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Home » Monthly Archive » March 2008

March 27, 2008


Game 2: March 26, 2008
Red Sox 1 L: Jon Lester (0-1) 1-1, 1 game losing streak
WinAthletics 5 W: Rich Harden (1-0)
H: Santiago Castillo (1)
H: Keith Foulke (2)
1-1, 1 game winning streak
Highlights: Manny Ramirez continued to grow his dreadlocks and his legend. His sixth-inning four-bagger was the only offensive highlight by the Red Sox, who were held hitless until the fourth inning. The only other player to manage an extra base hit was Coco Crisp; his two-out double in the seventh didn’t spark a rally but perhaps stoked his trade value.

Oakland starter Rich Harden offered a glimpse of the brilliance he is capable of when healthy, which is not the norm for the 26-year old pitcher. Over six innings the righty struck out nine, allowed a meager three hits (including a homer to Ramirez), and walked three.

Jon Lester had the same number of bases on balls and also gave up home run, but his blunder came in the third inning with two runners on base. Emil Brown crushed a middle-of-the-plate offering, lofting it into left field stands. Both Lester and Brown knew at the moment of contact that when the ball landed the score would be 4-0; the pitcher steadfastly stood with his back to the ball’s inevitable trajectory and the hitter calmly dropped his weapon in the batter’s box.

Hopefully it won’t be a scene oft-repeated, otherwise minds may wander back to those many months when another, more esteemed southpaw seemed destined for Fenway Park.

Yes, Lester is symbolic of many things: he was the first pick of the 2002 draft and received the highest bonus of any second rounder that year (thanks to Dan Duquette); he survived cancer and won the final game of the 2007 World Series. But he’s nowhere near the caliber of pitcher Johan Santana is, and probably never will be.

But, if you have a Beckett and a Matsuzaka, perhaps a Santana is a luxury. The Red Sox indulge in other luxuries, such as the affable but ineffectual Sean Casey, who grounded into a double play in the ninth after Mike Lowell singled to left. That was the first time Boston had the leadoff man reach.

Oakland’s pitchers made the Red Sox look like rank amateurs, combining for 13 punchouts and five hits allowed. Not even the enthusiasm of Hiroshii Hiraoka could kindle the wan lineup of the travel-weary Red Sox.

Hiraoka (1856-1934) was a railway engineer who studied in Massachusetts in the 1870s. So enamored of the Boston Red Stockings was he that he founded the Shimbashi Athletic Club upon his return in 1877, earning him a place in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Japan and the moniker of “the father of baseball in Japan.” Some writers have traced the passion for Red Sox baseball back to Hiraoka, but obviously the team Hiraoka cheered for was the precursor club to the modern-day Atlanta Braves.

Maybe if Moe Berg was sent to break the Athletics’ signals Boston would have had more success.

Berg spied on the Japanese on his second trip to Japan, the same trip that included Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Jimmie Foxx. His first trip was more of an expedition for the cerebral Berg, a graduate of Princeton and Columbia Law School; he traveled on to other Asian countries as well as Egypt and Germany. Berg would eventually play sparingly for the Red Sox in the mid to late 1930s.

Such is the convoluted, peculiar, and entwining histories of Japan and America through baseball: sometimes at odds but oddly attracted to the same transcendent sport.

March 26, 2008

Kisei [帰省]

Game 1: March 25, 2008 ∙ 10 innings
WinRed Sox 6 BS: Kyle Snyder (1)
W: Hideki Okajima (1-0)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (1)
1-0, 1 game winning streak
Athletics 5 H: Keith Foulke
BS, L: Huston Street (1, 0-1)
0-1, 1 game losing streak
Highlights: Just as I recently returned home to Hawai‘i, I can understand some of the feelings that Daisuke Matsuzaka may have with his kisei (homecoming): excitement tinged with anxiety, joy touched with woe knowing that the stay will be short. A Japanese word that is similar to nostalgic is natsukashii, but as an adjective it refers to the place, person, or sense that inspires pleasant memories. In Japanese, a person can’t be natsukashii; instead the object of the memory stirs one’s recollection.

ESPN and NESN would have you believe that in Daisuke’s country the strains of the shakuhachi echo across rice paddies, the words of Sun Tzu cross the lips of people daily, and the clatter of geisha’s okobo punctuate the quiet of city walkways nightly.

Japan may be those things, but it is also the Shinkansen, the Akashi-Kaikyō Bridge (the world’s longest suspension bridge), and, of course, baseball.

While I was in Hawai‘i I read Baseball Before We Knew It by David Block. By now everyone knows that Abner Doubleday did not invent baseball, but what stood out to me was that nearly every researcher who delved into the origins of bat and ball games inevitably concluded that someone from their country devised the game.

The Japanese, however, knew very well that baseball was not a homegrown sport but embraced it in their drive to modernize during the Meiji Restoration. There have been many Western men, shipped over from America to revamp Japan’s feudal society into a capitalist one, who may have taught the game to their young wards, but it was Horace Wilson who was identified as the man who brought the game to the island nation.

Wilson was born in Gorham, Maine and fought in the Civil War. He found himself across the globe in Japan teaching English and math. One day in 1872 (or perhaps the next year) Wilson taught baseball to his Tokyo University class. A bit later he organized a game between them and the Foreigners, which the latter team won, 34-11. His descendants were honored at Kōshien and Wilson was enshrined in the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame, such is the esteem baseball is held in Japan.

So, understandably, Daisuke Matsuzaka appeared nervous in his first start of the season, which was not only the first game for his team but his first game in Japan as a member of an American major league baseball club. He was all the more agitated after allowing a home run to Athletics second baseman Mark Ellis in the first inning. Working against his own nerves and a tight strike zone the starter walked rookie Daric Barton, hit Jack Cust, and gave Emil Brown a free pass to load the bags.

Matsuzaka helped himself to an out by barehanding Bobby Crosby’s tapper and throwing across his body, but another run crossed the plate. With some confidence restored, Matsuzaka kept the Athletics off the board for the remaining four innings of his appearance.

The Red Sox hurler was in line for a win with his team’s offensive surge in the sixth. Dustin Pedroia led off with a flyer that eluded Travis Buck’s glove and was followed by Kevin Youkilis’s walk. Both were plated by Manny Ramirez’s double, a line shot down the third base line. Brandon Moss singled with a bounder into right field, driving in Ramirez for the lead and advancing to second on the throw.

Kyle Snyder would hand the lead back in the bottom of that inning by relinquishing a two-run homer to Jack Hannahan. But Moss didn’t limit his heroics to the sixth; his ninth-inning longball sent the game into extra innings.

Hideki Okajima’s return home proved more memorable than Matsuzaka’s; the reliever’s theme sound thundered through the dome as he pitched a near-perfect ninth, where he gave up just a walk and struck out one.

As Babe Ruth captured the imaginations of the Japanese when he barnstormed the country in 1934, Ramirez has seized the minds of a new generation of fans. His arcing, two-run double in the top of the tenth just missed clearing the fences, but his antics endear rather than annoy his new devotees. Ramirez acts like the brash young heroes of anime do: unapologetically celebrating victories with their “guts pose,” defying conventions with their hair, basically being the nail that sticks out.

It’s acceptable for Ramirez to be audacious, as he is the adopted son. But Matsuzaka is Japan’s native son, and he is expected to succeed and do so in an uncontroversial way. In this, his first start, he didn’t meet such lofty expectations, but he has until 2012 to keep trying.

March 22, 2008

Remote Locale

Today my family and I will be on the road for about two hours to get to the “town” of Kaupo. If you explore this area, you’ll see that Pi‘ilani Highway is really a dirt road. Part of it is closed due to a 6.7 magnitude earthquake off the coast of the Big Island in October 2006. For frame of reference, Kaupo is about as far from populated areas as Hana is, but without access via paved road.

When I was seven I was so inspired by the name Kaupo after I had traversed Haleakala Crater with my parents and other adults that I named the best cat I ever befriended after the town. I remember one of hiking party, my dad’s best friend, in fact, continually doubting that I could make the hike. We had two days to take the Sliding Sands then Kaupo Gap trails. Not only did I make it, but I wore slippers (a.k.a. flip flops) for the last few miles.

We sat on the steps of the Kaupo Store after the excursion and my dad bragged about me to amazed tourists.

View Larger Map

March 21, 2008

Big in Japan

Watching the Red Sox take on the Hanshin Tigers (the “Red Sox of Japan” compared to the Yomiuri Giants, who play the role of the Yankees) while on Maui. The Tigers’ home field is Koshien, where Daisuke Matsuzaka first earned the attention of the baseball world, but this exhibition game is in the Tokyo Dome.

One of the many advantages of living in Hawai‘i: this game isn’t on at an obscene hour.

The Boston lineup in katakana. Buchholz’s name is on the left.

The screen-wipe graphic featuring the Red Sox and Tigers logos.

March 19, 2008

Ono Grinds

I realized my previous post was a little bitter, so I thought I should write about something that is far from acrid: Hawaiian food.

I don’t do much sightseeing as I’ve pretty much seen everything on the two islands I’ll be on, Oahu and Maui. So I have been eating all my favorite foods that are hard to find in Massachusetts.

One of the first things I had was gau gee at Waimalu Chop Suey. Gau gee are like won ton on steroids. They don’t cut down on the meat at Waimalu; it’s stuffed full of pork and deep fried.

I also had laulau, which is a traditional Hawaiian dish of pork and butterfish steamed in taro leaves. It came with lomilomi salmon (sort of like a ceviche) and haupia (coconut pudding-ish jello-ish dessert).

I’ve been to two different kinds of Japanese restaurants, one that serves mostly ramen and one that serves teishoku, which are set dishes of teriyaki, tempura, and other Japanese specialties served with rice (of course), tsukemono (Japanese pickled vegetables), and miso.

One of the things that is popular is mixing satsumaimo (purple Okinawan sweet potato) in various dishes. I had it in fried mochi (sort of like cascaron) and coconut tapioca. Satsumaimo is less tangy than yams or other kinds of sweet potato and doesn’t break up when cooked. So ono (Hawaiian word for “delicious”)!

When I come back I’m going to weigh 20 pounds more, but will be tremendously happy about it.

Welcome to Fantasy Island

I have probably mentioned before that I am an assistant commissioner in an intense, extensive franchise baseball league called The Wood, the Abad, and the Uggla (registration required, e-mail me for fan account access), or WAU for short. We have a four-round amateur draft, a Rule 5 draft, and a draft for minor league free agents (as opposed to the MLB way of acquiring international talent, players from other countries are not acquired by throwing millions at unproven teenagers).

This season will be only the second year of competition, and already owners are anxious to begin. The commissioner devised an exceptional extension policy that takes into consideration player performance in the 14 scoring categories (home runs, runs, runs batted in, stolen bases, batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage; holds, saves, strikeouts, wins, earned run average, strikeout to walk ratio, and walks and hits per inning pitched), year the player is extended, and if the player was “held back” from being promoted in the league.

The people who run the league put countless hours into making sure it runs as well as it can. I am so devoted to it I have been checking into the discussion even while 5,000 miles from home.

The relatives I’m staying with don’t have an internet connection, so at night after eating some of my favorite Hawaiian and local foods I work on projects (such as an Excel spreadsheet that calculates bid points for free agency and the average annual value of extended contracts or tools to project the league’s economy). I log onto the site from a Starbucks every morning, excited to participate in the discussion.

The last few days the discussion about extensions has gotten heated. After years on the internet I should probably be used to the rude and obstinate personae people assume when writing in the anonymity of a virtual world. And yet it still surprises me, takes me aback when flame wars ensue over Monopoly money in a game. It’s just a game.

People in Hawai‘i are renowned for living with aloha. It is not merely a greeting or farewell, but also means compassion, affection, love, mercy, and peace. For most of the day I am surrounded by that spirit, only to have it swept away every morning by the squabbles in my league.

The next time I run a league, I’m going to make sure a majority of the participants have an inkling of understanding of what aloha means.

March 15, 2008

Back in Hawai‘i

When the Red Sox open in Japan later this month I’ll be closer to the team physically though more distant temporally as is Hawai‘i on the other side of the International Date Line from Daisuke Matsuzaka’s homeland.

With Josh Beckett’s back woes putting him on the shelf, the Japanese pitcher is set to start the first game of the two-game series against the Athletics in the Tokyo Dome. Matsuzaka and his wife Tomoyo had their second child (and first son) this morning, so neither the couple or the team need further worry about the starting slot.

While here I’ll try to see a University of Hawai‘i baseball game, but it won’t be as interesting as it was the last time I was here when the University of Washington was here for a tournament and Tim Lincecum started a game. Instead, I’ll probably catch the game against San Diego State on the 18th.

As much as I miss the non-stop baseball coverage when I’m in Boston, 80 degree weather isn’t anything to complain about.

March 2, 2008

Imagine Nation

For the second time in four years the Red Sox visited the White House and were feted by the president on the South Lawn of the White House. On Wednesday, February 27, George W. Bush spoke lucidly on one of the few issues in which he is expert — baseball. The other topics in which he has experience — evading military service, drug and alcohol abuse, pilfering elections, and the like — are not discussed in polite company.

President Bush made mention of “the Mighty Red Sox Nation,” practically recognizing it as a sovereign state. Fanfare such as this and the fact that the Red Sox outdrew the Yankees in road games incited Hank Steinbrenner’s rant in The New York Times’ Play Magazine.

“Red Sox Nation?” Hank says. “What a bunch of [expletive] that is. That was a creation of the Red Sox and ESPN, which is filled with Red Sox fans. Go anywhere in America and you won’t see Red Sox hats and jackets, you’ll see Yankee hats and jackets. This is a Yankee country. We’re going to put the Yankees back on top and restore the universe to order.”

The feature chronicles Hank’s ascent to the Yankee throne (and descent into madness) thanks not to his talents but because of the divorce of Steve Swindal, the former heir to imperium, from George’s daughter Jennifer. It also described the architecture and embellishments of the new Yankee Stadium, which called to mind rallies at Nuremberg rather than a leisurely day enjoying the national pastime.

If the stadium’s exterior, with its limestone and granite façade, is self-consciously retro, the interior will be thoroughly modern.... The team’s interlocking “NY” logo will be everywhere, from the door handles to the latticework. Lining the so-called Great Hall that runs from home plate to the right-field foul pole will be huge two-sided banners, with Yankee legends in black-and-white on one side and more recent superstars in color on the other. The Yankees are eight years removed from their last world championship, but it’s hard not to regard the new stadium, with its over-the-top evocation of Yankee mythology, as an in-your-face assertion of Yankee might, a pointed and — depending on your perspective — either desperate or reassuring reminder that the team is less a baseball club than an American institution. It will be Red Sox Nation’s version of hell.


As hellish as the current administration of the United States is, I much prefer my team visiting 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, the site of a true monument of democracy. Such sojourn means more than erecting a cenotaph to long-past greatness.

Photos courtesy The White House and The New York Yankees/Associated Press, respectively.

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