For the first time in my life (in any sport, perhaps) I took in a pre-season game. It was actually sprung on me when a Twitter friend told me that one of his friends had two spare tickets to the game. Since that friend-of-a-friend happened to be reliever Rafael Dolis, I was curious and could not resist. I arrived at the stadium about 30 minutes before game time and went to the special “invitees” ticket area. Row 5 behind the third base dugout. Not bad.
With the Tigers hosting the Orix Buffaloes at Kyocera Dome, the game started with our boys in the field. It would be my first time to see Kyuji Fujikawa pitch in a game. He didn’t disappoint. Many remember his glory days before he departed for the majors. As a “young” fan of the team, I do not. Perhaps it is best to throw that fireballer image away and just expect a solid, consistent veteran starter to complement the “big 4” that the team already has in place. He did not strike out many batters (maybe 3 in six innings) but also didn’t allow multiple hits in any inning but the third. He gave up a one-out towering home run to Buffaloes rookie Yoshida, then an out later, walked Itoi and gave up an infield hit to Morel. A second run then scored after a poor throw by third baseman Matt Hague skipped in front of first base and could not be corralled by Mauro Gomez.
As for our bats, well, they certainly showed that they are capable of great things. Through three innings the team notched nine hits (all singles, mind you) and scored 4 runs. Rookie outfielder Shun Takayama was involved in the first two – he scored on a Kosuke Fukudome hit in the first, and drove in Takashi Toritani in the second. The latter then drove in Hague in the bottom of the third, and a couple of batters later, Ryutaro Umeno (who is desperately trying to earn playing time at catcher) brought a steam-train-like Gomez with a single of his own.
The game really settled down after the third inning, as neither team managed to generate any offense. The Buffaloes threatened a few times, rapping back-t0-back singles against Yuya Andoh in the seventh and then hitting the cover off the ball against Shinobu Fukuhara in the eighth, but the aging veterans escaped their innings without surrendering the lead. (A nice “fake catch” fielding play by Taiga Egoshi saved a run.) New closer Marcos Mateo dominated the ninth with two weak fly balls and a strikeout to end the game.
On the whole, I enjoyed being at the ballpark for the first time in months. The preseason has a different feel to it, though – fewer fans and nothing at stake means that the cheering itself is a little less subdued. It was Kyocera Dome, which is obviously not as fun an atmosphere as Koshien Stadium. In these exhibition games, the Pacific League Buffaloes got to use the designated hitter, while the Central League Tigers had their pitcher (and pinch hitters) step up to the plate. The Tigers also did not get a single hit after the third inning, which also made for a somewhat unexciting game towards the end.
The highlight of the day for me was actually talking with the guy who got me the tickets. By that I mean my Twitter friend… but also Dolis himself. He was not at the game as he was not scheduled to appear, so after morning practice he was able to head home. We, however, crashed his place after the game and hung out for a couple of hours. And that, my friends, I will save for another post.