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An American Baseball Fan in Japan
by Michele Christopher
Fictional Universe is on vacation this week. Please welcome in its place, Gordon - an American in Japan who will occasionally write about that for FTTW
A few weeks ago I went to my first Japanese professional baseball game. As I understand it, it is a right of passage of sorts for Americans in Japan. I'm not so sure about all that, but I do have to say that it was a memorable experience...except for the parts I can't remember.
Can't remember...it bears noting that in Japan, like in the States, beer is an essential part of the ballpark experience. And real beer too, none of this pussy-ass Bud Light crap...only the premium stuff, in BIG goddamn 500 ml cans for about five bucks a pop. Cheaper than a bar, for chrissakes. So of course the first (and second and third) thing we did when we arrived at the park was beer up.
Who is this “we” you might ask. Our crew consisted of Canadian Les, English Matt, Loud-Ass Norm, and me (Smart-ass). It was my first Japanese game, and Matt's first baseball game EVER. He loves to study, however, so he read up on baseball fairly thoroughly before we went, which led to a lot of awkward baseball theory talk, especially after the game got underway.
Where, you might also ask. The Nagoya Dome, home of the Nagoya Chunichi Dragons is where we went. The Dragons had clinched the Central League Championship several days before, and were playing with a noticeable lack of enthusiasm. The team they were matched up with was the basement dwelling Yokohama Baystars. Can you picture the excitement? No wonder our tickets were so cheap.
Which leads to a quick explanation on the nature of Japanese pro yakyu (baseball). If you noticed, the Nagoya Chunichi Dragons have three names. Most teams in Japan have a corporate sponsor whose name is included in the team name, and often, the team is referred to simply by the sponsor's name. Nagoya's sponsor is the Chunichi Shimbun, the big regional newspaper. Yokohama is simply known as the Baystars Guess somebody was too cheap. My favorite team name, however, goes to this year's Japan pro-yakyu champs, the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters. Say that name a couple of times to yourself. Then consider that they are often referred to as “the Ham Fighters”. Then stop giggling...really, stop... I'll give you a second. Ok. Whew.
Other than that, baseball is baseball. There are the same overblown egos, outsized paychecks, and massive disparities between the big-market teams and the small market teams, and more marketing than you can shake an official Chunichi noisemaking stick at. The play tends to run along conservative lines...lots of pulling up short and lots and lots of bunting. There are some teams styled after American League slugfest teams...big hitters and pisspoor defense, but at the moment they are the exception, not the norm.
So we went to watch the newspaper Dragons play what was basically a throwaway game against one of the worst teams in Japan, and hoping to instill an understanding of the intricacies of the sport in our cricket-loving compadre. What we witnessed alternated between disappointingly listless and mindbogglingly incomprehensible. Maybe the beer contributed to that, but there were times when trying to find the beer guy was the funnest thing we could do.
As I said before, the Dragons had pwned the Central League, and were looking ahead to the Japan series, while the Baystars had nothing to lose, but not really anything to gain either. The only really good stuff I saw came from the pitchers...Baystars pitchers wanting to look good against a quality side, and the Dragons wanting to use everybody to get them sharp for the Series. That turned out to be a good thing, because when the ball was actually put into play, the defense was so lazy (Dragons) and inept (Yokohama) that it was almost painful to watch.
The absolute worst foul-up that I think I have witnessed was also perpetrated by a Yokohama baserunner. He had actually gotten on base, which, judging by what we had seen up to that point, was no mean feat. 1 out, 1 man on, big bats coming up...what would you do? Well, this knucklehead decided he was gonna steal second. Ok, not the play I would call, but I can see that. So our runner is taking his lead, the pitcher has the ball...looking squarely at the runner...and the runner breaks for second while the pitcher has the ball and is watching him! There is a beat while the pitcher shakes his head and rubs his eyes, then the easy toss to second...OUT. Astounding.
By this point, though, we were all pretty drunk, so it took some checking and cross referencing to make sure that we had all just seen what we thought we had just seen. Sure enough. Even English Matt fully appreciated the spectacular stupidity of that particular move...”Shouldn't he have waited till the pitcher looked away?”...yes Matt, yes he should have.
As the game lurched toward the 9th inning, we devoted most of our attention to the beer guy. The Dragons eventually put it away, to the delight of the somewhat sparse but wholly partisan crowd. What followed was the super-awesome regular season wrapup spectacular celebration ...which consisted of a couple of speeches and the longest group photo session I have ever tried to ignore. The coolest part of the post-game do was the appearance of the “Don't Throw Shit” girls.
The “Don't Throw Shit” girls are simply girls that file into the aisles and balconies holding signs asking people politely to not throw things onto the field. I got a picture of our DTS girl, and was talking to her a little when she got a nasty look from her supervisor and was relocated so that she could devote all her energy into holding up her sign with no distractions. We did get yelled at though, thanks to Norm's home-made Dragons banner (bedsheet and magic marker). He figured we'd get on TV, we just got in trouble instead.
We bailed out of the Dome and into the crowd of politely enthusiastic Dragons fans milling around the stadium. There was a little restaurant selling 200 yen ($2) 600ml beers, so we beered up again, one for each of us and an emergency backup beer. We then waded into the crowd and I got a few interesting pictures, and we finally got to use Norm's banner, which attracted a few curious folks wanting to practice their English and meet the asshole foreigners.
I bailed out early though...I had a job interview bright and early the next day. Turns out that was the best play of the evening, as the fellers went out to the bars afterwards and Les ended up locked in the ladies room curled up around the toilet. All in all a quality evening, but the next time I see a game, its gonna be a day game, outside, and featuring the Hiroshima Carp (second funniest name in Japanese baseball, and snappy infield D).
Gordon knows the locations of every used panty vending machine in Japan