Baseball is an American institution. I have attended many games over the years to support my favorite team, the Kansas City Royals. My all-time favorite player is, and always will be, good ol’ #5…Hall of Famer George Brett. When spring rolls around, I often find myself looking through my George Brett baseball collection. I have a pretty extensive collection of the third baseman’s career represented on a variety of baseball cards, along with a few obscure and unique cards. The prize of my collection, however, is Brett’s 1975 Topps #228 Rookie Card (which is in storage back home!). Most of my baseball card collection is safely stored back home in the States, but I did bring a small binder representation of my George Brett collection with me to Japan. Why, because I knew when the snow melted and April rolled around, I would suffer a small case of baseball fever.
As predicted, the snow is gone and baseball fever struck last week. The only prescription was Japanese Baseball! I made the four hour sojourn from Misawa to Sendai to watch the Rakuten Eagles take on the Orix Buffaloes. The Rakuten Eagles are one of Japan’s twelve professional baseball teams. They have been a part of the Nippon Professional Baseball’s Pacific League since the team was formed in 2005. It only took the Eagles eight years to win the pennant and become the Japan Series Baseball Champions in 2013. In the past, all of Japan’s baseball teams were located in Central and West Japan, leaving the northern baseball fan feeling neglected with no professional baseball teams in the Tohoku region. That began to change when, in 2004, professional baseball came to the northernmost Japanese island of Hokkaido in the form of the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters. Still, the northern region of Tohoku on the main island of Honshu was without a professional team. However, due to the success of the Ham Fighters in Hokkaido, in 2005 the Rakuten Eagles made Sendai their home. The Eagles are the only professional baseball team on Honshu north of Tokyo. Home run idea!
A baseball game is pretty much a baseball game, but here in Japan, there are some unique differences. First, they have cheerleaders and a cheering section of fans led by cheer coaches. Second, there are a plethora of girls lugging around “beer-packs” (a keg of beer with straps!) selling beer and they do not stop selling it until the final pitch.
Third, it is almost mandatory to buy red balloons for the seventh inning stretch and white balloons for the end of the game. During the seventh inning stretch, there is no singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”, instead the team’s fight song is played and at the end red balloons are released screaming into the sky! The white balloons are only released at the end of the game and only if the home team wins. As soon as the balloons are released, an army of cheerleaders, ball and bat boys, groundskeepers, and stadium staff invade the field to collect all the balloon remnants. The balloons are not expensive, so 99.9% of the crowd purchases both colors so they are ready for anything. Fourth, no hot dogs! This I found very disappointing. I had the beer, but no stadium hot dog (at least I could not find one and I searched most of the food vendors), but I did find a Kentucky Fried Chicken vendor at Rakuten Seimei Park Miyagi and the colonel was decked out in an Eagle uniform! Instead of hot dogs, there was a seemingly unlimited supply of rice bowls, yakitori, Japanese style hamburgers, cola, and biru (beer).
I had a great time and witnessed the Eagles, who were winless against the Buffaloes so far this season, smash three home runs, chalking up a solid win for the home crowd! Let loose the white balloons!
© 2019 Gregory Vessar. All Rights Reserved.