Early to rise seems to be the motto so far in Japan.

Once again, I awoke earlier than I wanted or planned to because of jet lag or time changes or all of the above (are they the same thing?). The result was getting some work done because I had absolutely nothing else to do, so maybe not a completely bad thing. Minus the sleep deprivation of course. Eventually it was time for breakfast – the exact same meal as it was on Sunday – so I got out of my room for that.

Unfortunately I have not been able to stick to my marathon training plan of late, with all of the writing and working and trying to crank out material like there’s no tomorrow. Well, one of these tomorrows is going to be the date of my 10th marathon, and even though my plan was to try to qualify for the Boston Marathon, I think I may need to set my sights a little lower. And I need to try to get back to proper training. I guess it might have been an option to go running with all of the extra morning hours, but I feel as though I constantly need to catch up on writing and that’s been my priority over the last few days. I did get a little more writing in after breakfast and before everyone headed to the bus for morning practice, so that was a plus.

We arrived at the same ballpark the team had practiced at on Sunday, so I had a better understanding of the facilities and the routine of the team, so I was able to get into the office right away and set up my computer and camera and tablets and all of the technology I am so reliant upon. I finished up some of the things I had been working on at the hotel and finally got going on the media guide for the Women’s National Team. It should have been done in BC but I had to go through and edit all of the photos we took for it and sort through the notes I needed to add to each player’s section.

Autumn Mills, regularly a starter for the Women's National Team, taking some balls in the outfield.

Autumn Mills, regularly a starter for the Women’s National Team, taking some balls in the outfield.

I stayed in the little office behind home plate at Kazo City Municipal Sports Center until the team took to the field and then I went out to get some more pictures. I have said this on numerous occasions, but I really enjoy taking the photos and all of the feedback regarding the ones I have posted on various social media sites has been incredibly positive. The squad’s outfielders were doing drills in left field, so I spent a significant amount of time there because I rarely get any good pictures of the outfielders during games. My camera lens isn’t great enough to zoom in that far and it’s hard to focus on the player as opposed to the background from a distance. So I started in the outfield, because those players never get any love, and then moved to the pitchers and infielders.

Ella Matteucci in the outfield for Team Canada.

Ella Matteucci in the outfield for Team Canada.

While I was snapping away in the infield, I heard my name being shouted from left field. At first, I thought there was no way anyone could be yelling for me, so I kind of ignored it. Then I realized the outfielders were calling me back out and asking me to bring my camera, so I hustled out to left to join them. They were doing a hilarious drill and they wanted to capture the memories on my Nikon 5100 forever.

Taking a look to get under the ball.

Centre fielder Niki Boyd taking a look to get under the ball.

Each of the outfielders had their batting helmets on and they were without gloves.  Patricia Landry, the outfield coach, was hitting tennis balls with a tennis racquet up high in the air and each player had to hustle to get under the ball and then allow it to hit them in the head and bounce off of their helmet. You can imagine the hilarity. Actually, you don’t have to because I have photographic evidence of the occurrence, thanks to the outfielders calling me back to get some.

Yep, just off the helmet.

Yep, just off the helmet.

When practice ended, the players and staff went over to an indoor gymnasium at the same sports complex to have Subway sandwiches. Everyone had ordered six-inch sandwiches because we learned while we were in Surrey that a footlong sub was a little too much for lunchtime. But apparently in Japan the sandwiches are a lot smaller, and of course, a little different in pretty much every way. I ordered a roasted chicken sandwich, and I can’t be sure that what came in the middle of the bread.We also found out that half of our party had come into the room we were in through the wrong entrance, really upsetting some of the Japanese people who work in the building. Everyone had to take their shoes off upon entering – quite common in Japan – and I guess some of the local employees saw all of the strange shoes at their staff entrance and it really disrupted their day. So when we left lunch all  of our shoes were out in the middle of the foyer of the correct entrance. I was one of the people who came in the wrong way. Oops.

Outfield coach Patricia Landry with the racquet and tennis balls for the drill.

Outfield coach Patricia Landry with the racquet and tennis balls for the drill.

After the meal, everyone made their way back to the field to pack up all of their equipment to load on the bus for the afternoon’s game. I grabbed all of my belongings from the office – which might actually be considered a press box now that I think about it – only to run into one of our translators on my way to our transportation and hear that the game would actually be played exactly where we were. There was no need to move or go anywhere. The team playing the second exhibition matchup against the Canadian women would be coming to them. So everyone unpacked their things and started to get ready for game time.

When the Japanese University All-Stars arrived – Monday’s opponent – they started to tend to the field. They were raked the infield and drew the chalk lines and no one really seemed to think that it was weird that the visiting team would show up and work the field before the game except for me. I thought it was really weird. Even one of the umpires started to help them out.

Just before game time against the Japanese University All-Stars.

Just before game time against the Japanese University All-Stars.

As we waited for the game to start, I headed out of the office to see what was going on outside. Sitting outside of the dugout, veteran first baseman Kate Posta was talking to our bus driver and another Japanese guy. I joined the conversation as she offered them Skittles and Sour Patch Kids. The first man tried the sour candies and was not at all into them. Then he had some Skittles and couldn’t believe that his tongue had turned a different colour. It was hilarious. Then Kate offered some to the bus driver. He had seen the other guy’s tongue turn colours so he concentrated on doing that to his own and then looked shocked every time he ate one and checked his tongue out in the mirror. I was laughing hysterically off to the side, but maybe you had to be there. It was a highlight for sure.

The best opposing uni of the game. In my opinion, obviously. I'm the one writing this.

The best opposing uni of the game. In my opinion, obviously. I’m the one writing this.

The game got underway and Melissa Armstrong took the mound for the Canadian women’s team. The righty from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan went two innings and surrendered an early run in the first to give the Japanese team a quick lead. Team Canada came back for one in the second on an RBI-single from centre fielder Niki Boyd, however.

Melissa Armstrong on the mound for Team Canada to start the matchup.

Melissa Armstrong on the mound for Team Canada to start the matchup.

Armstrong was piggybacked by Cindy Saavedra who came in for another two innings and go into some trouble in the fourth. She committed two errors, one worth two bases, and gave up three unearned runs and giving the all-stars four in total. The Canadian squad once again mounted a comeback, striking for two in the fifth, thanks to another big hit from shortstop Bradi Wall. Wall drove in two runs with a single and brought her exhibition tournament total to four RBI in two games.

Bradi Wall comes up big for the second game in a row during the Japanese exhibition series.

Bradi Wall comes up big for the second game in a row during the Japanese exhibition series.

Most impressive in the game was Ottawa’s Hannah Martensen. She came in for the final two innings of the matchup and retired the side in order twice, shutting down six of their hitters with just 16 pitches. The hitters couldn’t get anything more going however, and they dropped the second exhibition game by a score of 4-3. Full story can be found here.

The Japanese submariner the University All-Stars threw against the Women's National Team.

The Japanese submariner the University All-Stars threw against the Women’s National Team.

After the game the team took a picture with the opposition, something that they seem to be making a habit of, at least during exhibition play. I still find it really interesting that they do that, considering they are the competition, plus they cleaned the field ahead of time. I guess casual post-game pics with both teams are just a part of the deal. I would consider this to be atypical if it were anywhere but Japan but right now anything and everything could be considered normal and I wouldn’t know what’s what. It’s a whole new world.

Just a casual post-game pic between frienemies.

Just a casual post-game pic between frienemies.

From the game, we all headed right back to the hotel to quickly get ready for an official visit to City Hall. The team was invited by Kazo City’s Mayor Ryouichi Ohashi to come for a welcome and greeting. When we arrived, we were welcomed warmly by the city’s civil servants. The team had two translators for the event and as instructed, had to sit around a big table in the middle of the room in alphabetical order.

Mayor Ryouichi Ohashi of Kazo City.

Mayor Ryouichi Ohashi of Kazo City.

The mayor was introduced and addressed everyone, telling us about carp streamers (I’ll explain in a minute) and baseball in Kazo and Japan and then wished Team Canada good luck in the tournament, making sure to mention to take it easy on the Japanese team. Andre then had to address everyone and he did a great job, though I think his interpreter had some difficulty with the translation going from English – with a French accent – to Japanese. Then each member of the team had to stand up, say their name, where they are from, and then, “Nice to meet you.” The mayor and his delegates then did the same, and they even did theirs in English. Even so, it got old after a little while.

Carp streamers at the entrance to City Hall.

Carp streamers at the entrance to City Hall.

So, carp streamers. We got an explanation for them and I made sure to grab it so that I could give an accurate portrayal of what they are and why they are significant.

The carp streamer in the meeting room where Team Canada was welcomed.

The carp streamer in the meeting room where Team Canada was welcomed.

“The Boy’s Festival is celebrated on May 5th,” it read. “In Japanese it is called Tango no Sekku, which is one of Japan’s main annual festivals. On this day, paper or cloth streamers in the shape of carp (calleld Koinobori) are hoisted up tall poles in the yards of families who have sons. The parents hope that their boys will grow up healthy and strong by overcoming all obstacles, just like a carp, which fights its way up swift streams and little waterfalls. Some of the cloth carp are 10 metres (32.8 feet) long. It is a magnificent sight to see Koinobori of various colours swimming in the air.

“Special rice cakes wrapped in oak leaves are eaten on this day, and iris leaves are placed under the eaves to fend off evil spirits.”

The Canadian Women's National Team with the Mayor of Kazo City, Japan.

The Canadian Women’s National Team with the Mayor of Kazo City, Japan.

You  may not have needed that last part of the explanation, but here we are.

Before we took off from City Hall, everyone had to squeeze in for a group photo, of course. But we were on our way to a different destination than we had planned originally. We were supposed to be going to the mall for dinner and shopping but to our surprise, the mayor arranged a visit to a Buddhist temple to meet a priest as a good luck gesture. The shrine was only open for the day and was only open to us, so it was a really special thing for the team. And it ended up being a lot more interesting than anyone thought it might be.

Traditional group shot.

Traditional group shot.

We drove to our destination and were immediately surrounded by temples. I was told that it was okay to take pictures everywhere, after checking because I didn’t want to make anyone mad, and so I did. I took a lot of photos. alexis (19)

First we had to walk around the temples and back through one of them in a particular sequence, to a fountain with water coming out of a dragon. We had to pour water on our hands, one at a time, in order, and then we went into the temple with the priest. I’m not sure what the whole procedure was for, or what the meaning behind it was, but I am positive it was significant. alexis (27)

The first temple was crazy beautiful and full of gold things. The priest – not sure if that’s what he’s called but I’m going with it – did a prayer of some sort. He asked everyone to be respectful of his religion no matter what theirs was. I thought that was a good thing to do. The prayer also included loud drum banging, which was really surprising at first. Quite a shock, actually.alexis (8)

We all moved together from there into another temple with amazingly painted ceilings. They were awesome. There were more jewels in there as well. He spoke more about the team and wished them good luck I think and then said he had to cut it short because we had to go. Everyone was pretty hungry so as cool as that was, I think it was probably for the best.alexis (7)

We rode to the mall and we had a reservation at a buffet-style restaurant there. That was interesting and there were some experiments done by different members of the squad in terms of food ingestion. I found what I thought might be chicken balls or something like that, and they actually had octopus inside. I also found what I thought was a tempura vegetable of some sort, and it turned out to be a whole fish with bones and everything inside of it. The restaurant had a waffle maker, so eventually I settled on waffles, some shrimp sashimi, a little bit of rice and a curry-like substance, and a lot of ice cream. My first shot at the ice cream was a mistake because I thought it was a drink, so I ended up with it in a cup. Then I went back for more.alexis (12)

After dinner there was some time to go through the mall a little bit, but the people I was sitting with all stayed and heard stories about conditions in Venezuela and Cuba from Autumn Mills, Ashley Stephenson and Kate Psota, which was eye-opening. They talked about terrential downpours, flooding in their hotel rooms, dealing with hurricanes, having so many bugs they thought the floor had a speckled pattern, being in Venezuela when one of the players was shot during a previous World Cup, and having to be escorted everywhere there by military. I also found it interesting that during the tournament in Venezuela, Team USA couldn’t even walk in the opening ceremonies because it was too dangerous for them.

So there should be no complaints in Japan.

The beautifully painted ceiling at one of the temples.

The beautifully painted ceiling at one of the temples.

We wandered around the mall a little bit before leaving and stopped at the pet store. I made best friends with a tiny little baby puppy of some unknown breed and wanted to get him so badly. I honestly thought a little bit about how I could hide him in my bag and take him home. He was waving through the glass and tilting his head when I moved, and other people can vouch for this. I was sad to leave him.

One more shot of the temples.

One more shot of the temples.

We took a tiny bus back to the hotel even though we were supposed to have cabs. I’m not sure where the regular bus was, and I don’t know how they deal with so much changing of the plans but everyone seems to be fine to just go with it. We made it back and even though I was exhausted I still had to finish the game story before I could hit the sack. I had arranged to talk to Hannah about her impressive performance, and she was ready to do that right away so that worked out perfectly. I got the story online and again, it’s right here.

I was really tired after that but I tried to get a little more writing done and read some things to keep up with what was going on back home but I fell asleep almost immediately with my alarm set for almost 10 hours later and really hoping to wake up to it and not earlier.

Here’s hoping.

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The pieces you're reading are written by a baseball enthusiast who can completely confirm the notion that if you love what you do, you never work a day in your life. That's me. I never know what day of the week it is, but I always know who's starting tomorrow. There are no limits, but there are plenty of rain delays and extra innings...just embrace them.

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