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June 13, 2005 - He's Back, We're on TV, and Your Reading Assignment

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Dear Friends and Fellow Travelers,

You may recall from these pages that Mr. Watanabe, the Daddy Warbucks of Japanese baseball, decided to resign amidst a player signing scandal about ten months ago.

Just before his resignation he was busy stonewalling the fledgling players association who wanted to keep two teams from contracting.

When Atsuya Furuta, chairman of the Japan Professional Baseball Players Association and a player for the Yakult Swallows club, expressed his wish to talk with Watanabe about the problem of combining two teams, Watanabe rejected him saying, "You are a mere player. Remember that."

Yes, and the players went on to strike for the first time in Japanese history with the result being a new expansion team, the Eagles, that we will see on our trip, to take the place of the two teams that were contracted into one.

This guy is, how shall I put it, a true lame brain when it comes to baseball, but he's great fun to read and I've missed him.  So it is with great relish that I learn from the JapanBall news service that the "Yomiuri Giants said Tuesday that former team owner Tsuneo Watanabe will be appointed team chairman of the Central League club.

"The 79-year-old Watanabe has not held a position in the team's organization in nearly 10 months since resigning as the club owner to take the blame for the unethical scouting of former Meiji University pitcher Yasuhiro Ichiba.

"'The Giants are facing a historical crisis now.  It is time that the team rebuild itself and aim to become champions again,' said Watanabe, referring to the club which is languishing in last place in the Central League.

"He added that he looks forward to discussions with the heads of the other 11 clubs to find ways of rebuilding Japanese pro baseball."

What Watanabe means is that we should look at how crummy the Giants have been since his departure, so crummy that it is manifest destiny that he return. 

As to "rebuilding Japanese baseball," translate that to mean he needs to get back in and work the system again so it works in favor of the Giants.  This is, of course, what every owner tries to do.  It's just that Watanabe is so short-sighted as he does so.

Watanabe was against the new interleague play this year, because the Giants would play their Central League rivals less often.  Interleague play is now about finished for the year and has proven a boon at the box office for all clubs, even the Giants.

This is going to be fun.  He says such crazy and altogether transparent stuff.

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In other very important baseball news, our collegiate league club in Northern California that we're running in the Minor League Baseball model is off to a good start.  Playing well and drawing well.

My brother Peter, Mr. Former Big League General Manager, came up from his home in San Diego for a few days last week and had a ball. Most guys in the big leagues will tell you that the most fun they had in the game came in the minor leagues.

And I welcome the family of my baseball partner, Don McCullough, to the group.  Kyle, Don's grandson, is working toward coming with us in September.

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The Famous Sam Sapp ('03) sent me some info the other day about changing money while on the road.  Thank you, Sam.

We've had lots of discussions here on this topic, but my take on the whole thing is this:

1.  I exchange all the money I think I'll need as soon as I arrive at Narita.  The rate is pretty good and they do it quickly.  If you try to do it later you'll find it difficult to find a bank that's ready when you are.  And the machinations in getting your dough as it is counted and counted again and again and again and again, would be funny to watch if it didn't take so darn long.

2.  Some places will take credit cards and the exchange rate is generally pretty good, but not nearly as many places take credit cards as in the U.S.  Cash is king in Japan.

3.  You can find ATM machines, but check with your bank first to see if they can give you some locations in Tokyo where you can be sure your card will be accepted.  And be sure, because machines have been known to eat cards they're not familiar with.

For me, I remove the hassle factor by getting all my money at the beginning and turning in any left over at the end.  I generally get $40 to $50 a day.

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Our condolences to Denise Vilven (04) whose husband Steve Ortiz (04) recently passed away.  Two more delightful people you値l never meet. And they were terrific travelers making use of every moment while in-country to see and experience it.

Steve, each morning without fail, had a bright smile and a handout for us.  The handout was generally a heartwarming baseball story usually taken from one of the Baseball Fireside books.  Great guy and fun to be around.  Again, our condolences to Denise and family.

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Peter (03), our Official Scorer, wrote yesterday (Sunday) afternoon to say, "Michelle (03) was on national TV.  She was dressed in Cubs stuff, sitting in the first row lining up a picture with her digital camera and Fox showed her for a good four or five seconds during Bellhorn's at bat in the top of the 8th."

The appearance of Michelle, head of our crack JapanBall legal department, would've been even more impressive had she been holding up the JapanBall.com logo placard like she was supposed to.

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I was asked about reading material for the trip. I'm asked often enough that I put together a suggested reading list at

http://www.japanball.com/reading.htm

If you only read one book, you may want to read the second one listed: The Meaning of Ichiro.  Bavasi Sports Partners has a mention in the forward and, in spite of that, it is a book worth reading.

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I continue to recommend getting your flights early. Let me know your itinerary once you do.  Getting your flight secures your place on the trip list since I don稚 require payment for the tour until much later.

I continue to recommend at least checking with Martin Smith (04) who is a travel agent who very graciously helps us out.  He's had so many good reviews from our guests that it's tough to go wrong at least asking him for flight info.  There's no pressure to buy. He's at:

martin@berkleigh.webmail.com

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Speaking of air travel, Bob and Marjean are flying Northwest out of Detroit.

Northwest has a new international hub there that I致e read great things about.  I値l be interested to see how they like it.

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Finally, I've been asked about the itinerary so I send it on again.

Dates for the trip are Wednesday, September 7 through Thursday, September 15, 2005.

We have an Optional Day add-on at a Hot Springs Resort at the end of the trip.

For planning your air fare, get your ticket with departure from the United States or Canada to Tokyo's Narita airport on September 7 and your departure from Tokyo Narita on September 15.

If you intend on doing the Optional Day, then make your departure from Tokyo on September 16.

What follows is the rough itinerary. Mayumi and I are still working on the things we'll do and the people we'll meet to fill in around the games, but this gives you the games we値l see and the ballparks we値l visit.

WEDNESDAY, 9/7/05

US or Canada to Tokyo

You begin the trip from your US or Canadian city as you board your plane for Tokyo.  During the flight you cross the International Dateline and go ahead one day, getting that day back on your return flight home.

THURSDAY, 9/8/05

Tokyo

All flights from the United States and Canada are scheduled to arrive in the late afternoon at Tokyo's Narita Airport, the crossroads of Asia.

I will greet you as you exit customs. Inside the airport we board the Narita Express, a streamliner railway for the brief trip into downtown Tokyo to our hotel.

You will have time that evening to meet up with us and/or explore the area around our hotel on your own.

Jet lag while in Japan is rare. You will, however, probably have some on your first couple days when you return home.

FRIDAY, 9/9/05

Tokyo

(Tokyo Giants vs Chunichi Dragons in Tokyo Dome)

We have sightseeing for you today and everyday.  Our sightseeing runs from the cultural and shopping, to sumo and horseracing.  We値l have a better fix on what folks want to do as time goes on and we値l plan it out.

This evening we go to the raucous Tokyo Dome, close to our hotel, to see the Tokyo Giants, Japan's favorite team.

Just outside the dome is a shopping mall, an amusement park, and the Japan Baseball Hall of Fame.  There's a spectacular "you gotta see it to believe it" eight-story off-track horse racing parlor adjacent!

As for the Hall of Fame, it's a long way from the charm of Cooperstown, but for the price of a hamburger, it may be worth a look.  Team uniforms, pictures, cards and other memorabilia fill a long procession of glass cases, while one room contains plaques of all the members of The Hall. 

On premises is the Baseball Cafe that, the last time I was there, boasted a huge Tommy Lasorda statue that greeted you as you entered.  It's sort of a baseball Hard Rock Cafe and while they don't offer Dodger Dogs, you can order burgers and other typically American fare at reasonable prices.

SATURDAY, 9/10/05

Yokohama

(Yokohama BayStars vs Yakult Swallows at Yokohama Stadium)

We'll arrive at the ballparks with plenty of time to wander around to get a feel for the surrounding area and take in the pre-game festivities.

Tonight we値l travel south of Tokyo to Yokohama Stadium, home of the BayStars.  Part of the fun of each ballpark is what the different neighborhoods have to offer you, and right next to this ballpark is a terrific China town for you to explore.

By the way, Mayumi will leave the games in the fifth inning.  I will stay until the end.  That way anyone who wants to leave early may do so.

SUNDAY, 9/11/05

Western Tokyo

(Seibu Lions vs Chiba Lotte Marines at Invoice Seibu Dome)

The Lions' ballpark is part of a large entertainment complex which includes an amusement park, a golf course, two practice baseball fields and an indoor ski slope.

Unlike other Japanese ballparks, this is actually an amphitheater, dug into the side of a hill.  All concession stands and rest rooms can be found along the tree-ringed rim of the stadium.  Slightly smaller than standard ballparks, it allows more home runs than any other Pacific League park.

Yoshiaki Tsutsumi, owner of the Lions, decided to put an umbrella on the ballpark a few years ago. It gives you the feel of an outdoor stadium with the open sides, but offering protection from the rain and hot midsummer sun.

MONDAY, 9/12/05

Tokyo to Sendai (Baseball Off Day)

There are no games on the schedule and we'll use this day to show you a kaleidoscope of Japan.

We board the bullet train at Tokyo Station for an early morning getaway to Sendai moving north up the coast of Japan.  Mayumi and I are still in the process of planning this day and evening along with that part of tomorrow before the game.

TUESDAY, 9/13/05

Sendai

(Golden Eagles vs Seibu Lions at Fullcast Stadium)

The Rakuten Golden Eagles team was founded at the conclusion of the 2004 season to begin play in the Pacific League.

The team was created to fill the void created by the merger of the Orix BlueWave and the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes.  Those teams merged after the 2004 season due to financial difficulties to become the Orix Buffaloes.

Internet shopping mall operator Rakuten, the new team's owner, named the ballclub the Rakuten Golden Eagles.  It is the first expansion team in the Japanese leagues in more than 50 years.

Rakuten hired former Birmingham Barons team president Marty Kuehnert as its first general manager, the first American to hold such a post in Japan.  Marty only lasted a few months in that post but still works for the club.  We値l visit with him while we池e there.

WEDNESDAY, 9/14/05

Tokyo

(Yakult Swallows vs Hiroshima Carp at Jingu Stadium)

Located in the Meiji Shrine's Outer Garden, Jingu Stadium rarely invites comparison to Wrigley Field, Fenway Park or Camden Yards.  It's no architectural masterpiece, nor does it have the flashy appeal of newer parks.  The seats are tight, the color scheme rather bland with royal blue seats bolted in pale green concrete but, despite the flaws, this unpretentious gem may be the best place in Tokyo to see a game.

Opened in 1926, Jingu Stadium is the oldest Tokyo ballpark still in use. The old brickwork evokes images of Ebbets Field and, unless you look closely through the tree-lined sidewalks, you might fail to notice there's a stadium in the neighborhood.  This is a place you can go, close your eyes, and imagine how baseball was years ago.

Some say the Jingu scoreboard is the best in Japan, if for no other reason than it alone posts each player's batting average and home run total for the duration of every game.  Giving you what's important without relying on a lot of technological gimmicks is the quiet appeal of Jingu Stadium.

THURSDAY, 9/15/05

Tokyo to US or Canada

We make our way to the airport for our afternoon flights out of Tokyo and arrive home the same date, getting back the day we lost when we crossed the International Dateline on our trip over.

OPTIONAL DAY - FRIDAY, 9/16/05

Hot Springs Resort

On September 15 we'll split the group.  Some will stay and do last minute shopping or touring before departing for the airport.

Others who've chosen the optional day will make their way to the mountainside near Mt. Fuji where we値l tour, enjoy the natural hot springs (separated by gender), have a going away banquet and overnight in traditional Japanese rooms.

Banker Tom (03) says, "Do this. This gives you a completely different experience of Japan. It's worth it for the dinner alone, but going on the Hakone Ropeway, through the Owakudani Boiling Valley and across Lake Ashi might be the most memorable part of the trip.?/p>

On September 16 we'll depart the resort after a hearty buffet breakfast, another soak if you like, some shopping and poking around.  You'll feel relaxed and rejuvenated as you go to the airport or embark on your extra days in Japan or elsewhere.

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That's it for now. I love hearing from you. Feel free to call or write anytime.

Bob

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