Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Our Season Continues After an Exciting Finish

Hi again everyone…it’s been a crazy couple of weeks for us over here in Japan!

The regular season is officially over. It's been close and dramatic all season, and the last two weekends were no exception. Two weekends ago we played Shionogi and Hitachi Software, and won our first game against Shionogi. We've gone back and forth with Software in the standings all season, and had won our previous two games against them – one being in the Japan Cup, so it didn't count in the standings. Unfortunately they got the best of us in our most recent game, winning 2-1.

We could have clinched a spot in the playoffs with a win, but instead we would have to wait another weekend. We played Toyota and Taiyo Yuden, arguably our toughest weekend of the year, to close the seaon. Toyota was fighting to clinch first place in the overall league standings, and we had a really rough game against them. Shokki ended up losing its game, and Toyota was able to clinch the top spot in the league with the win against us. Going into Sunday we were in a close race for fourth place with Software and Denso. We had secured the tiebreaker against both teams, but in the event of a three-way tie, we would not have the advantage.

It was a very confusing situation, but either way, we really needed to win over Taiyo Yuden. We scored one run in the third inning to take the lead. Yuden's cleanup hitter Tanagawa has had an amazing season in Japan, and unfortunately she continued her campaign to be the league's home run champion by belting a solo shot in the bottom of the fourth.

Luckily we regained the lead soon after when Erina Inoue hit a solo shot of her own to left-center. We faced the heart of their order in the bottom of the seventh, and our second baseman Fujimoto turned a double play to end the game. We celebrated our victory, soon realizing that the Software and Denso games were still not completed and that we needed one team to lose so that a three-way tie did not knock us out of playoffs. Denso had an early lead over Renesas, and we had no information on the Software game, so the hour following our game was a little intense. Everyone stayed outside the bus, mingling with friends and family and awaiting the final word. Eventually it came, and the girls went crazy. I just started cheering, not understanding the exact message, but I could tell it was good news!

We have a weekend off before the playoffs, so we'll spend that time practicing and scrimmaging before heading to Kyoto next Wednesday to prepare for our game. We play third-place finisher Shokki Saturday, while Toyota will play Renesas. The winner of our game will have to play the loser of the other game to advance to the championship game later on Sunday. Toyota and Renesas will have the advantage of having to win just one game to make the championship, since they finished higher in the standings. It’s been an exciting season, and I'm really looking forward to competing in the playoffs.

I’ll let you know how it goes!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Hi guys! Just finished up a big weekend with my Japanese team.

It was our only three-game weekend, and we definitely kept the momentum from the Japan Cup going. We started off with Iyo Bank on Friday, and Yamane earned the win as we scored in multiple innings for a final score of 11-0. Up next we faced Sagawa on Saturday, and I started and threw five innings for the win in that game. Our offense came out strong again, so Yamane finished off the final innings and we won, 6-0. Sunday was our biggest game, facing first-place Shokki on the final day. As I've mentioned before, foreign pitchers have a limit on innings, so as we are nearing the final stretch our coach has to create a strategy for when to use those innings. I think I had 33 innings left going into the weekend, so after Sagawa that left me with 28.

Yamane started against Shokki, and we faced American Katie Burkhart. We scored two runs in the second inning after Itoh led off the inning with a hit and we were able to load the bases. Our shortstop Kageyama was given the hit and run sign, and she delivered to score Itoh. Our captain Misato followed with an RBI sacrifice fly to left field to score the second run. Unfortunately Shokki answered with three runs of its own in the bottom of the second inning. The score would remain 3-2 until the top of the top of the seventh .

Our team never seems to quit, and Monday was no exception. Erina Inoue hit a line drive up the middle, which Burkhart deflected, and Erina got stuck deciding whether to try for second base. Fortunately she was safe at second after a rundown. Then she was bunted over to third by Kageyama, and Misato scored her with a hit and run to shortstop. I came in to start the bottom of the seventh and walked their leadoff hitter Karino before settling down a little and getting out of that inning.

In extra innings we used the international tiebreaker, which means that each team puts the person who made its last out on second base. Our right-fielder Nagayoshi was placed on second, and Natalie bunted her over to third. Ono smashed a line drive to the third baseman, who wasn't able to handle it, allowing Nagayoshi to score and Ono to reach first safely. In Shokki's half of the inning we were able to keep them from bunting, and the first batter flew out to shallow left. The second hitter struck out, and a fly ball to deep short stop was the last out to finish the game and secure the win. It was definitely a very exciting game and a big win to move us a game ahead for fourth place. After the weekend the League standings look like this

15-3 Renesas
15-3 Shokki
15-3 Toyota
13-5 LeoPalace
12-6 Software
12-6 Denso
7-11 Yuden
6-12 Sagawa
5-13 Toda
4-14 Shionogi
2-16 Honda
2-16 Iyo Bank

We have a short week ahead - back to practice today (Wednesday) and leaving again Thursday for our next trip. We face Shionogi and Hitachi Software this weekend as we head into our final four regular-season games. Software is only one game behind us, so it's yet another must-win game for us as it seems every game is at this point!

Off to practice..


Monday, October 5, 2009

A Fun Week with the Family

Hello everyone.

I had a great week last week, spending a lot of overdue time with my family. We played in the Japan Cup starting last Friday, September 24. It is a very prestigious tournament that includes 32 professional, club and college teams. All of the professional Division I teams that we play during the regular season were there, along with several teams from Divisions II and III. The tournament is played in "knockout" format, which is another way to say single elimination. Our first game was Friday at 9 a.m. gainst a Division II team. We won 22-1. The run rule was in effect for this tournament, so we split the game among three pitchers. I threw the fifth and final inning of the shortened game. My family arrived that evening, so I was able to meet them after dinner and help them get settled into our hotel.

On Saturday we faced Denso, a pretty tough draw, at 9 a.m. in our second game. Their scrappy leadoff hitter started the game with a full-count home run, but we were able to settle down after that. We scored four runs and held them just two more hits through the rest of the game to win, 4-1. We had a break before facing Hitachi Software at 1 p.m. in our third game. We played well against them last spring, but have not faced them yet during the second half. This was the first time since college that I've pitched two consecutive games in the same day, so I was a little nervous, but I think I actually pitched better with more work! Our offense kept going, scoring in multiple innings and getting a key home run late in the game to add some insurance. The final score was 5-0, and that moved us into the semifinals on Sunday. Things did not get any easier for us as we faced Renesas Takasaki, the current first-place team in our league. We played them well, and kept the game close, but ended up falling, 2-1, to finish the tournament tied for third place with Shokki. Toyota and Renesas faced each other in the title game, playing eight innings in what was a pitcher's duel between Ueno and Abbott. Renesas won the game in dramatic fashion with a walk-off grand slam in the eighth inning to take the title, 5-1.

We had several days off last week, so I was able to show my family around Tokyo and the other places that I enjoy visiting. We started the week by going to shine and shopping streets in Asakusa. They were able to get a bunch of souvenirs and see a popular tourist attraction. We also spent time in Harajuku, Shibuya, Shinjuku and at the Tokyo Tower. It was a pretty full week, and I think they enjoyed it. They left Friday, and it was back to work for me on Saturday. Unfortunately, rain cancelled our practice games, so we just had a gym day. We were able to get in a couple scrimmages Saturday, and resumed regular practice today. We have another big weekend coming up, as we play three games from Saturday through Monday. We start with Iyo Bank, followed by Sagawa and Shokki. We have seven total games remaining, so we'll know a lot about where we stand after this weekend. It was nice having a bit of a break, but we'll definitely have a very intense week of practices this week as we prepare for such a big weekend.

Wish us luck. I'll check in again next week.


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Exciting Weekend Pushes us into Fourth Place

Hello everyone...I'm a couple days behind getting this posted, but read on and you'll see why!

Our weekend ended up being a little longer than we had planned, but it was worth it. We started our trip on Thursday morning, and since Okayama is at least a 10-hour drive, Natalie, Miyako, Yamane (our pitchers and catcher), and I were allowed to take the bullet train or "shinkansen." That made the trip much easier, as the train ride was only 3-1/2 hours. After arriving in Okayama, we had lunch at a small cafe that serves udon noodles. Udon is a thick noodle, and mine was served in a broth with tofu. It sounds pretty different from anything in the States, but its delicious! We then went straight to practice at a local field with the rest of the team before heading to our hotel. LeoPalace has a hotel location in Okayama, so we were able to take advantage of great accommodations there.

We had our official pre-game practice on Friday at the game field, which still allowed us a little bit of free time afterwards. Natalie and I squeezed in a quick trip to Okayama Castle between practice and dinner. The castle was beautiful, and is known for its unusual black roof.

Unfortunately, the weather didn't cooperate on Saturday, and our game against Toda had to be postponed. The Sunday game was played as scheduled, so we started with Denso on Sunday afternoon. They were one game ahead of us in the standings, so it was a must-win if we watned to stay in the race for playoffs. Our offense has been amazing all year, and Sunday was no different. We had five different players with RBIs and took a 6-0 lead into the seventh inning. Denso is a great hitting team as well, so they wouldn't make things easy for us. A couple of solid hits, followed by a well-placed bunt and an infield single started their rally and led to three runs. Fortunately, we were able to escape the threat, and came away with the 6-3 win. I pitched all seven innings to earn the victory.

Monday proved to be another exciting game for right up until the end. Toda scored one run in both the fourth and fifth innings to take a 2-0 lead into the seventh. Our shortstop, Kageyama, started off the top of the inning with a single, and with one out, our left fielder, Ono, singled as well. Then our captain and leadoff batter Misato kept things going with a walk to load the bases for one of our veterans, Fujimoto. She was a gold medalist in Beijing, and proved why she's one of the best in the world by hitting her first home run of the season, a grand slam. Yamane finished the game and earned the win, 4-2. It was definitely an exciting weekend, and now after 15 games we've moved into a tie for 4th place:

League Standings as of Sept. 15

Renesas 13-2

Shokki 13-2

Toyota 12-3

Leopalace 10-5

Denso 10-5

Software 9-6

Yuden 6-9

Sagawa 5-10

Toda 5-10

Shionogi 3-12

Honda 2-13

Iyo Bank 2-13

We won't play another League game until October 10, but we still have the Japan Cup September 25-27. My family will be arriving in Japan that weekend, so I'm getting very excited to see them! My dad was able to visit this past spring, but it will be a first for both my mom and sister.

Talk to you soon!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Stretch Run Begins in Japan

Hello everyone. I hope that you all enjoyed your Labor Day weekend. My Japanese team, Leopalace 21, got back to work with a pair of important games Saturday and Sunday.

We started off the second half of our season with a win over Honda, 8-1. I started the game and threw five innings before Yamane came in to close it out after a great performance by our offense. Sunday we faced one of the teams tied for first in the league, Renesas Takasaki. Ueno pitches for them, so we knew it would be a hard-fought contest, but unfortunately we came up a bit short.

We were able to get off to a fast start in Sunday's contest thanks to a walk and a bunt, followed by a timely hit by our right fielder Nagayoshi, that allowed us to take an early 1-0 lead. Unfortunately, the lead didn't last long, and Renesas came back to score two runs in the bottom of the first.

Yamane started, but I came in to relieve her during that inning. Since we are nearing the end of our season, the innings are adding up for the foreign pitchers, and we have to be careful to manage them wisely. We are limited to 99 innings for the entire year, so we try to save any extra innings that we can when there is a chance. I left the game in the sixth inning since Yamane could reenter.

Renesas tacked on two more runs in the sixth, but we answered with another of our own in the top of the seventh. With another baserunner on and two outs, our center fielder Misato hit a long fly ball to the warning track. It was so close, but unfortunately didn't quite have the distance, and we fell, 4-2.

After 13 total games, the standings in the league are as follows:

Renesas 11-2

Shokki 11-2

Toyota 11-2

Denso 9-4

LeoPalace21 8-5

Hitachi Software 8-5

Taiyo Yuden 5-8

Toda HP 5-8

Sagawa 4-9

Shionogi 3-10

Iyo Bank 2-11

Honda 1-12

We play Toda and Denso this coming weekend, so the Denso game will be especially important for us as we try to work our way into the top four. I'm also excited for this weekend, because Natalie, Yamane, Miyako (our interpreter) and I will be traveling to the games via the bullet train, or 'shinkansen.' We are playing in Okayama, which is about a 10 hour drive, but will be less than five hours on the shinkansen.

I'll report back to let you know how the games go and tell you about the train ride. Enjoy your week!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

A Long, Fun Summer...Now Back to Japan!

Hello again. Thought it was about time that I updated you guys on what's going on.

It's been awhile, but I'm finally getting around to updating on what's been going on since early August. I had a great time in Venezuela with the USA Pan Am Qualifier team, and we took home the gold medal after a long tournament. I was excited to head back to Akron to meet up with the Racers as we geared up for the NPF playoffs. Unfortunately, things didn't go our way and we lost two tough games to the Rockford Thunder. The Thunder was on a roll, though, and they ended up winning the NPF title.

It was hard to say goodbye to the Racers, since I had a great time with both old and new friends. I was able to spend the summer with Kelsey Hoffman, who was my catcher for four years at Virginia Tech. After the playoffs, we both headed down to Palm Beach, FL, to prepare for her wedding to fellow VT alum Nic Schmitt. It was a beautiful wedding, and I was flattered to be her Maid of Honor. It was a great mini-vacation as well, and went by way too fast! I was scheduled to leave for Japan the next day (last Sunday), but Typhoon Krovanh cancelled most flights to Tokyo, so I spent the day in Chicago instead. It ended up working out well, and I was able to do a little last minute shopping and enjoy some Chicago pizza before flights resumed on Monday.

The weather had mostly cleared by the time I arrived on Tuesday, with just a little residual rain remaining. I joined the team on Wednesday for practice, and we left for our first game on Thursday! It was a whirlwind week, but we finally got settled in on Friday and ready to start playing again in the morning. We had a great pre-game practice and were also able to participate in community service in the area, traveling to the Niikawa School in the Toyama prefecture, which works with kids with mental disabilities. Our team put on a demonstration of various positions, performed "knock" (rounds of defense with the infield and outfield) and played catch with the kids.

It was a little difficult for Natalie and I to interact because of the language barrier, but we still had a great time shaking hands and taking photos with some of the students. We start off with Honda today (Saturday) at 10:30 and play Renesas Takasaki at 1:00 on Sunday. With only 11 games left, every one will be very important as we are fighting with several other teams to work our way into the top four.

Check back soon, and I'll try to have updated standings and results as the second half officially gets underway.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Big Day Today!

Just a quick update from's getting exciting for us!

Won both our games yesterday, and Venezuela got crushed by Canada, so we play Venezuela this morning, and if we win we play Canada for the championship. Wish us luck!

I'll let you know how it goes...enjoy the rest of your weekend.