April 3, 2012
I have not written about the baseball game like I meant to! I went to a baseball game at Tokyo Dome about a week and a half ago. I have only been to two other professional baseball games in my life – Orioles vs. A’s at Memorial Stadium when I was in elementary school, and the Red Sox vs. somebody at Fenway Park on my senior trip in high school. So going to Tokyo Dome was my third pro game ever, and my first at an indoor stadium. I think baseball is better outside during the day – it just feels more like the “American pastime” that way. Sun on your face, wind in your hair…is it just me?
The reason I went to see this game was because my friend Liane mentioned it to me a few days beforehand. She’s an A’s fan, being from Oakland, and she said that the A’s and the Seattle Mariners were in town to play their opening games for the 2012 MLB season. I looked around a little bit, and I thought I’d like to go – I had wanted to experience a Japanese baseball game sometime while I was here, so why not go ahead right away? I definitely wanted to see a Japanese team too, though, so I picked the Oakland Athletics vs. the Yomiuri Giants. I picked the Giants over the Tigers because I was reading Jake Adelstein’s book Tokyo Vice, and he worked for the Yomiuri newspaper, so I figured that was as good a reason as any to pick a team. Of course, the Tigers are the underdogs in their rivalry with the Giants, and one likes to root for the underdog, but I went with the Giants because the word Yomiuri was in my brain from the book anyway.
I originally tried to get tickets at JapanBallTickets.com, but the site was confusing and the service charge was three times the cost of the tickets, so I jettisoned that idea quickly. With Liane’s help I was able to track down how to buy tickets at 7-11, so I did exactly that! I ended up needing some help from the cashier to work the ticketing machine (which also does tickets for museums, concerts, etc), but it was nice to be able to pay cash and receive my tickets on the spot. My ticket was in the center outfield on the first base side, and cost about $25.
I went to Tokyo Dome a few hours before the game would start, so I could look around a bit. The complex includes Tokyo Dome City (amusement park and more) and LaQua (shopping and restaurants) in addition to the stadium itself, and I wanted to have time to check them out. The only ride I was interested in was Thunder Dolphin, but it hasn’t been run since 2011, so who knows if I’ll ever get to ride it. I was kind of interested in the hubless ferris wheel, but it was 800 yen, so I changed my mind! Riding a ferris wheel alone is kind of silly, especially one that isn’t much taller than the surrounding buildings, so I would rather go to the government building in Shinjuku that is much taller and has a free observation deck. (Sunshine 60 also has a good observation deck, but it’s not free!) So I just wandered around a bit, enjoyed a Studio Ghibli store but didn’t buy anything, got overrun by people leaving the Tigers-Mariners game, and had a nice lunch of soba and tempura. It was probably the fanciest lunch I have had so far, and it was very expensive for what it was…a few days later I had a similar meal for about half the cost! But that’s what happens when you eat at a tourist place.
So after wandering around and eating, I headed over to check out the gate where I would enter the stadium. It was about an hour before it was supposed to start, but people were already lining up – only a few for the gate that leads to the cheap seats, but rather a lot for the gate that leads to better seats! I decided to sit down on the ground in line and read, the weather was nice and I was done walking around anyway. I was surprised to see that people had left things to mark their position in line and then gone away for a long while – I don’t think that sort of place-saving would be tolerated in the US. But it was respected here, and when a guy behind me taped down a sign saying he was going to the bathroom, the next people to arrive read it and dutifully stood behind it. There was a group of five young boys in line in front of me with an adult chaperone – they appeared to be a Little League team and coach – and the boys seemed to delight in trying to annoy me without actually interacting with me. I sat on the ground, and there were ropes marking the path of the line; the boys would pull on the rope at their end so it would whack me repeatedly in the head at my end, and when I looked over they would turn away and giggle. It didn’t hurt, and it was slightly amusing, but it was more annoying. Ah well, boys!
When the gates opened and we went inside, I noticed a sign saying you can’t bring bottles, cans, or anything like that into the stadium. I had brought some cans of chūhai, but I didn’t know what to do with them, so I entered with them anyway and figured I would just have to leave them in my backpack. I spotted a souvenir stand and bought a keychain souvenir for Liane, looked at the snack bar’s all-Japanese offerings, and then found my seat. I still had about an hour before the game started, so I just looked around and took it all in, and while looking at the scoreboard, I saw a notice saying any cans or bottles had to be poured into paper cups at the entrance. I quickly realized that the “free water” stand I had seen at the entrance was actually a collection of stadium employees who will pour your drinks into cups for you, and I brought my cans back to be repackaged. I think this rule has to do with ecology – making sure that all the cans and bottles get recycled instead of being thrown out. I’m not sure though, but I made sure to follow the rules once I figured them out! After bringing my new cups back to my seat, I left them there to get some food. It’s perfectly safe to leave things at your seat at the Tokyo Dome…theft is a very minimal problem in Japan, so I just left my backpack and drinks and went back to the snack bar. I had wanted a hot dog, because of course you get a hot dog at the ballpark, right? But they didn’t seem to have them, so I ended up with a katsu sando (messy) and a melon soda (tasty) which cost 1000 yen! Ah well, ballpark food is even more expensive than the food around the ballpark. It certainly explained why people had brought food, though.
During batting practice, people gathered along the edge of the stands in the hopes of catching a ball. I went down there and watched too, intending to duck any balls that players tossed my way. I noticed that a couple of kids were yelling “ボールください” (ball please) over and over at the A’s players, so I said to them “アメリカ人です、ボールください <X crossed arms> ball please!” (They’re Americans, “ball please” [in Japanese] <doesn’t work> [say] “ball please” [in English].) They picked up on it right away and started yelling “ball please! ball please!” instead, and sure enough one of the A’s players tossed a ball right at them and they walked away quite proud of themselves.
As the game was getting ready to begin, I noticed that the 1st base side outfield was the “cheering section” for the Yomiuri Giants. I figured this out by spotting the giant flags being waved saying YOMIURI GIANTS CHEERING SECTION in English…I’m a quick study, huh? There was a band playing too, and people were getting really noisy, so I took off my hearing aids which made it much better. As the game began, it was still pandemonium every time the Giants did something good, and the chants of players’ names were still nonstop, but at least I could hear myself think! (My hearing aids don’t do well with cacophony, and I have great difficulty processing multiple sources of auditory input – can’t have any noise, radio, etc. if somebody is talking to me – so a noisy baseball stadium is not a good place to have a conversation with me!)
The game was fun at first, and I enjoyed pretending to pick on the umpire’s decisions or the pitcher’s throws or whatever, though of course I had no idea what was going on. I know what Balls, Strikes, Outs, and Walks are, but that is about the limit of my baseball knowledge. I would get all excited over a strong hit by an A’s player, only to realize it was a foul. Oh well, it was amusing! At least until about the 5th inning, and then I started getting bored. Even if I couldn’t understand anything people were chanting (due to both auditory issues and language barrier), there was still the constant drone of their cheers, and I was getting a little headache. So I walked out to the restroom and then took a little tour…where I came upon the hot dog stand! They were 500 yen, though, and I had already spent $12 on the sandwich and soda, so I wasn’t going to spend another $6 on a hot dog. They seemed to be standard ballpark hot dog fare, whatever that is…nothing particularly unusual or “Japanese-y” about them. I was disappointed that I didn’t get one, because I would rather have had a hot dog than the katsu sando, but I have to be frugal, so I didn’t get it. Ah well.
I returned to my seat and the game wrapped up with the A’s beating the Giants 5-1. Leaving was fairly organized, there was no pushing or anything like that, I just walked back to the train station and went home. I’m really glad I chose to see a Japanese team, because although the official cheering section was a bit crazy, I don’t think it would have been nearly as wild if it was two MLB teams playing. Then again, the Mariners have Ichiro, and according to the “MLB in Japan” blogs, the stadium exploded whenever he scratched his nose, so perhaps it would have been that crazy even for the A’s vs. the Mariners! But I can catch MLB games back in the US, so I’d rather have at least one Japanese (NPB) team.
I don’t think I will be seeing a baseball game again while I’m here, as I’m not really a big fan of baseball. But Japan has truly adopted America’s pastime and they love baseball here, so I am glad I got to see at least one game, and affordably, too! I did come to appreciate that you don’t need to speak the same language to play baseball – the rules are the same and everybody can have some fun competition.
After seeing the game, at the recommendation of a friend, I watched Mr. Baseball on Netflix. It features Tom Selleck as a Yankees player who gets “traded” to the Chunichi Dragons. Of course he is angry about leaving the US, hates everything Japanese, and refuses to follow the manager’s instructions. But in the end he falls in love with the manager’s daughter and everything turns out fine, he stays in Japan and they all live happily ever after. It was entirely predictable, but cute. I liked the actor (Ken Takakura) who played the manager – I will have to see if I can find some of his films subtitled in English.
So that’s my “Baseball in Japan” post. Stay tuned for a post soon (tomorrow morning) about the Kanamara Matsuri!