Teaching In Socks


Hit Ball Hard
July 15, 2009, 4:03 pm
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Even before I arrived in Japan, the mythology of Japanese Baseball and it’s fans made going to game here an item on my Bucket List.  However, since my arrival there have been a  number of setbacks (sold out games, my inability to read a schedule, the offseason) which have prevented this from happening.

However, a visit from a friend and a trip to Tokyo provided the proper inspiration and I finally found myself at the Tokyo Dome, taking in a game between the first place Yomiuri Giants and the second place, cross-town rivals (although not main rivals) Yakult Swallows.

* It should be noted here that with the exception of the Yokohama Baystars, teams take on the name of the corporation that owns/sponsors them, not the region or city they represent.

At the game, surprisingly (not at all surprisingly in Japan) the first thing I noticed was the cleanliness. Japan is a remarkably clean country–despite seemingly to be devoid of public trash cans- yet to maintain this standard in a stadium of all places is remarkable especially considering that in America stadiums are cultivating their own brand of military-grade grime and shirtless fat people.

It’s a little depressing that the twenty-year-old Tokyo Dome is noticeably cleaner then the three-year-old McStadium the my hometown Cardinals play in, but you have to appreciate a job well done. That’s not to say I would eat off the floors here, but it is to say that said floors weren’t cheetah-spotted with old gum, nor were they coated in the traditional stadium flooring treatment of spilled beers and a mystery film that is physics-defying slick and sticky at the same time.

We were able to bring food and beers into the stadium with us which may be one of the reasons was the Nippon Professional Baseball league has struggled financially at times. Still, this seemed like an appropriate throwback to the right way to conduct a baseball game.

The biggest difference, and  the thing foreigners are bound to be most curious about is the food. I did a thorough scan of the concession board and here’s what I can report; Yes, there were Hotdogs (although the Japanese variety tastes a little different), there were also pretzels, chicken wings, Baskin Robbins ice cream (no helmet cups though). However, all of this was placed right alongside BBQ Eel, onigiri, and mystery meats on sticks. The only absence I noted was nachos, but let’s be honest they are obviously the least cannon and most digestively suspicious of  standard American Ballpark fare.

Now as much as I’d like to tell you I went on some bold culinary baseball journey, I didn’t. I stuck to the safe picks and avoided mixing beer and dairy. I did knock down a foot-long (or 30 cm long…whatevs) dog, some chicken wings, a pretzel and few draft beers (I forgot to mention that sake and whiskey were options as well).

The conventional theory is that you can tell a lot about a Culture by how they support their sports team. And while I think this theory often lends itself to blanket generalizations; on the regional level it does provide an interesting colloquial snapshot from which to draw some shaky insights. Thus, I was somewhat interested to see what fans of the Giants are like.

For those unaware, the Giants are Japan’s equivalent of the Yankees. They are the oldest and most successful team. They play in the biggest city and their players are often the biggest names making the most money. I have to say, the crowd was were the comparisons ended; they were polite and fantastic.

There were the organized chants and synchronized towel waving, and inbetween it was a crowd that was paying attention with watching with a knowledgeable eye. While there was lots of energy, my friend and I were perhaps the most rambunctious of the people around us simply because of the instinctual  American custom express displeasure when the umpire makes a questionable call–oh and my friend was giving out high fives to strangers around us in the midst of a global pandemic scare, regardless, the people in our section were extremely friend and patient. It was a wonderful balance.

They weren’t comatose and clueless like Atlanta Braves fans nor did I have some yelled umcomfortably close in my ear at inappropriate moment like I was at Fenway. And unlike St. Louis, everyone kept their shirt on.  I guess my only complaint was that it wasn’t strange enough. I wanted something odd and colorful to happen and all I got is a bunch of nice people being happy and expressing it a sociallyly acceptable way. I suppose I’ll have to wait for a Hanshin Tiger’s game for the real eccentrics.

By far the most promising thing Japanese baseball offered was the beer girls. It’s amazing how the complexion of the spectator experience changes when you replace the sweaty, potentially a sexual predator beer guy with a potential target for the former; a peppy twenty year old girl with a pony keg back pack dressed in bright neon clothes. Also, instead of muttering swear words under their breath, these girls seemed to have an endless supply of pep and energy (and they aren’t even getting tipped). Even after eight innings of huffing a pony keg through the stadium aisles their enthusiasm seem unwavering. It was impressive and a bit scary. Who knows what else they are capable of.

In the words of my mother, we brought home a winner and it was a ncie way to ease into the water of Japanese baseball. I’m looking forward ot catching the local team, The Hanshin Togers in action soon. They are known for being the loud, wild and absurdly passionate fans–which basically means there are at leats two ballon launches per home game. Interpret that however you will.

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