The boys are watching batting practice at yesterday’s Nippon Professional Baseball League game. The Hiroshima Carp defeated the Hanshin Tigers, 3-0 behind the stellar pitching of Kenta Maeda and an early home run by Brad Eldred. Despite the loss, we enjoyed the day at Koshien Stadium. Eldred, the left fielder for the Carp is one of those “4A” players, which means he was a star for several triple A MLB teams, but every call up to the big league team, resulted in poor results and a demotion. He seemed to be too good for the AAA, but not quite good enough for the majors, although, he never had an extended opportunity to find his place at the big league level.
For many years the Detroit Tigers have won the Central League division and/or been in a race for the playoffs. Finally, this year they are in last place, but my baseball season was saved by moving to Japan and cheering for the other Tigers, the Hanshin Tigers. They are in first place and it is good once again to have meaningful September games.
The stadium was full to watch the first place Tigers, in the midst of a tight pennant race. With 17 games to go, Hanshin is tied for first place in the Central League with the Yakult Swallows, with the Yomiuri Giants a 1/2 game behind and the Carp 3 games behind. The top three teams make the playoffs and the first and second place teams get a game advantage in their playoff series. It is a big advantage to finish first and a good advantage to finish second.
Baseball offers a chance for the usually reserved Japanese to let off some steam. They will sing and cheer the entire game, even when there is not much action going on. Many fans also sport these baggy pants (above) and colorful jerseys. I had to buy a pair!
I love the quirkiness of the Japan and it shines through in the fan experience at the stadium. I had a delicious “Murton Katsu Don x Crab” lunch. The bentos and entrees are named after players with some of the bentos shaped like a baseball diamond. A regular rotation of Asahi beer/snack girls tempted Oliver with junk food throughout the game. The girls carry beer kegs on their backs or heavy boxes of refreshments in front. It must be a long day as they are constantly moving. They must have a set circuit they take in order to evenly offer beer, sweet and salty snacks at regular intervals. I walked out to the deep left field line to video the release of balloons during the seventh-inning stretch, a tradition in many Nippon league stadiums.
The game was well played. The Carp outfielders made several spectacular catches, robbing the Tigers of extra base hits and possible runs. Maeda made Tiger hitters look weak in the first half of the game. It was nice to see that they still have the relief pitcher car here, as it was phased out in the MLB years ago. I think there is too much bunting here. In the MLB, advanced stats have shown that a bunt used to advance the runner one base is not as valuable as giving up one of the 27 outs a team has per game.
Owen, Oliver and Kenta were star struck watching infield practice. It is nice that Matt Murton acknowledged their shouts. They also got a close up view of how fast and accurate the players can throw the ball. We will be following the pennant race down the stretch and hopefully come October, we will be celebrating a Tiger’s series win!