More fans showed up at Koshien Stadium yesterday than on many days on which the Tigers hosted a baseball game. The reason: the team’s annual Fan Appreciation Day took place from 12pm until around 4pm. The weather was great and the turn out was reported at 43,000. Here is a rundown of the day’s events:
- Manager Tomoaki Kanemoto’s opening speech. I was not in attendance for this, but apparently he talked about his desire to turn the team around, giving the young players a chance to push the veterans hard for playing time. He also announced the team’s slogan for 2016 – 超変革 (cho-henkaku – ultra-transformation).
- Find Fans Who… the stadium was divided into four sections (1B side, RF, LF, 3B side) and one player stood in each of the four sections. Their missions: First, find the female fan with the most (and most interesting) autographs on her Tigers jersey. Second, find a fan who looks most like a player, manager, coach or former player.
- Radio-controlled car relay race. Again, players were split into four teams and each was given a minute to race a radio-controlled car around the diamond. The team that could drive the furthest in four minutes was the winner. The best driver was Yuto Morikoshi, and the worst was Takashi Toritani. His punishment was that he had to help clean up the diamond after this event.
- Talk-Show – Tora Talk. Several players sat around and talked about various fun subjects. The hosts were actual Japanese celebrities, and it was pretty fun. First several of them got a chance to give Shintaro Fujinami some life advice, though most had nothing important to say. Ryota Imanari said he needs to bring out the “Kansai-jin” in himself a little more during hero interviews… maybe impersonating アンガールズ (Un-Girls) comedians because of his long limbs. Someone else suggested his locker was a pigsty, but that’s the best they could do. When asked who was the vainest player on the team, the overwhelming favorite was Ryota Arai. Kosuke Fukudome even went so far as to say that he practices his bat toss as much as he practices his swing.
- Newcomers get costumed up. For some reason, Yuya Yokoyama was not present, but the other draft picks from last season – Tsuyoshi Ishizaki, Taiga Egoshi, Koki Moriya and Kai Ueda all had to change into costumes that were pre-designated. Ishizaki turned into a Precure Girl, Egoshi into Moon (LINE character), Moriya became a Minion (from Despicable Me), and Ueda was “Bambino” who is from the comedic duo Danson.
- The main event was a baseball game (with special rules) between the current Tigers and the legends. The legends only came up to the plate and pitched from the mound – they were not required to field balls. Many of the 2015 Tigers regulars got to hit, while the batters for the legends included: Keiichi Hirano, Shinjiro Hiyama, Akinobu Mayumi, and more. Pitchers included Tomoyuki Kubota (he threw 140 km/h!), Tsuyoshi Shimoyanagi and more. It was fun to see the legends out there, and some of them looked pretty good despite having been away from the game for a long time! (Video clip from one fan here.)
- One-Pitch Match. In a moment of special recognition, the three players who retired this season – reliever Ryo Watanabe, catcher Akihito Fujii and hitter Kentaro Sekimoto were all driven out from the bullpens and had a one-pitch showdown. Sekimoto admitted on his Facebook page that he intended to swing and miss but somehow made contact and send a grounder to the vacant right field area.
- All the fans sang Rokko Oroshi together as the players marched around the field.
Overall it was a fun day, but certain events could have been shortened or eliminated altogether. I cannot end the recap without including a shoutout to Imanari, who also dressed up as now-famous rugby player Goro Maru. The man is quite hilarious! He won MVP of the day, and went home with a (second?) 66-inch TV for his efforts.