March 24th, 2012
It really cannot be overstated how excited the Japanese media is to cover the Opening Series. The photogs travel in a 20-man amoeba, blobbing from one shot location to the next in constant motion. There’s definitely jostling for prime position, but it’s extremely polite Japanese jostling. While an Ichiro appearance is the obvious headliner, even the most mundane of baseball activities can create a buzz:
Textbook form on that power video stance.
Step 1: Point camera at stretching A’s players. Step 2: Read book.
Feel the excitement.
Does the US even have this many TV networks?
TOKYO DOME — Saturday was a workout day for both the A’s and the Mariners — a chance to get acquainted with the Tokyo Dome and make sure they didn’t forget how to swing and throw on the flight over.
What actually goes down at a workout day?
First, there’s the hang out. Players get dressed in the clubhouse, then trickle into the dugout where they stand around waiting for something to happen. Also, everyone goes through elaborate greetings like they haven’t seen each other since last September. Note: These guys spent 12 hours together on a plane yesterday.
Once everyone is uniformed and reacquainted, it’s time for stretching. The key to a good stretch is to actually get loose while appearing to expend the smallest possible amount of energy. There’s plenty of grunting, groaning, arm flailing and backwards jogging.
After warming up comes the actual baseball part. Pitchers throw long toss and work on mechanics in the outfield. Infielders take ground balls from coaches. Outfielders shag flies. Everyone rotates into the batting cage.
The whole exercise is choreographed chaos. Between players, coaches and staff, there are upwards of 35 people on the field and probably five balls in the air at any given moment. I kept waiting for someone to get beaned by a liner or a relay throw. Turns out, these guys know what they’re doing.
Highlight of the day: Mike Carp pulling a BP homer off Shigeo Nagashima’s retired No. 3 in right-center field. See the SECOM billboard in the photo below? He hit the pillar below that. My professional scouting background indicates that’s significant power.
Each team also had a press conference today at the Tokyo Dome Hotel. Apparently, anyone in Asia who owns a camera — still or video — was invited. All questions and answers were translated into both English and Japanese, meaning that Hisashi Iwakuma was probably just cracking dirty jokes then having the Yomiuri PR guy translate nice things to the English-speaking media. I think Felix was in on it too:
All in all, team workouts were pretty much what you’d expect. Anyone who played Little League ball would recognize some of the big leaguers’ infield drills — although these guys can actually turn an around-the-horn DP. Tomorrow, the games begin …
With the hotel restaurant not a viable food option on my yen-conscious budget, I set out Saturday morning in search of something to eat.
There’s a weird vibe to leaving the hotel in a foreign country where you don’t know your way around, don’t speak the language and don’t have a cell phone with non-WiFi internet. It’s a combination of “I really want to see EVERYTHING in Toyko” and “I really, really don’t want to get lost in this maze of back streets.” I’m sure astronauts feel something similar when they step out of the lunar lander.
Limiting myself to only a few turns, I walked for about 20 minutes on a narrow, one-lane road populated mostly with restaurants and bars. Once I’d passed a McDonalds, a Subway and a 7-Eleven, I knew this was the path to sustenance.
Noodles seemed like a relatively safe option, so I ducked into a soup bar located below the Bear Hug massage parlor. Just walking in the door, I’d already made my first mistake. Not in selecting the place — the food turned out to be cheap and delicious — but by entering before ordering.
The old man behind the counter led me back outside to a machine built into the wall of the restaurant where customers select which dish they want. Since there was no English anywhere, I led him to the sample display on an adjacent wall and pointed to a bowl of dark broth with thin brown noodles, an unidentified sliced meat and a poached egg.
Three minutes later, the bowl was in front of me. Taking a cue from the other diners — three Japanese men around my age and an older woman — I brought the bowl close to my face, slurped loudly and shoveled with chopsticks.
If returning a plate with uneaten food is a sign of disrespect to the chef in Japan, well, I definitely respected those noodles.
A crisp Ben Franklin bought me this 7,674 yen at the hotel front desk. Pretty sure that’s a terrible exchange rate, but isn’t getting ripped off part of the whole international experience? Maybe not — I don’t feel any more worldly.
The “traditional Japanese breakfast” at the hotel restaurant costs ¥2,200, so I think it’s time to venture out in search of food.