Game 2 of the Opening Series began with a traditional Japanese samurai dance performance/laser light show and ended with Justin Smoak grounding out to second base. The Opening Series ends with a 1-1 split between the A’s and Mariners, meaning the clubs will return to the US with the AL West a hotly contested race:
Hanshin Tigers: 2-0, 1.000
Oakland Athletics: 2-2, .500
Yomiuri Giants: 1-1, .500
Seattle Mariners: 1-3, .250
Texas Rangers: 0-0, —
Los Angeles Angels: 0-0, —
For what it’s worth, I like Hanshin to make the postseason — especially with a second Wild Card now in place.
I’ll have a few more posts in the next say or two, mostly about some cool touristy stuff I did Wednesday and Thursday. But first I gotta catch a plane halfway across the world. And then another couple planes all the way across the US.
Domo arigato for reading and sayonara for now,
I touched on the Tokyo Dome’s food options a few days ago, but concession stands here deserve more than just a couple paragraphs. If your local MLB park serves bento boxes and fried squid, feel free to go watch the French baseball fans again or something.
Even 5,000 miles from Chavez Ravine, you can still enjoy a hot dog at the ballpark. Regular dogs come on a bun with a combo ketchup-mustard pacakge, and there’s also a jumbo option skewered on a wooden stick. The standard dog tasted like your average dirty water wiener, although somehow made with lower quality meat. Definitely a hint of Spam in there. They also don’t serve sauerkraut, which means I could never live here. I’m not proud of occasionally eating kraut and mustard on a bun with no hot dog, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy it. French fries and popcorn are also popular, and there’s a combination hot pretzel/churro stand (chetzel stand) on the upper concourse.
Bento boxes are a common site and come in several sizes featuring rice, Japanese veggies, sushi roll pieces and various items tempura. I didn’t try any of these delicacies, but a scout for one American League club reported the veggies were fringe-average and the fried stuff was no better than a 40 on the 20-80 scale.
As the old saying goes, sometimes a picture is worth six Japanese characters. I wasn’t going anywhere near these popcorn somethings, but the sign indicates they’re either deep-fried squid or deep-fried octopus. The squidopus even seems to be saying so himself. In general, seafood is not something I’m willing to get real adventurous with. I’ve just been burned too many times before — the Great Shrimp Crepe Incident of 2011 comes to mind. But “When in Tokyo…” so I went out on a limb Monday, ordering the chef’s choice of nigiri at a moderately upscale sushi joint near our hotel. Some of it was slimy. Some of it was scaly. The chef may have found Nemo in the day-old bucket and sliced him up for me. But I decided I was going to eat everything on the plate, and I did. That said, I would never touch squid-on-a-stick at the Tokyo Dome.
There are a few of these stands around the main concourse, but I cannot for the life of me figure out what the pictured food items actually are. I asked several of the concessionary engineers, but no luck. Is it a turkey sandwich? Cream cheese popper? Must be a high-class item with that ¥750 price tag (about $10). A hot dog costs half that. Noodle bowls and fries are only ¥400 ($5), although some of the curry rice and fried chicken bowls run as high as ¥860 ($11). In a country where nothing is inexpensive, eating at the ballpark is probably 50 percent cheaper than at Citi Field. Then again, we’re half a world away from Shake Shack in more ways than one.
When I discovered the premium buffet on the second level of the Egg, I was PUMPED. After eating two meals here nearly every day this week, I would have rather swallowed a samurai sword than taken down another gray noodle bowl. Priced at ¥2,500 ($33) and accessible only with a ticket in the luxury boxes or club seats, I was convinced this was finally stadium cuisine on par with that of newer American parks. Once again, disappointment. I don’t want to sound like Tom Colicchio during the first week of a Top Chef season. I love ballpark food, especially the stuff that’s unique to each Major League city. Every time I ordered this week, I was hoping for something that would warrant a “You won’t believe what they serve at baseball games in Tokyo!” But this buffet had Olive Garden-level spaghetti and meatballs along with dumplings and spring rolls straight out of a Panda Express styrofoam box.
I flew to Tokyo expecting to visit one of the world’s finest cuisine hubs and haven’t been disappointed. From the $4 breakfast udon to the wood-fired margherita pizzas to the sashimi I ate directly out of a 10-food bluefin tuna, I’ve had some amazing food this week. But none of it has come from the Tokyo Dome.
With Opening Day out of the way, Game 2 of the Opening Series should be just another AL West divisional battle, right? Sure, if other AL West divisional battles are played in the world’s most populous city and in front of 42,000 fans who have no idea when they’ll get to see Ichiro and friends in person again.
Forty minutes before game time, it looks like we’re in for another packed house here at the Egg. Skies overhead are gray, chances of a rain delay appear pretty slim. I still don’t see any signs of an outfield band, but ushers are handing out inflatable thunder sticks at the stadium gates. Rest assured — ears will be ringing by the seventh-inning stretch.
The atmosphere around BP today was a little more “business as usual” than last night. Munenori Kawasaki practiced his breaks down the third-base line as teammates took cuts in the cage. Yoenis Cespedes fine-tuned his swing behind the plate. He later provided roughly 700 BP souvenirs for fans in the left field bleachers. The air only had about 90 percent of last night’s crackle, and the field only had about 75 percent of the suits.
Only two teams could make the trip to Japan to play in front of Tokyo’s 42,000 biggest baseball fans. But that doesn’t mean the A’s and Mariners were the only clubs represented in the Big Egg tonight.
Got a few issues with this guy’s parenting. No. 1: If you’re a Red Sox fan, how do you let your daughter out of the house in a Yankees dress? No. 2: Fine, so you admit failure and allow her to root for your favorite team’s rival. That’s bad enough. How do you let her walk around in a pink Yankees shirt. At least suffer the embarrassment of a house divided in midnight blue. And No. 3: Teaching her the peace sign this early ensures a lifetime of touristy photobombing.
Somebody is jacked up about Magic Johnson. Either that, or he’s unaware Nomo-mania ended 15 years ago. Also, just a guess, but I don’t think that Texas T-shersey has Matt Harrison’s No. 54 on the back.
Orange fanny pack around his shoulder AND a pony tail under the backwards hat? This is a man not afraid of life’s bolder flavors. I bet he orders omakase from the ballpark sushi chef and doesn’t even pile on a bunch of ginger when he eats the questionable fish pieces.
Does this count as a Marlins fan sighting? The Mr. Met hat says otherwise. Fans would love Mr. Met over here. He fits right in with the half-lovable, half-terrifying trend we saw in mascots for both the Hanshin Tigers and Yomiuri Giants this week. And in Thumper too, for that matter.
Little-known fact: Now that the Rockies have released Casey Blake, Doc Halladay is the only bearded MLB player not on the Oakland A’s 25-man roster. Collin Cowgill, Josh Reddick, Andrew Carignan… Seriously, that team has like seven dudes with the exact same mountain man look.
I’ve been a little surprised at how few fans are sporting the interlocking NY at the Tokyo Dome this week. Guess Hideki Matsui couldn’t make the Yankees hat more famous than the Yankees can.
We’re setting sail from the Far East on a six month journey to the postseason. Welcome aboard the good ship Opening Day.
Pregame ceremonies were lengthy. Reserves for each team were announced by position, followed by managers and starters. I’ll give you one guess for who received the loudest ovation. Hint: He wears high socks and isn’t Thumper. Then came a video presentation on the center field scoreboard honoring several organizations committed to helping Japan rebuild from last year’s devastating earthquake and tsunami. Hillary Clinton cameoed along with Bobby Valentine and several MLB players.
National anthems were performed by US Army Specialist Amanda Tetreault (accompanied by the US Army Japan Band) and singer/actor Ryotaro Sugi. Kimigayo, the Japanese anthem, is short and somewhat somber, especially when sung a capella immediately after the Star Spangled Banner. Sugi was the first male anthem performer this week and sang very slowly, almost speaking the words. It’s possible he’s the Japanese William Shatner. After ceremonial first pitches by three of the tsunami honorees (accompanied by US ambassador to Japan John Roos), the pomp and circumstance exited the field and it was Play Ball for the first time in 152 days.
Never thought I’d say this, but it just doesn’t feel like a baseball game without four trumpets and a drum leading personalized chants from the outfield bleachers. Even sans musical accompaniment, Japanese fans seems hyper-attuned to the game on the field. Even the most mundane of foul pops elicit an “Ooooooooh” from the crowd. Everyone seems on the edge of their seats, but not in a tense way. People just can’t wait to see what happens next. The fans here only get two live Major League games, and they’re going to hang on every second of them.
At times, everything else that happens in the Tokyo dome feels like elaborate B-roll for Ichiro’s at-bats. It’s impossible to overstate how much of a centerpiece he is to this whole Opening Series. Of the fans wearing jerseys, probably 75 percent are repping Seattle and 90 percent of those are No. 51. Oh, you were told there would be no math? I’m working with an abacus over here so you’re on your own carrying that four. Anyway, the man is nothing short of a national hero. The only comparison I can come up with: Remember those two weeks during during the Beijing Olympics when Michael Phelps was EVERYWHERE? Leading every conversation, pitching every product — we watched three hours of badminton hosted by Bob Costas to watch him swim for three minutes. Ichiro is like that here, but apparently all the time. So as long as he’s playing for the Mariners — and probably long after — an entire nation will be wearing navy blue and northwest green.
BREAKING: As I wrote that last paragraph, Ichiro singled in an insurance run in the top of the 11th, then got caught in a rundown (pickle!) and was tagged out between first and second. The fans gave him a 10-second standing ovation. A standing ovation for an RBI single and a baserunning mistake. They might lay down in front of the plane on Friday to prevent him from leaving.
A half-inning after Ichiro’s error, Brandon League whiffed Kurt Suzuki to put Game 1 of the Opening Series in the Gameday archives. Dustin Ackley was named MVP and awarded a giant check for 1 million yen in a ceremony on the mound. Seattle sits atop the AL West. Oakland sits in the cellar. And Ichiro probably sits somewhere at the front of a 10,000-person autograph line.
What time is it? Game time! Well, almost. Right now it’s warmup time, 63 minutes before the first official pitch of 2012.
Batting practice felt a little different on the field today, as well it should. There was an energy in the air even before the Tokyo Dome began to fill with fans. Players looked more focused as they worked through familiar stretching routines. A few whispered to themselves as they stepped into the cage and quiet intensity permeated the infield. Dozens of VP’s of Something Development in suits networked behind the plate, pretending it wasn’t anything special to listen in on Coco Crisp and friends.
Opening Day is apparently also picture day. I guess you don’t need one of those disposable plastic combs when you’re wearing a hat for the photo. Mariners team parents will receive preview proofs in 4-6 weeks so they can order wallet-sized copies for Mariners team grandparents.
With 60 minutes until game time, it looks like the Big Egg will be jam-packed for the season opener. People here will always come out to the yard when that one dude is playing right field. Yes, Josh Reddick has quite a following in Tokyo. The gentleman above — whose father is an Air Force officer stationed in Japan — had his Oakattle Marithletics jersey custom-made (in China) and was collecting autographs from players on both sides during batting practice.
The A’s and Mariners took the field Tuesday to hone their skillz one more time before Opening Day tomorrow. Yes, real authentic Grade A certified Major League Baseball makes its debut mañana. The workout routine was roughly the same as it’s been all week: Get dressed, kill time in the dugout, stretch, infield drills, batting practice …
Players from both teams looked loose and light on their feet with just 31 hours until the stats start counting. Kurt Suzuki yucked it up for Japanese photogs while strapping on his gear. Blake Beavan greeted me with a hearty “konnichiwa!” in the Mariners clubhouse, although I’m 99 percent sure he has no idea who I am. Did I do that right? I was trying to humblebrag.
The workout was exactly as exciting as it looks, so I’ll take this opportunity to announce that yesterday at 4:14 PM I pronounced myself fully cured of jetlag. Having never previously strayed more than seven hours from Eastern Time, I came into this trip planning on a power-through strategy for adjusting to the 13-hour difference. After staying awake for the entire flight, I slept a solid seven hours the first night and expected to feel normal the following day. I did, until about 4 PM. You know when you drink half a bottle of NyQuil and then only sleep for five hours instead of the recommended eight? … just roll with it … It was like that. I was groggy and sluggish and my brain felt like it needed a walker to get around. Even though I slept well the first three nights, I’d crash every day in the late afternoon — or 4 AM, according to my body. But yesterday I didn’t feel like hibernating after lunch, so I guess I’m officially adapted to Tokyo time. Can’t wait to regurgitate those 13 hours back up in two days!
At the start of a workout, players walk through a tunnel from the clubhouse to the dugout and then jog onto the field. As soon as the first Mariners begin to emerge, the Japanese media assembles. Almost a dozen photographers lie in wait, fingers on shutter buttons. John Jaso is not the man they’re waiting for. Even Felix Hernandez is not the man they’re waiting for. There he is, Muenori Kawasaki! Likely just a role player if he even makes the Mariners’ April roster, the former SoftBank Hawks infielder has been second in CFPA (Camera Flashes Per Appearance) only to Ichiro this week. Hisashi Iwakuma ranks third. All other players are tied for fourth.
I haven’t seen the new Mad Men yet, but it couldn’t have been much better than the show Carlos Peguero just put on in batting practice. Hombre is every bit of 6’5, 235 pounds and he does not get cheated during BP. Pitch after pitch, it’s lock and unload as hard as you can. Balls were flying off the billboards in right and into the batter’s eye in center, almost hitting the speakers that hang from the center of the roof. A Peguero vs. Brandon Allen home run derby tomorrow with Ichiro pitching would be Japan’s greatest contribution to world culture since the Tamagatchi. One other note: If you spoil the Mad Men premiere for me, I will run over your foot with a John Deere.
One of the biggest venues in the world’s biggest city, the Tokyo Dome has hosted everything from bowl games to Buster Douglas. After spending 30 hours here over the last three days, a few observations:
The Egg is no spring chicken
Completed in 1988, the Big Egg is of the same era as Tropicana Field, Rogers Centre and the late Landshark/Sun Life/Pro Player/Joe Robbie Stadium. That’s probably not a group of parks that’ll be emulated whenever the next retro craze hits. Lacking both the high-tech amenities of newer stadiums and the charm of older yards, the Dome features a lot of painted concrete walls and narrow staircases. The center field scoreboard is decidedly standard definition. The playing surface is one step up from Astroturf. The baggy, air pressure-supported roof looks nearly identical to the one that collapsed at the Metrodome a few years ago.
A suite level located between the lower bowl and the upper deck is the lone exception. Recently renovated with seats that pass for stadium business class, a premium hot buffet (cost: 2,000 yen) serves a bougy-er crowd.
Not a bad seat in the house
Like many older Major League parks, the Tokyo Dome’s seats are steep. I’m pretty sure you can actually fall off the edge of the earth from the third deck. The upside is that no matter where you sit, the infield seems relatively close. The dome roof may also add to that effect, as the place feels almost like an oversized gymnasium from behind home plate.
Safeco Field may have better sushi
Like the rest of Tokyo, the Dome offers a combination of American favorites and traditional Japanese fare. I didn’t sample the KFC or Baskin-Robbins, but their menus looked pretty standard. Trying to take advantage of the international flavor, I also passed on hot dogs, burgers and fries. Sources tell me they were as expected, although the wieners featured some non-traditional toppings like hash browns, lettuce and a sweet pink sauce. Or maybe that’s what “Chicago style” means, I’m not sure.
I did try some sushi, ramen noodles in soy sauce and beef curry over rice. At least I think that was beef — none of the menus had English translations, so it was basically point and hope. The sushi seemed fresh enough but didn’t taste much better than standard US quality. I’m no food critic, but the noodles would have been subpar even for your average high school cafeteria. And while the beef curry didn’t give me food poisoning, there was a warning twinge in my stomach halfway through the bowl indicating danger ahead. I still had a few more bites — for journalism! — but things were touch-and-go for a minute there. So yeah, eat before you come.
The band is back together
The golden age of domed baseball stadiums has likely come and gone, making it easy to forget the other great advantage of a roof overhead: The same way rain can’t get in, noise can’t get out. With fans in the outfield bleachers chanting continuously, the building feels packed even when it’s three quarters empty — what it lacked in population during Monday’s Oakland-Hanshin game was made up in echoes off empty plastic seats. The thump of a bass drum in the outfield bleachers reverberates throughout the entire dome and walk-up music rains from roof speakers at house concert volume. The dueling band effect when rivals Hanshin and Yomiui play each other is probably Euro soccer-esque.
The beer vendors are an upgrade
“What if we put a keg in a backpack?” It’s the question every college freshman has asked their bros while trying to get those cute girls on the third floor to come to “a pretty chill pregame” in their dorm room. Well, the Tokyo Dome asked it in reference to beer vendors, and the results are spectacular. Instead of cracking a tall boy for each customer, vendors here strap on a backpack with a mini-keg inside — like the Heineken ones — and pour customers fresh droughts right in the aisle. And rather than middle-aged, beer-gutted beeeeahhhhh heaaaaaaahhhhs hawking suds, every vendor at the Dome is young, female and dressed for summer. There’s no yelling, either. Raise your hand like you’re hailing a cab and a traveling bartender will be at your service within seconds.
Safety first, and second, and third, and …
Despite Tokyo’s near-complete lack of street crime and a fanbase that couldn’t be politer, it’s hard to turn around in the Dome without bumping into a security officer. Event staff in dark blue uniforms are posted atop nearly every section and at regular intervals on the concourse. More patrol the aisles and walkways while at least a half-dozen mingle around every major entrance. And this is in addition to the ushers in light blue jackets who check tickets and direct fans to their seats. The funny thing is that the stadium has way fewer restrictions than most MLB parks. I walked from the media section to the first row behind home plate and watched an inning unimpeded. Stood in the aisle and shot five minutes of video, no problem. Entered and left the stands in the middle of many at-bats with just a polite head bow from the blue-shirts.
So what does this army do? As far as I can tell, two things. Whenever a ball is hit over the protective netting that runs from foul pole to foul pole, all ushers and security in the area — and there are usually many — blow their whistles as a warning. It’s like a squadron of over-intense but well-intentioned gym teachers. And during pregame warmups, following a stern pep talk from a commander type, they perform a full emergency situation drill. Ushers walk down each aisle in unison flapping their arms and telling 42,000 empty seats to remain seated. Security officers calmly call out instructions from bullhorns to an imaginary sellout crowd. It’s eerie, but I guess practice during batting practice makes perfect.
And one other thing
The toilet seats are heated.