May 11, 2008

Sunday Afternoon at Koshien (Hanshin Tigers Game)

Well. We are officially Hanshin Tigers fans.

This afternoon (after a very nice Mother's Day breakfast!), we went to our first Tigers game at Koshien Stadium. The tickets came courtesy of The Williams family; Jeff pitches for the Tigers, and his daughter is in Lauren's class at school.

Koshien Stadium is the oldest and most famous of Japan's ballparks. It often referred to as Japan's Fenway Park. What a terrific place to see a game. Koshien is an old ballpark with a small feel to it. It has a mini "green monster" in centerfield, an old fashioned scoreboard, and green walls and girders. But it has been newly refurbished as of this year, giving it a clean new feeling.

The Tigers fans (torakitchi) have to be among the greatest sports fans in the world. The stands were packed on this sunny afternoon, everyone decked out in Tigers colors, with their thunder-sticks that are beat in unison to chants for each player when they are at bat. The chants are led by the band and flag wavers who sit in the bleachers. When the Tigers are at bat, it is constant energy and cheering for their favorite players, Kanemoto (clean-up hitting LF, now 40, but a productive player and major superstar for the Tigers over the years, recently getting his 2000th hit), Arai (number 3 hitter and run-producing 1B, an off-season acquisition for the Tigers this year; named Player Of The Month for the league in April), Akahoshi (speedy CF and lead-off man), and Toritani (slick fielding SS, among the league leaders in batting average this year).

We, of course, enjoyed the 7th inning stretch and post-game celebratory jetto fusen (the releasing of thousands of long balloons), after the singing of Rokko Oroshi (the Tigers' fight song). On the train on the way home, Jacob was singing the only words of the song that we really caught - "Hanshin Tigers." During the game, Jacob actually left us for a couple of innings and sat with the Williams family in the 3rd row behind the Tiger's dugout.

Click on the following links to check out our videos from the game of the 7th inning and the final out (complete with squeals and screams of Jacob and Lauren).

In game action, the league-leading Tigers took this one, 3 to 1, relying on good starting pitching, timely hitting, and their famed "JFK" bullpen combination of Jeff Williams ジェフウイリアムス (LH setup man), Tomoyuki Kubota 久保田 (RH setup man), and Kyuji Fujikawa 藤川 (Closer). Today was Jeff's first game back after being on the DL for most of the season. He pitched a scoreless 8th inning, showing off a filthy slider on a strikeout and inducing a double-play after giving up a bouncing ball single. Along with Arai, Jeff was named player of the game (an honor which includes being interviewed on the field after the game - and all the fans stick around to listen to the interview and cheer!). Below is our picture of the on-field interview (see here for the Hanshin Tiger's website version).

This was - without a doubt - our best baseball experience in Japan to date. And frankly, we can say that we prefer baseball at Koshien to baseball in the U.S. - smaller feel, more energy and excitement, the family-friendly atmosphere of the minor and independent leagues in the U.S., but the enthusiasm and fan-following of MLB.

Here are some notes about Japanese baseball (since we've now been to three different ballparks and four games):
  • We love the beer girls; they are decked out in fluorescent green and orange uniforms, with kegs strapped to their backs. Hard to miss.
  • One simple but great concept here in Japan (on the mundane side): Stadium employees walk up and down the aisles throughout the game with huge plastic bags for garbage. Everyone throws their garbage in. It really keeps the stadium clean.
  • All the teams use English lettering for the player names on the backs of the uniforms. We don't know why.
  • The bands, cheering, flag waving, thunder-stick clapping is so much fun. It really makes baseball back home seem boring by comparison.
  • The players are very fundamentally sound hitters. There is tons more small-ball here - working to manufacture runs. When a runner gets on with no outs, the next guy is almost always bunting him over to second.
  • While not every player here could be a successful major leaguer, there is clearly talent here. For example, the Tiger's closer Fujikawa definitely brings it. The superstars like Ichiro, Matsui, Matsuzaka, and now Fukodome (and a bunch of others) who have transferred over have certainly held their own in MLB. (There are now enough Japanese players in MLB for the local NHK sports to do a half-hour show on their daily performances.)
By the way, speaking of baseball, yesterday we bought a used child-sized metal bat for Jacob. We had not brought one with us and he really missed hitting. Mike took Jacob and his new bat out to the park with a 10-pack of used tennis balls and Jacob was slugging away. (We probably are biased but...) he is such a natural hitter. He hit 10 straight and far line drives at one point and was turning on inside pitches like crazy. He's like a little Manny Ramirez - real quiet stance and then unleashes. So much fun!


Brian Matteson said...

I counted a Fenway Park reference and a favorable comparison of Jacob to Manuel Aristedes Ramirez.

I think Japan is doing the Kasdans some good!


J & S said...

Pinstripes forever! No reference to anything from Boston!
Go Yanks!
Of course Jacob is a natural at hitting; it's in the genes.

The pictures are wonderful. It's like we're at the game too!