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Baseball in Japan: Three More Games

Yokohama Stadium Lights

Yokohama Stadium Lights

I’m winging my way south tonight – leaving the northern hemisphere, heading toward parts I’ve never visited before. I have been south before: South Africa and Swaziland – but I am very much biased toward the northern hemisphere in my travels.

While in Japan I attended three baseball games – on in Nagoya, one in Osaka, and one in Yokohama. While there are some obvious similarities – the fields are different and, consequently, the experiences were rather different.

Nagoya Dome

Swinging away at Nagoya Dome

Oddly my first game – at the Nagoya Dome – ended up being my least favorite, even though I sat next to one of the most interesting people I’ve ever sat next to at a random event. The Chunichi Dragons were hosting the Yokohama Baystars – and the home team won (go team!). The thing is that the Nagoya Dome, opened in 1997, screams generic 1970s era baseball dome in America – it’s a soulless place, with absolutely nothing that gives the physical environment any charm. About the only positive thing I can say about Nagoya Dome is that it offered free wifi, something not offered at either of the other two games I attended.

The interesting guy, sitting next to me, was the prime example of Generation Schengen – perhaps even more so: he was French, but when he was a baby, his parents moved to the Netherlands. For all intents and purposes – especially his accent – he’s Dutch. And boy does he know a lot about American sport – all of them (including some non-sports, like auto racing). His expertise ran the gauntlet from college through professional – and it sounded like he goes to America for vacation, just to watch sporting events. The conversation was exceptionally interesting – and certainly more than made up for the fact that Nagoya Dome is a soulless, pitiful, excuse for a stadium. I couldn’t even be bothered to buy anything to remember the game by.

Surprisingly, for a rainy Friday evening, the stadium was basically empty – there were vast acres of empty seats and it never felt full. Given the weather outside, one would think that fans would have streamed into the stadium – but no. Apparently the Dragons are unloved, even at home.

Koshien Stadium

Koshien Stadium, see from about as far from home plate as you can be, without being in the outfield stands.

My second game on this trip was the Hanshin Tigers hosting the Hiroshima Carp, down in Osaka. This was a splendid game and a splendid environment – even if the home team lost. Koshien Stadium is an old field, dating back to the 1920s, and it feels like it. I cannot recall ever having seen such narrow passageways to get around the stadium (I accidentally went in the wrong gate because I misread my ticket, so I got to see a lot of the stadium’s underbelly) – with nooks and crannies filled with food and gift stands.

Balloon Blowing / Seventh Inning Stretch

Blowing — getting ready for the seventh inning stretch….

Seventh Inning Stretch

During the seventh inning stretch, one lets go…

Cleaning up the Seventh Inning Stretch

After letting go, it’s clean-up time.

The overall atmosphere at the park was outstanding – I would heartily recommend a baseball experience with the Tigers as host. I even ended up buying a baseball jersey for one of the players, Mr. Fukudome – although I suspect that either he mispronounces his own name or I do.

Mr. Fukudome

Mr. Fukudome is my favorite Japanese baseball player.

The last game was the Yokohama DeNA BayStars hosting the Toyko Giants at Yokohama Stadium. I purposefully chose a hotel directly across the street from the stadium so that after the game was over, I could get to my room quickly and easily. From my seat to the hotel: less than five minutes.

Trying to pick off a BayStar

The BayStar made it back to first in time.

The field is artificial, but still charming. I had an excellent seat: third row, about 20-30 feet beyond first base. Unlike the other fields that I’ve been to in Japan, this one did not have netting protecting fans from foul balls this far out. The sightlines were excellent – for the most part. About the only bummer was the swarm of girls (and it was 95% girls) selling beer, coffee, and other assorted sundries. Since the first row of seats were back from the wall a few feet, the girls (and a million kids, between innings) walked in front of me as they shifted between aisles.

It’s been quite a few years since I last saw a professional baseball game in America and I suspect I will feel a bit let down: Japanese fans behave the way American fans behave at a basketball or football game: constant noise, constant drumming, constant chanting. It’s a vastly different experience from that of American baseball, which, as I recall, is fairly laidback and quiet. There’s nothing quiet about baseball games in Japan.

Yokohama Stadium

Sunset at Yokohama Stadium.

Of the four teams whose fields I’ve visited (remembering that I’ve seen the Hiroshima Carp), I would give a slight edge to the Hanshin Tigers over the Hiroshima Carp: both offer excellent visitor experiences. The Yokohama Baystars are in third place. Coming up a distant fourth are the Chunichi Dragons – I might even go so far as to recommend against watching the Dragons play at home, if you’re looking for an initial Japanese baseball experience. It’s that bad.

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