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  • Posts Tagged ‘koshien’

    Rare Kuwata and Kiyohara Photos

    Posted by japanstats on 2008 July 29日 Tuesday

    Living legend and recently retired Masumi Kuwata (173-141, 3.55 ERA in NPB) threw 38 batting practice pitches today to almost-retired-but-still-rehabbing slugger Kazuhiro Kiyohara (.272/.389/.521, 525 HR, 1527 RBI) at Kobe’s Skymark Stadium. The interesting twist? Kuwata was in his Pittsburgh Pirates uniform which he wore briefly in 2007-08 while Kiyohara wore his Orix Buffaloes uniform. The two formed the core of the mighty PL Gakuen high school baseball team in the mid-80s (made it into all 5 possible Koshien tournaments, Spring and Summer, during their 3 years from the extremely competitive Osaka prefecture, won their way to 4 finals and won the whole thing twice), and were reunited on the Yomiuri Giants from 1997-2005. The image of Kiyohara tears before the final pitch of the 1987 Japan Series as his  Seibu Lions clinched the series over the Kuwata’s Yomiuri Giants is legendary. Will Kiyohara make a full come back and add to his magnificient career homerun total (5th all time and 11 behind 4th place Carp Koji Yamamoto), we can never predict with his now shattered body.

    Posted in 02_English, baseball, high school, information, MLB, NPB, opinion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

    Koshien and Japanese High School Baseball

    Posted by japanstats on 2008 July 28日 Monday

    Some random notes:

    • This year’s Summer Koshien tournament (basic information like this can be found around the net, so I’ll try to provide additional info) will begin on 2 August (Japanese). This is earlier than usual because of the Beijing Olympics, with the latter 10 days of the tournament still overlaps with the Olympics. All the prefectural qualifying tournaments concluded yesterday on 27 July, giving players at least 5 days rest, minimum, between their prefectural finals and their first Koshien game.
    • There are 55 teams participating in this year’s 90th anniversary tournament. In a normal year, there would be 49 participating teams. 1 each from each prefecture, and 2 each from Tokyo (east and west) and Hokkaido (north and south). They have the largest number of schools out of all the prefectures at well over 200, the former because of its sheer population, and the latter because of its vastness.
    • This year, the additional spots in the tournament has been given to Chiba, Saitama, Kanagawa, Aichi, Osaka, and Hyogo prefectures. As these prefectures rank between 2nd and 8th in prefectural population, they have accordingly large number of schools participating in the qualifiers which makes them usually very tough prefectures to qualify for Koshien from.
    • This year, most qualifying tournaments have about 100 schools or less participating in them. There are many smaller prefectures with around 30-40 schools in their qualifiers, with Tottori’s 25 being the least. While in normal years, the populous prefectures that have 2 teams each this year have about 150-200 teams in their qualifiers, making them very difficult tournaments to win. The prefectural tournament with the largest number of teams in it is East Tokyo with 144 teams (West has 119, meanwhile North and South Hokkaido have 119 and 128 schools). So, this year’s tournament probably has the fairest qualification and representation considering the size of each prefecture.
    • Because of the difficulty of reaching Koshien from prefectures such as Osaka (185 schools), many kids move from populous prefectures to less populous ones to attend powerhouse baseball schools to increase their odds of making it to Koshien. Middle school players are scouted in senior/boys leagues and agents hook them up with baseball schools. Some schools are notorious for doing anything to attract talent, there’s a saying “show up just with your toothbrush and underwear, we’ll take care of everything else for you” for the top talents. Meanwhile marginal schools and players’ parents often get duped into paying fees to these agents/scouts even if the kids and schools chances of reaching Koshien hasn’t really improved. This topic deserves a separate post, and I’m reading a book on it right now, so it’ll be on the todo list (if I ever get around to it 😛 ).
    • So, a total of over 4000 teams from across the country take part in their respective prefectural qualifier tournaments. Some schools have trouble fielding 9 players necessary for a team, so they pull students from other sports teams just to participate in their qualifier, true Olympic spirit at work here. But this can produce some really ugly results with massively lopsided games with the weak team being shutout by another team by dozens of runs. The worst blowout in Koshien qualifier history is 122-0 in the 1998 Aomori prefecture tournament (Japanese). This was caused partly because the losing team didn’t concede after 5 innings like they can as part of tournament rules, instead they completed 7 innings to have the mercy rule automatically kick in. It was some sort of character building thing, apparently, though I only see it as needlessly running up the score and hurting the pitchers arm (39 runs were scored in the 1st inning alone!) The team that scored almost gross runs? Well, they lost by the mery rule themselves a little later in the tournament, and this is in Aomori, a prefecture that has never produced a Koshien champion, so you can see the vast chasm in playing ability from top to bottom of high school ball.
    • Due to the large number of games played (often 4 per day in the early rounds of qualifiers and Koshien itself), umpires are notorious for calling letter high and very wide strikes to speed up the game. I’ve also seen strikes being called on quarter-swings, not even close to a checked half-swing. This is less obvious but close calls at the bases seem to get called outs more often than not as well.
    • Until the finals of qualifiers and later rounds of Koshien, the crowd usually mostly consists of each schools’ cheering squads, complete with a brass band, teammates who couldn’t make it onto the bench, sometimes cheerleaders, fellow students, and alumni. The fight songs are much more old school than NPB, though I’ve heard some modern NPB style cheer songs used by some schools.
    • Game balls are used longer (new balls are brought out much more rarely than in the pros), and looks like they’re reused as staff collect foul balls (NPB used to do this until a few years ago as well though).
    • Players numbers are their positions, usually. 1 being the starting pitcher, 2 the catcher, 3 being the first baseman, etc.
    • Though this is anecdotal, even compared to 10 years ago when Daisuke Matsuzaka had his legendary (and his rubber arm proving) performance, teams these days seem to carry more starters and some even have specialist relievers, as the value of a fresh arm and not blowing out prospects arms seems to be slowly gaining foothold in the old boys world of high school baseball:
      • In the quarterfinal of that year’s Summer Koshien, Matsuzaka threw 250 pitches in 17 innings in a win over powerhouse PL Gakuen.[3] (The previous day he had thrown a 148-pitch complete game shutout.) The next day though trailing 6-0 in the top of the eighth inning, the team miraculously won the game by scoring 7 runs in the last two innings (four in the eighth and three in the ninth). In that game he started in left field, but came in as a reliever in the ninth inning to record the win in 15 pitches. In the final, he threw a no-hitter[4], the second ever in a final. This performance garnered him the attention of many scouts.
    • As the tournaments progress, quarters, semis, and finals tend to be held on consecutive games, which makes having multiple competent starters necessary, even if you have a Dice-K on your team. Because all games from the quarterfinals on in both Tokyo tournaments are held at Jingu Stadium, the East and West tournaments alternate using the stadium, giving extra days rest for the players, which is especially a good thing for the usually overworked pitchers. I thought this may have been a trend, but it seems to be a unique thing for Tokyo, for now.
    • Relievers often start warming up from the 1st inning, but this is no different from other levels of baseball in Japan.
    • The best athlete on the team used to be the pitcher, so having the pitcher hitting cleanup was not unusual until some years ago, but I haven’t looked this up so this is just anecdotal. These days, pitchers often hit in the bottom third of the lineup, as they’re more specialized.
    • After each game, the winning school’s anthem is played. Yes, every Japanese school from elementary to university have their own school anthem.
    • Some players share the same aluminium bat, I’m not sure why. But I saw players passing their bats to the next hitter, or the one after. And this wasn’t uncommon. Superior bat or lucky bat?

    That’s it for now, hopefully someone finds this information interesting or useful.

    Posted in 02_English, baseball, culture, high school, information, opinion, tokyo | Tagged: , , , | 5 Comments »

    2008.7.25 HS Baseball East Tokyo Semifinals

    Posted by japanstats on 2008 July 26日 Saturday

    Following my day at Jingu Stadium on Wednesday when I saw 2 quarterfinal games, I went back there to witness both semifinal games for the East Tokyo qualifier tournament to the prestigious Koshien Summer tournament to decide on the national high school baseball champion.

    Turned out that Jingu is also used for the West Tokyo tournament from the quarterfinals as well, so I missed out on some good action there (a couple of 8-7 games between the quarters and semis), and that is why these Tokyo tournaments feature days off between the quarters, semis, and finals instead of having the games on consecutive days like most other regional tournaments and Koshien itself.

    Anyways, here’s how the day went on 25 July 2008 at Jingu.

    Game 1: Nishogakusha 2 – 7 Kanto Daiichi

    As you can tell by the final score, Kanto was on form and dominant throughout the game. Kanto’s pitcher was Matsumoto and he pitched a complete game. Since they used two lefties, Ohki and Shirai, in the previous game, it’s easy to tell that Kanto is loaded with talent, and takes good care of its pitchers arms instead of the typical arm abuse that team aces experience when they’re their team’s only reliable arm. Kanto built up a 4 run lead through persistent and well executed small ball.

    Nishogakusha managed a 2 run double in the 7th inning, but was promptly returned the favour by Matsumoto himself he launched a homer into the left field stands in the bottom of the inning. Matsumoto, batting 8th, also successfully executed a squeeze in the 2nd inning after the catcher hitting before him, Nakamura, hit a triple into the right field gap. Then Matsumoto had his second squeeze attempt thwarted in the 4th with speedy Izumizawa on third when the battery caught wind of it and pitched wide, the runner managed to stay alive on third though. Otherwise, this was a dominant performance by Kanto and its ace(?) Matsumoto who you can see pitching here:

    Game 2: Kokushikan 4 – 5 Tokaidai-Takanawadai

    This was easily the most dramatic game of the 4 that I saw over these two days with Tokaidai coming back from being 4 runs down to win the game 5-4. The game was a matchup of two marquee pitchers in Kokushikan’s Maruyama and Tokaidai’s Takahashi, and they had both pitched complete games two days earlier in their respective semis.

    Maruyama was absolutly dominant through the first 5 innings as he hardly let any runners on base, while Takahashi struggled with his control, letting runners on base every inning (often loading the bases), and actually was lucky to be only down by 4 runs after the top of the 6th. On the flip side, this meant that Kokushikan was squandering chance after chance, but with Maruyama’s dominant form, it didn’t look like that would affect the outcome of the game.

    Tokaidai immediately returned the 2 runs they gave up on the 6th to keep things close at 4-2, but they still didn’t look capable of beating the powerful Kokushikan team. But then, Maruyama got tired and/or wild in the 8th and suddenly became unable to throw strikes. He managed to get 2 outs, but in the mean time had allowed a run to score and the bases to become loaded. This is when reliever Takayanagi was brought into the game in a super high leverage situation, his team clinging onto a 4-3 lead, 2 outs, with the bases loaded.

    The power righty managed to get the Tokaidai batter to hit a feeble ground ball, but it bounced high off the artificial turf into no man’s land behind the pitcher and the tying run scored. Takayanagi seemed to be visibly shaken by this unlucky bounce and his control became wild as well, even throwing a few pitches into the dirt to the following batter, promptly walking in the game winning run. In contrast Tokaidai’s Takahashi was strong in the latter innings and had no problems shutting down Kokushikan on the top of the 9th, not even allowing a single runner to reach base, and here is the game winning moment:

    The players are celebrating while quickly lining up for the post game ceremonial bow. The finals between Tokaidai-Takanawadai and Kanto Daiichi should be a dandy. Though, Kanto seems to have many reliable arms (I’ve already seen 3 of them work effectively between the quarters and semis) while Tokai seems to be completely reliant on Takahashi and he was shaky up to the 6th inning of the game. Based on this, I’ll take Kanto to win the East Tokyo Tournament to qualify for the 90th Summer Koshien in August.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in 02_English, baseball, culture, high school, information, opinion, tokyo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

    2008.7.23 HS Baseball East Tokyo Quarterfinals

    Posted by japanstats on 2008 July 23日 Wednesday

    Went to see two games of high school baseball at Jingu Stadium today. They were quarterfinal games in the East Tokyo tournament (which started with 144 teams) to qualify for the Koshien summer tournament in August which crowns the national champion.

    Game 1 (9am): Kanto Daiichi 3 – 1 Nittai Ebara

    9am start time is actually necessary this time of the year (as you’ll see in the game 2 summary). Kanto wasn’t seeded in this tournament, but is one of the powerhouses nonetheless as it knocked off No.1 seed Teikyo in an earlier round (18 July). Ebara was simply overmatched, even though their submarine pitcher Ozawa valiantly kept them in the game, the lineup was no match against the two lefties thrown at them by Kanto, Ohki and Shirai as they almost evenly split the workload bringing in Shirai in the 5th inning and he simply overpowered the Ebara hitters. Thankfully, Chris of Box Office Japan showed up during the 9th inning of this game with some brew to beat the heat.

    Here’s the Ebara submariner:

    And one of Kanto’s cheering songs which for some reason is “Tequila!”  😛

    Game 2 (11:30am): Kokushikan 12 – 4 Tokyo Adachi Nitta

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in 02_English, baseball, culture, information, music, opinion, tokyo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

    Okinawa Shogaku wins it all!

    Posted by japanstats on 2008 April 4日 Friday

    Okinawa Shogaku high school won the Koshien Spring Invitational Tournament with a resounding 9 – 0 thumping of Seibo high school from Saitama in the tournament’s final today. This is the school’s 2nd Spring championship, they won for the first time 9 years ago. The game even featured an inside the park homerun, so it was pretty entertaining for a blowout. shogaku1.jpgThe organizing committee chairman (or someone in a similar position) droned on in his post-tournament speech, and congratulated kids from all the participating teams on a great tournament, but chided that there were too many runners being picked off and that there were too many called third strikes. Why he’s trying to dictate the style of play, I’m not sure. And I never really listen to these speeches so I was kind of surprised about how detailed he was in his talk about the tournament, surely putting anyone below the age of 50 to sleep.Anyways, congrats Okinawa Shogaku on the 2nd championship in a decade, and good luck in the Okinawan qualifiers for the summer Koshien tournament! 

    Posted in 02_English, baseball, opinion, tokyo | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

    Okinawan Schools at Koshien

    Posted by japanstats on 2008 April 3日 Thursday

    Okinawa Shogaku made it into the semifinals of the 2008 Spring Invitational Koshien High School Baseball Tournament by beating powerhouse Tenri high school from Nara in a hard fought 4-2 win in the semis, along with Himeji. And today, Chiba (having just won the first semifinal played this morning by 4-2 over Seibo of Saitama) have made their ways into the finals. Okinawa Shogaku is playing the Himeji right now in semifinal game 2 (yup, games on consecutive days, Okinawa was trying to preserve its ace Higashihama yesterday, but had to bring him in midway through the game. This is how promising kids arms get blown out at young age, but also how monster rubber arms like Matsuzaka and Kuwata emerge.)

    There’s always a special place in my heart for Okinawan schools, heck I just like Okinawa. The subtropical islands were an indepent nation for a centuries (though paying tributaries to China and later the Satsuma clan, part of Tokugawa shogunate in the Edo era) before being completely annexed by Japan shortly after the Meiji Restoration. Imperial Japan ordered mass suicides in Okinawa, after using it as a last line of defence, then gladly handed it over to the States for a few decades following the war. Its citizens have long received second class treatment by the national government, while having significant US military presence on the main island. No wonder they’d be weary of outsiders.

    Okinawans have always received the short end of the stick, typical for minority groups in most nations, and has most of the American military bases in Japan, and US bases occupy a significant chunk of the land. But at the same time, time movers slower there, like in many tropical locales, it has beautiful beaches, friendly laid back people, unique music, and tasty food. Much like Hawai’i, the islands economy relies mainly on the military presence and tourism, and some sugar canes. It has all the trappings of tropical paradise without the usual accompaniment of price gouging, shady characters, and crime (though a segment of miliatry personnel have been a constant source of problems). It’s like taking the best parts of Japan and South East Asia and putting them together.

    Anyways, that was longer than what I intended to write. I’m cheering for Okinawa Shogaku high school through the semifinals and finals (hope they make it). Anyways, another treat about the Okinawan schools at Koshien is that they have distinctively Okinawan fight songs complete with Okinawan tunes and whistling, instead of the usual stuff strutted out by the rest of the schools in the country. Watch this clip from the 2:00 mark and the 5:00 mark (from the 2006 summer tournament, amazingly a neighbour island school made it to the tournament and turned in some heroic performances).

    Another footage, amazingly this is the 1982 Okinawan high school tournament finals, someone digitized their VHS tape! The now familiar Okinawan fight songs aren’t heard here. I’m not sure if that’s special for Koshien (to show Okinawan pride) or the fact that song styles changed significantly over the past 25 years. It’s more likely the latter. I remember NPB games in the 80’s having similarly simple fight songs, they’re sometimes elaborately complex these days (too much, some would say, and many agree, as they’re difficult for new fans to learn and enjoy, which is usually the point of attending games, after all).

    Posted in 02_English, baseball, culture, information, music, opinion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

    The Spring Koshien Tournament

    Posted by japanstats on 2008 March 24日 Monday

    The spring invitational national high school baseball tournament at Koshien has started.

    A couple of good Koshien articles via EWC.

    A Boston Herald writer made it out of the dour Tokyo Dome to Koshien to catch a day of always (overly) dramatic highschool baseball action. It’s interesting to get an outsider’s view of the event.

    If the baseball gods really wanted the Red Sox to play in Japan, they would have steered them to the 84-year-old Hanshin Koshien Stadium.

    Not that a stadium is needed to enhance enjoyment of a baseball game, but as any Fenway Park [map] visitor understands, a special ballpark always does.

    Koshien Stadium is that kind of a special ballpark.

    Yesterday, as the 80th annual spring Koshien national high school baseball tournament kicked off, the thought that this was where talents such as Sadaharu Oh, Hideki Matsui, Ichiro Suzuki and, of course, Daisuke Matsuzaka were tested as both high schoolers and pros (the Hanshin Tigers play here) was invigorating.

    And a solid piece by Thomas Dillon of the Japan Times.

    From samurai to kamikaze to the blaze of cherry blossoms, Japanese feel such honor in their bones and Koshien shows this.

    Everyone loses, but not everyone gets to lose so majestically on national TV. Remember the final charge in “The Last Samurai?” Hear Ken Watanabe’s dying gasp — “It’s beautiful.”

    That’s Koshien.

    I personally don’t follow the Koshien tournaments much. Some highschool phenoms draw my attention, of course, but usually not when they’re playing agianst inferior opposition (the random bracketing can create havoc, with top teams facing each other in early rounds, or a weak side sneaking their way up the competition, etc.), high school baseball is much like NCAA basketball and football in that there are some powerhouse schools that recruit student-athletes from across the country and make it to Koshien year after year. Maybe I’m too cynical, but I enjoy it in parts.

    Oh, I went to see the Sox-Hanshin preseason game, but haven’t had time to sort through the photos and videos yet. The Hanshin fans got into the game quite a bit by the end, even though the Sox regulars were almost all replaced by bench players, because it was a 1 run game and Kubota and Fujikawa pitched admirably, but the Sox closed the door on the Tigers with Delcarmen and Papelbon. I guess Okajima was scheduled to pitch against the Yomiuri Giants, his former team, so he didn’t make an appearance against the Tigers even though the situation would have usually called for him. Ah preseason.

    Posted in 02_English, baseball, culture, MLB, opinion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »