Tokyo Diary, Part Two

By now you know that the A’s were killed by the B’s tonight – two miscues each in the field by Barton and Buck and a tenth-inning baserunning disaster by Emil Brown that was hard to believe. And you know that we’re going to have to temporarily rename Huston Street Desolation Row.


But hey, it was Opening Night in Tokyo, a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I’m here to tell you it was a blast despite the sad and unnecessary outcome.


For me, it was a blast before I even walked into the ballpark: when you walk out of the Korakuen station – in a train that is on time, of course, and deposits you directly across the street from the stadium – you have a serious what the hell is that moment. It’s the Thunder Dolphin roller coaster, adjacent to the stadium, the fifth highest coaster in the world, and one of the most creative: it’s route includes a showstopping drop that would give any respectable acrophobic night sweats, and the coaster line runs through the middle of a Ferris wheel and a hole in an office building. It’s completely freaky.


A few steps takes you to a nice plaza outside the main entrance to the stadium, which tonight was filled by two separate, yet equally important groups: the police who are very, very self-important, and the press who feed on them. Both turned out in mass quantities. There were also a whole mess of fans, who, when not being interviewed by CNN, or NHK, or Canal Plus, or the BBC, were doing the strangers-stopping-strangers-just-to-shake-their-hand thing. Everyone wanted to know how you got there and why, and where you got your allegiance to the A’s or the Sox or baseball. It was as happy a crowd as you will ever see.


I talked to a bunch of people before the game, including Kaoruko Yamoka and her family, who are Japanese and took a trip to San Francisco last year, went to see the A’s because they happened to be at home, and became die-hard A’s fans overnight. They could hardly believe their luck to be seeing them play in Tokyo.


Then there was Aaron Sales, a Humboldt State student on his way back from the States to Shanghai, where he works as a cartographer. "I asked my airline how long my layover could be in Tokyo, and they said ‘As long as you want,’ so here I am." Sales is a serious China guy and had a lot to say about what’s going on there, none of which I can repeat and none of which is very optimistic. (After the game, he e-mailed me a picture you have to see to believe. It’s below.)


And it turned out that once I found my seats, I was sitting next to an old AN contributor, Matt McCracken ("roscoeparrish"), now a high school junior in San Mateo, precociously socially adept and charming. Big Obama supporter.


I ran into other A’s and Sox fans from Hawai’i, Osaka, New England and Taiwan in town for the game. "I used to think that flying five hours from San Francisco to New York was a big deal," the guy sitting behind me during the game told me. "Now I live in Singapore and I travel seven hours just for a good weekend. I’m just here for the game. I’m flying home tomorrow."


The Tokyo Dome itself – the PR flacks for the place like to call it "The Big Egg" – is not a particularly exciting venue, reminiscent, really, of the Metrodome, not exactly a crackling recommendation for A’s fans, or at least A’s fans before The Zito Masterpiece.


And the place was filled with an odd crowd: lots of Japanese of course, but with large pockets of visiting Red Sox fans, and a few narrow pockets of A’s fans. It turns out that the Red Sox ticket sale made things practically impossible for their fans to get tix – just like at Fenway Park – so a lot of them found a way into the A’s sale and were seated among A’s fans. Bizarrely – if you’ve seen the behavior of Sox fans at the Coliseum – the ones who did were apologetic and good sports about the whole thing.


The Japanese fans were a whole ‘nother thing: lots of businessmen – tickets were expensive; my seats between home and third went for $170 each before the dollar died – and a lot of sophisticated fans who weren’t ready to give it up for the American players. The wonderful bleacher creatures in my earlier post about the Saitama Seibu game were completely absent from this one.


The Japanese fans did provide the oddest moment of the game, though. 

It’s not quite a cliché, and I’ve been known to utter it myself: every single time you go to a game, you see something you’ve never seen before.

 It was true tonight in Tokyo: the crowd favorite, by far, was a middle reliever. The place exploded when Hidecki Okajima came into the game, and he was the easy winner in the all-important flashbulb index.

 (Big Papi was a distant second, and Manny Ramirez, after his third and fourth RBI, an even more distant third. No A’s registered on the flashbulb index at all, except of course for Country Joe’s first pitch of the ballgame.


(Daiseke Matsusaka got a surprisingly lukewarm reception, and his utter inability to control the strike zone quieted whatever support he had. His fastball, which topped out at 91 on the stadium gun, didn’t win any converts. It may be that the Red Sox have committed a Pavano-esque blunder with Dice-K; after a mediocre ’07 shattered his mystique, I’m looking at a guy with an average fastball and indifferent command of a couple of breaking pitches. I don’t see how that’s worth nine figures.)


As far as the A’s go, Bobby Crosby is still lunging, Mark Ellis looked as sure as ever, it’s hard not to think that the A’s OF is a complete mess, Alan Embree looked exactly the same as last year, Jack Hannahan remains a wonderful story, and many of the pitches that Huston Street threw were fastballs and sliders that drifted directly into the Happy Zone and the concomitant bad results were not particularly the result of good Boston hitting. You have to wonder if this is going to be an ongoing problem.


Other notes on the game:


-- A lot of the usual suspects were there tonight, including Stomper and Lew Wolff, who was accompanied by a police escort and absent for long periods from his first row dugout seat.


-- The yakitori: again, the way to go. The Japanese have much to teach us about ballpark food.


-- Watching Keith Foulke pitch was fascinating. I tracked the speed of his pitches, and this is what I got:


Kevin Youkilis, 86, 82, 80, 86 (that’s the one he whacked to the warning track in straightaway center.)


David Ortiz, 75, 81, 81, 87, 75, 80, 78, then Foulke shook off Suzuki, threw a fastball, 86, which Ortiz whacked the hell out of, but on a line to Brown in LF for an out.


Manny Ramirez, 79, 81, 79, 79, then Foulke again shook off Suzuki, threw a fastball, 86, but this time Ramirez takes it for strike three.


All three times he tried to finish off guys with a fastball. Twice, he came within a hair of getting taken deep, the other time he polished off a disbelieving Manny.


-- The place was stone sold out, and except for a few people leaving after the ninth, and a few more after the Red Sox scored two in the tenth, it stayed that way for the entire 3:43 and five lead changes of the game.


-- Cherry blossom season started early this year; the walk in Ueno Park was packed with delighted Tokyoites. During this time of year, it’s certainly one of the most beautiful urban parks in the world.





The scene in Ueno Park, in Central Tokyo, early in the afternoon before the game.



The view of the Tokyo Dome as you come out of the subway.



The Thunder Dolphin 'coaster, hard by the Dome.



More Thunder Dolphin.



Kaoruko Yamaoka (in the blue A's cap) on the plaza outside the Tokyo Dome.



Humboldt-stater Aaron Salles with two unidentified A's fans in the Tokyo Dome Opening Night.



Inside the Tokyo Dome as the Red Sox take batting practice.



Matt McCracken, San Mateo resident and the former "roscoeparrish" on AN, discusses his predilections for Far Eastern travel.



A jet-lagged Stomper trudges through the infield as MLB and Tokyo Dome drones prepare the pre-game extravaganza, which had no known relation to baseball. Part of the extravaganza was a phalanx of hot girls in short, short, short hotpants, which Kevin Youkilis spent the entire show ogling while pretending to jog back and forth in front of the Sox dugout.



The free schwag handed out to all fans in atttendance at the Tokyo Dome tonight. Almost makes the $1,000 flights from the Bay Area to Japan worth it, don't you think?