Most of my visits to Japan before moving here happened during summer and it was impossible not to notice how baseball dominated night time TV. It was everywhere. At some point during that time, I started reading former Mets manager Bobby Valentine’s blog, where he talked about what it was like to coach professionally here. And I was intrigued by the idea of indoor baseball, since I’d only been to outdoor games (Oakland Coliseum, Turner Field & Fulton County Stadium, Anaheim Stadium), so knew I’d have to get to a game at some point, just to see.
My first game was at the Tokyo Dome, to see the Giants play. I was blown away at the time about how a simple game could be so familiar … and yet so different. Oh, the game is the same, but the trappings are worlds apart: cheerleaders, team chants, brass bands, young women running around with kegs of beer (or bottles of whiskey). It was eye-opening and entertaining all at once.
The Yafuoku Dome here in Fukuoka, home to two-time national champs Softbank Hawks, is a short walk from home. Yet I hadn’t made it to a game until this weekend. I lucked into a pair of free tickets from Fukuoka Now for today’s game version the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters.(Yes, team names here can be a bit odd. The Fighters belong to Nippon-Ham, hence the name.) So I met up with my friend Lexi and off we went!
The seats were amazing (14th row, first base side) and it was easy to follow the play of the ball. Not that much happened during the first few innings, and for a while it seemed the Nippon-Ham Fighters were going to crush the hometown team, but the Hawks pulled out a good victory.The winning pitcher was a kid from Venezuela who came over from the Mexican league in the off season. This was one of his first major league games here, and he looked quite good. One of the opposing pitchers was named Chris Martin, which amused us greatly.
Along the way to victory, we got to hear the team chants for each player; got to sing along with the team fight song; watched the mascots and cheerleaders dance along to a Japanese version of “La vida loca”; and saw a giant hotdog strip out of its bun, which it then used to whale on another mascot and then streak across the field. Oh yes, and there were giant balloons that everyone blew up … and then released all at once (this happened twice — I absconded with one of the deflated balloons). And the befuddled looking mascot that looks like a baseball …on top of a bat? He fell over in the outfield after the game and just lay there for while. And the fireworks. Yes, fireworks, inside the dome.
After the game, we hit the Dugout store, which was full of rather more merchandise than I expected, including collaborations with the Detective Conan anime and others.
So yes, a fun baseball game, wrapped in surreal trappings. Thank you, Japan, for blowing my mind once again.