kano, where it's a group of scrappy ball players who never won a game and even went further back from their sloppy introduction to the tournament in 1931 to their true origins in 1929.
The audience sees the struggles of how the kids at Kano continued to train in hopes of reaching Koshien by even chanting the title as they run through the streets. Hyotaro Kondo (Masatoshi Nagase) is the manager of this group as he was once a player himself working in Chiayi.
From the failures of winning a game to the dedication needed to even become a ballplayer, Nagase's performance stood out in being the director of these players and leading the way.
This film shows the team losing in qualifiers before their miraculous run in 1931 to qualify. It follows a standards sports movie formula with a climatic run through the Koshien tournament, but it takes a pause when a younger Joshiya and his team loses to Kano on the way. Remembering his past, Joshiya took tribute on the sandlot field that Kano trained on while being a soldier.
We see the racial tension from the media and the country and how unusual it was to have a motley crew of Japanese, Taiwanese aborigines and Han Chinese as a reporter asks Kondo about this. The emphasis on this felt lacking, but Kondo answers in a simple response of how the squad responded with their play on the field.
Kano reached the finals and drew respect of the attendees and the nation with their spirit and determination in their tournament run. Their importance to baseball in Taiwan cannot be understated as the inspiration for all future generations.
From a technical standpoint, it's great to see details put on the clothing, backgrounds and even a revived Koshien Stadium from the 1930s being visible to the audience. We see the rural life in Taiwan under Japanese rule through the lens of the players themselves.
This film isn't without its flaws as its three hours in length. There's a vibe as if there were no deleted scenes and the crew continued to have ideas filmed without stopping. A few scenes drag to the buildup of the run through Taiwan before the tournament.
If anyone isn't concerned with the film's length and pacing, this three-hour drama gives all the context for characters, showing what everyone had to endure to come a long way, geographically, physically and mentally in order to earn their respect.
Music Video: 勇者的浪漫 (Brave Romance)
The ending song in the credits has its share of inspiration. The main version is mostly in Japanese with a few lines in Mandarin. You can hear the Mandarin and Cantonese versions too.
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Posted by Christian Gin at 4:13 PM
Sunday, February 16, 2020
The 2020 NPB Schedule was released last August due to the 2020 Summer Olympics taking place in the country. This is a rather late reaction with notes, irregularities and thoughts since it came out:
Notable Lions notes
-Opening Day was bumped to March 20, where the Saitama Seibu Lions will host the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters in what will be a day game at 14:00. The entire opening weekend will have day games except one (Giants vs Baystars on 3/20).
-The Lions will play two games in Kobe against the Orix Buffaloes for the weekend of 3/28 and 3/29. Orix will be wearing Blue Wave apparel for all eight games in Kobe this season as a remembrance of the 25-year anniversary of the Kobe (Great Hanshin) Earthquake.
-Omiya's three games will be on 4/7 (vs Orix), 5/19 (vs Chiba Lotte) and 8/27 (vs Hokkaido).
-For the second time in three years, the Lions will host a game at Tokyo Dome on 4/21, which will be against the Marines. They will wear throwback apparel, though it will have a gradient on the numbers and letters, showing the past colors.
-Interleague play will begin on 5/26 against the Hiroshima Carp. This 18-game stretch will run through June 14. Any games rained out can be made up until June 18.
-For the fifth consecutive season, the Lions will host on game in Maebashi, Gunma. This year's edition will take place on 6/19 against the Fighters.
-The final series before the All-Star break and Olympic break will take place in Tokyo Dome in two road games against the Fighters on 7/17 and 7/18.
-The Lions last regular season game on schedule is on 10/12 with a road game against the Fighters up in Sapporo Dome. The final listed regular season game is on 10.16 with the Giants hosting the Dragons.
-On 6/30, the Marines will host a rare game away from Zozo Marine Stadium and even outside Kanto with an outing in Toyama prefecture against the Softbank Hawks.
-A second irregular Marines home game will take place in Mito, Ibaraki on 9/8 against the Fighters.
-Multiple teams will have home games in Tokyo Dome, including the Yakult Swallows and Yokohama DeNA Baystars as with other normal hosts (Softbank Hawks, Rakuten Eagles etc.)
-For the annual two games in Naha, Okinawa, the Fighters will be hosting the Hawks on 7/4 and 7/5.
-The All-Star series takes place on 7/19 in Fukuoka's PayPay Dome and 7/20 in Nagoya Dome.
-With the extended break due to the Olympics, regular season games for NPB will not return until 8/14.
-The Climax Series will begin on 10/24. The final stage is set for 10/28 and the Japan Series is scheduled to begin on 11/7.
-The NPB Draft will take place on 11/5.
Farm team without a home
The Lions ni-gun will not play any home games in their traditional Seibu II Stadium nextdoor to MetLife Dome until 7/15 due to construction. The Farm Stadium will have seats and is renamed to CAR3219 Stadium.
Home games will physically be away games at other Eastern League opponent's Stadiums while a handful will be in irregular cities like Hanno, Saitama and Omiya, Saitama. Some will also take place in MetLife Dome with a small general admission price. It is unclear if ni-gun games at CAR3219 Stadium will remain free or not for the public to see.
Another trip on the horizon
When I saw the schedule come early as well as a flight deal in August that I couldn't refuse, I pounced on the plane tickets as I will come back to Japan only nine months removed from my last trip in June.
As announced on Twitter, the plan is to see all Lions games from March 26 to April 4. A window to travel came up in my schedule and the early start to the season gave an opportunity to take a vacation. Barring no rain, I hope to see games at Zozo Marine Stadium (3/26), Hotto Motto Kobe (3/28-3/29), PayPay Dome (3/31-4/1) before a return to Kanto in Tokorozawa (4/3-4/4).ビッグニュース! 再び日本に来ています— Graveyard Baseball (@GraveyardBall) February 14, 2020
I'm open to any suggestions and other places to see as nothing is set in stone minus the games themselves. Can send a message on Twitter or elsewhere.
As a result, the Weekly Digest will have a hiatus to begin the year minus Opening Weekend.
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Posted by Christian Gin at 5:53 PM
Sunday, February 9, 2020
Top line: Name, Gender and Photo/ID
I put my name down as well as the Twitter handle. Hopefully you can recognize 男 vs 女 for male vs female. It's very key on a few places when visiting Japan and some signs are not blue/pink when differentiating. My family name gets to be in kanji with 甄 rather than the usual katakana for almost anyone in the western world. On the far right, it asks for an icon or picture, so I inserted what you see above.
Favorite team: Saitama Seibu Lions
This should be pretty self-explanatory on circling your favorite NPB team. Some may circle their favorite Central and Pacific League squads. Personally when it comes to thee Central, I'll prefer someone not named the Yomiuri Giants. Each team has their own pros and cons, though picking the Hanshin Tigers would be too unlikely given their too popular for myself.
As for why the Lions? The long version is here. A follow up is here. Keep in mind, I have no blood ties to any region or city in Japan, but I also don't like picking a team because they've winning or I found something convenient when watching them in-season. Did research in the offseason so I'd have someone by Opening Day.
How long have you been a fan? Winter of 2014
Wes Mills, the founder of this blog and occasional contributor as well as myself started wanting to go for an NPB team shortly after the 2014 season ended. Some research and similarity to the Oakland A's made the Lions an easy call.
Which stadium do you go to most often?
Technically speaking, I've been to MetLife Dome and Nagoya Dome for the same number of games. Having been born and raised in the Bay Area, the Oakland Coliseum is the most visited Stadium in my lifetime (100+ games).
How often did you visit the Stadium last year?
In 2019, I went to MetLife Dome and Nagoya Dome three times each. Technically speaking, I walked by MetLife Dome a fourth time after hiking around Tokorozawa for a day, but didn't attend the game due to other commitments. I'm sure in my lifetime MetLife Dome visits will increase.
Now that I reside outside California, my MLB visits are scarce, as I only saw Minute Maid Park and Glofe Life Park at the Major League level.
Your favorite players, including retired ones:
Kazuhisa Inao: Best player in Lions history, #24 only number retired, fittingly one of the best player in Oakland Athletics history (Rickey Henderson) also had that number.
Sosuke Genda: Defense and speed, transformed the infield in a flash.
Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura: Who loves that nickname? I sure do, plus he's got a great swing and look and it connects. Never retire!
Tomoya Mori: Short players can succeed. Mori has a snappy swing who can do a lot of damage. He's also got some fun personality with his walkup song choices.
Hiroki Kuroda: An underrated pitcher in the States, already a legend in Japan. Kuroda had a solid career that even MLB fans will remember him for. Sure, he wasn't a star, but continued to chug along as a decent rotation starter.
Tsutomu Ito: Catchers. Something about liking the brain of a team and someone who endured the entire Golden Era. Safe to say, he had a nice and long career and still won as a manager too.
Favorite team or player songs:
Seibu Lions Chance #4. It's straight to the point, has a guy's and girl's part and is built for when the game is on the line.
Honorable mention unwritten:
Favorite Mascot character(s):
Tsubakuro: The Yakult Swallows mascot has great personality even though he's a troublemaker. Love his appearance for someone as large as well as always trying to flip a hat on his head. Watch out for pranks!
Leo: No one is more athletic than Leo given how many flips he's doing and how long it's going. Impressive.
Lyna: Can't hate the Lions feminine mascot right?
Kobaton: Saitama prefecture's government mascot has a very simple look, something I can appreciate. Love the movements and simplicity of how dazed he is. It's only a coincidence that it happens to be within Saitama.
Favorite Sports other than Baseball:
Ice Hockey: I'm no Canadian or Russian, but hockey is very entertaining on the ice. Yoshiaki Tsutsumi would be proud how much I love the game. Something about tradition, hitting players hard, skating on the ice and fan intellect just adds up.
Honorable Mention not written listed:
College (American) Football: It's the closest thing to an Oendan in the States. Great atmosphere and unpredictable.
Other than that, NFL was once part of my work. Soccer isn't bad either as I pay attention to Serie A. It's all a coincidence I follow the team Yuto Nagatomo once played for known F.C. Internazionale.
There are plenty of NPB fans outside of Japan too! I'm just one of them. Ganbarre Lions!
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Posted by Christian Gin at 8:11 PM