Tuesday, 21 March 2006

Classic stuff

Apologies for the lack of post last night, but I was out for leaving beers with colleagues. End of March is always a popular time for leaving beers as lots of colleagues seem to feel it is a good time to move on to something new or return to the UK. I know this to be true as when we left in 2001 we went in April, probably because it coincides with the end/beginning of the academic year here in Japan. This year is a popular one with three friends moving on, one to pastures new in Japan (the chap we were out for last night) whilst two others are returning to Blighty to do stuff there. I have warned them, but little heed has been taken. Oh well.

So in the news this week has been the World Baseball Classic, which is a silly name for what is, in effect, the baseball world cup. It is about time baseball got a world cup, mainly so whichever American team wins their domestic league title (or World Series, as it is known there, after it was originally sponsored by World magazine) will stop calling themselves the world champions, when, patently, they aren’t. Of course the winners of the US’s domestic American football championship will continue to call themselves the world champions, but at least the baseball is a start. Anyway this all kicked off a couple of weeks ago with some games here in Japan in the Asian leg, where Japan managed to lose to South Korea once, or even possibly twice, but they both went to the finals in the US anyway. Lots of games, not a little controversy and some excellent teamwork saw Japan into the final against Cuba, the Americans having been put out by someone, possibly Mexico, whilst Japan got there by beating South Korea at the third attempt. To put it in context a little, Cuba were the favourites to win as they are a better team and, more importantly I guess, are reigning Olympic champions so should be quite handy.

The final was today from 11am Japan time, an amazingly synchronicitious coincidence as today is a national holiday (spring equinox, don’t you know) and so everyone could stay at home and watch it, and not have to get up early to do so. As the kick off (er... pitch off? Hit off? Toss off?) was at 11am, we decided to go out to the community centre, and thence shopping, as it seemed a better thing to do. Actually we went to the community centre a bit earlier than that, to be honest, just after the young ‘un had had his breakfast, when father’s hangover was kicking in (though it wasn’t too bad, luckily (the Oh God of Hangovers would not be happy)). The community centre, which has a name in Japanese that I can never remember, possibly Kokumin centre, is a jolly place that mothers, and sometimes fathers, take their kids under 4 years of age to let off a bit of energy. Essentially it a big room with mats and lots of toys where you can just let your kid go off and they can enjoy themselves whilst mothers chat with other mothers. Today was my first time there and I must say that I was impressed. It was big, there was plenty of room and plenty of toys and, because it was a national holiday, not too crowded. Marcus seemed to enjoy himself, playing with various things, including waving a toy (wooden) kitchen knife around with surprising precision and gusto (career as a chef or mass murderer perhaps). Dad also had fun as I got to push Marcus around on a little scooter thing, his legs aren’t quite long enough to reach the floor just yet, and also because I managed to make two other little kids cry just by looking at them – and there was me thinking I had a great rapport with little kids, oh well. At this point I should just mention that on Saturday we went to Akachan Honpo (Japanese Mothercare, if you remember) and whilst in a play area Marcus managed to stand all by himself with no support and not holding on to anything! An auspicious day, I think you’ll agree and something he did again this afternoon back home, but only for a moment.

So after spending about an hour or so there we went off shopping to the new shopping centre in Kawaguchi (the city is abuzz, I tell you, new building sites, shopping complexes and other stuff everywhere. The place has changed completely in the three years we’ve been here). The place is called Ario and it is, basically, a shopping mall, but it has a cinema that we haven’t been to yet, so it is not all bad. Anyway the good people of Ario were sensible and realised that whilst lots of families may be there to do a spot of shopping, more than likely the fathers would be far more interested in watching the baseball, so they set up TVs for precisely this purpose. When we got there it was 2-0 to Japan in the first inning and people were getting excited. Now personally I don’t really care for baseball, I prefer cricket as any self respecting Englishman should, but then again I have a little interest in it and follow what happens in a cursory way, much as I did ski jumping before watching the Nagano Olympic final in a sports centre once that I wrote about but don’t know where. And of course I, and by ‘I’ I mean we as the Guru got into it as well, really got into this game. We wandered around Ario for a bit, had lunch, bought dinner food, looked at arms & armour for the boy (more of which in future posts), but always kept coming back to the baseball. By the time we left it was 4-1 to Japan and there was a palpable buzz. We walked home in the pleasant spring sunshine, the young ‘un fell asleep and as soon as we got into the house we switched on the TV to find out what was going on.

At this stage I should really have gone to do some study, but what with the previous evening’s exertions, the baseball on the tv and the cricket on the web discretion was the better part of valour and so I slobbed out. On out return Japan was now winning 6-1 and it was looking like a cakewalk (what does that expression really mean and where did it come from?), but then Cuba came back into it. Soon it was 6-3 and Japan had stopped scoring. Then in the bottom of the eighth a Cuban hitter smacked a two run homer to left field and it was 6-5. was an upset on the cards…? Belatedly Japan got their offence working again and, though some really excellent team batting, managed to pound out 4 runs (inexplicably the Cubans walked one Japanese hitter, loading up the bases so that the next man in, Ichiro, who holds the single season record for hits in the US league, had merely to connect and Japan were assured of runs). So, by the bottom of the ninth it was 10-5 and Cuba had to score 6 to win. The second in chap hit another home run, I think, to make it 10-6, but then the Japanese pitcher showed some excellent control and struck out the last two batsmen for no runs and unfancied Japan won the inaugural series and can now, justifiably, call themselves world Champions. And jolly well done, too.

Perhaps the most pleasing aspect is that their play followed national stereotypes almost to perfection. The Cubans wanted to big and macho and hit the leather off the baseball. All death or glory, the individual big hitter, superstar kind of thing. Japan, on the other hand, was all about teamwork, playing as a group, all members doing their bit well to make sure the whole team (and country) succeeded. Or maybe I’m reading too much into it...

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