What a wonderful discovery Japanese baseball is, for an American baseball fan like me. The quality of play doesn't divurge greatly from the MLB in the States, but the amenities far outpace all but the newest and swankiest of American ballparks and fandom. This is indeed another one of those amazing things that Japan adopts, adapts and improves.
But there's also something far more impressive and moving about the actual experience of attending a Japanese baseball game, which we did in the city of Sendai, home of the newly created Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles - the positive attitude of the fans towards the game and the players. Anyone who's sat in the stands for a game in the US has had to endure angry profanities and inanities screamed at the players by irate fans incensed by the inevitable ineptitude of their hometown players (You SUCK! being the most common epithet) - or been bored by the sedate pace of the game and lack of enthusiasm of fellow fans. Korean friends are stunned by the passivity of American fans at the games.
Japanese baseball has some of the most lively, well-behaved but articulate, passionate, funny and engaging fans of any sport in the world. That is, if you opt to purchase the cheapest seats in the left or right field stands, as I did, after taking a Rakuten Eagles advert from a Sendai taxicab one morning - another great idea, advertising games in cabs. What I didn't realize when I purchased right field stands seats was that we would be seated in the tigers den, literally. The Hanshin Tigers den, to be exact, the venerable baseball club established in 1935. We sat amidst easily a few thousand, yellow or grey pinstripe uniform-clad fans. At first, I regretted my lack of foresight, but then settled in to quitely enjoy the game, until I was told that my father-in-law was an ardent Tigers fan, always had been, since he had to root for somebody who had a chance to beat the despised Yomiuri Giants - the Yankees of Japan. (Editors note: I happen to be a Yankees fan...) So, instead of trying to root for the hometown Eagles, I purchased a pair of Hanshin Tigers thunder bats and joined in the raucous chanting, which was lead by a set of three cheer masters, three flag wavers and a drummer. These fans would shout the players name - "Ka-ne-MO-TO, Ka-ne-MO-TO!" "A-ka-ho-SHI, A-ka-ho-SHI!" or for the American players on the team, "Timely, Ahn-Dee," or "Home Run, Ahn-Dee!" (Andy Shields), and such boisteriously supportive chants that were translated for me from Japanese to English as 'Hit a home run to us here in the right field stands'! and 'Show us your fighting spirit!'
Amazing, nothing like that have I ever see at MLB - the kind of fan support reserved for high school or college football and basketball games, but abandoned in the US when the game goes pro. Such a shame. But here's what we're missing...
Oh, yeah, final score was Tigers 3, Eagles 1, in extra innings, after a very close, intense game, filled with many utterances of "ahhhh, OUTTO....!" and "nan de yo..."