Friday, October 31, 2008
Thursday, October 16, 2008
We couldn’t get enough of Japanese baseball, so we decided to see three more games. Our sixth game was a matchup between the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks and Bobby Valentine’s Chiba Lotte Marines.
The Marines play in a tile-covered stadium about a 30-minute train ride from Tokyo. The family-friendly ballpark has a play area for children, and there are benches and picnic tables situated around the perimeter near an aisle of food kiosks.
As with the other teams we’ve seen during our trip, the mascots were out in full force. A cat mascot made balloon animals for children. Several fans – mostly adults – sat on the ground in front of the stadium to watch Mar-kun, a seagull, provide pregame entertainment. Later, Mar-kun and three other birds joined the cheerleaders on the field for a lively pregame dance.
We had a great view of the field from our seats by third base. The section was populated mostly with Hawks fans, so we didn’t get the full effect of the Marines fan club, Team 26. Japanese teams have 25 players on their active rosters, so the fan club’s name is derived from the concept that collectively the fans are the Marines’ 26th player. As a result, no player on the Marines wears that jersey number. Team 26, sporting bright white shirts, had a tremendous presence in the right field stands and fashioned their cheers in the style of European soccer fans, bouncing up and down in unison.
The Marines won the game 4-2 behind the strength of starting pitcher Naoyuki Shimizu, who was named player of the game after going 7 2/3 innings, allowing 2 runs on 5 hits with no walks and 6 strikeouts. After his postgame, on-field interview, Shimizu and the mascots walked to right field, where together they bowed before Team 26.
Former Mets player Benny Agbayani started in right field for the Marines and went 1 for 3 with a single and a walk.
In a losing effort for the Hawks, pitcher Tsuyoshi Wada threw a staggering 141 pitches in 7 innings.
The best part of the day came before the game. In a touching ceremony, the Marines paid tribute to Hawks manager Sadarahu Oh, who announced his retirement on September 23 after fifty years in professional baseball. His 2006 battle with cancer led to the removal of his stomach, and health issues have forced him to leave the game at season’s end. The Marines played a video highlight of Oh’s illustrious career, and afterward he stepped out of the visitors’ dugout to acknowledge the crowd. Bobby Valentine emerged from his own dugout to present the retiring legend a bouquet of flowers. Oh-san shook the hand of each Marines player and received a bear hug from Julio Zuleta, whom he managed from 2003-2006.
Valentine is an icon in his own right, especially in Chiba. The city has embraced the outspoken American as one of their own, which was easy to do since he won the Japan Series in 2005. His likeness is everywhere, from the shrine dedicated to him in front of the stadium to his smiling face on food-court menus. He was on the field even before Oh’s tribute, shaking hands and throwing baseballs into the crowd.
Our next stop is to see another game with Oh’s Hawks, this time against the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in Sendai, north of Tokyo. Waku waku suru! (I’m excited!)
In my last entry, I described jet lag as an evil, energy-sapping force of nature. I have discovered something that is a close second: jury duty. The Sixth Amendment of the Bill of Rights dictates that we have "the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury . . ."
Although I am well aware that jury duty is my civic obligation, I’m still annoyed that I had to be there today. This complaint may seem a bit hypocritical since I took an entire month off to vacation in Japan and haven't worked in six weeks. But now I must work, and I can't afford to be stuck on a trial. I showed up at the New York State Supreme Court in lower Manhattan before the appointed time of 8:45am. My thought process was that I would suffer through today and tomorrow and hope that no one selected me for a trial. If I were unfortunate enough to be selected, I would simply tell the judge that I am unavailable next week. That plan was squashed in minutes when the clerk, as if she could read my mind, told the group that rolling the dice and hoping you wouldn't get picked wouldn't work. I even spoke to her directly, describing the fluid nature of my freelance job and that I don't get paid if I don't work, and that I can't turn down work in anticipation of serving on a 10-day trial that may never happen, and blah, blah, blah. Although she was quite nice, she would have none of it. She informed me of my options - none of which I found satisfactory - and told me that eventually I would have to serve, whether it is this week or another week of my choosing. She suggested I return to the room and watch the "film" (I think it was shot on video) and take a few minutes to think about how I wanted to proceed. I decided to proceed to the other courthouse to reschedule.
Allow me to digress and discuss this "film" I mentioned earlier. It is an orientation (propaganda) video that tells the story of how the jury system was created and tries to make us feel guilty for loathing the idea of serving as a juror. The New York State Court System should consider updating the video because Ed Bradley, the video's host and narrator, has been dead for almost two years. That bothers me.
Anyway, I was rescheduled by the second nice but unsympathetic woman of the morning to March 16, which is an awful time to be stuck with jury duty. But there really isn't a good time to do this, especially if one is a freelancer in the sports television business. While it's easy for me to feel sorry for myself in this situation, I know that I'm not alone. At least the jury system has been in place in the U.S. since the country's inception, unlike Japan, which will introduce juries next year. I'm sure that will be a mess.
I ended up having the day to myself, which is a good thing. Now I'll put the agony of jury duty behind me. Until I have to think about it again in five months.