M’s in Japan: Thiel columns and blogs

If you follow our Web site or read out paper, you know by now that we’ve contracted with Sportspress Northwest for Art Thiel’s coverage of the Mariners’ trip to Japan.

In case you’ve missed it, here’s the three columns we’ve published to date:

Nintendo-Ball Part I: Mariners bucked system with Japanese ownership

Nintendo-Ball Part II: Last year for Ichiro, Yamauchi?

Boss will be a no-show for Ichiro, M’s at the Tokyo Dome

You can also follow @Art_Thiel on Twitter

Thiel’s also blogging during his trip to Japan. Here you go:

Tokyo Blog: Ryan should have been Japanese
Art Thiel
Saturday, 8:20 AM
TOKYO — Told that in Japanese baseball, the record holder for sacrifice bunts was held in nearly the same reverence as Americans held home run king Hank Aaron, Mariners shortstop Brendan Ryan’s eyes grew wide.

“Really? Oh, man, I should have been born Japanese,” said Ryan, throwing his arms in the air. “I’d be so big here.”

Ryan probably would have fit well in Japan, where sacrifice, fundamentals and execution carry more of the baseball day than the power game played in the U.S.

“I know in America, chicks dig the long ball,” he said in the clubhouse before the Mariners took to the Tokyo Dome field for a workout Saturday. “Do they like the short ball here?”

There was no documentary evidence to provide an answer. But checking out the Tokyo  Dome, as well as the observations of those who watched and played the game on both sides of the pond, here’s few differences for newbies:

*What Japanese pitchers lack in power they make up for in mastery of breaking pitches. The best are unafraid to throw breaking pitches on 2-2 and 3-2 counts, where American pitchers mostly rely on fastballs.

*The typical Japanese offense is more conservative, eager to scratch out the first run of the game and defend it. Hence the frequent use of the sac bunt.

*Some sections of the stands are organized for cheers with actual cheerleaders, but elsewhere are sections where fans watch quietly, leading some American players to describe the atmosphere often as cemetery-like.

*Tokyo Dome oddness: Built in 1988 with a fabric roof like Minneapolis’s Metrodome, the capacity is always officially listed at 55,000. But in 1990, a newspaper audited every seat and came up with a little more than 42,000. No one has disputed the calculation, but a sellout is always listed at 55,000.

The bullpens are under the main grandstand, accessed through an unmarked door in a hallway.

A couple of hundred VIP seats on the field down the right field line have no protective netting, so each ticket holder is issued a helmet and glove, and is expected to leave both at the seat after the game.

GAME TIME — Games get underway Sunday (Saturday in Seattle) when the Mariners play an exhibition game against Japan’s Hanshin Tigers at 8:06 p.m. PDT (12:06 p.m. in Tokyo). There is no TV, nor of the Monday game against the Yomiuri Giants, the Yankees of Japan. That game gets underway at 3:06 a.m. Pacific Monday, 7:06 p.m. in Tokyo.

ESPN 710 radio will carry both games. The Oakland A’s will play Yomiuri Sunday evening after the Mariners, Hanshin Monday before the Mariners.

The regular-season games between the Mariners and A’s are Wednesday (3:04 a.m. PDT) and Thursday (2:04 a.m. PDT) and will be televised live on ROOT Sports (also on mlb.tv) and rebroadcast again at 7:30 p.m. PDT.

The two games with the A’s will also be broadcast live on 710 ESPN Seattle radio, then replayed in their entirety immediately after the games finish.

If you tune in a name may be familiar:  Playing first base (not catcher) for Hanshin is Kenji Johjima, who caught 462 games for the Mariners between 2006-2009. Johjima was an average major league hitter but the language barrier and his style of catching troubled Mariners pitchers and he eventually returned to Japan and Hanshin.

CLUBHOUSE INTRUDERS — Ichiro, who hit seven batting practice home runs in a workout Saturday — not unusual by his Seattle BP standards — was asked what is unique about the Japanese style of game.

He said he didn’t think anything was unique, but the baseball environment was different here than in the U.S. He said he could offer a long list, but the only one he mentioned was “media aren’t allowed in the locker room in Japan.”

Food and drink is also forbidden on the field and in the clubhouse proper. So why would the media want entrance anyway?  Not for quotes like that.

Tokyo Blog: Ichiro hitting leadoff — from plane
Art Thiel
Friday, 10:21 AM
TOKYO — Wearing a pork-pie hat and high-water jeans, the hipster at baggage claim looked a little familiar, except he was just about alone.

“Welcome to Japan,” I said. He smiled.

“Let me welcome you to Japan,” he said. I beat Ichiro by an hour Friday, but he had me by 38 years and change regarding trips to his native sod.

The Oakland A’s charter flight, bearing some media personnel, arrived about an hour ahead of the Seattle Mariners charter at Narita International Airport. So a few us from Seattle decided to wait, then jump on the Mariner buses for the drive to the Tokyo hotel.

Ichiro was once again hitting leadoff. Because he is a Japanese national, he had a much shorter customs line to navigate than the foreigners. So he was first through customs and first down the escalator. A few Mariners staffers showed up to start grabbing bags. Ichiro’s baggage cart quickly filled up with suitcases. The fashionista was not about to be caught in his homeland with just a couple of change of clothes.

After passing through bag check he was greeted at the exit by several dozen screaming fans and about 50 or 60 media personnel awaiting his arrival. He whooshed past them and onto the waiting bus before I could ask whether he would recommend a restaurant so we could sample one of his favorite delicacies: Beef tongue. (It’s true that he likes it and false that I would try it, but what else to talk about at baggage carousel 5?)

His hurry was understandable, but fruitless. Friday night rush hour combined with a steady Seattle rain to make the bus trip a two-hour crawl to the Akasaka-district hotel. The 12-hour plane flight seemed almost easy by comparison.

The players will work out the trans-Pacific kinks Saturday at a Tokyo Dome workout, before the Major League Baseball teams play exhibition games Sunday against the Hanshin Tigers and Yomiuri Giants.

By then, Ichiro will be hitting third. A new custom.

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