Sunday, August 14, 2011

Take Me Out to the Ball Game

While I am not a baseball fan, I've been to two minor league games in two different cities this summer. I like minor league games because the tickets are reasonable, the stadiums are small, and the fans (most of them) are just out for the game because so little is riding on whether a team wins or loses.

Until recently, I'd never been to a baseball game in Japan. But I went with a friend to watch the Yokohama Bay Stars beat the Yakult Swallows. Some observations: Fans were given an inexpensive plastic Bay Stars rain poncho on the way in.

The stadium was less than half filled. Officials turned off the Jumbotron/scoreboard during plays so you had to watch the game rather than the big screen.

Young women and a few young men in Day-Glo green shorts and jackets and hats came through the stands selling Coca Cola, beer, and a salty fish-based snack.

Cheerleaders in white boots, short skirts, and bare midriffs led the cheers with gold sparkly pompoms, and there were a number of mascots--a Bay Star, a baseball, and more.

Games for the kids before the game--pitch to the Bay Star catcher, run the bases. The TV camera would pan around the stadium between innings stopping on a group for three seconds. At the end of the game, the pictures were posted at the exit, a free memory of the night.

The fans, despite all the beer, were well-behaved. They usually shouted in unison, beat, a drum, and knocked noisemakers together in rhythm. Bay Star fans were silent when the Yakult Swallows cheered and, presumably, they were quiet when we cheered (I couldn't tell from the noise).

Baseball is so popular in Japan that, I've been told, some Japanese believe it was invented there. Robert Whiting has written a wonderful book, You Gotta Have Wa, that investigates the Japanese game called "baseball," but which isn't exactly the same as what we play here. As Whiting points out, players commit to an 11-month training/playing season; they practice fielding until they drop from exhaustion. Fans chant highly organized and rhythmic chants all game long, regardless of the score. As one reviewer points out, this is much more than a baseball book; culture, and cultural diffusion, and the differences between Americans and Japanese. If you like baseball, you should go to a game. And if you're interested in Japan, you should read Whiting's book.

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