Saturday, September 6, 2008

JapanBall 2008 - Game 1: Yomiuri Giants at Yakult Swallows

"I can’t believe you baseball fans spent all this money to go to the other side of the world and spend the game talking to each other instead of watching the game.  You could accomplish the same thing in an airport bar."

I suppose my husband, who is not a baseball fan, was right when he said this.  Yes, the purpose of the trip is to experience baseball in another country, but when a group of people from all parts of the U.S. gets together, there tends to be more talking about baseball than watching it.  It didn’t help that the game was not exactly exciting.  It was an 8-0 blowout in favor of the Yomiuri Giants.  I was impressed by the good fundamentals displayed on defense, but the overall feel of the game, in my opinion, was much like baseball in the States.

Frankly, there's a lot going on inside a Japanese professional ballpark; I was easily distracted from the game by the fans with their chants and their bands, the beer girls and other vendors, the mascots and dancing cheerleaders, the food.  It's sensory overload, much in the same way that Tokyo itself is overwhelming the first (and second and third and fourth) time on visits.  Sight: The amazing scoreboard. Sound: Drums, trumpets, chants for each player. Taste: Chicken kara age and a cold Yebisu.  Smell: Fried food and bento boxes from concessions. Touch: Sweaty, clammy skin in the Tokyo humidity.

And I caught a foul ball!  Well, I didn’t actually catch the ball; I picked it up off the ground after it nearly hit fellow JapanBaller Rick.  I offered him the ball, saying that since it almost hit him, it should be his.  He declined and told me the ball was mine. Bob Bavasi, the founder of JapanBall and the leader of our tour group, said that his father, the late Buzzie Bavasi of Brookyln/Los Angeles Dodgers fame, once broke his leg while putting on his underwear.  Bob told his father that he didn’t need to tell anyone how the leg was broken.  Therefore, I needn’t mention how the foul ball came into my possession; the important thing is I have it.  So all of you reading this must keep the details a secret.

I’m learning more about Japanese baseball, even if I'm not watching every pitch.  Wayne Graczyk, an ex-pat who has been involved in writing about Japanese baseball for more than 30 years, told me why the games here sometimes end in ties.  They do go to extra innings, but 12 is the limit.  It’s because the majority of fans take public transportation to games, and the subways don’t run 24 hours.  The officials at Nippon Professional Baseball recognize this and don't want their fans stuck in a ballpark in the middle of the night.  

I'm looking forward to learning more about Japanese baseball in the coming days and sharing it with everyone.  More from Kyoto as we take in games in Nagoya and Osaka.

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