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Saitama Amateur Baseball

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Saitama Amateur Baseball
Sorry for the late reply Dodgers/Mariners/Lions/Giants-san, but here's my story about playing amateur ball in Japan.

I came to Japan for work in mid 2002, but didn't start playing amateur ball here regularly until early 2003. My first experience with kusa yakyuu came when a co-worker in a different department invited me to participate on his team, which is near Kawasaki. I had never used a rubber ball before, which is what most of the amateur baseball teams here use, other than for taking swings in batting cages. Even in Little League baseball back in the US, I'd always used the hard leather balls, so naturally during pre-game warm ups, a few balls bounced over my head in the outfield, due to the rubber ball structure. I only played on that team a few times, as it was almost a 2 hour commute one way from Saitama.

I decided to look for a team closer to where I live, so I used Google and Yahoo! Japan to help with my search, by just entering the city where I live, and the term kusa yakyuu (in Kanji) in, I came up with a few hits about teams playing in my area. I decided to write on the BBS boards for each team site asking them if I could play. The first team I wrote to, I got no response, and the second team told me their roster was already full. As the saying goes, the third time was the charm, as the manager of the third team immediately agreed to let me come to a practice and see if the team would fit my level of playing.

I played baseball pretty much all of my life, from elementary school through high school, and I tried out for the team at the community college I was attending back in the US. The coach there told me I could've made the roster, but I didn't have the funding to take time off of work for ball. I'm not a professional, but I do know how to play. At the first practice with this team in Saitama, the guys were really friendly, and allowed me to participate in all of the drills and warm ups. All of the guys on the team have had some sort of baseball experience in the past, and there wasn't that many errors from what I saw. I was 27 at the time, and the 2nd youngest player on the team, so I didn't exactly fit into the age category of upper 30's, but I decided to stick with the team and give them a try.

I played baseball a few times with some Japanese exchange students back in the US, plus I regularly watched baseball on TV here before I started to play, but I figured there was still a lot of Japanese words I'd have to learn for baseball communication, as none of them spoke very good English. I'm currently in my third year with the team, and I still forget some of the baseball lingo. I regularly speak Japanese at my job and in everyday life, but I still have a little trouble with catching minor details when someone is describing batting or pitching forms. I regularly listen to baseball games on the radio on the commute home, and I'm close to understanding pretty much everything said in the broadcasts. I also read the Japanese Sports papers websites regularly to boost my vocabulary.

The team I play for is mostly made up of workers at a factory for Pioneer, out near where I live in Saitama. We have two leagues we participate in, the "Digital League", and the "Factory Cup". The Digital League is made up of 3 other teams in the local area, and there are 4 different divisions in Saitama, North, South, East, and West. We play each team twice (1 home & 1 away), and the winner of each division will face off against the other division winners in the Digital League championships. The highest my team has finished while I've been here is 2nd place. The Factory Cup consists of 4 teams, with only workers from the Pioneer factory allowed to participate. The first and second year with the team, I had to stay at home for these games, but since I'm a regular player for all the other games, and I've played in practice games against the other Factory Cup teams, they've allowed me to play in regular games this year.

We only have about 15 scheduled games each year, so during the weeks in-between we'll try and find other local teams to practice against, or if we can't get enough people to show up, we'll just hold a practice session. We don't usually travel too far from Tokorozawa city, but once in a while we might venture on down into Tokyo for a game. The average pitch speed I'd say would be around 90-100 kph or so. Sometimes I've faced higher speeds, other times it seems like the opposing pitcher might as well be throwing underhand. I have yet to see an opposing team member hit one over the fence, but I have seen balls bounce past the outfielders in the gaps, and just kept on rolling for a running home-run.

My only gripe about amateur baseball here is the umpires and their inconsistency. I can understand widening the strike zone by 1 baseball because we're amateurs, but when a pitch at eye level is called a strike, that makes me irked, so I'll turn around and give the umpire a nasty glare. Most of the time I play centerfield, so I can pretty much judge where the umpire is calling strikes, but sometimes the consistency is so bad, a ball at my neck will be called a strike for me, while not for the next batter. I've never actually argued with an umpire yet, but I came really close once on a called third strike so far off the plate that it would've taken a telephone pole to hit. Don't get me wrong, I've seen umpires call strike zones like they should be, and others who would call low but not high strikes, and others who make their own zone, but very rarely do we get an umpire who will tell you his strike zone so we know just how far out of the strike zone we have to protect when we're down two strikes.

Overall, I've come to learn that these guys love competition, but aren't as serious about it as my high school coach was. I have a lot of fun, and get really depressed whenever there's a rainout, because that means I have to wait another week before I get another chance to play. Every year we also have a mini-camp in mid-summer where we take off on Friday night, and head out to Chiba Prefecture next to the ocean. We practice for about 5 hours on Saturday morning, and then hit the beaches for body boarding, grilled clams, and beer. Sunday is a friendly game against a team from the local area, and then it's back out to the beaches again before heading back home on Sunday night. Also, after almost every game or practice we'll head to one of the local family restaurants for lunch afterwards. I think I've just about memorized the menu for Jonathan's. Most of the fields we play on are accessible by walking from the closest train station, but when there's one that is 30 minutes or so away, somebody will pick me up by car from the nearest station.

If you are seeking to play baseball in Japan, in or near your area, some suggestions I would make are, to do research about the teams in your area, do your best to learn the Japanese language, and be patient. I think most teams have some sort of internet site set up, and there are also signs seeking players that I see at batting centers. If you can't read Japanese, you're going to need some help from somebody who can. The only time I've seen news in English, is on this forum. Or another approach you could take is to find some baseball fields around your area, and just pop by on weekends when most teams are playing. After the games you could probably approach the managers and talk with them about playing.
Comments
Re: Saitama Amateur Baseball
[ Author: Guest: John DeCosta | Posted: Aug 28, 2005 9:45 AM ]

I have a deep respect for the Japanese people, and now more so after reading the book about "Sadaharu Oh." My wife also read the book and we both enjoyed it. I had a curiosity about Japanese baseball, and I found your writing on the Internet by accident.

Your statement was very informative and answerwed any questions I would ever have. I love baseball and can't get enough of it. I play in over 30, over 40, and in over 50 tournaments every year. I play about 75 games a year. I am 58 years old and I am an effective pitcher. I average about 7 strike outs and 0 walks per 7 inning game. I usually play 9 innings. I throw about 76 to 78 mph and have effective slider and changeup. I play or practice year round. This year I had a lot of injuries, broken rib from batting, hamstring from rounding bases, line drives, etc. It's been a bad year. I compete as hard as I can and love every minute.

I'm going to Cooperstown for a week. I'll play 8 games there on doubleday field, then I go to Bill Lee's weekend in Vermont, then in November, I'm going to Phoenix Arizona for a week and play in the over 58 year old amateur world series. In January I'll be going to Fort Myers for another tournament. So as you can see, I love the game.

By the way I am a retired paratrooper, but I had 5 heart attacks since, so I value every game and play each like it's my last. I guess that's one reason why I replied to you. I'm interested in foreign baseball. I write short stories for a hobby and found this interesting. Good luck with your stay and baseball experience there and thanks for your story.

John DeCosta
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