Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Looking Forward to Bobby V.; Looking Back at Japanese Baseball

A cat makes balloon animals for a little girl outside Chiba Marine Stadium.

Yesterday I posted an article on about Bobby Valentine's upcoming talk at the Japan Society. Writing about the former Rangers/Mets/Chiba Lotte Marines manager made me think about my baseball tours with JapanBall and the lively atmosphere of the Japanese game.

Cheerleaders perform before a game at Chiba Marine Stadium in September 2008

We went to a game in Chiba on our own, separate from the JapanBall group. The tour was over, but Marc and I stayed in Japan until the first weekend of October 2008. We loved the experience of the games so much that we went to three more before returning to New York. The Chiba game turned out to be special because it was the last game the legendary Sadaharu Oh, then the skipper of the SoftBank Hawks, would manage at Chiba Marine Stadium. Our JapanBall group had an audience with Oh before seeing a game in Fukuoka, and shortly after that game, Oh announced he would retire at season's end. Two of the last three games Marc and I saw on our own in Japan – in Chiba and in Sendai – were contests against Fukuoka. We felt as if we were on the Sadaharu Oh farewell tour.

Fans of the Chiba Lotte Marines release balloons during the Japanese version of the "7th Inning Stretch." Because of the H1N1 scare, this practice was eliminated during the 2009 season. (Too bad; it was an amazing thing to witness.)

Viewing Japanese baseball is a unique experience. The atmosphere, the fans, the fans' cheers, the food, the stadiums were at once overwhelming and incredible. 

Mascots pose with children on the field during pregame ceremonies.

While writing my article yesterday, I also thought about The Zen of Bobby V., a documentary in which NYU film students followed the charismatic manager for one season. I still have it on TiVo, so I might watch it again in anticipation of Thursday's lecture. Who knows? Maybe I'll muster the courage to ask Bobby Valentine a question about the state of baseball in Japan, especially now that he's no longer there. Would make an interesting article . . .

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