There was no football scheduled for the third day of our Chuseok trip to Japan and so Jen and I took the train to Osaka to watch some baseball. With the game not due to start until six o’clock we had a wander around the city centre first. It’s a pleasant enough place with plenty of bars and restaurants, some of which probably seated no more than half a dozen people. Speaking of small stuff, we spotted a fire engine that looked suspiciously undersized. Maybe it’s for getting cats out of bushes rather than trees.
After lunch we had a look at Osaka Castle. It’s in a park and if you head up to the top there are decent views of the city in each direction. As with a lot of stuff in Japan and Korea, it’s not original though. Over the five hundred years or so that it has existed it has been rebuilt a few times, usually due to siege damage or someone inadvertently setting fire to it whilst aiming for that scorched wood effect on the skirting boards. Its most recent make-over has resulted in the current version being made from concrete.
There’s only so much culture you can take at a time and once we’d had our fill we took the subway to the Kyocera Dome, the indoor stadium where Orix Buffaloes play a lot of their fixtures. They aren’t very good and went into the game bottom of their six team Pacific Division. The visitors, Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, have a better record this season and are currently sitting in fourth place.
The ticket prices ranged from 1,700 yen for a seat in the outfield to a top-priced 6,500 yen. As I prefer the outfield, we went for the cheaper option. One of the benefits of sitting in the outfield in Korea is that it is often the quietest part of the ground. The fans who want to sing and bang inflatable sticks together congregate at first and third bases respectively. It doesn’t work like that in Japan though, or at least it didn’t in this game, and as the stadium started to fill up we discovered that the more vocal fans set up camp in the cheap seats.
We were sitting quite close to the Buffaloes supporters. There were a couple of hundred of them and at least four of them had brought their trumpets. They reminded me a little of Spanish football fans who often seem to have a brass section somewhere amongst them.
There were a similar number of Eagles fans to our right. I couldn’t see any trumpets but they made plenty of noise. Surprisingly, to me anyway, the rest of the stadium was very sparsely populated. I know it’s getting on for the end of the season and neither of the teams were in any danger of ending up in the play-offs, but I’d always assumed that Japanese baseball would be played in front of decent sized crowds.
The starting pitcher for Orix was Yuki Nishi. He’s only twenty-one but it’s already three years since he made his Buffaloes debut. I couldn’t find much information on him, but a week after our visit he pitched a ‘no-hitter’ game against Softbank Hawks. He didn’t do as well on this occasion though, conceding two runs early on and seven hits in total before calling it a night after the eighth innings.
Yasunori Kikuchi opened for the Eagles and he conceded three runs in his lengthy stint, two in the fifth and then the game-clincher in the eighth. I know even less about him than I do Mr. Nishi, but he pulled off a magnificent ‘caught and bowled’ catch. He did it with such apparent nonchalance that it reminded me of an incident from my schooldays. The teacher, who had got a bit pissed off at some kid’s lack of attention, hurled a wooden blackboard rubber at him as hard as he could. A lad who was sitting in front of the intended target just stuck out an arm as the missile passed by him and caught it one-handed without even appearing to look up for his book. He then calmly passed the blackboard rubber back to the teacher with a quietly spoken “Here you are, sir”.
One fella who did stand out, mainly on account of his size and his Korean name, was the designated hitter for the Buffaloes, Lee Dae Ho. It turns out that he is one of Korea’s best ever baseball players, a former Lotte Giants legend and a KBO MVP. He won a gold medal at the Beijing Olympics and earned a world record in 2010 by scoring home runs in nine successive games. He’s had a good first season in Japan but he did bugger all in this game.
At the start of the seventh the home fans blew up balloons and then released them. Most of them just hit the roof of the stand and dropped back down whilst a handful reached the playing field. It must be a regular occurence as the cheerleaders were waiting to clear them away.
Midway through the seventh we moved around to where the away fans were sat, mainly so that I could get a look at the scoreboard. I’ve no idea what a lot of the stats mean in English, never mind in Japanese, but it looked impressive enough.
As the game moved into the eighth innings we cleared off for the journey back to Kyoto. One of the unusual things that I noticed at the railway station was that they have ‘Women Only’ carriages on the trains. These were originally introduced as a measure to deter male gropers but studies have shown that a lot of the women in those carriages are now put there by their husbands who wish to read the newspaper in peace on the journey home.
All in all, my first trip to a Japanese baseball game was an enjoyable experience. Not as enjoyable as the last time I’d watched a game in a stadium with a roof, but it was never going to come close to the Boro’s Carling Cup win at Cardiff. There were enough differences from the Korean way of doing things to make it interesting and I’d quite like to go back to Japan some time and see a more meaningful game with a bigger crowd.