This is the second installment of my first-ever retro series. And it’s even a trilogy!
March 27, 2000 (Day 4 Recap): Pearl Vision by Day, Giants Fiasco by Night …
Monday morning/early afternoon …
After not having much of an appetite my first couple days here, I finally was hungry this morning. After brewing myself a cup of the in-room coffee (tastes kind of like Starbucks — but stronger) and reading the Daily Yomiuri, an English newspaper, I headed to one of the many coffee shops located in this hotel. They had a great Western-style buffet, as I had an omelette, pancakes and tater tots for the unbelievably low price of 2887 yen (approximately $28).
A group of 16 of us then went to The Yonamine Company, a highly recommended store for pearls located in the Roppongi section of Tokyo. The store is operated by Japanese Hall of Famer Wally Yonamine, who also played football in the United States for the San Francisco 49ers in the early 1940s, and his wife, Jane. The store specializes in pearls and gives discounts to celebrities. Thankfully, right now I’m considered one!
Jane gave about a half hour lecture on the different types of pearls (yes, I paid attention for a few minutes), explaining the difference between oysters, mussels, and the ligaments the pearls can come from. She then basically sat back and watched as we all spent money. She has designed/sold jewelry to a lot of celebrities, as evidenced by the pictures she and her husband have in the store from people named Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Taylor, Brooke Shields and nearly every major leaguer who has been in Japan over the past decade.
Her shop was on the fifth floor. After we left, the elevator stopped at the fourth floor — into a dentist’s office. I did my Jed Clampett smile for a dental assistant who was trying to get on the elevator. She smiled back — and backed right off the elevator!
After that little excursion, I went to lunch with one of our beat writers, Bruce Miles of the Daily Herald. I would have settled for McDonald’s, but he talked me into being an explorer. We eventually wound up at a place where the only English anywhere was the restaurant’s website address (www.ramia.net/torigen/ — if you want to try and tell me where I was!!). The word “noodles” apparently translates well into Japanese, as I received a huge bowl of chicken noodle soup. At least I think it was chicken. It was outstanding, though, and we might go back if we can. As strange as it was to be a foreigner, though, my afternoon was made when the chef, who didn’t speak English, thanked me in Japanese for coming to the restaurant (I was able to understand some of the words). I bowed and dropped an “arrigato” and a “konnichiwa” on him. He laughed and said, “Adios.”
On the way back to the hotel, I got to stop at the Golden Arches. Sprite tasted very good.
Now it’s off to the ballpark. Talk to you soon.
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Monday Night …
I could sit and write and complain about the fine folks at Major League Baseball who sucked all the joy of Japan out of me, but I’ll hold off for now. (I don’t want to waste a good whine session too early in the trip).
OK, I will bitch about one thing. MLB “pressured” the Yomiuri Company into keeping the fans quiet for the game so that they wouldn’t be a distraction. Surprisingly enough, a quiet, subdued crowd in a domed stadium makes for a boring evening.
Anyway, we had a crowd of about 45,000 for the exhibition game against the Yomiuri Giants — and we lost 6-0. Their two stud players, Hideki Matsui and Yoshinobu Takahashi, each homered.
I found it interesting that the Yomiuri jerseys solely had English on them (team name, team nickname, player’s name). If you were a player and didn’t know how to read English, how would you know which jersey was yours?
I also found it interesting that during the Giants’ batting practice, they had two batting cages next to each other — meaning two batters were hitting at the same time. Of course, with the extended BP, guys with uniform numbers in the 100s were needed to complete the BP sessions.
If you’re getting up at 4 a.m. Chicago time Wednesday to watch the game, here are some things you might find interesting about the Tokyo Dome:
- There are no warning tracks anywhere. About five feet in front of the outfield wall is a painted white line. The wall collisions here must be legendary.
- There are no bullpens on the field. Tucked inside each clubhouse is a batting cage/mound area. If you have a pitching change, the reliever has to be phoned – then has to race onto the field from inside the clubhouse.
- Stealing one of my ideas, this ballpark has screens that go literally from one foul pole to the other. Fans don’t get hit by line drives. Fans don’t leave the ballpark missing eyeballs and teeth.
- The mound is almost pitch black. It’s like watching the pitcher throwing atop grounds of Maxwell House.
While I didn’t understand most of the in-house advertising, one ad did jump out (so to speak) — as it featured a trio of Japanese Budweiser frogs.
That’s it for now. Tomorrow, we play the Seibu Lions in Tokorozawa, which is 45 miles from here — an anticipated 2 1/2-hour bus ride. Talk to you later.
In case you didn’t already know, I hadn’t gone to Tokorozawa before. And just so you know, I believe the English translation for Tokorozawa is “You Ain’t F***ing Getting There In A Hurry.”
Tokorozawa, the home of the Seibu Dome, is roughly 18-20 miles outside of downtown Tokyo. The bus ride to the ballpark was a wonderful 2 hours, 40 minutes. With that in mind, I’m dividing my day into the Tokorozawa Trilogy.
1. The Bus Ride
In all seriousness, Tokorozawa is at most 20 miles from this hotel. In double seriousness, it took us 2 hours, 40 minutes to get there this morning.
The highway was nauseatingly stop-and-go. Once we got off, there’s only one road you can take into town — and there’s only one lane going in each direction.
The following are things I wanted to ask our non-English speaking busdriver (but didn’t) on the Road To Tokorozawa:
- I realize the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, but don’t you think if you took little-traveled surface streets instead of the non-moving highway that we might get there faster?
- Was it necessary for traffic engineers to set the traffic signals so that we must stop at every intersection?
- Is it a crime in Japan to make a lane change?
- What’s the purpose of driving a Mercedes Benz-made bus in Japan? Aren’t there a few car companies over here?
- Since so many people on the streets are wearing surgical masks (to prevent the spreading of cold/cough germs), how exactly do they get the food in their mouths when they eat?
- How come my hotel room has TVs in both the bedroom and the bathroom, with 12 channels on each TV, yet they’re two different sets of channels? And with that in mind, how come the closest thing to English I could find on TV was a dubbed-in-Japanese version of “Mr. Holland’s Opus?”
- How come the dubbed-in-Japanese version of “Mr. Holland’s Opus” was better than the subtitled “Speed 2” we’re watching on this bus right now?
- Why is the lowest paper monetary form of the yen the 1,000 bill? That would be like not having a $1 or a $5 back home. With all the coins I’m carrying, I sound like a Salvation Army bell when I walk.
- Honestly, Mr. Bus Driver … How many years does it take to drive across this island?
2. The Seibu Dome
You haven’t seen anything like this place.
The Seibu Dome, the home of the Japanese Pacific League’s Seibu Lions, is literally a spaceship hovering directly over the park. Outside of a few cement cylinders, the dome sits about 25 feet above the top row of seats — as the gap between the two is open air. People near the top rows have to get rained upon despite being in a “domed” park.
When you walk into the Seibu Dome, you had to walk down 7 flights of stairs to get to the clubhouse level. Then, if you were like me and had to go to the press box, you had to walk around 10 flights up.
This park has its nuances. The manager/coaches office is about 10 feet by 10 feet with a coat rack. The office is located directly behind home plate and has blinds, but if you don’t close the blinds all the way, people looking in could see coaches getting dressed/undressed. The main clubhouse wasn’t much bigger. For that matter, neither was the press box. The press box was enclosed, just like Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium.
One of the weirdest things I’ll probably ever see took place in the 4th inning. Through 3.0 innings, Cubs pitcher Scott Downs had a perfect game. While Chicago radio personality Les Grobstein was doing his no-hit pool among the American media, the Japanese media were conducting their no-hit pool — in the rock/paper/scissors variety. I hadn’t seen that since Hebrew school — and very few of the Japanese media looked Jewish. By the way, Kazuo Matsui broke up the no-no with a 1-out double in the 4th.
We won the game 6-5, rallying to score 3 runs in the 9th on a Mark Grace homer and a Damon Buford 2-out, 2-run homer.
3. You're Out Of Your Mind If You Thought We Were Busing Back
Thanks to the bus ride to Tokorozawa, and the thought line that a 2:40 bus plus a 3-hour game plus a 2:40 bus would almost equal the time necessary to fly back to Chicago, most of us — players, staff, media — took the train back to Tokyo. I’ve been on New York subways during rush hour before, but this was something absolutely unbelievable.
As we were leaving the Seibu Dome, the pre-rain fog was rolling in through the dome’s gap, giving the ballpark a very surreal feel. The group of us — probably 50 in total — walked through the rain to the Tokorozawa train stop, which is located about 1 block from the ballpark.
The last train from Tokorozawa to Tokyo leaves at 7 p.m. As a group, we just barely made it. In Japanese society, that’s not good enough, as the rule seems to be — if they can breathe, keep shoving more in. Police literally keep pushing people into trains until there no longer is the possibility of movement.
The first train, which we were on for five minutes, was tolerable. The second train — a 30-minute ride — was less so. As that train’s doors opened, a huge rush of screaming people came pushing and shoving all those in front of them into the train. Thoughts of The Who at Riverfront Stadium entered my mind as I was flying forward with my roughly 80 pounds of equipment that I travel to ballgames with. You hear how orderly the Japanese are, but this is something that could never happen in New York without fatalities. I now know how sardines and blocking dummies feel.
We had to make one more train change, which was slightly more orderly. In total, though, the three trains got us from Point A to Point B in 1 hour, 5 minutes, so there was an up-shot to all of it.
The regular season finally starts Wednesday night (or Wednesday morning for most of you). I’ll talk to you then.
P.S. — For those of you who have asked, I will not have anything done to my tooth until I get back home. Our team doctor advised me against it, since the dentist he talked to seemed a little too eager to drill without knowing what the problem was.
Also, the next time you’re in Japan, you have to try Pocky Chocolate. They are thin pretzels covered in milk, white and strawberry chocolate. As the box says, they’re “The Super Snack.”