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Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2006
La New 'Bears' it all as yakyu season ends
Special to The Japan Times
Online Nichibei Yakyu and even the Konami Cup Asia Series are in the books, and now, the E-List is heading into that baseball-less period we lovers of cowhide and horsehide alike prefer to think of as hibernation.
Bears have the right idea, especially those indigenous to Taiwan.
The La New Bears -- who won the Taiwanese championship and rolled into the Asia Series to represent "Chinese Taipei" -- came into the show with the spectre of the Sinon Bulls' performance in the inaugural tournament looming.
Far from finding a china shop in Tokyo Dome, the Bulls seemed to indicate that the Chinese Professional Baseball League was a couple steps below its Asian brethren in Korea and Japan. La New turned that notion on its head this season, breaking into the championship game and giving the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters all they wanted in both games. Bears starters kept the Hammies from turning one loose, but when it was time for the relief, it was spelled B-L-O-W-N-(space)-G-A-M-E.
La New was a bullpen away from taking the Fighters a little further, as closer Ramon Morel couldn't can the (Nippon) Ham in the teams' Friday game and A.J. Fiore promptly let the game's only run score during the championship game the very inning he checked in (partly because of an error, admittedly). It didn't seem like La New had a ton of faith in its bullpen (whether starters or relievers were coming out), and although that may get it done down south, it's not quite enough to win an Asian championship. Not unless the CPBL hitters get better at hitting heat.
A MOMENT OF REFLECTION as the List ponders the most ubiquitous element of Japanese baseball. Not fighting spirit, not sacrifice bunts, not even oendan, the List is fit to cringe at the sheer number of times "Y.M.C.A." blared during the fifth inning at baseball games this season.
Over in the United States, the mainstay of the seventh-inning stretch is "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," a tune that broke onto the scene during Nichibei. The seventh in Japan is reserved for team fight songs, and for some reason, the Village People tune (or some "artist's" even more inane rendition, depending on the stadium) sits in the No. 2 hole, behind the national anthem.
There's no call for this, and the List would trade Kazuhiro Kiyohara's weight in bonito if someone would forget to renew NPB's "Y.M.C.A." membership.
Meanwhile, the List also paused to feel just a little embarrassed for the groundskeepers at Tokyo Dome, who have to hurry and rake the infield so they can wave their tools in the air during the last chorus of "Y.M.C.A." Dunno what those homeboys bank, but self-respect is worth a lot of yen on its own, the List would think.
MORE FUN FROM THE Big Egg: when fouls balls were hit into the stands during the postseason tournaments, a helpful multilingual sign popped up, warning fans of the airborne hazard.
"Please watch out for balls," it said in English. Words to live by, and the List won't touch that one with a 10-foot pole.
AS SAD AS IT is to admit it, Nichibei Yakyu -- the MLB-NPB All-Star tournament -- has become a farce. The USA-based players will always see it as a vacation with a few ballgames thrown in to pay the bills, and with the World Baseball Classic on the table, the Japanese appear to view it as something in which they will cordially participate until it is euthanized.
The team of second-raters (speaking by and large, of course) that NPB sent against the MLB team was lucky to be as competitive as it was in being swept. Katsuya Nomura didn't even maintain his responsibility of keeping his best talent in the lineup every day. Fairness aside, what reason did he have not starting Shinnosuke Abe and Takahiro Arai every day, especially once Michihiro Ogasawara went to rejoin his team for the Asia Series?
The answer is, to oversimplify, that no one in that dugout really cared. NPB didn't have its best, and it was going to lose that series, but the Japanese players union didn't want its players there anyway. There wasn't enough time or desire to stage a boycott, but unless some things change in the next couple years, don't expect the union boys to play nice again.
And unless something is done to ensure Japan's best come out -- or to get going a Bobby Valentine-style club championship that actually means something -- they probably shouldn't roll over one more time.
SPEAKING OF THE TOUR, Ryan Howard becoming a huge star in Japan appeared to have been one of those self-fulfilling prophecies. But if anyone asked the List, it would say that Bronson Arroyo was the most dynamic player to make the journey. That has more to do with his Cincinnati Reds jersey than anything else, though.
THE TEXAS RANGERS MISSED a chance for a gem when they hired Ron Washington instead of their very own Trey Hillman.
Looks like Hillman-san is going to be spending another year in Sapporo, which is what he said was his plan all along, and that can only be good for the folks in Hokkaido. Hillman knows ball, he knows people and he is a classy guy, the kind of role model pro sports (and the U.S. Congress, not including newbies) lacks in the modern era.
Trey will get his shot in the majors one day, and when he does, the List will be waiting to collect on those bets that he will set some other city ablaze with baseball passion the way he has done in Sapporo.
SOMETHING REALLY FUN AND really non-baseball is in store for the next List, but just in case the wrong person is reading today, the faithful constituency will have to be left in the dark.
JUST ONE MORE QUESTION: Would the world care more about the Konami Cup if it was called the PlayStation 3 Cup?
THE LIST IS STARTING a petition to get a little more Rage Against The Machine on the P.A. at Japanese baseball games. Send support for the cause to firstname.lastname@example.org.