Saturday, February 22, 2020

Kano tells an inspiring story on baseball in Japan, Asia

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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Sunday, February 16, 2020

2020 NPB Schedule reaction

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.


League notes:

-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).

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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Sunday, February 9, 2020

NPB Fan Resume: An English translation

It appears fans of NPB can fill out a card to show your fandom of the league and teams. I'll translate myself and fill out some more detailed answers if necessary starting from the top and going left to right, though that's a difference of right to left in some cultures.

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: 

地平を駈ける獅子を見た / Chiheiwo kake ru shishi womita (I saw a Lion running on the Horizon) - Shigeru Matsuzaki.  Prefer the 1980s version, but this is the remixed one added in 2018.  Chorus is always heard after a Lions score.  


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. 


Final Remarks: 

There are plenty of NPB fans outside of Japan too! I'm just one of them. Ganbarre Lions! 


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2020 Seibu Lions Camp Outlook: Outfielder

The Saitama Seibu Lions have one obvious change where the centerfield position won't be the same for the first time since 2010. While others have filled in, Shogo Akiyama has departed for the Cincinnati Reds.

As the Lions look to find some future options, they've drafted ahead for this year and braced for Akiyama's eventual exit.


Takumi Kuriyama: The former Lions captain should still see ichi-gun time, but father time is catching up to him. He saw several games at DH while being a part-time outfielder. It would be best if he's a pinch hitter or fourth outfielder rather than every day starter.

Yuji Kaneko: Manager Hatsuhiko Tsuji already said he will be the starting centerfielder. With domestic free agent rights approaching, the Lions locked him up through the 2023 season as his stolen bases were considered valuable enough to give a decent offer. His range should be fine, but can he remember to hit his own weight or even be a leadoff batter?

Fumikazu Kimura: Kimura took the starting RF position and batted in the bottom third of the order. His arm is decent, but bat is nothing to write home about. He's better off as a spell outfielder or defensive replacement, but he'll likely start in the outfield again to begin the 2020 season.

Cory Spangenberg: The first Lions position player import since 2015 will get an open shot in LF or RF depending on what the team is comfortable with. His versatility to play a corner OF position or 3B and 2B gives the Lions flexibility if they like him elsewhere. If they want to have Takeya Nakamura as a DH, he can easily fill third as long as he hits his own weight. Spangenberg has decent speed on paper, but his hitting against NPB pitching will be a question mark until he's playing ichi-gun games.

Shohei Suzuki: Suzuki was drafted out of high school in 2016 and thought to be the heir to Akiyama as a future leadoff hitter. He was able to make his ichi-gun debut last season mostly coming off the bench. If his bat continues to develop, he could take more playing time besides coming in as a pinch runner.

"Aito" Takeda: Remembered for the winning "hit" walkoff error in 2019, Aito saw more ichi-gun time than ever before, but couldn't earn a starting role. His bat remains a question mark goinf forward where he mostly came off the bench.

Seiji Kawagoe: Kawagoe got an ichi-gun invite after a great winter league experience in Taiwan. Previously drafted as a pitcher in 2015, the Lions have chosen to use him for his fallback option as a position player as he tries to pull a Rick Ankiel. Inspiration couldn't be any closer with teammate Kimura being a former pitcher. Anything short of ichi-gun time could result in being cut.



Masato Kumashiro: Kumashiro was the ichi-gun defensive replacement for both the OF and infield if necessary. He enters domestic free agency after this year, but he won't be highly coveted given his status. With many younger bodies on the team, he's on the outside. 

Daisuke Togawa: Togawa earned an ichi-gun callup and did well for two games, including his first career home run being meaningful in a close win over the Chiba Lotte Marines. He hopes to get more games, but the competition is fierce for the former ikusei pick.

Wataru Takagi: Takagi was called up for one game during interleague play and had an at-bat in mop up duty. He's been a decent ni-gun player, but still has time to develop as he was also a former ikusei.

Junichiro Kishi: A former pitcher, Kishi was the 8th round draft pick last fall and hopes to get ichi-gun time as a pinch runner. He's athletic, but his bat is likely an offensive hole.



Spangenberg can make or break this unit now that Akiyama is gone. If a younger Lions outfielder steps it up in 2020, they will be in decent shape. They're not going to match Akiyama's production of hitting for average and getting on base, but it could still be respectable. The door is open for someone to claim an opportunity.


Other positions:





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Thursday, February 6, 2020

2020 Seibu Lions Camp Outlook: Catcher

The catcher position remained important for the Saitama Seibu Lions in 2019, with Tomoya Mori winning the batting championship and Pacific League MVP award. While it's clear cut who is starting, the depth options are still open.



Tomoya Mori: Coming of a true breakout season, Mori had no trouble batting third in the lineup and finally crossed the 20 HR benchmark. Barring no injury, he will be the everyday starter once again.

Hitoto Komazuki: Komazuki was the emergency third catcher at the ichi-gun level, but only saw a handful of in-game action. His bat will need to improve if he wants more playing time.

Masato Saito: Saito was promoted from the ikusei roster in the middle of 2019. He was also an emergency catcher when called up to the ichi-gun for a handful of games, but didn't play. Saito lacks the ability to hit, but is a healthy body looking to make his ichi-gun debut for 2020.

Sena Tsuge: Tsuge is a shakaijin catcher who was drafted last fall by the Lions. It's very possible he takes an opening day roster spot as the third catcher if he can hit. Scouting reports show he has a decent pop speed.



Masatoshi Okada: Okada begins in ni-gu camp. but is likely the backup catcher after Mori. When healthy, he's serviceable when spelling for a few games and also serves as a pinch bunting option.

Shoya Makino: Makino was a high school draft pick from 2018 who saw time developing last year. There's a longshot chance he makes his ichi-gun debut in 2020 and will probably stay in ni-gun.

Daichi Nakaguma: Nakaguma is the only ikusei catcher remaining with the hope of wanting to earn a 70-man roster spot. After seeing limited ni-gun time in 2019, he will want to play in more games besides get the promotion.



Mori and Okada will be the first two options at catcher while Komazuki and Tsuge battle for the third spot. It wouldn't hurt if someone can develop their hitting abilities and become a pinch hitter like Tatsuyuki Uemoto was, but that's an unfair amount of expectations.


Other positions:





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