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Home » March 2008 Game CommentsMarch 2008 » Kisei [帰省]

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.

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