Japanese Baseball Preview: MLB Material?

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Fighting those hams.

TOKYO, JAPAN – I know I said last week I’d work on an AL East preview this week (let’s be crazy and call it Rays, Jays, Yankees, Red Sox, Orioles and guess that both wildcards come out of there), but the MLB season kicks off this Wednesday in Tokyo with JG CLancy’s Oakland A’s facing Angry Ward’s Seattle Mariners, so my thoughts naturally wandered to the Land of the Rising Sun.

Now, before we apologize to Japan (we don’t want Fox News making another false issue out of it) for dumping the two worst teams in one of our worst divisions on them, the scheduling actually makes sense: The A’s visit of course means Godzilla’s return to destroy high tension wires, power plants, and that nasty Smog Monster, while the Mariners are owned by Hiroshi Yamauchi – who as a college kid in 1949, inherited a playing card company called Nintendo and is now one of the richest men in the world – and feature the amazing Ichiro and a Japanese pitching import not named Yu: Hisashi Iwakuma. Iwakuma, who will be pitching an exhibition today against the Yomiuri Giants, was a stud in Japan. He also started one of the best baseball games this reporter has ever seen when he went 7+ strong innings against South Korea in the 2009 World Baseball Classic championship. That game saw Darvish give up the tying run in the ninth but Ichiro won it later with a walk-off single. Iwakumura used to pitch for Tohoku Rakuten, until their stadium was destroyed by the tsunami last year, so his appearance today should be getting the legendary thralls of Japanese media.

Thought the Superdome got it bad?

The Nippon Professional League will begin its 62nd season on Friday and since I know next to nothing about it, I figured it may be a good time to become familiar while writing a post. First up are the defending champs, the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks, a lot of hard k’s surrounding the word “soft” in that. If Fukuoka Softbank Hawks doesn’t sound dirty enough, it might when you learn that they dominated the Seibu Lions in the Climax Series. That’s their uncomfortably named League Championship Series. They play in the Fukuoka Yahoo! Dome and I would love it if they had Chuck D introduce their games by rapping “Welcome to the Yahoo! Dome.” They beat the Chunichi Dragons in an extremely tight, back and forth seven-game Japan Series but then, after blowing through the Asia Series, they lost a tough championship game to the Koreans. They must now make up the lost face of being the first Japanese team to lose in that regional series. You gotta think they’ll have something to prove this season.

How long before Sgt. Frog gets his own team?

Also making it to The Climax, the team name that most easily could be mistaken for something read on a bathroom wall:  Tokyo Yakult Swallows.  This Central Division squad beat the Yomiura Giants before losing to the Dragons, while in the Pacific League the Seibu Lions  – the team Dice-K built his $50 plus million posting fee with – got past the best-named team in sports, the Nippon Ham-Fighters, who will have to make do without Darvish.  That’s six teams of 12 teams making the playoffs, which makes NPB playoffs even easier to get into than my kids watching Sgt. Frog on Netflix instant (if not quite as loony).

Missing the cut were the Hanshin Tiger, but they beat the Mariners yesterday, so now they know how the American League feels.  The Hiroshima Toyo Carp wear Cincinnati Red hats for some reason but winning apparently isn’t in the DNA of the Yokohoma DeNA Bay Stars or their scary looking Star/Man mascot.

I mentioned Rakuten, but what about the Orix Buffaloes?  Does Japan even have buffalo, and isn’t that already plural?  And sorry our friend-of-the-site Akita, without Bobby Valentine at the helm, it looks like the Chiba Lotte Marines aren’t faring too well.

Now, do I know any of the players? Nope. Nor can I find any future odds on this year’s NPB Champion, which would’ve helped me immensely…because what helps you get into a sport better than betting on it? Another sure bet will be Grote2DMax tomorrow.

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About the Author ()

West Coast Craig reports from Hollywood with an endearingly laid back style. A happily married father of two little boys, WCC has an avocado tree in his yard, plays the hot corner in a "Valley" hardball league and always manages to take cool sports-related mini road-trips, often with his immediate clan. He hails from Oneonta, NY but has been "So very L.A." for twenty years, so his sports teams are the Yankees AND the Dodgers, the Pittsburgh Steelers, the L.A. Lakers and the Colorado Avalanche/Quebec Nordiques. WCC loves bacon-wrapped hotdogs and can touch his heel and his ear... with his hand.
  • http://twitter.com/Cookies_Corner Cookies Corner

    WCC.. I appreciate your going deep to get the scoop on the NPL.  I also appreciate that the third paragraph, describing the Climax Series included appropriate adjectives such as ‘soft,’ ‘hard,’ ‘dominating’ and ‘blowing.’  
    The team names including ‘Swallows’ and ‘Ham Fighters’.. well.. that’s just the icing on the proverbial cake there. 

    And may I suggest for all references to the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks here, we just call them the Fuk Softs.

    • WestCoastCraig

      Let’s just say my palms got a little sweaty writing all that. I think baseball lingo should definitely be full of innuendo and double entendres…and I didn’t even use that video Lori Levine had featured a little while back with all the balloon “sperm” being released.  

      • http://twitter.com/Cookies_Corner Cookies Corner

        ‘Ground balls up the middle.’  ‘Hot corner.’   I’m all for the double entendre …. as i believe the Tall Matt is as well.

        • Different Matt

          “He turns around the high hard one to take the pitcher deep…”

  • ChibaLotteAkita

    Thank you for your considerations! It is very appreciative. All teams have hope!

    • Grote2Dmax

      Even the Mets.

  • Grote2Dmax

    I’m pretty sure Joanie loves Chunichi.

  • http://ThePublicProfessor.com The Public Professor

    Funny, I always here Chuck D yelling: Welcome to the Fukudome!

    • WestCoastCraig

      I hear Tina Turner yell that.

      • Different Matt

        I can see Ichiro sitting on Matsui’s shoulders as the Japanese version of Master Blaster.

        • http://twitter.com/Cookies_Corner Cookies Corner

          I was wondering when someone was gonna mention Master Blaster.  Naturally.. it was Diff.  Ahhh… Diff.  You da man!    Master Blaster rule Bartertown!

  • AngryWard

    Don’t go to sleep on my Mariners. Please, I’m asking nicely. That being said, the Japanese have never seen anything like Jesus Montero and his girlfriend Balloon Tits. Don’t miss a second of this opening series.

    • oblique outlook

      Seattle could be the sleeper team of baseball. They will either put you to sleep or be really good.

  • AngryWard

    This is the first I’ve heard of Sgt. Frog, but just looking at him I can see he commands respect. He might make a good Mariners manager some day.

  • MeetTheMatts

    Sgt. Frog is known throughout Japan for giving umpires and opposing players a good ribbing.  Let it sit…

  • WestCoastCraig

    a little taste of Sgt. Frog…

    http://youtu.be/jLkQ1aeKe5E

  • RAM RULES

    an article about japan and no mention of FUK U DO ME……  And lets not forget that Hideo is NO MO

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Junoir-Blaber/512502691 Junoir Blaber

    Mascots for Japanese sports are always so odd.

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