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.
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.
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.