Greetings from Tokyo, Part Three


OK, imagine you’re in St. Petersburg, Florida in mid-September. You’re at Tropicana Field for Tampa Bay and the Royals, both about 45 out. There’s hardly a soul in the house, not even that loudmouth who sits behind home plate. When you yell "Let’s Go Devil Rays," you can hear your voice echo off the outfield wall. ("Devil Rays" because you’re not having any of this new name, the one that makes it sound like Ray Romano bought the naming rights to the team.)


That was roughly the atmosphere in the Tokyo Dome tonight. Despite word that the game was a sellout, there were a couple of thousand empty seats (there weren’t any last night), and the fans who were here wouldn’t have disturbed the cats at a Japanese cemetery.


The local fans sat on their hands. The Red Sox fans never got a chance to get anything going. And there just weren’t enough A’s fans in attendance to make a dent in the place even as we responded enthusiastically to the redemption of Emil Brown and the dominating if slightly troubling performance from Rich Harden.


That being said, it was still a great day in Tokyo and at the ballpark, and not just because the A’s got that first W and ensured that however good the Red Sox are this year, hey, at least they won’t win it wire-to-wire. (Toronto or the Yankees and Tampa Bay or Baltimore will be a half game ahead of the Sox at the end of play Monday.)


The weather was sunny and in the high 60s during the day, with a soft, narcotic breeze. The cherry blossoms are out with a vengeance on practically every street and in every park. This time of year, Tokyo must be the most beautiful city in the world, and the people who live here are taking obvious pleasure in it.


The good feelings baseball fans from all over the world brought into yesterday’s game – can you believe we’re here? How great is this? – carried over into tonight.


A whole bunch of A’s fans I sat with last night in section 20 – $170 a shot in the first deck right over what turned out to be the Boston dugout – did the same thing I did and went cheap for game two – $70 a ticket to sit in section six at the bottom of the second deck, again over the Boston dugout.


It was a reunion of a bunch of people who’d gotten to know each other the night before, and there was plenty of beer, high fives and e-mail addresses exchanged. Maybe even one romance got started, if I’m right about what was going on between an A’s fan and a Sox fan sitting near me.


The early A’s lead, which never appeared in jeopardy, made for a relaxed cruise through the game, and we were as raucous as we could be, to the appreciation of the Japanese fans sitting near us, but not the stadium PA crew, who played insipid organ tapes everytime we started chanting, "Let’s Go Oakland." It was like being shushed by a librarian with a really, really loud sound system.


About Harden, because I know your heart skipped a beat when I used the words "Harden" and "troubling" in the same sentence. You went to this morning and saw Harden’s line – 6 IP, 3 H, 9 Ks – and you figured that at least for now, all is right in Hardenland. So what’s the problem? Maybe nothing, but Rich topped out at 155 km/h on the stadium gun. That’s 96 to you and me. He only got that high once. (A first inning ball to Youkilis way up out of the strike zone.) Most of his fastballs were in the low to mid 90s, and he threw more breaking pitches than I can ever remember seeing him throw.


It was completely unlike him. I know worrying about Harden is an occupational hazard of being an A’s fan, and it could just be that he shifted his pattern because the Red Sox were sitting on his fastball and his breaking stuff was working, and then there's that it’s so early in the season the season hasn’t really started yet, so maybe he wasn’t as ready as he’d like to be or will be in a week or two.


I don’t know. In any case, I found myself holding back a little as I watched him dispatch the Sox. It’s going to take a while before I can root for him wholeheartedly, and I definitely want to see if his approach tonight was a one-time thing or represents some shift in what he can do and, therefore, what we can hope for from him.


Other notes from tonight’s game, and a couple of ones left over from last night:


-- The only t-shirts commemorating the game went for $38 a pop at the Tokyo Dome – if you could get one. They were sold out before very long on Tuesday. Aaron Salles (note the correct spelling tonight; he’s the Humboldt Stater in the pic yesterday with Billy and the Wolff) scored one and literally had people come up to him tonight trying to buy the shirt off his back.


-- The Tokyo Dome turns out to have a good selection of sushi and sashimi to go with it’s yakitori; while aisles behind the stands look the same as the ones in crappy hockey arenas (or the Metrodome), the food is first rate, maybe the best I’ve ever eaten at a ballpark.


-- The stadium PA played Sweet Caroline before the bottom of the eighth each night. Yup, felt just like being in Oakland.


-- Dr. Emil was named MVP of the game and received a check for one million yen. He planned to use the check to launch a campaign of emil world domination until it was pointed out to him that one million yen is only $10,000, and that he got $40,000 just for getting on the plane to come to Tokyo, and that baseball is a multi-billion dollar business. So never mind.


-- Rich Harden got 500,000 yen as the recipient of the Fighting Spirit Award.


-- This is why people love to play with Big Papi, besides all the HR and RBI: Red Sox down 2-0 in the fifth last night, runners on first and second, nobody out, Big Papi steps to the plate and practically before he settles into the box, he pops out foul to Hannahan. Manny follows by being Manny, whacking a double into the left-field corner to tie the game. First guy out of the dugout to greet Pedroia and Youkilis, who’d just scored: Big Papi.


-- I don’t know if the Red Sox have a budget line for acquiring mid-season talent, but if they don’t, they better get one. Their bullpen is Papelbon and Okajima and a bunch of guys who’d have trouble making the Kansas City Royals.


-- The opening ceremonies tonight again involved introductions of both teams, but this time the pre-game stage show was way better: hundreds of samarai and a woman painting on a huge roll of paper laid out between the pitcher’s mound and home plate. After the game, the A’s and the Sox lined up on the baselines again and Francona and Geren each made a short speech thanking Japan and all the fans who showed up for the games.


-- A lot was made of the bandbox nature of the Tokyo Dome, but I didn't see any cheapies out there. The home runs by Ellis, Brown and Ramirez were crushed, and the ones by Hannahan and Moss would have been out at either Fenway or the Coliseum.


-- Jack Cust walked in his only appearance tonight. In six plate appearances in the series, he never put the ball in play.


-- Travis Buck went 0 for the Far East.


-- On the other hand, Keith Foulke and Alan Embree between them have faced fourteen hitters, given up only two singles and induced two double plays.


-- I want to thank everyone for the kinds words about what I’ve been writing from Tokyo, and in particular blez and baseballgirl for making it possible.


For the pics, first, from around Tokyo yesterday and today, then from the ballpark: 




The Kaneiji Temple, near Ueno Park, built in 1638.



A rabbit from the rabbit-themed Tsuki shrine in Urawa, north of Tokyo. 








A gothic Lolita girl checks for messages at Harajuku, a neighborhood and shopping district in Tokyo that thrives on the gothic Lolita -- it's exactly what it sounds like -- and Cosplay subcultures. 



I took this on the subway today for a couple of reasons: first, two of the women are wearing surgical masks. They're a familiar sight in Tokyo: One in fifteen or twenty people you see on the street is wearing them, either because of allergies, pollution, or to politely avoid infecting other people if they're sick. (The explanation varies depending on who you talk to.)

Second, we're on the subway, and they're checking their messages: it seems like everyone in Tokyo has a spiffy phone, and they all work everywhere on the subway, even ten stories underground. People are asked to voluntarily not make or receive calls on the subway, and turn off their ringers, and amazingly, they do. I'm guessing this kind of system would not work in the US.



The opening extravaganza at tonight's game gets under way. Eventually, a woman will paint that square of paper between the pitcher's mound and home plate.



Mark Mangassarian, who has posted on AN as "mango" or "mango315" (he can't remember which),  stopped in Tokyo to catch tonight's game. He's on his way to China.



You can put it on the board.... Hai! A's win!



By popular demand,  a shot of the Japanese baseball stadium beer distribution system, this one in the Tokyo Dome.



The author with two cats at Yanaka Cemetary.