Fenway Natives Invade Tokyo Dome
time for sleep! Even though our bodies were craving some shut-eye, the
Red Sox Nation crazies from the U.S. who are here in Japan boarded a
bus at 5:30pm Sunday night (that’s 4:30am on Easter Sunday back home)
to go see a ballgame.
On the bus, I sat next to Deanne from Melrose, an E.R. nurse at a
hospital just outside of Boston and a single mom, who said she made a
"spur of the moment decision to take a vacation and come to Opening Day
Before we could have a real conversation, though, the bus
was invaded by a TV crew from Tokyo’s TBS network and a bubbly young
Japanese reporter wearing Red Sox gear and a lot of make-up. She asked
us questions about our fanhood in broken English and before long we
were chanting "Let’s Go Red Sox!" and yelling "Red Sox are number one!"
in Japanese (she taught us these words). She even got us to sing a
verse of "Sweet Caroline," a song that she said is also very popular in
(At midnight last night, I caught the ten-minute piece TBS did on
the Red Sox’ visit to Tokyo, and the first image was of yours truly
jubilantly walking off the bus at the Tokyo Dome. It’s wild to see
yourself on Japanese TV.)
Walking from the bus to the game, someone in our group reflected,
"You know how we always see big groups of Japanese tourists roaming the
streets of Boston? Well, that’s us."
we got through the tight security at the Dome (close examination of
everything in our bags and individual encounters with a metal-detecting
wand), we found our seats just beyond third base, about halfway up, and
settled in. I was fortunate to sit next to Red Sox Nation members who
had come to Tokyo on their own, from very, very far away. To my right
was Chris, who flew to Tokyo from his home in Thailand. Chris spent
four years at Boston University and reflected that this was his first
Red Sox game since 2001. "Only Wakefield and Varitek are left from the
last team I cheered for at Fenway."
To my left was Dalton Maine, whose plane from Chicago had gotten him
to Tokyo just in time for this game. Before settling in Chicago, he
grew up in Framingham and played minor league baseball in the Orioles’
organization. (With some probing, I learned he struck out Vladimir
Guerrero, Miguel Tejada, and Frank Thomas at different times in his pro
career.) Dalton was there with his mom, Billie Maine, who recalled
taking Dalton to his first game at Fenway when he was a little boy. "A
player threw him a ball, and then he expected to get a ball at every
game after that." The player, Dalton informed me, was Royals pitcher
When Dalton saw that I was taking notes about aspects of Japanese
baseball that are different from Major League Baseball, he was very
helpful in adding to my list. Here are some of our observations:
The Japanese are obsessive about safety. 20-foot high nets line the
first and third base lines (making it impossible for a fan to get hit
by a low line drive); there are 2-3 rows of seats in front of these
nets, and all children in these rows are required to wear a baseball
helmet; the bat boys and ball boys wear helmets too and behave much
more like Wimbledon ball boys, sprinting on and off the field like
lightning bugs. Every
time foul ball lands in the crowd, the loudspeakers make a "ding-dong"
sound, and the message, "Please watch out for batted balls" flashes on
the scoreboard. (It’s funny when there are 3 or 4 foul balls in a row,
message is flashed over and over.)
2. I heard that Japanese fans are rabid and crazy, but here’s what I
saw: there are about 200 fans (many wearing orange, others wearing
yellow scarves, all banging drums) in the right field seats who sing
and chant constantly, reminding me very much of the college football
fans of Clemson University, and the rest of the stadium is virtually
silent during most of the game. I am not exaggerating when I tell you
that it’s as quiet as the first tee at the Masters prior to every pitch (unless the cheerleaders in right field haven’t finished their song yet). It’s not that fans are not allowed
to make noise, but whereas there’s positive pressure at Fenway to yell,
"Come on, Papi!", at the Tokyo Dome, you’d be the only one doing so.
(And when I did, I’m sure Papi could hear me loud and clear from 150
feet away.) And the fans never
stand up, except when there’s a home run
(thank you, J.D. Drew and Jed Lowrie).
3. The stadium is ultra-clean. When I told Dalton I imagined we
could eat our dinner off the floor, he said, "Are you kidding? I’d
rather have surgery on this floor than in a Chicago E.R." I went to the
bathroom for the first time in the 7th inning, and it had obviously
just been cleaned minutes before. Either that, or no one else had used
it before the 7th inning, either.
4. The hot dogs they sell in the stands are all individually wrapped
in elegant cellophane envelopes. Quite a contrast to the (delicious)
Fenway Franks that are removed from the mysterious, oily water and
placed in buns before our very eyes back home.
5. Beer is sold in the stands by girls wearing short skirts who appear to be between the ages of 15 and 21, and they carry very heavy
canvas kegs on their backs, fill a cup, and hand it to you. A Japanese
native explained to me that, to become a beer vendor, you have to pass
a vigorous physical test. (Oh, and they also sell little bottles of
hard alcohol.) All vendors are just about the most polite people you
have ever met. And there’s a rule that vendors are only allowed to sell
to the section on their right — so even if you’re sitting next to a
vendor on the end of an aisle to her left, she can’t serve you unless she runs up her aisle and down another aisle to put you on her right.
I’m sure there’s a good reason for this, but man, if this policy were
implemented at Fenway, there’d be a revolution in the bleachers before
the end of the top of the 1st inning.
It’s interesting to note that, although alcohol (of all kinds) is so
readily available and freely imbibed at the Tokyo Dome, there is not a
shred of drunken behavior in the stadium. Can you imagine attending a
game at Fenway Park and not seeing anyone who has had too much to
drink? Being at Tokyo Dome last night made me realize just how
accustomed we have become to the "bar atmosphere" at Fenway (and they
don’t even sell beer in the aisles there).
When the Yomiuri Giants are in the field (and the Red Sox are at bat),
all of the Giants’ bench players run out to foul territory in deep
right field. They do calisthenics, active stretching, practice their
swings (without a bat), and just stay physically active the entire
half-inning. When their teammates get the third out, they all sprint
back to the dugout and sit down on the bench. These Japanese guys are
READY to take the field at any moment, and they are FOCUSED on playing
baseball every minute of the game. (As opposed to the typical bench
player in the U.S. who, according to Dalton, "Sits there for a couple
of hours chewing sunflower seeds, shooting the breeze with his buddy.")
Under the stadium seats on the concourse, there are three small, glass
"smoking rooms" that are jammed with fans staring up at the large flat
screen TV through a thick, white fog. When the door opens and a fan
enters or leaves, huge clouds billow through the doorway.
8. In the later innings, the Giants sent a pinch-hitter to the
plate, and clearly it was his big day, because the fans broke out
singing "Happy Birthday" to the player as he stood in the batter’s box.
It’s clearly a tradition here to help players celebrate their birthday.
"Friendly Fenway" isn’t quite there yet.
9. Generally, the Tokyo Dome uses the same cheering
tunes we do in the U.S. (If I could hum them to you in this blog, you’d
know them all.) But the voice that said "Charge!" at the end of that
familiar trumpet blast could not have been mellower. And these fans get
into "Y.M.C.A." with the best of U.S. fans. When the popular song was
blared in between innings, Japanese fans were standing, contorting
their bodies into the letters as the song went along. The Japanese
version of the song (which is not sung by the Village People)
has them yelling, "Gimme a Y, gimme an M, gimme a C, gimme an A!" Is it
not truly incredible that this song has infiltrated the culture of the
world so thoroughly??
Speaking of music, we were treated to "Sweet Caroline" in the 8th
inning, and "Dirty Water" coursed through the stadium after the Sox had
won (do you think The Standells received some royalties in yen last
night?). I have to say, while I was impressed to see so many Sox fans
singing Sweet Caroline at the top of their lungs, the song was definitely not as much fun for me to sing away from Fenway
and without my kids being there with me. In fact, I think we might want
to create a rule in Red Sox Nation against singing the song in large
groups outside Fenway Park. It’s really not even close to being the
same experience away from home (and away from my children, too).
11. Like at Fenway, there were a lot of kids in the Tokyo Dome, and
also like at Fenway, many of them were wearing Red Sox t-shirts. Of
course, 75% of them were Matsuzaka and Okajima shirts, but I saw
several Japanese kids around 10-12 years old wearing Ramirez and Ortiz
shirts. Curiously, I don’t think I saw a single little girl at the
game, except for the beer vendors.
12. Finally, the place truly came ALIVE when Hideki Okajima took the
mound in relief. These Japanese fans ADORE the Major League players from
their homeland. Now, this just was an exhibition game in March, but
there were more flashbulbs going off for every pitch he made, and every
pickoff throw to first base, than if it were the first pitch of the 7th
game of the
World Series. It was as if Babe Ruth himself had risen from
the grave and was pitching for the first time in a century. The fan
behind me quipped, "It’s like flashbulb spam."
I missed the bus that brought us back to the hotel because I stayed
at the Tokyo Dome a bit longer than others did to take a few more
photos. So I took a cab (which, like all other cabs in Japan, was
immaculate on the outside and inside) and arrived back here
around 11:30pm Tokyo time. Walking to the elevators in an oddly quiet
and deserted lobby, I suddenly noticed three men sitting at a small
table, talking casually. There was David Ortiz wearing a black leather
jacket and dark sunglasses. We made eye contact. I instinctively
offered a "hello" gesture. He waved back.
He’s seen me in the lobby twice now. We’re pals.