Sunday, September 6, 2009

There's No Tying in Baseball!

Well, in Japan there is. Our first game of the JapanBall 2009 tour was a contest between cross-town rivals the Yomiuri Giants against the Yakult Swallows at the Giants' home at the Tokyo Dome. It ended in a 3-3 tie after 12 innings.

This concept is unfathomable to those of us who love MLB and other forms of the American pastime, but here in Japan, it's perfectly logical. Soccer and hockey play to ties all the time, so why is it so difficult for us to wrap our heads around a tie in baseball? I think we're so conditioned to sitting through 17-inning Yankees/Red Sox battles that it's hard for us to consider other options.

But for Nippon Professional Baseball, it is an option, and a viable one at that. Despite having a rather large population in Tokyo (approaching 13 million, many of whom live in the vast reaches of Tokyo's urban sprawl), the Tokyo subway system stops running trains at 12:30am, which would leave some fans stranded after a ridiculously long contest. (Yes, they could take cabs, but that would cost more than tickets and concessions at the game.) So, the NPB settled for ties, and we witnessed one Friday night.

Another difference between Japan and the Majors is a smaller ball in Japan. It appears to bounce more than the official MLB one. I'm not completely sure, but I think the dimensions of the Japanese ballparks are smaller than those in the States, with the possible exception of right field at the new Yankee Stadium.

The atmosphere at the games is livelier and more fun in Japan. I always criticize the Mets for being like a Triple-A club with T-shirts being shot out of bazookas and a goofy mascot, but those are precisely the things I love about the Japanese clubs and stadiums.

Scantily clad girls armed with shiny pompoms dance on the field during pregame ceremonies, girls with kegs strapped to their backs serve beer to patrons,

a family of mascots greet a player at home plate after he hits a home run. I can't imagine a more entertaining atmosphere in which to spend a few hours.

The food!!!! With Shake Shack and sushi at Citi Field and the Hard Rock Cafe at Yankee Stadium, I know Major League ballparks are stepping up the options at concessions to go beyond the ubiquitous hot dog and popcorn, but the food at Japanese stadiums is incredible. At Tokyo Dome we found bento boxes - much like the one I had for lunch that afternoon - edamame and yakitori. They also had pizza, hot dogs and fries, but whey would anyone want to eat that when all of that yummy, foreign goodness is waiting to be consumed? I went with the edamame and yakitori:

And the Americans in London contingent (Stacey, Alex and Greg) savored the bento:

It's all so yummy. In the photo above Stacey displays pork katsu with rice, salmon, egg and vegetables (as well as good chopsticks skills).

The fans! Membership is required for the raucous fan clubs. They sit in the outfield and sing, chant, wave flags, play the drums and trumpets and hold up signs during the entire game.

It's one of the most amazing sites and sounds I've witnessed at a sporting event. Think the Wisconsin Badgers' "Jump Around" during every inning of every game. Even extra innings.

I loved seeing the kimono-clad girls at the Tokyo Dome. Not sure why the formal wear was necessary, but it makes a good picture. They were cheering on Giants outfielder Yoshiyuki Kamei.

One of the kimono-clad girls holds up a turtle during Kamei's at-bat. The outfielder's name is written in kanji as 亀井, with the 亀 character meaning turtle. Isn't that just really cool?

Their cheering was all for naught, however. Kamei (in the background at the plate) struck out in the bottom of the 10th.

There was a lot for this fan to contemplate during extra innings. Almost every Giants player changed positions, and 43 different players were used by both teams.

This fan didn't seem to mind how long the game lasted. He's sporting the jersey of Giants manager - and former star player - Tatsunori Hara. Hara also managed the victorious Japanese team in the 2009 World Baseball Classic.

This fan must consult her media guide to keep up with all of the pitching changes during the game.

Here's one of them: Bronx native Marc Kroon pitched two innings of relief for the Giants.

Even though both teams had opportunities to score during the bonus frames, no one could push a run across. Thus, the tie after 12 innings. Everyone left happy.


Marc said...

Very Japanese to just stop the game when they run out of innings on the scoreboard. :)

And while I haven't been to Shake Shack, I can assure everyone that the best food in the general concession offerings of the new Citi Field can't compete with the worst food at a Japanese ball park.

Anonymous said...

Wow! Acording to Tastunori Hara, this is the best game in the season of 2009.