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Played my First Ball Game here in Japan!

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Played my First Ball Game here in Japan!
Thought you guys here might like to hear about my experience so far.

Last week we didn't have a game scheduled but were able to get a practice field on Saturday (normally they only play on Sundays, but if for a practice they'll do Saturday if that happens to be when they can get a field). We had a nice four hour practice session in which we did "toss batting," free batting, fielding, and a four-on-four-on-four scrimmage sort of thing. It had been a couple weeks since I had gotten any exercise (with final exams, graduation, and the move to Japan), and practice is a bit more intensive than playing a game, so I wound up pretty sore, but had a good time.

I started getting along with all of the members of my team pretty much immediately, which is nice.

One of my Japanese buddies back in the US told me that if I played kusa-yakyu, we'd probably have our games really early in the morning, but we tend to play at 1 pm, and there is one earlier game scheduled at some time. I was given the impression that most of the people who play in this sort of league would be older, average age in the 30s or so, but we actually have more teammates right around my age (22) than I expected. Basically there are people ranging from my age up to 50+, which is pretty interesting.

Today we had our first league game at some city park. The outfield grass was scraggly and there were some puddles out there, but the infield was actually in pretty decent condition (Japanese folks are very meticulous about taking care of the infield after using it). The mound was pretty small, too, but I guess that's alright. There was only really a fence in left field because of a building being constructed, but the dimensions are pretty clearly defined, so I guess a hit past a certain point would be a home run or something.

There are quite a variety of fields, ranging from what we played on today at a public park, to the shimin-kyujo (city baseball stadium), which is actually a real, solid stadium. My team played a practice game there in March, but I wasn't here yet for that. We're hoping to get a chance to play there again sometime this season (I'd love to do that), but it's a luck-of-the-draw kind of thing, the nicer fields are pretty hard to secure.

In Jingu Bleacher Bum's post in this forum, it was mentioned that the rubber ball would be hard to hit very far because it sort of compresses if you hit it too hard, and curve balls wouldn't work very well because of the lack of seams, but it seems that the nanshiki-yakyu people all across Japan have recently started using a new type of ball which actually can be hit pretty well, and you can throw curves with them. There are also "nanshiki-you" bats which are pretty light weight (too light for my taste, but I guess I don't care) and some of them have a soft material "sweet spot" with which you can give the ball a pretty good ride if you hit it right.

The bounciness of the rubber ball does indeed make the game interesting, as the ball will bounce right over your head (especially on turf or an all-dirt outfield) or right out of your glove if you're not careful, and it will do some funny things when hit in a certain way.

Today we had our first game - we're in a league of 9 teams divided into groups of three. Between now and November, we'll play each team in our own group three times, and each team in the other group once apiece. There is another, larger league in this city, and it's apparently divided up into three different skill levels. I'd love to try playing with the tough teams some time if I can pull it off. I'm not sure how tough or competitive they are though.

In addition to this being my first game in Japan, it's the first "organized" ballgame I've played in since I was 14 and in Babe Ruth league back in the US - 8 years ago!

The coach put me in as DH today (10 spots in the batting order) so I didn't do any fielding, I guess they wanted me to hit though. Coach said he was especially looking forward to the other team's reaction when I went up to bat in the 4th spot in the lineup, since they're not really used to having foreigners. I actually didn't get that big of a reaction until after my first at bat, when I came out swinging big. I'm now being treated as the "power hitter," which is kind of funny to me because I don't really have any muscle, and I'm not all that strong in general, but I have hit pretty well so far. It's kind of fun getting to be the slugger, I never got the chance to as a kid playing ball.

In Jingu Bleacher Bum's story, he mentioned that he didn't see anybody ever hit home runs over the fence since the rubber balls didn't fly so well, but with the type of ball we're using now, it'll definitely happen. I came pretty close myself but fell short because I hit it to straight away center, and some guys on the other team reached the fence in left field (but nobody hit one over today).

The uniforms are quite nice, each team has their own custom unis and some of the guys on the team we played against today even went as far as having their own batting helmets. A little expensive, though. For a jersey, pants, a belt, and hat, it's 18,000 yen per person. It is good stuff though, Mizuno brand.

There is a little bit of the Japanese twist; the rubber balls, no need for batting helmets, lining up and bowing to the other team before and after the game, raking off the infield, and such. But at the end of the day, baseball is still baseball.

I got cut from the team freshman year in high school and didn't bother to go back. Never played in college, either, except a few pickup games with a bunch of Japanese guys. So this is my chance to put on a uniform and go out and play, without all the politics and drama that would have come with playing high school ball. Great way to spend Sunday afternoon!
Re: Played my First Ball Game here in Japan!
[ Author: Jingu Bleacher Bum | Posted: Apr 14, 2008 8:41 AM | YAK Fan ]

Nice to see you had a good experience with your first session here in Japan. A 4 hour practice is pretty intense for your first time. Usually most grounds here around Tokyo and Saitama rent in two hour sessions, so your team must have booked two time slots.

I've been using the new nankyu ball as well, not the old one with the dimples on it, and yes it does curve a lot better. I've also learned how to throw a good fork ball with the new balls. I haven't really noticed the new balls traveling farther off the bats though. Maybe it's just because my teammates are all getting older.

Don't worry about the bounciness of the ball, within no time you'll be expecting it and you won't even notice. I too have played on some pretty "rough" fields where each bounce in the outfield was its own adventure. Usually I can look past most bumps and divots in fields, but one field our team uses often had the back half of the mound cut off for some reason, so when you step back to start your windup, you literally can fall off the mound. Our team had to complain about that change, but I doubt that's been fixed yet.

This is a site about Pro Yakyu (Japanese Baseball), not about who the next player to go over to MLB is. It's a community of Pro Yakyu fans who have come together to share their knowledge and opinions with the world. It's a place to follow teams and individuals playing baseball in Japan (and Asia), and to learn about Japanese (and Asian) culture through baseball.

It is my sincere hope that once you learn a bit about what we're about here that you will join the community of contributors.

Michael Westbay
(aka westbaystars)

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