March 25th, 2012

Scenes from Oakland Athletics vs. Yomiuri Giants

The Yomiuri Giants Cheering Club seemed a little more organized than the Hanshin Tigers edition, complete with customized T-shirts for chant leaders and a team of flag-wavers. Even so, the Tokyo Dome seemed quieter during this game than the earlier A’s-Tigers matchup. The stadium wasn’t completely full — odd, considering the Giants play their home games here — and Giants fans had little to cheer about with their team getting shut out.

Found a few Japanese A’s fans in the house, both young and old. This guy told me he’s been rooting for Oakland for 10 years and that he recently adopted Yoenis Cespedes as his new favorite player. Looks like he’s successfully indoctrinated his daughter into baseball fandom but sonny is still dubious.

Young fella was unable to identify a favorite Athletic, but he did come up with “baseball great” when I asked him about Oakland. Someday, I’ll understand why Japanese people love to throw up the peace sign any time they catch you snapping a photo. Today is not that day. Keep chuckin’ deuces, y’all!

The Ichiro impersonator sitting near the band in right-center took the Giants loss pretty hard — especially considering it was just an exhibition and Ichiro doesn’t currently play for either team involved. This guy has serious commitment to his craft with the sweatband, shades and even that faraway “128 million people need me to reach 200 hits again this year” look in his eyes.

We chatted for about five minutes. I understood “Athletics,” “QR code” and nothing else.

This is why we do what we do …

I flew 16 hours and crossed 13 time zones just to see one Hanshin Tigers fan wear a non-ironic Kei Igawa jersey. Worth it.

Mariners vs. Hanshin Tigers, Part 2

Check out Part 1 for the pregame festivities.

A few differences between Japanese fans and their American counterparts were apparent from the first pitch of the Mariners game against the Hanshin Tigers.

When the Mariners batted, the crowd was almost completely silent. Outs prompted intense but quick cheers. Otherwise, it was mostly respectful silence. The Japanese seem to love their respectful silence. The lone exception was Ichiro, who received the loudest cheers of any player throughout the game. Flashbulbs erupted on every pitch to the Mariners right fielder.

The home halves couldn’t have been more different. Led by a section of young fans in left field — many of whom appeared to have visited the combo ice-cream-and-beer concession stand — the crowd sang and chanted nonstop when the Tigers were at the plate. Most hitters had their own unique cheer, no doubt glorifying their strength, good looks and exemplary baseball instincts.

The cheers were coordinated by a band leader of sorts, one fan maybe 35 years, old who stood on his plastic bleacher seat calling out instructions to four trumpet players and a drummer. With a whistle and exaggerated hand motions, he sparked the crowd to life time and time again, enthusiasm never wavering as the Tigers hung onto a 5-1 lead.

Mariners vs. Hanshin Tigers, Part 1

It’s finally gameday, as the Mariners kick off Japan Series week with an exhibition tilt against the Hanshin Tigers.

Pregame activities were mostly the same as yesterday’s workout, with each team taking BP and infield practice in an empty Tokyo Dome. Of course, there were plenty of chances for old friends to catch up. Mariners infielder Munenori Kawasaki embraced Tigers captain Kyuji Fujikawa. Former Major Leaguer Jason Standridge chatted with his old hitting coach, Chris Chambliss. Craig Brazell slipped a ball to a Mariners batboy for Ichiro to sign. Ichiro, well, Ichiro knows everyone. He’s like the mayor around here.

Ichiro chatting with a Hanshin Tigers coach.

Ichiro with teammate Muenori Kawasaki and Hanshin Tigers captain Kyuji Fujikawa.

Fans began to trickle in as Mariners BP wound down, amassing in the first few rows behind home plate and calling to both Seattle and Hanshin players by name. The Tokyo Dome has protective netting between the field and the stands all the way from home plate to the outfield wall, but a few players tossed balls over to fans crowding behind the dugouts.

Of course, the the Japanese media was out in force once again.

After lineup announcements — during which Tigers fans politely cheered for every Mariners player — and national anthems for both Japan and the US, Minoru Iwata delivered his first pitch to Chone Figgins and we were underway.

Check out Part 2 for more on Japanese baseball fans.

Former Major Leaguers Matt Murton, Kenji Johjima, Jason Standridge, Craig Brazell and Randy Messenger are among the Hanshin Tigers taking BP down there.

Exhibition doubleheader coming up today — Hanshin vs. the Mariners in Game 1, followed by the A’s and Yomirui Giants.