Owen, Oliver and I enjoyed watching the Tigers beat the Fighters, 4-2 last night at Koshien Stadium in a Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) League. It was the first time we witnessed a victory by the home team in the 3 years we’ve been attending games. Hanshin improved to 30-21, still 1 game behind Hiroshima Carp in the Central League. The Fighters are now 22-29 and in fifth place, of six teams, in the Pacific League.
The game was also special because it was one of the 16 interleague games the Tigers will play this season. There is a short span of games in the middle of the season that the two leagues play each other. I wish there was more because with only 6 teams per league, playing the same five teams regularly is boring. Unfortunately, we did not get to see the “Babe Ruth” of NPB, Shohe Otani who is rehabilitating from a foot injury with their farm club. They also have one of the best names in sports, Nippon Ham Fighters. Nippon Ham is a processed foods company (think Kraft), that owns the team. They play in Sapporo, the capital of the northern island of Hokkaido. For most of their history, they were the second team in Tokyo, sharing the same stadium of the richest club, the Yomiuri Giants, but moved north in 2004. I like that they represent Hokkaido and play a slate of regional games on the island. Sharing Tokyo Dome with the most popular team in the league must have been tough. We’ll try to see Otani play later in the season at the Pacific League Kansai-based team, the Orix Buffalos.
As always, the best part of the game was spending time with my sons and our friend Kenta. To get to the stadium via public transport, we ride our bicycles about 2 kilometers to the train station. We take it to the center of Osaka and then take the express over to Nishinomiya, which is between Osaka and Kobe. It takes about an hour to get to the stadium from our house. On game days, Hanshin Railways run cars specifically for fans going to and from the stadium. It is a comfortable way to get to the game and it does not feel crowded, despite lots of people.
As you can see in the video on this post, my favorite player for the Tigers, Yoshio Itoi, had a good game with the RBI single. Itoi is similar to Bryce Harper with his power and athleticism. He has a lot of range in center field, in the leadoff spot he hits for average and steals bases, but also has the power to go deep. He is an exciting player to watch.
I am always curious about the import players. The guys who end up in Japan are the fringe Major League players. These players usually excel in the top minor league (AAA) but are not good enough, or lucky enough, to stay with the MLB team for long. For example, the Hanshin closer, Rafael Dolis. He pitched 44 innings for the Chicago Cubs in 2013 before being demoted and then traded. He never made back to MLB with attempts in the San Francisco Giants and Detroit Tigers. The 29-year old Dominican then gets to be the closer here in Japan and making good money. Or take Brandon Laird, the third baseman and #3 hitter for the Fighters. He played 53 games over three seasons with the Yankees and Astros. Brandon had a key hit in the World Baseball Classic this year playing for Mexico. His brother Gerald, was a back up catcher on the Detroit Tigers for a couple of seasons.
It is an entertaining atmosphere at the stadium due to the enthusiasm of the fans. They like to sing songs for players and the team throughout the game. They also like the routine of the 5th inning Asahi beer toast, the janken (rock,scissors, paper) scoreboard games, releasing of balloons during the seventh inning stretch, etc.