Because I am terrible at crossing the International Date Line and travelling through time, I woke up around four in the morning to start the first full day in Kazo City, Japan.
It didn’t seem so bad because I felt wide awake – also hungry – and ready for the day, so I got some work done and finished getting some posts online and ate half of the bag of Corn Flakes that made the trip with me from Vancouver. I had also bought a Pepsi Next from a vending machine on Saturday – I think that’s what day yesterday was, but I am confused – so I had a breakfast of champions.
Well, a pre-breakfast of champions. After a few hours it was time to head down to the hotel lobby for our continental breakfast. The team and staff had to do the meal in shifts so the coaches and other staff members – including me – had the earliest one at seven-fifteen. Obviously I was up and at ‘em and ready for it, so that was no problem. Also, I would like to note that the title of this post, and the category that several of my posts live in under the same name, is a reference to this video of Toronto Blue Jays infielder Munenori Kawasaki.
When I got to the continental breakfast at Kazo Center Hotel, a couple other Baseball Canada people were there, sitting at a table on the floor with their shoes off. I joined but made the mistake of placing my shoes backward on the ground so I had to fix that. I’m not sure what the reason was but I am sure it had something to do with respect. We sorted it out before I made anyone feel disrespected though, I think.
The breakfast served at the hotel offered a pretty good selection. Everyone got a plate with toast, an egg omelet with ketchup on it, a bun with butter already inside of it, a salad and bean sprout mixture of some sort, and a slice of meat. I had already filled up on Corn Flakes, plus I’m not a fan of salad, mystery meat or ketchup on eggs, so I had some eggs and all of the carbohydrates on the plate and I was good to go. It also came with something that looked like it could be milk, and orange juice, so I opted for the latter.
Post-meal I had to head back up to my room and shower, because I obviously didn’t have enough time to do that during the three hours I had been awake prior to breakfast. For tiny rooms, they are very efficient, but I have to say that the ‘tub’ portion of the shower is incredibly tall. I banged my knee pretty hard trying to get into it and then had some trouble climbing over it. I figured it out though, and managed to shower without further problems, in case you were worried about me. I posted a few pictures of the room in yesterday’s post, in case you need another look.
Everyone took off together for the first practice in Japan from there. We were joined by our interpreter, Rena, our fantastic Japanese business manager or something to that effect, Hiroko, and then also some extra people who would be with us for the duration of our time in Kazo City. Greg West was one of those people, a Canadian transplant to Japan who actually hails from London, Ontario! He came to Japan 20 years ago to teach English and never went back. We immediately started to talk London and home and he was incredibly helpful and answered all of my questions. I had a lot of them.
The practice diamond wasn’t far from where we were staying, and it was nice. The dirt in Japan is darker – and apparently a lot harder to get out of clothes – and there is no grass on the infields here, so it looks different and the field plays faster. I took a lot of pictures of the team during practice and while we were on the field, Greg was so kind as to go and pick me up an adapter for my laptop as well, so I could have a place to upload all of those pictures and actually get some work done. When he left, he wasn’t sure how much it would be, but I told him I needed it so it didn’t matter. When he got back, he pleasantly surprised me with the news that it was only five bucks, or five hundred Japanese yen. Great start to the day right there.
I should mention here that it is very hot in Kazo City, and likely in most parts of Japan but this is the only one we are in for now. A heat stroke warning was projected over the loudspeaker at the ballpark during practice. I have no complaints because I was not one of the hardworking women out on the field getting ready for the upcoming Women’s Baseball World Cup in Miyazaki, but in order to be informative I will say that sweating was immediate. You could not be outside without perspiring. A LOT. I don’t mean that glowing kind of sweat that crazy people talk about.
When practice ended we all hopped on our two team buses to travel together to Heisei International University, for lunch, to watch a game, and then for the team to play a game against the 18-and-under Japanese national all-star team. The all-stars were selected from the tournament currently going on at the university, I think.
Our arrival was much-anticipated by some of the young Japanese players. They were waving and cheering and high-fiving everyone. I felt a little bit like a celebrity, even though they had clearly mistaken me for an athlete. I can’t lie and say I didn’t dish out some fist bumps though.
Lunch was incredibly westernized. We had a variety of pizzas.
After we finished the team’s pre-game meal, everyone headed outside to the main stadium to watch a game between two teams in the tournament. It was my first experience of all of the Japanese cheering and noise-making and it was awesome. They had drums and other interesting instruments and they were loud and cheering through the whole thing. I am not really sure if the people cheering to the sides of the dugouts were other members of the teams or students from the university or what, but it was cool.
We sat in the stands as long as the team could stand the heat and then headed to an indoor practice facility just behind the field so the Canadian women could warm up and prepare for their own game. I opted to join them because there was shade, and also to stay with the group, obviously. But, shade.
Finally, we got to game time and Heidi Northcott got the start for the Women’s National Team, coming off of an incredibly long journey from Vancouver to Kazo City less than 24 hours before doing so. Team manager Andre Lachance is using piggyback starters for the duration of the exhibition games, meaning that multiple starters will pitch back-to-back in the matchups. The pitchers need time to build up their innings before the World Cup, and all of them need to start to get work in.
Heidi went two innings and was followed by Vanessa Riopel for three frames and then Amanda Asay came in for two to finish it off (seven-inning games, in case you couldn’t figure out the math). The Canadian squad won the first game in Japan in style, with shortstop Bradi Wall walking the team off with a two-run double to the wall after being down by one heading into the bottom of the final inning (they did rock-paper-scissors to determine who would be the home team and Canada won).
Throughout the first few innings of the game, I stayed in the dugout and took pictures of the team in their uniforms. My camera is great and I love it but it isn’t really high-tech enough, or my lens isn’t big enough, to get pictures of the outfielders, so I got the infielders, pitchers, and a few of the left-handed batters, because we were in the dugout on the third-base side. I am hoping to somehow even things out eventually.
When I figured I should probably start writing about some of the things happening in the game – though I was tweeting updates every half inning – I went inside to a press-box-like structure, but not before making a cultural mistake. I had gone in to the press box (that’s what we will call it) the wrong way and I ran into a team of young girls in the first room I saw. I asked them how to get to where I was trying to go and I guess my hand gestures were strong enough for them to recognize what I was asking because they directed me. But then I stepped inside the room and they all stopped with their shocked expressions. I couldn’t wear my shoes inside. So I had to take my shoes off and walk into the press box without them. It felt wrong.
The Japanese all-stars took a three-run lead in the first and the Canadian women didn’t hold a lead the entire game until they walked off. I was really glad they pulled out the first win of the week though.
After the game, the local team wanted a picture with the visiting squad, so of course Team Canada obliged. Then I spoke with the team’s skipper as we waited to leave the stadium and head back to the hotel. As soon as we got back, I also talked to starting pitcher Heidi Northcott and then to Bradi Wall about her walkoff hit. The complete game story, with tidbits from each of the aforementioned people can be found here.
We had about an hour at the hotel for everyone to shower and get ready before we left as a team for dinner. Andre, plus two of the coaches, Patricia Landry and Sean O’Brien, were the only ones not attending, because they had been invited to a much fancier meal at the vice mayor’s house. I am not really sure what that means other than they weren’t with us for dinner. I wanted to try to finish the game story before leaving the hotel so I opted out of showering, but in the end I didn’t finish it so it didn’t make a difference anyway.
The restaurant was a short walk from Kazo Center Hotel, where we are staying through the week of exhibition games, and for some reason our itinerary for our first real dinner in Japan included a meal at a Chinese restaurant. Yep, we went for Chinese.
I – obviously – asked around about why we would do such a thing. Apparently it’s because Chinese food is universally accepted and they wanted to take it easy on us. But the meal we had was nothing like the Chinese food that you would order or picture at home. Not even close.
We were split up into tables of four to six people – luckily our table ended up with the translator – and in the middle of the table was something that I personally thought looked like a deep frying contraption. As it turned out it was some kind of boiler, with two types of what Rena called soup (we thought one was oil and the other was just unidentifiable) for us to boil our food in. We were given several trays of raw food and we cooked it ourselves in the middle of our table.
It was actually really good in the end and it was fun to go through the adventure of trying to figure out how to cook our food, if it actually was ready, and then how to extract it from the contraption without hurting ourselves. We completed these tasks moderately well. And then, they gave us ice cream for dessert. All in all, a good experience.
When we got back to the hotel I finished the game story and posted it online at the Baseball Canada website. I had much more luck on my laptop – now that I had an adapter – than I had the previous night with my backup computer (my tablet), so I think that was the problem. It almost went off without a hitch, but not really. I still had to send several emails to Baseball Canada’s regular media liaison Adam Morissette in order to try and figure out what I was doing wrong. He has been incredibly patient with me.
I also uploaded all of the best pictures I had taken throughout the day to the Baseball Canada Facebook page. There were a lot of pictures to go through. But I really loved taking them and I think it’s good to get as many as possible of them out there to help the awareness of the national team. There aren’t a lot of people who know that women play baseball, let alone are participating in big events such as the one I am privileged enough to attend.
Eventually I hit the hay for the night, hoping that I was tired enough – because I definitely felt like I was – to sleep through the night. That’s the idea. Maybe tonight will be the night.