March 2012

Scenes from Tokyo after a tremendous trip

The Mariners and their traveling party arrived back in Peoria today about noon, weary but wiser for their seven-day journey to Japan.

While the main focus certainly was the Opening Series against the A’s, this trip was about more than baseball. I know I certainly learned a lot and experienced a ton of new things. It’s always good to see different cultures and ways of life and Tokyo was a treasure.

Before we say sayonara and return to normal programming, just want to share a few of the sights and scenes I observed over the past week.

Tokyo is a tremendously modern city, but you can find some traditional sights like this rickshaw driver in the Asakusa area.

One thing you quickly notice in Tokyo is the vending machines. They’re everywhere. And you can buy practically everything from these machines, including Sapporo beer.

Here’s the view of the Tokyo waterfront. It’s a modern city with some beautiful towers.

The Sensōji temple in Asakusa was a tremendously colorful and interesting area, with the Buddist temple originally built in the year 645. There’s a lively market and a prayer area that has

Even if you don’t speak Japanese, ordering food in restaurants isn’t a problem. Not only do the menus have pictures to point at, many restaurants display samples out front like the one below so you know exactly what you’re getting.

The other thing you can’t help noticing in Tokyo is how clean everything is. You don’t see any trash anywhere. The sidewalks are spotless. Yet at the same time its very hard to find a garbage can. Amazing. And as you’ll see below, about a quarter of the residents wear masks when they walk around in an attempt to control the spread of germs.

Finally, yes, this would be me with some Buddist buddies in Asakusa when 710 ESPN reporter Shannon Drayer was nice enough to snap my pic after we ventured out on the subway and toured the Sesoji Temple.

Japan is definitely a beautiful country and interesting culture, one that I was glad to experience. And, now, I’m glad to be back home.

Here’s a sneak peek inside odd Tokyo Dome bullpen

This is not an excuse for the Mariners bullpen’s effort on Thursday when they gave up five hits and three runs — as well as three home runs — while getting just five outs in the 4-1 loss to the A’s.

That faceplant by Shawn Kelley, George Sherrill and Steve Delabar spoiled a strong start by Jason Vargas and all three take full responsibility.

But it is interesting, as I wrote in this story before Thursday’s game, how different the bullpen setup is at the Tokyo Dome. You want to know how different things are on this trip? Here’s a picture of where the relievers sit during games.

They’re in “the dungeon” as they called it, a closed-in room underneath the stands back by the hitting cages. They can’t see the game except on a small television set by the chairs where they sit in the back corner. They can barely hear the crowd. They warm up out of sight of everyone, then come through a tunnel out onto the field.

It’s not an excuse and it should have nothing to do with how Thursday’s game came out. But it’s interesting, no doubt, to see how different some things are here in Japan.

A lot of fun stuff went on this week, but the team is ready to get back to normal.

“I’m ready to go home,” said one reliever. And I’m pretty sure he wasn’t alone.

Carp placed on 15-day DL with sprained shoulder

Mike Carp was placed on the 15-day disabled list after spraining his shoulder attempting a diving catch on Wednesday. (Greg Johns/MLB.com)

Tough break right out of the gate for Mariners left fielder Mike Carp, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list on Thursday in Tokyo after spraining his right shoulder trying to make a catch in Wednesday’s opener.

Carlos Peguero was recalled from Triple-A Tacoma to take his place on the roster, while Chone Figgins gets the start in left field Thursday after playing third base in the opener. Kyle Seager will start at third.

Carp, 25, suffered the injury while laying full out for a line drive by Oakland’s Kurt Suzuki in the fourth inning that turned into a double. He stayed in through the entire 11-inning game, going 0-for-4 but making several running catches later in the game.

Peguero, 25, was already with the team in Japan as part of the 30-man travel roster, but was optioned to Triple-A on Tuesday to get the Mariners to the 28-man limit for the two games in Japan.

Carp will be re-evaluated when the team returns to Peoria, Ariz., on Friday. He was one of the Mariners’ breakthrough stories last year when he hit .276 with 12 home runs and 46 RBIs after being called up in midseason.

If Carp recovers quickly enough, he would be eligible to return by the Mariners home opener on April 13 against the A’s, which would mean missing the next seven games.

Peguero hit .196 in 46 games last year with six home runs and 19 RBIs. The 6-foot-5, 245-pounder has a team-leading four home runs in Cactus League play this spring and has hit .256 in 43 at-bats.

Here’s the full lineup for tonight’s game, which starts at 2:04 a.m. in Seattle:

Chone Figgins LF
Dustin Ackley 2B
Ichiro Suzuki RF
Justin Smoak 1B
Jesus Montero DH
Kyle Seager 3B
Miguel Olivo C
Michael Saunders CF
Brendan Ryan SS

Jason Vargas P

Scenes from the Tokyo Dome on Opening Night

Great game last night from a Mariners perspective with the 3-1 win in 11 innings, highlighted by Ichiro’s homecoming drama and four-hit night.

Our MLB.com team knocked out a bunch of good stories that you can find on Mariners.com. I love this one on Tom Wilhelmsen talking about going out and sitting in the Hanshin Tigers rooting section Monday when they played the A’s, the fans having no idea the guy they were knocking thundersticks with was a Major League pitcher.

My game story talks about the big night for Ichiro, Dustin Ackley and Felix Hernandez with their postgame thoughts. You can read that here. Our A’s writer, Jane Lee, covers the Oakland perspective. My colleague Doug Miller did a story on Ichiro’s triumphant return, former Mariners.com associate Taylor Soper wrote a piece from Seattle on the season ticket holder’s viewing party at Safeco Field for the 3 a.m. game, here’s a look ahead at Thursday’s game with Jason Vargas taking on Bartolo Colon.

That’s a lot of words from Tokyo. And here are a couple pictures I snapped as well to show a little Tokyo Dome flavor.

Yes, there was a King’s Court in the Tokyo Dome. This is Mariners security guard and avid fan Daryl Chadderdon, keeping the court alive and well half way across the world.

Here are fans lined up to buy concessions, with Mariners items the seemingly popular item. A Mariners shirt, that would be 6,000 yen. Most Tokyo Dome fans lined up solidly in favor of Seattle, with lots of Ichiro jerseys. Did see a couple A’s shirts, but they were in the distinct minority.

Ballpark food is a little different here, but you can certainly find plenty to eat. And drink. They have beer girls who run around the stands all during the game, carrying a small keg on their back in a pack and pouring a fresh glass right at your seat.

And before the game, a familiar face popped into the Mariners dugout. That’s former closer Kazuhiro Sasaki on the right, greeting new infielder Munenori Kawasaki and old trainer Rick Griffin. Not that Griffin is old, but you know what I mean. Kazu will throw out the first pitch before Thursday’s game.

 

 

Latest health update on Gutierrez and Moore

Franklin Gutierrez was placed on the 15-day disabled list on Wednesday, but remains on schedule in his rehab work in Arizona. (Greg Johns/MLB.com)

The Mariners placed Franklin Gutierrez and Adam Moore on the 15-day disabled list Wednesday to get their roster to the required 28 players for Opening Day, but manager Eric Wedge said both players are progressing nicely in their rehabs back in Peoria, Ariz.

Both DL moves are retroactive to March 24, which means they’d technically be eligible to return the fifth game of the season — the start of the Rangers series in Texas on April 9.

Wedge said Moore could be able to catch in games as soon as the team returns to Arizona on Friday. Realistically, he figures to open the season in Triple-A Tacoma since the Mariners already have Miguel Olivo, Jesus Montero and John Jaso, but he will at least be available fairly soon if something happens to that group and he could be able to help out in the five Cactus League games when the club gets back to Arizona.

Gutierrez is a bigger question mark. It’s been a month since the Gold Glove center fielder felt his pectoral muscle give out while making a throw in practice. The Mariners said then that it’d be at least four weeks until he could resume baseball activities and Wedge said he’s “still on line, still on schedule to do everything.”

Gutierrez has done some very easy throwing, Wedge said, while mostly doing pool work to stay in condition.

Wedge said the biggest question is how long Gutierrez will  need once he is able to throw full out.

“The biggest thing for me is, how much time does he need to play?” Wedge said. “It’s not just getting healthy. He didn’t have a Spring Training so we’ve got to make sure he’s prepared to compete.”

Opening Day lineups and a pregame crowd crunch

It’s 12:10 a.m. Seattle time and the Mariners are lining up for a team picture on the Tokyo Dome field, with about 500 fans pushing forward to get their own picture from as close as possible to the rail. Police bullhorns are blaring as they try to get crowd control.

My hunch is this is largely about Ichiro as well as Munenori Kawasaki and Hisashi Iwakuma, since the A’s have been on the field warming up for 30 minutes and nobody is paying any attention to them.

As much as everyone wants to make this a normal Opening Day, there’s nothing much normal about this week in Japan for either the Mariners or A’s. But they’ll get going here three hours from now for real, with a 7:04 p.m. first pitch in Tokyo (3:04 a.m. in Seattle).

Manager Eric Wedge is going with the starting lineup we’ve expected the last week or so, the same one that played Sunday’s exhibition game against the Hanshin Tigers … except that guy named Felix is on the mound for Seattle and that’s usually a good thing. He’s 3-0 with a 1.70 ERA in three prior Opening Day starts, including a shutout of the A’s last year in Oakland.

Here’s the full lineup:

Chone Figgins 3B
Dustin Ackley 2B
Ichiro Suzuki RF
Justin Smoak 1B
Jesus Montero DH
Mike Carp LF
Miguel Olivo C
Michael Saunders CF
Brendan Ryan SS

Felix Hernandez RHP

Pictures from an eye-opening day in tsunami-torn region of Japan

A difficult day Tuesday in Tokyo, not because of the long hours, but because of the sobering scene from a tour through the tsunami-ravaged city of Ishinomaki.

The coastal city, located about 210 miles from Tokyo, was 45 miles east of the epicenter of the 9.0 earthquake that hit Japan on March 11, 2011.

As part of its Opening Series efforts in Japan this week, the Mariners and A’s each sent representatives to the city for a quick baseball clinic for 100 kids and to offer a check for $500,000 from MLB and the MLB Players Association to help rebuild  the city’s baseball stadium.

I filed this story on Mariners.com, which describes the day in full. But I also snapped a bunch of pictures along the way and those can help tell the story as well. It’s a story Wedge hopes inspires more people to help, more people to remember and more people to continue offering whatever they can for a region that remains devastated a year later.

Here’s some of what we saw as we drove through the region:

These are cars, just piled on top of each other. Abandoned, rusted, battered by the water and now just stacked in a huge lot. 

This might have been the toughest thing to see, an elementary school that was hit hard by the waves as the children huddled in the upper floors. And then as cars and other debris bounced off the building, a fire broke out and many died. In Ishinomaki, nearly 5,000 people died and more than 50,000 were left homeless.

Hundreds of houses, like this one, remain abandoned and battered. Many of the residents who survived now live in temporary housing as the town tries to slowly rebuild.

After driving through that devastation, the Mariners players and Wedge arrived and did their best to lift spirits. That wasn’t hard as their mere arrival was cheered by a throng of more than a thousand, most of whom merely wanted to wave hello. Others lined up in a greeting row and gave high fives as Hisashi Iwakuma, Alex Liddi and Wedge came through.

Wedge and the three players then split up to offer coaching clinics. Wedge (below) and Liddi provided batting instruction, while Iwakuma and Hector Noesi worked with the young pitchers.

In the end, the day was about smiles like these. Happy faces, happy kids. You’d never have known their lives were turned upside down a year earlier. They’re just kids who love baseball and clowning for cameras. They were the reason for hope on this day. And a reason to remember there are still a lot of people who need help in Japan a year after the fourth-largest recorded earthquake in world history.

Mariners set their 28-man roster for opening games

 Busy day again here in Tokyo, as I took an incredible bullet train trip to Sendai and then a bus ride through the tsunami-ravaged city of Ishinomaki with a group of journalists and some members of the Mariners and A’s, including Seattle manager Eric Wedge.

I’ll put a post up shortly with pictures from both the devastation and the kids clinic that the players put on with 100 young players who were thrilled to spend time with the Major Leaguers. But while we were on that journey, the Mariners announced their final 28-player roster for the two-game series with the A’s.

To get down to 28, outfielder Carlos Peguero and reliever Chance Ruffin were optioned to Triple-A Tacoma and catcher Guillermo Quiroz was reassigned to the Minor League camp.

Additionally, the Mariners selected three players on Minor Legue contracts — infielder Munenori Kawasaki and pitchers Kevin Millwood and Erasmo Ramirez. That puts those three on the 40-man roster, which is now full.

As expected, the Mariners will designate pitchers Millwood, Hiashashi Iwakuma and Hector Noesi as their three ineligible players for the Japan Opening Series, leaving them with a 25-man roster for the two games. The actual roster is at 28, so three more players will need to be moved before Seattle returns to regular-season play back in the States on April 6 in Oakland.

But for now, here are the remaining 28:

Starting pitchers:  Felix Hernandez, Jason Vargas, Blake Beavan, Noesi and Millwood.

Relievers: Steve Delabar, Shawn Kelley, Brandon League, Tom Wilhelmsen, Charlie Furbush, Lucas Luetge, George Sherrill, Iwakuma and Ramirez.

Catchers: Miguel Olivo, Jesus Montero, John Jaso.

Infielders: Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley, Brendan Ryan, Chone Figgins, Kyle Seager, Alexi Liddi, Munenori Kawasaki.

 Outfielders: Mike Carp, Michael Saunders, Ichiro Suzuki, Casper Wells.

Pictures tell the story from Blackhawk trip over Tokyo

Had an awesome time today on a trip to Camp Zama, a U.S. Army base about 30 miles south of Tokyo, that I was lucky enough to be a part of along with a small crew of Mariners players and a couple other media members.

Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak and George Sherrill represented the Mariners in a tour of the base, meeting with several hundred service members and their families, signing autographs and taking pictures.

The highlight of the trip was the transportation, a pair of Blackhawk helicopters that flew us from Tokyo to the base, about a 15-minute flight that offered a fabulous view of the sprawling city.

On the way back, the pilot of the chopper the three players were in decided to have a little fun and took the boys for a thrill ride they won’t soon forget. You can read my full story on that here.

I took pictures of everything going on during the tour and figured I’d share some of those on the blog.

Here are the three aviators waiting to board their bird.

This is Ackley in the cockpit, checking out the controls, as Smoak looks on. Smoak, by the way, could barely squeeze into the cockpit and the pilots said there’s a 6-foot-1 height limit on guys flying the Blackhawks.

Here is Smoak checking out the view over Tokyo.

This is what he is seeing out the window, as Tokyo is a massive city that just seems to go forever.

Here is Ackley, already taking deep breaths to steady his nerves. And the pilot hadn’t even started to get crazy yet!

Once on the Army base, the players met with service men and their families, as well as a local youth team. The kids seemed particularly interested in the big hulking first baseman.

George Sherrill talks to a couple of the Blackhawk crew members at the autograph line as the players signed for every service member and family members who came to the event.

Once back at the home base, the players jumped out of the Blackhawk and headed back to their hotel to get ready for the evening’s game against the Yomiuri Giants. And Smoak gave the pilots a big thumbs-up on his way out.

Wedge giving some starters a rest vs. Yomiuri

Mariners manager Eric Wedge will give some of his backups playing time tonight against the Yomiuri Giants in the team’s second exhibition game in Tokyo.

Kyle Seager, Alex Liddi and Muneori Kawasaki are all in the lineup, while reliever Hisashi Iwakuma will start on the mound and then not be used at all in the first two regular-season games on Wednesday and Thursday against the A’s.

Wedge said Iwakuma, Hector Noesi and Kevin Millwood will be the three players designated as not eligible for the two games with the A’s from the 28-man roster the team will have to announce on Wednesday by 1 p.m.

The club has not yet said which other players will be moved off the roster to get from the current 30 players in Japan down to the chosen 28.

Wedge said shortstop Brendan Ryan and catcher Miguel Olivo will not be used at all tonight to give them an extra break before the opener. The club has a workout on Tuesday, then faces the A’s at 7:04 p.m. on Wednesday (3:04 a.m. in Seattle).

Even though Iwakuma is destined to open the year in the bullpen, Wedge hopes he can get to the “middle of the game or deeper” against the Giants.

Here’s the full lineup for the Yomiuri game:

Chone Figgins CF
Dustin Ackley 2B
Ichiro Suzuki RF
Justin Smoak DH
Jesus Montero C
Mike Carp LF
Kyle Seager 3B
Alex Liddi 1B
Munenori Kawasaki SS

Hishahi Iwakuma RHP

 

 

 

 

“We’ll continue to try to get eveyrbody in there for most part. Olivo and Ryan will be kept out to give them a ocuple days.

We’ll continue to give guys the playing time they need to have and the time off they need in regard to opening day.

“I do lik eht efact we’ve got an offday tomorrow. Fact of the matter, it’s still the exhibition season, but it is different. IT’s obviously ramped up a little bit with everyting else going on. From a reposnisibity standipoint, I respect the fact that these guys want to go out and we want them to go out and be a part of the community and visit places and see popele that they need to see.

Tomorrow I won’t be at workout and a copule players are goin gwith me to Sedaii. We’ve got guys going out every day doing things. I think the challenge probably starts after today and I like the fact there is a day there – kind of a buffer – between what we have been doing and preparing for those first copule games against Oakland.”

 

Iwakuma; We’ll go ahead and pitch him at least til the middle protion of the game, if not longer. Just becaues of the way it works out, we’ve got to designate a couple three guys that aren’t eligible for those first two games, along with Noeis andMillwood. We wanted him to start over her enad continue to lengntehn him out, so with that he won’t b eeligible fo rhtose first few games.

Hopefully he’s able to get ot the midlde protion or deeper. We’ve got a couple other relievers we want to get out there as well. I’m looking forward to watching him go out there.”

 

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