I went to a lot of baseball games as a kid. So many summer weekends were spent at the Asheville Tourists with my dad and sister, and even though they were only a single A team I remember having a blast cheering for our favorite players (mine was the catcher - no idea why), eating snow cones, and wandering around the souvenir shop when Julie and I got too hot or bored. I remember one time my dad telling me that Japanese people loved baseball even more and that at the games they would sit in rapt silence, standing up and clapping when a player got a run.
Well, all I can say is things must have changed in the last fifty years. Last weekend John and I went to a Yakult Swallows game, and it was just as much fun as I remembered, though a very different experience. There are two teams in Tokyo, the Yakult Swallows who play in an outdoor stadium and have a really fun group of fans, and the Yomiyuri Giants who play in a giant dome and have tons of money. We'd been to a Giants game before and enjoyed it, but the outdoor stadium and the personality of the fans and team just makes the Swallows so much more fun. Either way, there isn't much silent watching and certainly no standing and clapping, just a roaring crowd.
The night we went they were playing the Hanshin Tigers, the Osaka team, and if you ever get the chance to see them play I'd highly recommend it. They are the most beloved team in Japan and have wildly devoted fans, sort of like the Red Socks. Even though we were the home team we were surrounded in a sea of Tiger's fans. A group of older Tiger's fans were seated behind us, and they were quite rowdy, singing special songs for each player and banging their thunder sticks. In front of us were a father and his young son that had obviously come up from Osaka from the game. The older men bought the dad a drink and thanked him for raising a new generation of fans. The little boy took them back snacks and they would all celebrate together when they got a run. By the time the Tigers started losing the older men were pretty drunk and spent the rest of the game shouting obscenities. But the dad and his son high-fived me and John at the end of the game.
A couple of the biggest differences that struck me were that baseball teams have cheerleaders, and you never had to leave your seat to get a drink. Women run around with little kegs of beer on their backpack and sell them to you in your seats. A few also come around with soft drinks and bottled beer. The food was a mixture of Japanese and American, but most people just bring in their own food. You're allowed to bring as much food and drink with you as you like, and there are many stalls selling neatly packaged foods on the walk from the train to the stadium. If you see anything that looks good, get it because the food lines can be pretty long in the stadium. The takoyaki (little pieces of octopus fried in balls of batter) and the hotdog lines were crazy long, though the Jack Daniels barbecue ribs line was extremely short.
My favorite part of the game was the way the Swallows fans celebrate when they get a run. They have tiny umbrellas that they open up and do a little dance with. It's hilarious to look out and see a crowd of them bobbing around. I've heard two different explanations, one being that it originated because the field isn't covered and they used to give out umbrellas on rainy days, and ingenious fans used them to celebrate. The other comes from some Japanese phrase to demoralize the other team telling them something along the lines of "hit the showers." Either way, it's a fantastic way to celebrate.
|A Sea of Tigers Fans|
|Celebrating with Umbrellas|