The week of our JapanBall tour evaporated. Checking in and out of hotels, jumping on and off trains, grabbing food at convenience stores, squeezing in a lot of sightseeing, and actually seeing five games in seven days have left my head spinning. On top of that, when the baseball portion of the tour ended, I went to Disney Sea, Sanrio Puroland, and Yamagata to visit friends of a friend.
But the biggest part was, of course, the baseball. I had the opportunity to see three different ballparks that I didn't see last year (Skymark Stadium in Kobe, Mazda Zoom Zoom Stadium in Hiroshima, Seibu Dome in Saitama). We started off the frenetic week in Tokyo to see the Yakult Swallows play the Yomiuri Giants in Tokyo Dome.
The scoreboard at Tokyo Dome shows the matchup with the Yakult Swallows. The Giants, Japan's first professional baseball team, are celebrating their 75th anniversary this season.
Tokyo Dome's puffy ceiling would come into play during our game. Balls hit the ceiling twice, resulting in hits, one which tied the game in the bottom of the 9th.
Japanese teams don't have just one mascot, they have an entire family of mascots. These creatures are rabbits from outer space. Well, I'm not exactly sure of that, but I do know that the main mascot (wearing jersey #555) is named Giabbit.
The starting lineups are written in kanji for native Japanese players and katakana for foreigners.
A Yakult Swallows fan holds his thundersticks.
In Japan Ichiro is still ichi-ban. He hawks Kirin beer in this ad at Tokyo Dome.
Here's Giabbit on a Giants noisemaker.
We went to Kobe for our second game to watch the Buffaloes play at Skymark Stadium.
Here's the view of the outfield and the scoreboard.
The scoreboard has the players' names in the more traditional Japanese style, from top to bottom.
Tuffy Rhodes is announced on the scoreboard. This is his 13th season in Japan, the most of any foreigner. Each Japanese team is allowed four foreign position players, but Rhodes does not count as a foreigner for the Buffaloes. To be exempt, a player must have at least 9 years of experience in Japan.
The Buffaloes fan club cheers in support of Tuffy . . .
. . . but he would have a disappointing day. He finished the game 0 for 5 with 3 strikeouts.
The Chiba Lotte Marines fan club were out in full support of manager Bobby Valentine.
I think Bobby V is the guy leaning on the top step of the Marines dugout, right next to the corner of the yellow sign.
The Marines and Buffaloes mascots jackass around between innings.
It was hot that day - and both teams aren't playing well - so there were a couple of empty seats in the outfield.
This Buffaloes fan talked to us for a few minutes, then he bought us custard cakes. Japanese people are so nice!
Walking to Mazda Zoom Zoom Stadium in Hiroshima. This is my new favorite stadium ever.
The exterior of the Hiroshima Carp's home. The stadium opened this season.
The Carp played the Hanshin Tigers from Osaka, and the Tigers have some of the best and most loyal baseball fans in the world. They travel well.
The girls showed up for the game sporting their Tigers colors.
Making our way to our seats. The stadium is so open and friendly; it reminds me of Citi Field.
There are very few girls in America who would strap a keg on their backs and kneel with their knees on concrete and pour a beer with a smile. Japan is a wonderful place.
Domo kun is partial to Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, a kind of pancake filled with cabbage, pork, bean sprouts and yakisoba noodles. As you can see by Domo's expression, it's delicious!
Every stadium in Japan has a great scoreboard and amazing graphics. The starting lineups are announced with a video of each player. Here is Akihiro Higashide, who is the second baseman for the Carp.
The lively Hanshin Tigers fan club occupied the upper deck in left field. They played drums and trumpets, clapped thundersticks, and sang all afternoon.
A couple of times during the game, the fans held up red signs that read "Just do it now!"
The "Just do it now!" signs bathed the stadium in a sea of red.
Just do it now!
Our fourth game was closer to Tokyo, in Tokorozawa, Saitama. We met a true Seibu Lions fan on the train, and we marveled at her toenails. Her favorite player is #3 Hiroyuki Nakajima, the Lions shortstop. He succeeded Kazuo Matsui when he left the Lions to play for the Mets in 2004. On this night, Nakajima started and went 1 for 3 with a walk.
The Lions are owned by Seibu, a company that owns a railway line, department stores and a hotel chain. The Seibu Dome is only a few steps away from the train station.
The Seibu Dome is in the background. Fans just getting off work - or perhaps leaving work early - mingle near the ballpark where food and souvenir stalls are set up.
KFC at the Seibu Dome! The colonel on the left says that there are KFC stores on the first and third base sides of the stadium. The colonel on the right says to eat chicken and support the Lions.
I was surprised to see a truck selling Okinawan food outside the Seibu Dome.
On the Okinawan menu: Okinawan soba, taco rice, tacos, and soki don (spare ribs over noodles). Yummy!
This young fan is excited and ready for the game!
Cheerleaders doing something outside of the stadium. Basically, this picture is the result of letting a young male tour mate hold onto my camera for a few minutes.
Fans in the outfield can enjoy the game picnic-style . . .
. . . or they can sit at picnic tables like these children who are enjoying a bento.
This beer girl is already tired, and the game hasn't even started yet.
This girl is more enthusiastic. She's selling lemon-flavored whiskey sours. Or something like that.
This vendor is actually mixing a liquor drink in the stands. Not something you see in the States, unless you pay $1200 for a Yankees ticket and order a martini.
Our beer girl was happy to pour drinks for our group, which she did a lot.
She also was kind enough to indulge us with a photo with Domo kun.
The cheerleaders are finished with whatever they were doing outside, and are now pumping up the crowd during the pregame ceremonies.
The starting lineup for the Lions is announced.
The starting lineups for both teams. And Ichiro again. He's everywhere.
Inside the Seibu Dome, which is only partially a dome. Not sure if you can tell, but there is open space at the top of the stands.
The rare Orestes Destrade shirt. The ESPN baseball analyst played for the Seibu Lions from 1989-1992 and 1995 and won three Japan Series titles.
Lions fans wave flags during the 7th inning stretch. I don't think they actually call it that here, though.
I said hello to this cute brother and sister. After they posed for this picture, they didn't leave me alone for the rest of the game. My friend John warned me not to talk to strangers on this trip.
Our last game was at Meiji Jingu Stadium, the home of the Yakult Swallows and near the grounds of a sacred Shinto shrine.
On the menu tonight: Gyoza . . .
. . . and curry rice!
I recorded video at the Swallows game instead of taking a lot of pictures. My next project is to edit the video and post it here. I hope that happens soon!