Friday, September 10, 2010

Game 4: Chiba Lotte Marines vs Orix Buffaloes. The Game Was Close, and the Seats Were Closer

There are two Japanese professional baseball teams that call Osaka home. The Hanshin Tigers are the favored team with a rabid fan base and commercial success. The Orix Buffaloes? Eh, not so much. It’s tough to be the redheaded stepchild in a baseball-mad city, and we though it would show when our JapanBall tour group arrived at the Kyocera Dome in Osaka to see the sad-sack Buffaloes against the Chiba Lotte Marines.

The Kyocera Dome is a spaceship on the streets of Osaka

The Kyocera Dome peaks through the buildings of Osaka, like a spaceship that landed in Japan’s third largest city. The inside is much the same. Look up at the ceiling, and you’d think a UFO was hovering above you. At first, members of our group wedged ourselves into the narrow seats, wondering how in the world we would sit in that cramped state for three hours. Luckily for us – and sadly for Orix – that UFO must’ve beamed up most of the fans because our section was sparse. 

The UFO is landing
The Kyocera Dome holds more than 36,000, but attendance on this night was 14,000+.

In exchange for the fans, the UFO dropped down the strangest mascots who performed bizarre pregame festivities. We saw a goya (Okinawan vegetable) riding a motorcycle onto the field. He then wrestled with a primitive man. I thought I was at a minor league game in the States. Or watching the Mets.
Goya antagonizes the crowd . . .
. . . which awakens the primitive man
A smackdown ensues

Once the game started, we were able to spread out and enjoy what we thought would be a rout by Bobby V’s former team. Orix starting pitcher Chihiro Kaneko had other ideas. After giving up 3 runs in the first inning, Kaneko, who was riding an 10-game win streak, settled down to shut out the Marines for the next 7 innings. Former major leaguer and 2-time World Series champion So Taguchi put the Buffaloes ahead with a pinch-hit, 2-run home run in the bottom of the 7th. Orix reliever Yoshihisa Hirano tried to blow it in the 9th, but held on for the 5-4 win

Chihiro Kaneko upped his record to 15-7 with his win over the Marines
41-year-old So Taguchi returned to Japan this season and hit the game-winning home run

Wherever I am, I’m reminded of the unpredictable nature of baseball. What we thought would be a dog of a game ended up being the most exciting one of the tour. That’s what makes baseball great, on any level, in any country.

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