March 29th, 2012

Wrapping it up from the Opening Series

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.

Either Ichiro or Brad Pitt was batting when I took this -- don't remember which.

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,

Ian

Diners, Drive-ins and Domes

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.

Opening Series Game 2: Mariners vs. Athletics

If you want to watch a baseball game but also want to visit an amusement park, the Tokyo Dome is your spot.

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.

Yo, yo Yoenis.

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.

Casper Wells is all he's cracked up to be.

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.

For relaxing times …

Yes, it’s that piano.

Just fans of the game …

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.