徳島 日本

Sports Talk

Seattle Sounders F.C. – Major League Soccer at CenturyLink Field!

Recently I returned to Japan off a fun-filled vacation back to my hometown in Seattle, Washington!  Although there were many moments to share, I’ll start by highlighting a trip I made to watch the Seattle Sounders play.  The Seattle Sounders FC is Seattle’s local professional soccer team that competes in Major League Soccer (MLS).  The team was established on November 13, 2007, as an MLS expansion team making it the 15th team in the league.  Sounders FC home matches are played at CenturyLink Field, also home to the Seattle Seahawks, Seattle’s National Football League (NFL) team.  CenturyLink Field is widely recognized as one of the loudest stadiums in the world.  On September 15, 2003 during a Seattle Seahawks game against the San Francisco 49ers, Seattle fans broke the Guinness World Record for loudest crowd roar at an outdoor stadium with 136.6 decibels.  In addition, on August 25, 2013, the Sounders broke a new home field attendance record when 67,385 fans turned out to watch them play Pacific Northwest rival, the Portland Timbers.  In what feels like another lifetime ago, I once was involved in public relations for this stadium’s grand opening and I remember assisting in media tours in different stages of its completion.  More over, as a new Seahawks season ticket holder and attendee at the stadium’s inaugural opening in 2002, I have literally seen CenturyLink Field grow up from its concrete roots to the stadium it has become today.  From mild intrigue it garnered at its birth, through insufferable losing seasons it endured, to home of Superbowl Champions, and ultimately to one of the most respected home field advantageous in all sports!  I think it’s safe to say my concrete baby boys all growns up.. Here’s to you CenturyLink Field from someone who always believed in you!

For more information about events at CenturyLink Field: http://www.centurylinkfield.com/

Note: For a link to all my pictures from Century Link Field see my Seattle Sounders One Drive album

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Tokushima Indigo Socks – Shikoku Island League Baseball

Tokushima Indigo SocksThis past weekend I finally decided to take myself out to the ballpark to see Tokushima’s very own independent baseball team, the Indigo Socks take the field versus their island rivals to the north, the Kagawa Olive Guyners.  The Tokushima Indigo Socks were established in 2005 along with three other teams, all representing prefectures located on Shikoku Island.  The 4-team league once established as the Shikoku Island League was changed in 2007 to the Shikoku Island League Plus to accommodate teams from outside the island and a vision to expand, however, it appears little expansion momentum has been made to date.  The Independent Baseball League of Japan or IBLJ, Inc. operates the league through its headquarters in Takamatsu.  The league was founded by commentator and former professional baseball player Hiromichi Ishige, who initially held all the rights to the teams, leadership, and players, but in 2006 established separate corporations for each of the teams.  Although I’m uncertain of the exact vision of the league as it moves forward, I can only assume it is positioning itself for inclusion in the Nippon Professional Baseball league, which currently does not have a team represented from Shikoku Island.  As for the quality of the product on the field, it met my expectations as far as the fundamentals of baseball are concerned and exceeded my expectations as I was witness to a rare long ball by a member of the Olive Guyners.  Despite visible public relations and marketing efforts across the prefecture, the stadium was nearly empty as it appears a loyal fan base has yet to be established.  Although Tokushima won dramatically 4-3 in the bottom of the 9th, and moved within half a game of first place in the league, there were only a small number of fans attending to bare witness.  As for my final take, whether you are a fan of baseball or not, take it from me, attending any sporting event with great seats makes the experience much more enjoyable and can bring the beauty of any game to life.  And, if you’re interested in watching the Tokushima Indigo Socks, trust me when I say the beauty will be in 3-D, because the best seats in the house will surely be open..  Go show ’em some love if you’re in town!

For more information in Japanese 日本 visit the league’s official website: http://www.iblj.co.jp/


J-League Soccer – Tokushima Vortis in-action!

The Tokushima Vortis is the local Japanese professional soccer team representing the prefecture of Tokushima, Japan.  The team is owned by the Otsuka Pharmaceutical company and primarily sponsored by Ostuka’s popular sports drink brand, Pocari Sweat.  The team name Vortis is comprised from the Italian word, ‘vortices,’ which means ‘whirlpools’ – a symbol of tourist attraction visible in the Naruto Straits within the prefecture.  Although the history of the team can be dated back to 1955 as the Ostuka Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd. Soccer Club, it wasn’t until 2005 Tokushima Vortis was officially adopted as its team name entering into its first year in Japan’s second-tier professional league (J-2).  The Japanese professional soccer league, known as the J-League is comprised of two divisions, J-1 and J-2, with 18 and 22 teams included respectively.  Each year in the league, the top three teams in J-2 replace the 3 worst teams in J-1 as a promotion for a successful season, a crowning achievement Tokushima Vortis celebrated for the first time last year in 2013.  However, this promotion to the big boys’ league has come with big boy lumps as Tokushima finds itself without a win and in last place in J-1 League standings to date.  Today I went to see last place Tokushima Vortis in action vs. 4th place Kawasaki Frontale, a team based south of Tokyo in Kanagawa prefecture.  With over 8000 people in attendance, Tokushima Vortis was dominated 4-0.  Despite the loss and the winless season to date, Tokushima supporters showed a lot of pride and dedication by cheering until the very end.  A look around the stadium, I couldn’t see even one person making a break to beat the traffic, all of whom stayed until the customary team visit to acknowledge the fan support.  The final cheers seemed rather supportive and encouraging for players having to dreadfully confront their fans after a butt-kicking loss, except for one bit of raw emotion I witnessed as an angry kid, screamed “booooooooo!” with thumbs down!  Despite this 0-6 start, the J-League season has just started and will last well into December, so only time will tell if Tokushima Vortis belongs with the big boys..

Note: Coincidently, the Seattle Sounders who play in Major League Soccer sport similar colors to Tokushima Vortis.


Seattle Seahawks, Super Bowl XLVIII Champions!

Super Bowl XLVIII (48) was the American football championship game between the American Football Conference (AFC) champion Denver Broncos and National Football Conference (NFC) champion Seattle Seahawks to decide the National Football League (NFL) champion for the 2013 season. On February 2nd, 2014, Seattle defeated Denver 43–8, the third largest point differential (35) in Super Bowl history! This is the first ever Super Bowl championship for the Seattle Seahawks and the first championship for the city in 35 years, the last being an NBA championship by its Seattle SuperSonics in the 1978-79 season.  As a long time 12th Man member and season ticket holder for the Seahawk’s new stadium inauguration season in 2002, this victory was one for the ages for Seahawks fans all around the world and for the city of Seattle!

For the first time since Super Bowl XLIV (2010), and just the second time in twenty seasons, the number one seeds from each conference met in the league championship.  The game featured the league’s top offense (Denver) against the top defense (Seattle), the first time this has occurred since Super Bowl XXXVII (2003).  The game began with Seattle’s defense scoring two points on a safety, the quickest score in Super Bowl history. Five-time NFL Most Valuable Player (MVP) Peyton Manning of the Broncos threw two interceptions in the first half, the second returned by Seahawks linebacker Malcolm Smith for a 69-yard touchdown. The Broncos trailed 22–0 at halftime and 36–0 towards the end of the third quarter. Seattle did not allow a score until the final play that quarter, and they held Denver to almost 30 points below their scoring average.  The final margin of victory was the largest since Super Bowl XXVII (1993), which was also 35 points.  Smith, who also recovered a fumble and made nine tackles, was named Super Bowl MVP.

What more could I highlight about this historic victory for the city of Seattle, A LOT, but with this Seahawks’ Super Bowl victory being the most-watched U.S. television event of all time, averaging a whopping 111.5 million viewers, I’m sure most everyone already knows we won.. So I guess there’s only two more things left to do, KEEP REPEATING IT and say it in other languages! haha!  Super Bowl Photos > # SB48 Seattle Victory Parade Photos > #Celebrate48

第48回スーパーボウルが行われ、シアトル・シーホークスが43対8とデンバー・ブロンコスに圧勝。レギュラーシーズン1位の鉄壁守備陣がブロンコスの強力オフェンスを封じ込め、チーム史上初のスーパーボウル王者となった。

For more information in Japanese 日本 visit: www.nfljapan.com

Seahawks Ticket

Seattle Seahawks Season Ticket Holder (2002), 12th Man Member since the stadium’s inauguration!


Hanshin Tigers Koshien Stadium

For as long as I have lived in Japan, I have always wanted to attend a Japanese baseball game, but the lack of conveniences for foreigners wishing to purchase tickets can be discouraging.  In Japan, online ticket sales are handled exclusively through resellers, who either mail them to you, or have you pick them up at convenience stores.  It all seems convenient enough, if only the process of purchasing tickets online could be navigated in English.  Nonetheless, I’ve been in Japan for a long time, so I decided to test my abilities.. which I did by simply asking a Japanese friend for help – in English..  Long over due, I set off to see the greatest storied Japanese baseball rivalry, the Hanshin Tigers of Osaka vs the Yomiuri Giants of Tokyo.  This rivalry has been often compared to Major League Baseball’s rivalry between the Boston Redsox and the New York Yankees, respectively.  Both teams are two of the oldest teams in Japanese baseball history, with the Hanshin Tigers history dating back to 1935.  Much like that of the Boston Redsox, the Hanshin Tigers have had their fair share of “Hanshin Hard-Luck,” a nick-name bestowed upon them after their one and only 1985 Japan Series Championship.

Much like that of the once Boston Redsox’s ‘Curse of the Bambino,’ a similar curse is believed to lurk over the Tigers.  According to The Curse of the Colonel, after their 1985 win, fans celebrated by having people who looked like Tigers players jump into the Dotonbori Canal. According to legend, because none of the fans resembled first baseman Randy Bass, fans grabbed a life-sized statue of Kentucky Fried Chicken Colonel Sanders and threw it into the river (like Bass, the Colonel had a beard and was not Japanese). After many years without another championship, the Tigers were said to be doomed never to win again until the Colonel was rescued from the river.  In 2003, when the Tigers returned to the Japan Series after 18 years, many KFC outlets in Kobe and Osaka moved their Colonel Sanders statues inside until the series was over to protect them from Tigers fans.  Unfortunately, the curse lives on as the Tigers lost the series in 2003.  The search for the Hanshin Tigers second elusive championship and all the Colonel’s missing limbs from his 1985 drowning continue to this day.

The Hanshin Tigers play in Koshien Stadium, the oldest ballpark in Japan; built-in 1924, the stadium was once visited by American baseball legend Babe Ruth on a tour of Major League stars in 1934. There is a monument commemorating this visit at the front gates of the park.  In closing, I’ll add that being in Koshien Stadium feels like little advancements have been made to modernize the stadium.  Like in many parts of Japan, there are certain shops and streets in towns across the country where it feels like time has just stopped, and I can honestly say this about Koshien Stadium.  From the food vendors to the old corridors surrounding the stadium, it feels old school in every way to say the least, but I’m sure many would say – that’s the beauty of it.  By the way, I actually didn’t get to see the game, because the damn game was rained out!  To be continued maybe…


Ichiro traded to the Yankees!

Long before my trip home, I bought 4 tickets online to the Mariners vs. the Yankees for July 24th.. never would I have imagined, the day before this game Ichiro Suzuki would be traded to the New York Yankees!  It’s one thing to trade the face of your team for nearly a decade, but it’s another to do it while the team you are trading him to is the visiting team for 3-days in town.  Unlike anything I have seen in sports, Ichiro was in the Yankee lineup vs. the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field on the same day the trade was announced!  Talk about not wasting any time!  Lucky for me and my friends, our tickets had a lot more extra significance as we saw Ichiro as a Yankee, the day after he was traded..  I have to assume the timing of this trade was orchestrated by the Mariners to give Ichiro a hometown send off, but it all seemed odd to me…  As for Ichiro’s future, let me venture to guess…  Ichiro at the point of this trade is 38 years old needing slightly over 400 more hits to reach 3000 for his Major League career.  As for Ichiro’s career hits, including those he earned in Japan, he is far beyond 3000 hits already.  But unfortunately his professional hits from Japan have little significance for sports writers in the United States that vote in players into the Baseball Hall of Fame.  If they did, Ichiro would be chasing Pete Rose for the most career hits of all time, and not just 3000 hits to put it in perspective.  If Ichiro reaches 3000 hits for his career, he will have also surpassed Pete Rose (4256 career hits) by 22 hits, giving him the unofficial title as Hits King..  which by all accounts is still amazing!  For those of you unaware, 3000 hits is a major milestone in Major League Baseball, with only 28 players in the history of the sport having reached this standard of batting excellence.  Of these 28 players, only 3 have not made it into the Baseball Hall of Fame (R. Palmeiro, P. Rose, and C. Biggio ~ D. Jeter – active).  I’m assuming Ichiro is well aware of this, and will stretch his career in order to achieve his 3000th hit.  I think Ichiro will need to have 2 more great seasons to reach 3000 hits, but most likely it will take him 3 more seasons to achieve the milestone.  Moreover, I doubt the Yankees will re-sign Ichiro after his contract expires after this season, therefore he will be a free agent looking for a 2-year deal, at which point I hope the Mariners will pick him up at the age of 41 for his 3rd and final year in Major League Baseball for this incredible milestone!  Wishful thinking, but the most fitting ending for someone who in all likelihood will be enshrined in Cooperstown as a Seattle Mariner, with or without achieving this final career milestone!

Note: A link to all my pictures at the game Ichiro Traded 2012 Album


Seattle Mariners in Japan

My hometown team, the Seattle Mariners are in Japan to play two exhibition games vs two professional Japanese baseball teams and open the 2012 Major League Baseball season vs the Oakland Athletics.  The Mariners and A’s will play two regular-season games in the Tokyo Dome on Wednesday and Thursday, and Seattle’s three Japanese players — Ichiro, infielder Munenori Kawasaki and pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma — figure to be the main attractions.  This is the first time Ichiro Suzuki has played with the Seattle Mariners in Japan, and although off the field the welcome home was as expected; on the field – his fellow countrymen have been less than hospitable.  The Seattle Mariners lost both exhibition games to Japan’s two most popular professional teams, the Hanshin Tigers and the Yomiuri Giants.  Although most baseball fans understand the minimal signficance of an exhibition game, these games welcoming Ichiro back to Japan were played with the fanfare of a World Series matchup, which I’m sure stung the Mariners having lost.  The Hanshin Tigers and the Yomiuri Giants are two of Japan’s oldest professional baseball teams, both maintain a rivalry that is often compared to the Boston Redsox and the New York Yankees.  The Hanshin Tigers represent Japan’s second largest city of Osaka, and the Yomiuri Giants play for the masses in Tokyo.  Similar to the Redsox, Yankee rivalry both teams compete in the same division which provides several opportunities to see the two most popular Japanese teams play regularly.  Despite the Mariners’ two exhibition losses, Ichiro came out swinging against the A’s in the MLB season opener going 4 for 5 in the team’s 4-1 win!  In closing, a small note to my friends and family reading this blog, I’ll be in Seattle from July 20th to the 29th!  I’ve also purchased 4 field level tickets to the Mariners vs the Yankees on July 24th!  I’m sure I’ll be taking a lot of pictures and writing a blog about that experience in the near future, so check back for that!


2011-2012 Fantasy Football Champion!

Seventeen grueling weeks of Fantasy Football trash-talking has ended only to find one last man standing with a megaphone in hand, and that would be my team, THEPOINT5 ALL-STARS!  I will remember this season most for my patience in waiting to take injury-prone Matthew Stafford who I drafted in the 5th Round as the 9th QB taken overall in our very competitive head-to-head 12-team league!  As I predicted from Week 1, Stafford would have a breakout season, and he did just that!  Stafford finished the regular season with 5,038 yards passing and 41 touchdowns, both Detroit Lions single season records!  His 5000 plus yards passing, places him 5th in NFL history for most passing yards behind only Drew Brees who broke the record this year and has topped 5000 twice in his career; retired Hall of Famer Dan Marino; and 3-time Superbowl Champion and 2-time MVP Tom Brady ~ not bad company for a third year pro!  In terms of Fantasy Football, he was clutch in my 3 playoff games, compiling for 1284 yards passing, 12 touchdowns, and 121.36 Fantasy Football points in Week 15, 16, and 17!  And despite having drafted RB Chris Johnson with my first round draft pick, most experts’ Fantasy Football bust of the year, I still won my league even with the 6th playoff seed!  Shout-out to the ‘Beers Smokes Liquor League’ ~ until next year fellas!


Japan Wins the 2011 Women’s World Cup!

In recent years, the Japanese women’s national teams have had an uncanny ability to rise to the occasion against the United States women when the lights are shining the brightest.  This 2011 World Cup victory versus the United States was not the first time when an unlikely Japanese women’s team defeated the American women for all the glory.  As recently as in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, a similar story played out as well.  The Japanese women’s softball team faced an American team that had won 4-straight gold medals and entered the finals with a 22-game winning streak spanning years.  As the heavy underdogs on this Olympic stage, the Japanese women defeated the Americans for the gold medal.  And in this year’s World Cup, the Japanese women have done it again.  Entering into this year’s final versus the United States, the Japanese women had lost to the Americans 25 straight times in soccer, which allowed them to once again play the role as underdogs.  With respect to sports in general, I understand playing the role as the underdog has its advantageous, but being the favorite also has its benefits as well – a point not often made.  Most teams favored or expected to win have an aura around them, which creates a level of intimidation, an advantage the Americans weren’t able to tap into versus the Japanese this time.  Whether they took their eyes off the prize a little with respect to the Japanese and their homeland crisis, we will never know, but clearly being the favorite again did not help them as the Japanese were never intimidated and appeared more focussed despite the natural disasters that have recently ravaged their country.  I think it might have been possible when gloves touched for the first time before this fight, civility took precedent when a stare down may have been more appropriate if you catch my drift…  nevertheless, the victory for the Japanese team was earned and well deserved.  However, the defeat wasn’t as heartbreaking as one might imagine for most Americans, because as most Americans do, we are a culture that roots for the underdog, and despite this sporting defeat in “soccer” – I think most Americans appreciate the broader significance this win will have for the Japanese people.  The American women fought hard, and had their chances, but it appeared Japan was more destined to win this one for their country and all those who have suffered at the hands of the earthquake and tsunami – reminiscent of the 2009 New Orleans Saints Superbowl victory in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.  Congratulations Japan!


Women’s World Cup Final!

The United States and Japan have reached the final of the 2011 Women’s World Cup in Germany!  An improbable journey for both countries, as both teams were dealt with enormous challenges to make it to the final two of the most prestigious tournament in women’s soccer. In the case of the United States, the team appeared finished when entering into an extra time period trailing Brazil by a point, only to score in the closing minutes to even the match and eventually win in a dramatic penalty shoot-out.  As for Japan, no one expected this team to have reached it this far, and having already beaten the host country and favorite, Germany in the quarters to advance, one could say they’ve already won their Superbowl.  However, Japan, nor the United States were content with their quarter-final success.  Both teams have shown an incredible grit and will to win that continued through the semi-finals as the United States defeated France, while Japan upended Sweden’s dreams setting up this weekend’s final.  As an American, I will be rooting for Team USA to win, but living in Japan, I understand first hand what this country has endured in recent months and realize how a win on this stage may be the spiritual lift this country desperately needs.  Despite who wins, it’s been an amazing ride for both teams who have provided some very exciting soccer, even to someone like myself that had to Google ‘penalty shoot-out’ just to make sure I referred to it correctly!  Regardless of your level of soccer enthusiasm – if you live in the United States or Japan, it’s time to get your fish and chips ready, break out a sports towel, even it says Seattle Sounders or Seahawks on it, wave them around in the air like you just don’t care, and ask yourself and all your rowdy friends, “Are you ready for some fooooooty?!!” 

United States vs. Japan

 
 

Japan Wins second World Baseball Classic!

The 2009 World Baseball Classic (W.B.C.) is over and Japan has won again beating their Asian rivals and Beijing Olympic champions South Korea for their second consecutive W.B.C. championship!  Watching this game on television with the entire country of Japan, I could feel the tension mounting as Japan stranded several runners in scoring position and clung to one run lead heading into the bottom of the ninth inning.  With only a one run lead and a 22 year old young pitching superstar Yu Darvish coming into the game to close it out, I had a feeling there was more drama yet to come…  Darvish looking shaky under the immense pressure walked two batters and gave up the tying run before finally retiring the side providing extra innings for Korea.  As Japan came up to bat in the top of the tenth tied with Korea 3-3, a script that could only be written by the Japanese baseball gods was being played out.  With two outs and runners on second and third, Japan’s favorite son, Ichiro Suzuki came to the plate with the weight of an entire nation’s hopes and dreams on his shoulders…  Having been in this position before, as expectations were high as the first Japanese position player to ever play in the Major Leagues, Ichiro responded in 2001 by becoming the American League’s Most Valuable Player, the Rookie of the Year, winning the Batting Championship, and a Gold Glove all in his first year with the Seattle Mariners!  And on this final day of W.B.C. baseball at the age of 35, Ichiro added to his legend in Japan and to his Cooperstown Hall of Fame induction resume by coming through in the absolute clutch lacing a hit up the middle scoring two and giving Japan a 5-3 lead, good enough to capture its second W.B.C. championship!
 
The peace symbol still takes precedent over throwing up a #1

Yoshinogawa Riverside 10K

This past Sunday, I was back at work in preparation for the 2012 London Olympics as I ran in the Yoshinogawa Riverside 10K starting in the rural town of Kamojima, Tokushima.  Having already completed my first half-marathon recently, I decided to hang-with the amateurs today and show them a thing or two about running…  including, how I like to run with an Ipod and the cool new running shoes I recently bought…  The Yoshinogawa is the second longest river on Shikoku Island, it’s 194 km long and spans across all four prefectures on the Island.  It is regarded as one of the three greatest rivers of Japan along with the Tone and the Chikugo, and is nicknamed Shikoku Saburō (Saburō is a popular name given to third sons in Japan).  This scenic run along the Yoshinogawa River captures the beauty of Japan’s country-side, as mountains and farms can be seen in every direction.  On this sunny morning, I ran a personal best just under 1-hour in a time of 59:35!  Good enough to capture first among foreigners competing (unofficially) – I only saw two other visible foreigners in the race and they finished behind me!  #1  Hot
 
 

63rd Anniversary Marugame International Half-Marathon

Recently I ran in the 63rd Anniversary Marugame International Half-Marathon in the small rural town of Marugame, Kagawa located 2-hours north of Tokushima.  With a population of 110,000 – Marugame hosts an annual marathon with over 7000 participants, including international running stars such as Kenya’s Mekubo Mogusu, Britain’s Mara Yamauchi, and myself from the United States.  Mogusu and Yamauchi won this year’s men’s and women’s division, respectively – and I followed about 90 minutes behind them in a time of 2 hours and 33 minutes.  After starting even with the Kenyan superstar, I quickly found myself trailing him, several senior citizens, and every tank top and short shorts wearing runner in the winter conditions.  Although I’ve run in several 10ks in the past, this was my first attempt at running 21km (13 miles) and after finishing it may be my last…  This was by far the most professional running event I’ve taken part in to date.  With the start and finish line beginning and ending at the local stadium, this event was extremely well organized.  Running along the streets of Marugame to the cheers of thousands of supporters and local Taiko drummers was a motivating feeling, every bit necessary in order to finish the full 21k…  Prior to the run, I had doubts whether I could finish the race within the 3-hour limit, but I’m happy to report "YES, I CAN!" – just barely… 
 

Japanese Self-Defense Force Marathon

This past Sunday, I ran in the Japanese Self-Defense Force Marathon in Matsushige, Tokushima.  The J.S.D.F. is the military force in Japan established after the end of the post-World War II American occupation of Japan.  For most of the post-war period, the defense force was confined to the islands of Japan and not permitted to be deployed abroad.  In recent years, they have been engaged in international peacekeeping operations, including a controversial humanitarian tour of duty in Iraq.  The J.S.D.F. Marathon falls far short of a full marathon of 42.195 km or 26 miles; however, these local “fun-run” events in Japan are widely referred to as “marathons,” not to mention it sounds professional to us novice runners…  Although I don’t enjoy running for exercise, these runs are great for conditioning…  As I do every year following the beginning of Spring, I make a strong push to get in shape for Tibetan basketball tournaments I play in annually back home.  This summer my team will be gunning for our 7th North American Tibetan basketball championship in Madison, Wisconsin (U.S.A.).  More on that after I return from my trip home in July!  Back to the J.S.D.F. Marathon…  this event was a 10 km run on the Matsushige base with approximately 300 hundred runners…  The competition was stiff this year, but through perseverance and a lot of determination I was able to win first place!!..  barely edging out two wonder sisters who gave me a real run for my money…  See the award ceremony picture below!  More pictures in my Tokushima Sports album!   

 
First, second, and Third Place WinnersJapanese Self-Defense Force Marathon

The Seto-Ohashi Bridge Marathon

This past weekend, I ran in the 20th Anniversary Seto-Ohashi Bridge Marathon.  The bridge was completed in 1988 and at 13.1 km long, it ranks as the world’s longest two-tiered bridge system.  The Seto-Ohashi Bridge was constructed as a series of double deck bridges connecting Okayama and Kagawa prefectures in Japan across a series of five small islands in the Seto Inland Sea.  It was along these points, where I started my 8 km run along side thousands of Japanese.  Between the 8 km runners and 15 km runners, there were approximately 10,000 people on-hand, including Japanese silver and bronze medalist – Arimori Yuko.  “Arimori competed for Japan in the 1992 Summer Olympics held in Barcelona, Spain in the Marathon where she won the silver medal with a time of 2:32:49, eight seconds behind Russian Valentina Yegorova who ran the race in 2:32:41. This hard-fought race was the closest finishing time in Olympic history for men or women at that time. At the Atlanta Olympics four years later, Arimori returned to the Olympic marathon, where she won the bronze medal and finished behind Valentina Yegorova for a second time. Yegorova ran the race in 2:28:05. Arimori’s time was 2:28:39. Although both runners ran four minutes faster than their previous olympic race, they were beaten back by Ethopian runner Fatuma Roba, who completed the race and won the gold medal with a time of 2:26:05.  Arimori is considered to be the first Japanese female “professional” athlete. She was the first woman granted professional status by the Japanese Amateur Athletic Federation (JAAF), the nation’s governing track and field association. She was granted this status in 1996, following her second and final appearance at the Olympic Games in Atlanta” (Wikipedia).  Check out my picture with her below!

Arimori Yuko - Japanese Olympic Silver and Bronze Medalist

 2x Olympic Champion and 6x Tibetan Basketball Champion! 


2007 FIBA Asia Championships in Tokushima

From July 28 to August 5, I volunteered at the 2007 FIBA Asia Championships held in my backyard of Tokushima City.  This past week has been a very fun experience for me, I met many great people living in Tokushima volunteering who could speak English and I was able to catch some of the action courtside!  According to my volunteer I.D. pass, I was an interpreter, but with so many more fluent Japanese interpreters, my minimal skills were rarely called upon.  I was the only foreigner in the interpreter group, so everyone cut me a lot of slack to just enjoy myself.  I spent most of the time talking with other volunteers at the help desk and courtside checking credentials.  There were a total of 16 countries in the tournament, including China, Jordan, Iran, the Philippines, Lebanon, Kuwait, the U.A.E., Quatar, India, Kazakhstan, Indonesia, Korea, Hong Kong, Syria, Taiwan, and Japan.  With China being the host country of next year’s Olympics, they had an automatic bid into the Summer Games, so they sent their “B” Team to the tournament who had no chance.  With only one Olympic birth available, the competition was heated despite not many people attending the games.  One of the games that I was able to watch while not volunteering was Japan v.s. Korea, which Japan lost 93-83.  Not surprisingly, basketball takes a very back seat to baseball in Japan, and despite Yuta Tabuse recently becoming the first Japanese to play in an NBA game, the momentary feat has not been enough to win-over Japanese sports fans.  Nevertheless, I thought the Japanese team played with a lot of heart and it was disappointing to see them lose.  Interestingly, the Japanese team features one recently naturalized citizen, J.R. Henderson – who played for U.C.L.A.’s 1995 N.C.A.A. National Championship Team and was drafted 27th by the Vancouver Grizzlies in the 2nd Round of the 1998 NBA Draft.  J.R. Henderson now goes by the name of  “Sakuragi J.R.” and is playing professional basketball in Japan.  I got a picture with him, check that out below!  In the end, Iran beat Lebanon 74-69 to secure their first birth to the Olympics in the sport of basketball.  The third place team was Korea and Japan finished 8th overall.

Check out all my pictures below!


Aside

The Portland Basketball Dynasty (video)

Once again my basketball team has won another Tibetan Basketball Championship.  This year the tournament was held in Seattle, WA and marks the 6th North American Championship my team representing Portland, Oregon has won.  Check out the highlight video!!

 


Aside

Tokushima International Charity Marathon (video)

Last Sunday morning, I participated in my second Tokushima International Charity Fun Run with my co-workers and students. This year’s event took place at the beautiful new Tsukimigaoka Park in Matsushige, Tokushima. Located along the beach, this park is ideal for barbecuing and provides a scenic route for running. The annual charity marathon requires each runner to pay a 2000 yen entrance fee (approximately 20.00 USD); the proceeds will be donated to an underprivileged children’s school in Vietnam. Participants are able to choose from either a 3, 6, or 10 kilometer run. This year I ran the 10K course (about 6.2 miles) with little improvement in my time from two years ago, a dismal 1-hour and 5 minutes. However… I did barely edge Japan’s 2x Gold Medalist at the wire, check out the proof on my video!… Besides being for a good cause, I like this summer “marathon” because it helps my conditioning for the Tibetan basketball tournaments I play in annually. This year my team will be gunning for our 6th Tibetan basketball championship in Seattle! For the information of my friends and family, I will be arriving in Seattle on June 28th and returning to Japan on July 10th. See you all soon!

Note: Check out my video from the Tokushima International Charity Marathon below!  Also, I made the cover of the town newsletter!


Japan Wins the World Baseball Classic

Yesterday, Japan won the inaugural 2006 World Baseball Classic (WBC) beating Cuba 10-6 in the final. As an American living in Japan, I was in a unique position to experience both the thrill of victory, as well as the agony of defeat. Watching the Americans lose to Mexico was disappointing to say the least. With an endless number of superstars on the roster, it’s hard for me to understand what went wrong for Team USA. Prior to the WBC, I always believed baseball was less of a team sport than basketball and football; I now think differently. I believe it was good teamwork and experience that resulted in Japan and Cuba meeting in the finals. Baseball is a pressure packed sport, where one error can make the difference between winning and losing. Add in a losers out format with your entire country watching, it can be daunting even for a Major League Baseball professional. Every member of Team Japan has played in Japan’s intense win or go home High School National Tournament, which generates excitement similar to the NCAA Basketball Tournament in the US. Playing baseball under these conditions is difficult and I believe it was this past experience that was the difference in the end. On another note, it was interesting to see another side to Ichiro Suzuki. Living in Seattle, I’ve always seen Ichiro play, but new very little about him as a person. The recent quotes in the paper and the emotion he showed during the WBC, I think portray him as truly passionate about the sport of baseball and his country. I also think America is rubbing off on him a little bit. Could he be the Muhammad Ali of Japanese baseball?… you decide. Here are a few Ichiro Suzuki translated quotes that caught my attention recently:

  • “We’re going to put the Koreans in their place.” (before the first game against Korea in the WBC)
  • “I don’t think Korea will beat Japan for 30 years.” (before the first game against Korea in the WBC)
  • “This is the worst day of my life.” (after losing to Korea for the second time)
  • “To lose a 3rd game to the Koreans would be unforgivable.” (before the third game against Korea)
  • “This is the greatest day of my life.” (after winning the WBC championships)

Super Bowl XL: Seahawks vs Steelers

The year before I came to Japan was when the Seattle Seahawks opened their new stadium and when I first became a Seahawks season ticket holder.  Prior to this 2002 season I convinced two friends the Seahawks were on the verge of turning things around and persuaded them to purchase season tickets with me.  However, with my move to Japan in 2003 and after a disappointing 7-9 season, I was forced to give up my seats and my friends followed suit.  Little did they realize, I was only one year off of my prediction that would see the Seahawks make the playoffs for three straight years, including a National Football Conference (NFC) best 13-3 this year (2006).  With home field advantage throughout the playoffs, the Seahawks are only two home wins away from the Super Bowl.  This past week was also an exciting time for Seahawk fans as running back, Sean Alexander won the National Football League’s (NFL) Most Valuable Player (MVP) award.   Alexander led the NFL in rushing this season, and set a league record with 28 touchdowns, becoming the first Seahawk to win the NFL’s top honor.  In 2002, I had the opportunity to meet the MVP while working public relations for the Seahawk’s stadium opening.  (See below)

UPDATE: “SEAHAWKS SAIL INTO SUPER BOWL” SEATTLE (AP) – “Fans chanted “Super Bowl, Super Bowl” as Shaun Alexander carried the NFC championship trophy down the field at Qwest Stadium, a joyous trip that was 30 years in the making.  Alexander, a killer defense and playing on a field where they didn’t lose this season, all combined perfectly Sunday to help the Seahawks rout the Carolina Panthers 34-14 in the NFC title game.”

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SUPER BOWL UPDATE: “SEAHAWKS ROBBED BY ZEBRAS” – My commentary

The Super Bowl is over and Seattle lost. However, it wasn’t just me that thought this was one of the worst officiating jobs ever in a championship game! I was pissed while watching the game and now I feel a little justified. Post game reports show many sports writers across the country shared in my sentiments. It’s pretty clear, it isn’t just diehard Seahawk fans appalled about the bias officiating in this year’s Super Bowl. A Fox Sports online poll asked, “What will you remember most about the Super Bowl?” An overwhelming 55 percent said, “Questionable Calls,” with the next highest vote going to the “Steelers Trick Play,” garnering 20 percent. So how did the Seahawks gain more yards than the Steelers, lead in time of possession and win the turnover battle… and still lose? Very simple, terrible officiating, bordering on an NFL conspiracy. Has the NFL stooped to the level of the most corrupt of all sports, professional boxing? In boxing, a no-namer has almost no chance of beating a reigning champion without knocking out the champion outright, because the corporate suits running sports understand the household big names bring in the big bucks, ie: the Steelers… who now have 5 Super Bowl championships, matching San Francisco and Dallas for most in NFL history…. This Super Bowl was closer than the score indicated, and therefore one bad call could easily have made the difference in the outcome…. but it wasn’t just one against the Seahawks, several were needed to give this one to the “Stealers.”  You know what I mean if you watched the game.

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UPDATE! AUGUST 6, 2010

NFL Referee Admits Critical Mistakes in 2006 Super Bowl

RENTON, Wash. (AP) — Saying “I’ll go to my grave” with regret, NFL referee Bill Leavy reopened a Seahawks’ wound that won’t heal by acknowledging he made mistakes in Seattle’s disputed, 2006 Super Bowl loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“It was a tough thing for me. I kicked two calls in the fourth quarter and I impacted the game, and as an official you never want to do that,” said the veteran of 15 NFL seasons and two Super Bowls.

“It left me with a lot of sleepless nights, and I think about it constantly,” Leavy said of the game in February 2006. “I’ll go to my grave wishing that I’d been better.”

mvp

Shaun Alexander, 2006 National Football League MVP

2002 Stadium Inaugural Game Ticket

2002 Seahawks Stadium Inaugural Game Ticket


“Awa Gais” v.s. Jonan High School

This past Saturday, the Tokushima "Awa Gais" co-ed basketball team, comprised of ALTs ranging from all skill levels played our second game of the new JET year. With players on the team from all over the world , including Australia, England, and New Zealand, it’s been a challenge just to keep some members from kicking and running with the basketball down the court. Although one of the most popular sports in America, basketball takes a very far back seat to soccer and rugby in their respective countries, which makes winning for us a distant goal to just playing by the rules. This past weekend, we played Jonan, a local Tokushima City high school team. As all Japanese high school teams are, they were extremely quick and ran at every opportunity. Before we could blink, our team was down double-digits and their lead kept growing. Despite scoring nearly half our team points, I still wasn’t able to keep our team from losing, 71-58. Now I know how Kobe Bryant feels…

December 4, 2005 | Categories: Sports Talk | Leave a comment


Japanese Pro Baseball

October has always been a month for Major League Baseball (MLB) playoff drama, but what I’ve come to learn is that across the Pacific in Japan, similar stories are playing out as well. Without many other competing professional sports leagues, baseball is by far the most popular professional sport in Japan. Baseball was first introduced in Japan in 1872 and the Japanese Professional League was formed in 1936. So while the St. Louis Cardinals’ Albert Pujols’ homerun with two outs in the 9th may have put on hold or ended a long over-due Houston Astros party last night – the Chiba Marines fans in Japan were celebrating the end of their 31-year old drought with a 3-2 victory over the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks. With the win, the Bobby Valentine coached Marines will now face the ever-popular Hanshin Tigers in the finals.

The Hanshin Tigers, once in a similar pennant drought 2-years ago, managed to overcome 18-years of losing and put an end to the dreaded "Curse of the Colonel." No stranger to baseball curses as well, the Japanese have their own share of unique superstitions to explain years of losing. In 1985, an overzealous Hanshin fan threw a statue of Colonel Sanders taken from a nearby Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet into Osaka’s Dotonbori River. The statue was never retrieved and the team’s losing ways were attributed to the missing mannequin. In 2003, Hanshin lost in the Japan Series in seven to Fukuoka, but still won back fans and was given a victory parade as if they had won the championship. By chance, I found myself in Osaka during this celebration where hundreds of thousands of fans stood outside in the pouring rain to pay tribute to the players and coaches. Having only been removed from the Japan Series for two-years this time, expectations are much higher for the 2005 Tigers’ team to win it all.

With only 12 professional teams and 2 leagues in Japanese professional baseball, the format for competition is always subject to debate. Prior to this year, there were no playoffs and the team with the best record from each league competed in a best of seven Japan Series. However, the less-popular Pacific League chose independently from the Central League to create a playoff this year between their top 3 teams, where the Marines came out on top last night. The Hanshin Tigers and the Chiba Marines are set to battle beginning next week in the Japan Series, Japan’s equivalent to the MLB World Series.


Update
: The Chiba Marines swept the Hanshin Tigers to win their first championship in 31-years. Bobby Valentine becomes the only foreigner to manage in and win the Japan Series. Valentine is also the only man to manage in both the World Series and the Japan series.

Note: The pictures below are from the 2003 Hanshin Tigers parade in Osaka.

October 18, 2005 | Categories: Sports Talk | Leave a comment


High School Baseball in Japan

Despite the popularity of pro baseball in Japan, Japan’s most avidly followed sporting event is the All-Japan High School Baseball Tournament (aka National Senior High School Baseball Tournament), first held in 1915. Played in August at Hanshin Koshien Baseball Stadium near Osaka, it draws almost one million spectators to a tournament of the 49 regional finalists that survived local tournaments involving over 4,000 schools. After winning their respective prefectural championships, similar to a State title in the United States, teams then vie for the coveted national championship. With national and each teams’ local media covering the tournament, players and coaches become overnight celebrities and heroes with success. This year’s champions from Hokkaido successfully defended their championship from 2004, placing them in an elite group of teams to win back-to-back titles. Used as springboard to the pros, popular MLB stars such as Ichiro and Hedeki Matsui have played in the tournament before being drafted onto Japanese clubs.

August 24, 2005 | Categories: Sports Talk | Leave a comment


School Sports in Japan

This past weekend I attended the Tokushima prefectural JHS basketball tournament, where my school’s boys team competed in the semi-finals. Hachiman JHS is a local powerhouse when it comes to JHS basketball in Tokushima. Last year, the boys team were the prefectural champions.

Unlike in the US where there are seasonal sports, students in Japan often devote the better part of their youth to one sport. It’s commonly known back home that football is a fall sport, basketball is played in the winter and baseball in the spring. However for Japanese students, only one sport is participated in all year round, or one after school activity for that matter. In Japan, almost all students belong to an after school club activity, which include not only sports, but martial arts and music. These after school activities take place year round and the practices are taken quite seriously.

As for this year’s Hachiman boy’s basketball team, they lost their semi-final match up and finished third in the tournament. Not to worry though, because this is only one of the many city and prefectural tournaments played during the course of the school year. For third year JHS students on the basketball team, this tournament is only preparation for June and July. In June, the Tokushima City tournament is played where the top 3 teams go on to play in the Tokushima prefectural tournament (State tournament of sort) in July. The Tokushima prefectural champions are then invited to the Japan national JHS championships. Soon after the national championships, the second year students take over the reigns, while the third year students focus on their high school entrance examinations.

May 17, 2005 | Categories: School and Teaching, Sports Talk | 1 Comment


Tokushima International Charity Fun Run

This past Sunday morning was the 7th annual Tokushima International Charity Fun Run (a.k.a. – a marathon). Over 200 residents of Tokushima took part in the event. Although hard core running enthusiasts would never consider 10 kilometers (6.21 miles) a marathon, but for me this was the closest to the real deal as I’m ever going to get. After paying the 2000\ fee to charity (about 20.00 US dollars), we were given an official number and a map of the course. The day’s conditions couldn’t have been better. Running along side the beautiful Tsukimigaoka seaside in Matsushige town I set off with only one goal, not to stop. I began the race strong and ahead of my peers only to later watch the only other two male ALTs pass me. As these two slowly left my view, I looked for other motivations to keep going. I focused on staying in front of the female ALTs and to keep pace with this little Japanese woman wearing the number 176. It was back and forth between me and 176 the entire race. It was clear to me she was a hard core runner in her youth, probably a university champion or a former Olympian or something. She had all the signs that told me she’s been down this excruciating road before, but what really gave it away was she kept looking at her watch, which told me she owned one of those fancy watches with a stop watch feature. As she was clearly out for her best time, I was focused on my getting my first. In the final turn while running on fumes, I kicked in my nitro to finish just ahead of her with a time of 1 hour 4 minutes. There is no greater feeling of accomplishment than running and finishing in an organized running event such as this, it’s even more rewarding when you can do it for charity. (and beating that woman who was probably the greatest national athlete of her time… well, that’s just icing on the cake).

Note: see Tokushima Sports album for more pictures.

May 16, 2005 | Categories: Sports Talk | Leave a comment


Hoops…. baby steps

This past weekend I reassembled the Tokushima ALT basketball team in my effort to get back into playing shape by July. Our current team consists of a bunch of great guys, full of inspiring enthusiasm, excellent tenacity, superb work ethic, some can even speak a little Japanese… but NO basketball talent. The combination of an Aussie with a love for rugby, a Brit who prefers a little "footy" on the weekends, add in a Canadian just for the hell of it, then sprinkle in some Americans that have never played the game – you’ve got a recipe for an international crisis. Now… we do have one player besides myself that has played some organized ball in the past, but after two reconstructive knee surgeries to the same knee – as a concerned friend I’ve been encouraging him to consider the wheel chair leagues. That’s our current team we used against one of the top high school teams in Tokushima City this past weekend. Straggling into the gym this past Saturday morning at 9 something, 10 minutes late we found our competition with their full squad of probably 20 players deep fully warmed-up ready to play… I’m not gonna go into too much detail about what happened after that, but let me just say we weren’t ready to play. To make matters worse, that high school team never took their foot of the gas. After being up by over 20 or was it 40, I can’t remember – they continued to full court press us, never letting up a bit. This was only our first game back as a team and it was clear we were out of shape… we’ll play this team again in June and see how far we’ve come. But until then, baby steps….

April 10, 2005 | Categories: Sports Talk | Leave a comment


8th Grade Dodge Ball Championships!

Yesterday I played a little Dodge Ball in the gym with the 8th graders. This was no ordinary day in PE class though, this was the annual 8th grade championships! Dodge Ball is huge among elementary and JHS kids in Japan! It’s also played a little different than my days growing up. Using the techniques I’ve learned from my days dominating the US JHS circuit; while picking up on the differences in rules in Japan – I’ve now become an international Dodge Ball killing machine! For yesterday’s tournament, I was placed on one of the weaker classes. This was OK, as my only focus was to use my size and strength to push every person in my way to the side as I attempted to take over the game on my team’s behalf. Using my cat-like reflexes, I was able to dodge balls that would have hit any average player. Every opportunity I got the ball, I unleashed a Randy Johnson fastball in the direction of a JHS’s students head with heat-seeking precision. I desperately attempted to go it alone, running over every person on my team, pleading with my teammates to “let the Unit throw it!” In the end, all my effort was for nothing as class 2-2 lost in the first-round! After the game, I gathered my team together in an effort to console the players and told them what any sympathizing teacher on a mission to win would have said, “you guys need to hit the weight room!”

March 23, 2005 | Categories: School and Teaching, Sports Talk | Leave a comment