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MajorLeagueRT Featured on Razzball Radio

Thanks to Nick Cappozi of Razzball Radio for a great interview about road tripping.

Finally Home!

I arrived in Seattle on August 21st with 204,996 miles on the odometer. That puts the Mexico trip total at 9,426 miles (or 15,170 kilometers). All twenty fingers and toes intact, this was a long but successful trip!

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MajorLeagueRT arrives in Mexico City

After two weeks on the road, I’ve arrived in Mexico City. So far, we’ve covered the entire Northern Division of the Liga Mexicana de Beisbol. As well as traveling to Oaxaca to see the Guerreros play and tonight the Diablos Rojos del Mexico play the Rieleros of Aguascalientes.

Follow the action with photos on Facebook and get live updates on Twitter.

At the Foro Sol stadium, holding 10 tickets representing all the ballparks Joseph has seen so far

At the Foro Sol stadium, holding 10 tickets representing all the ballparks Joseph has seen so far

Major League Road Trip goes to Mexico

It’s time to announce the third leg of my Major League Road Trip.  This time I’ll be traveling to Mexico to see a ballgame at all 16 LMB ballparks.  The clock is on since the season ends on August 15th.

Map of Mexican Baseball League (LMB) Teams

Map of Mexican Baseball League (LMB) Teams

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My schedule should work out like so:

Depart Arrive Distance ETA
20-Jul Seattle 22-Jul Tiajuana 1277 18
23-Jul Tiajuana 25-Jul Torreon 1163 20
26-Jul Torreon 26-Jul Monclava 206 5
29-Jul Monclava 29-Jul Monterrey 150 3
30-Jul Monterrey 30-Jul Reynosa 197 3
31-Jul Reynosa 31-Jul Saltillo 197 3
1-Aug Saltillo 2-Aug Aguascalientes 300 7
2-Aug Aguascalientes 5-Aug Mexico City 337 7
6-Aug Mexico City 6-Aug Puebla 85 2
7-Aug Puebla 7-Aug Oaxaca 205 4
8-Aug Oaxaca 9-Aug Veracruz 276 5
9-Aug Veracruz 12-Aug Tabasco 327 6
13-Aug Tabasco 13-Aug Campeche 275 6.5
14-Aug Campeche 14-Aug Quintana Roo 296 5.5

Nickelback, Google Translate & Red Miso Katsu

This chapter begins with a change of plan: instead of heading to Nagoya on Saturday the 27th, I decided to stay in Tokyo for one more night because the Sumidagawa Firewoks Festival was being held that evening. Little to my knowledge, ‘hanabi’ (fireworks) are a very big deal in Japan and during the Summer Festival, in fact, there is competition over the Sumida River, which coincidentally runs through Asakusa where I was staying.

I managed to get the last bunk at the Sakura Hostel (which will be important to the story later). Making fast friends, I hung out with a Kiwi named Thomas Wilde who was searching for a bunk that evening. We wandered around the area looking for a place to stay in one of the many hostels located in the maze of unnamed streets and alleys that make up Asakusa. On a whim, we tried the love hotel next door to the hostel but there was no one there during the day. As we stood outside Hotel La Cachette wondering what to do, an old man rode by on a bicycle and shouted something that I am sure was obscene. So we decided to get some lunch from the market nearby, and as we rounded a corner another man on a bicycle rode by. His t-shirt was in English; he realized we could read his shirt about the same time we finished reading it, and a sheepish grin crept across his face. The shirt read, “Nobody knows I’m gay.” So much for subtlety… we grinned back in acknowledgement of his deep secret as he rode by.

Pachinko!

A pachinko machine

A pachinko machine – sort of a cross between pinball and a slot machine

As the afternoon drew on, we wandered into a Pachinko parlor. I been to many a casino in my time, but this was something quite different than anything I seen before. Pachinko is a game that could be described as a cross between a slot-machine and a pin-ball machine. Since gambling is illegal in Japan, pachinko skirts the restriction by spitting out the ball-bearings for the gamer to collect in plastic tubs. Then the “gambler” cashes in their winnings by weighing the amount of ball bearing collected and redeeming them for prizes, which they can sell back to the establishment for cash.

Thomas and I met up with another American from New Orleans named John. He had travelled extensively and been to Japan before. Together, we made our way toward the riverbank to see the fireworks display, stopping at a Lawson convenience store for big cans of Kirin beer. The park along the river was packed with people. We walked along the sidewalk looking for a spot with an unobstructed view but to no avail. Eventually, we found a small spot by one of the omnipresent vending machines with a view slightly obstructed by an overhead rooftop. But as we stood, necks craning to see the fireworks display a funny thing happened.

Order within chaos – Rain at the Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival

First a few sprinkles fell, then within a few minutes an all-out deluge began to pour from the sky. All the people with great views of the fireworks were left without shelter from the rain. However, in very Japanese fashion, a group of around one million people slowly and orderly filed out of the park and down the sidewalk toward the subway stations and their homes.

The three of us stood under our ledge watching the people pass. Briefly we were joined by a Japanese ‘punk’ whose personal fashion sense reminded me of Guitar Wolf. He chatted with us to the extent that his English and our lack of Japanese language was limited to. Our new friend said something to us in Japanese, motioned off into the distance and then struck off into the rain soaked crowd.

Japan is the most orderly country I have ever experienced. Even litter on the street is uncommon. Had such an even occurred in the U.S. six people would have been trampled to death in the ensuing chaos. But for a short period time, we got to witness the streets of Asakusa in disarray. The blocks between the riverbank and the nearest subway station were populated with soaking wet people wearing traditional garb, palm fronds and garbage had found their way into the streets but yet no one appeared to have lost their composure.

Upon returning to our hostel, we changed into dry clothes and agreed to head out the downtown because it was [Friday] night. Our experienced friend suggested going to Shinjuku to see the most densely populated part of Tokyo.

Shinjuku red light district, missing the last train & hookers in Kanda Station

If you’ve ever seen video footage of the crowded streets of Tokyo it was most likely filmed in Shinjuku. The world’s busiest crosswalk sits below the dense neon jungle of advertisements that cover almost every vertical surface in the area. Behind this wall of Noble gases sits the Kabukichō red light district; several blocks of various types of hostess bars fill the area. Well-dressed young Japanese men smoke cigarettes outside the bars whilst Nigerian guys hustle passers-by with promises of “titties for days,” and other more lecherous experiences to be had inside each establishment. As tempting as that was, none of us were in the mood to drop 100,000 Yen to find out if these promises were true. I used a Chris Rock line to escape their annoying pursuit, telling one Nigerian guy, “There’s no sex in the Champagne Room!” However, we spent so much time wandering through the narrow streets that we didn’t realize that time was marching on. Midnight is when the last trains leave in Japan, and if you don’t have nearby accommodations or plan on staying out all night you’ve got to make the last train.

Upon realizing that we were all about to turn into pumpkins, we hurried back to Shinjuku Station. In our rush, we accidentally boarded the train going the wrong direction on the Sobu Line. Three stops down the line we had to disembark and change platforms, while waiting and hoping that another train would come our way. Fortunately, the crowded platform indicated that was the case. However, this train only travelled as far as Kanda Station, which was still quite a distance from Asakusa.

The 'love hotel' La Cachette in Asakusa

The ‘love hotel’ La Cachette in Asakusa

The three of us decided that it was farther than we were willing to walk, but we could split the cost of a cab instead. So we made our way out of the subway to search for a taxi. The station was under construction and it was difficult to find our way out, but when we finally exited we were greeted by a somewhat surreal group of women clustered around the doors. They all carried the same clear vinyl umbrella and shouted “Massa-GEE” as they grasped at our hands. Not that I’m above experiencing a massage at 2am but another biological urge were far more pressing and I needed find a restroom badly.

Pushing through the crowd of women, who grabbed at our wrists and tried to pull us back toward their lairs, we found a taxi idling nearby and after a bit of gesticulation and a phone call to the hostel, the driver agreed to take us back to Asakusa. We arrived near the love hotel, because the surrounding streets and alleys are a spaghetti maze. Either way, we had to find our way back to Sakura Hostel through the darkened alleys. Poor Thomas still didn’t have a place to sleep so we decided to sneak him into the hostel lobby and he would just chill out on the couches in front of the television. John and I went off to bed, but apparently poor Thomas got kicked soon after and had to spend the rest of the night wandering around Asakusa.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see Thomas again in person. The next day I had to get a move on early; I was leaving Tokyo for the first time and heading to Nagoya to see the Chunichi Dragons take on the Yoimuri Giants. However, I had made an egregious oversight when changing my plans the day before. The ballgame in Nagoya was the earliest to start (at 14:00 or 2pm) and I was over two hours away by train.

Taking the Shinkansen Super Express to Nagoya for Chunichi Dragons game

Leaving from Tokyo station, I boarded a shinkansen: as bullet trains are called in Japan, for the first time. In Japan, the trains leave the station on the mark (a train that is more than 30 seconds behind schedule is considered late) and when they arrive at the platform they are so precise that the doors open directly in front of markers painted onto the cement of the platform. Upon leaving the station, the trains live up to their moniker of ‘bullet train’ as you can feel the inertia push your body back into the seat upon acceleration.

However, I was to be disappointed this leg of the journey because the train stopped so many times between Tokyo and Nagoya that it easily added an extra hour to the journey. As the clock ticked toward 14:00 I began to get anxious. The train finally arrived at Nagoya Station about an hour after the game had started and I made my way to from the JR rail platform to the subway lines. Fortunately, the Nagoya Dome has its own station on the loop around Nagoya so I was able to get there fairly quickly.

Arrival at the Nagoya Dome in the 8th inning

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The walk from the subway platform to the stadium involves going up a long tunnel plastered with large posters of all the Chunichi Dragons players, the mascots and even the cheerleaders. Finally, I arrived outside the dome with my pack in tow. Somehow, the gatekeepers didn’t have a problem with me bringing my ginormous bag into the game and I was able to find my seat up in the nosebleed section, three tiers above home plate. The seventh inning was just ending and the score was 0-1 with the Dragons behind the Giants.

The Dragons were never able to match the Giants lone run on the scoreboard but their fans never gave up, chanting until the last strikeout that ended the game. In a stroke of good luck, the Nagoya Dome is air-conditioned which made watching those last two innings so much more comfortable considering that I had just run up several flights of inclined corridors and stairs in the heat and humidity of summer. Nagoya, I found out later is considered the balmiest part of Honshu (the main island of Japan).

Upon exiting the Stadium, I wandered over to the nearby mall which had a food court. It was so similar to an American Mall that with the exception of food selection I could have easily mistaken it for somewhere in Suburbia, USA. Except for the ubiquitous Starbucks, all the restaurant chains were Japanese so I chose to try one called Pepper Lunch. They served up a delicious peppered steak on rice which I devoured in what was probably a heinous display of lack of Japanese table manners. My starving appetite had been satiated though.

Now I needed to find the hostel which was near Higashibetsuin Station off the Meijo Line. Since the Meijo subway line runs in a big circle around the city, it was easy to get to the right station but from there I was, once again faced with finding the hostel in a neighborhood where I couldn’t read the street signs, had no GPS and my lack of language skills made getting directions very difficult. I must have wandered around in the rain and darkness for about an hour asking directions from multiple people before finding a bookstore close enough for the clerks to point me in the right direction. Finally, I arrived a hot, sweaty and wet mess at Hostel Ann, which is an oasis in the Naka-ku neighborhood of Nagoya.

Searching for the Hostel in the rain. Visiting Nagoya Castle.

Anne, the hostess gave me a tour of her urban oasis, which is a hostel in the style of a traditional ryokan with a small garden, a common bathing area and a parlor for socializing with the other guests (a mix of Koreans, Americans teachers and French during my stay) and a mixed gender sleeping area full of bunks which were more like cubby holes than beds. The bottom bunks were not elevated above the floor, instead the floor was covered with woven mats and a light mattress was placed on top of the mats in each bunk. I found it a cozy place to dry myself off from the rain outside.

In the morning, I took off with the intention of exploring Nagoya. Borrowing an umbrella, I made my way to the metro station. Five stops away on the Meijo Line, is Nagoya Castle near Shiyakusho Station. I made my way in the rain around the moat to the main gate. Walking around the grounds, I made my way past the statue of [name], the samurai who oversaw the construction of the castle. On the boulders which make up the castle foundation are carved different symbols which function similar to that of a cattle brand: they are the unique markings of the daimyo who contributed them to the construction project. I found this interesting because of the sheer number of large rocks which make up the foundation and how far away many of them were transported. It must have been an enormous undertaking to build the foundation, not to mention the rest of the castle.

 

Apparently, Oda Nobunaga was born was born in the castle around 1534. He was responsible for initiating the campaign to unify Japan after the Sengoku period in the 16th century. Live actors portraying figures from the Nobunaga era wander the grounds playing out a drama of the life and times of Oda Nobunaga. I encountered one of these actors, “Shingo,” as I approached. Dressed as a Shogunate-era soldier he held his spear over his head with both hands. Dressed in black and wearing a sugegasa (conical hat), he shouting loudly in Japanese and made an imposing figure standing there on the rain-soaked gravel path. Shingo’s presence transformed our surroundings five hundred years into the past and put the history of the castle into perspective.

The keep of Nagoya Castle stands eight stories high with walls of white plaster and roofs turned teal, the top tier is capped with statues of two golden dolphins. Having suffered a drastic fire in 1945 when it was hit by Allied bombs, the keep was nearly burned to the ground but largely it has been restored and transformed into a museum. Ornate samurai armor and black-powder muskets that stand taller than a man fill the halls. Beautiful paintings of animals are painted on the walls of the residence of lord’s family which has been rebuilt and is in the process of restoration, just below the keep.

After properly exploring the lord’s residence and the keep of Nagoya Castle, I made my way through the pouring rain to Nagoya Station where I found a SoftBank store. Unfortunately, I still was unable to get a SIM card for my cellphone which left me without the ability to use GPS. I returned to the hostel with damp clothes but undiscouraged.

With the sun setting, my stomach reminded me that I had yet to eat. Wandering around the Naka-ku neighborhood, I ran into one of the Korean guests from the hostel. Neither of us spoke Japanese he spoke English well. We found a small restaurant across from the 7-11 that looked appealing.

Nickelback, Google Translate and Red Miso Katsu

Upon entering, the foyer was filled with small cubby holes for shoes and umbrellas. The interior was almost entirely constructed of a dark wood that made the place seem even darker and smaller than it already was. The hostess sat us at the bar directly across from the grill. The young man behind the bar greeted us in Japanese as the hostess stood a respectful distance behind, ready to record our order in a small spiral bound notepad.

Once we ordered beers, things got complicated. Unfortunately, the staff spoke about as much English as we spoke Japanese. However, they were very friendly and the guy behind the bar was to pull up Google Translate on his iPhone. We spent the next hour or so typing messages into the translation interface and passing the phone to-and-fro, having a most entertaining conversation that ranged from NPB baseball to guitars to Nickelback. Throughout, we sampled a number of grilled meat skewers, including a delicacy that Nagoya is renowned for: miso katsu pork. I was really blown away by the delicious food and the hospitality these folks were willing to show us. Yum!

In the morning, I took my leave of Anne Hostel and boarded the shinkansen to Osaka. The train arrived at the Shin-Osaka station via the Tokaido Line. The journey was uneventful for the most part. However, it didn’t take long for me to find myself lost in the bowels of that station, trying to find the connection from the JR station to the city subway to the Midosuji Line.

 

Arrival in Osaka & ORiX Buffaloes

I had made hasty reservations at a hostel named Guesthouse Koma, the only place that had any availability for the weekend. I arrived there in the early afternoon and the staff was still busy with housekeeping. Reggae music softly pulsed through the small common area and lobby as the clerk helped me check in.   This hostel was different than the others I have stayed at; the primary clientele were Korean students on holiday. I would discover that for the first time, I was the only native English speaker in the whole hostel.

That afternoon, Osaka was even more hot and humid than Nagoya: 32º Celcius (about 91º F) not to mention the humidity. I made my way back to the Hanshin-Namba line and arrived quickly at the Dome Mae Station. It must have been Little League Night because the outer concourse, which wrapped around the outside of the stadium was filled with clusters of ten-year-old Japanese boys clad in their baseball uniforms. Emblazoned across their chests were team named the ‘Atoms,’ the ‘Angels’ and quixotically the ‘Youngers’. These little guys made me smile with their subdued boisterousness. They were so well behaved yet had all the nervous energy of little boys anywhere.

http://bis.npb.or.jp/eng/2013/games/s2013073001184.html

The Kyocera Dome in Osaka is home to the ORIX Buffaloes (yes, that is plural with an ‘S’.) The team was formed in 2004 when the ORIX Blue Wave from Kobe (the former team of Ichiro Suzuki) merged with the Kintetsu Buffaloes. Tonight, the Buffaloes were hosting their Pacific League rivals, the Softbank Hawks from Fukuoka.

The usher showed me to my seat, which was at the end of an aisle. I noticed a small group of old men nearby sharing edamame like Americans would eat peanuts at a ballgame. In typical Japanese fashion though, they didn’t throw the shells on the ground.

Only one other person seated in front of me, and he had an uncanny resemblance to Alex Rodriguez. In fact, I wondered about his identity for the first few innings; even though he was on the Yankees DL for the rest of the season, why would A-Rod be watching a Tuesday night ballgame in Osaka from the cheap seats? My curiosity got the better of me and when the 7th inning stretch came along, I passed him one of my Victory Balloons and initiated a conversation. Turns out, he wasn’t A-Rod (which is good considering I’m a Seattleite) but is a flight attendant for KLM. Born in one of the former Dutch possessions in the Caribbean, my new friend explained that he loves baseball and that baseball is a growing sport in the Netherlands due to the influx of people from the Caribbean coming emigrating there.

Kyocera is not a hitter’s park. As I watched the game, I noticed that many hits that seemed destined for beyond the outfield wall fell short. The HVAC system seems to create air currents that push downward on the ball as it gains altitude. However, I did finally determine that you can keep foul balls in Japan.

The air flow didn’t seem to affect Brian LaHair of the Hawks crushed a monster HR into the stands to put the Hawks on the board in the 5th inning. Aarom Baldris answered LaHair in the 6th inning with a solo shot to put the Buffaloes ahead.

[insert picture + caption of 12” hotdog and bun]

When the seventh inning stretch came around, I was ready with my very own victory balloons which I shared with my new Dutch friend. As the cheerleaders did a dance routine to “Day-O” (the Banana Boat Song) we released them in a fury of blue and gold screaming and whistling through the air above.

Takahiro Okada (known as T. and celebrated with his own cheer, complete with T-towel waving) slugged a line drive that brought in Lee Dae-Ho (formerly of the Lotte Giants in the Korean Baseball League) to give the home team a margin in the bottom of the 8th.

In the top of the 9th, Yoshihisha Hirano came in to close out the game for the Buffaloes. In an unusual and startling display of ballpark A/V effects, the scoreboard speakers erupted with an air raid siren and flashed the bold red letters: “WARNING!” repeatedly.   The crowd stood up and cheered as their ace reliever took the field. The excitement was short lived; Hawks third baseman Nobuhiro Matsuda clocked at solo home run over the outfield wall to bring the score up to 4-3 but still in favor the Buffaloes. Hirano wrapped up the top of the ninth to end the game without the final frame.

When the game was over, I wished my new friend well and gave him a card for my blog. Then I followed the crowd to the gift shop where I struggled to find a jersey that would fit a man of my size. Typically Japanese clothing is quite a bit smaller than Western clothes even when it is marked as an XL. However, I was able to find one and I exited the Kyocera Dome happy, off into the warm air of the Osaka subway lines after dark.

Final Preparations – 3 Days To Go

1st Ticket for the 1st Game

1st Ticket for the 1st Game

So I’ve finally set a firm date to depart on my long journey: Monday, April 9th.  I’ve moved out of my apartment, put most of my possesions in storage and bought a mini-van from a friend.

The plan so far is to leave Seattle on the 9th, stop for the night in Portland and then drive to northern California the next day. I’m looking forward to traveling through and hopefully camping in the Redwood National Forest before crossing the Golden Gate Bridge on my approach into San Francisco for the first two ballgames.

The first game I’ll be attending will be in Oakland on the 11th of April.  I’m still trying to figure out which Giants game I’ll hit, as it turns out, their home openner is on the 13th and tickets are really expensive that day.  Most likely, I’ll opt for the game on the 14th instead but will have to bomb down to Los Angeles to make a 1pm Dodgers game the very next day.