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Baseball Stories: 2000 Japan Trip, Part 1

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As I mentioned not long after the 2005 season ended, I've got tons of great baseball stories to tell. And so, barring breaking news this week, and rather than keep rehasing the same old rumormongering we've been up to for the last couple of weeks, I thought I'd take a few days to tell you about the trip I took to see the Cubs' season-opening games with the Mets in Japan in 2000.

Jeff & Krista & I hung out together there, and we ran into some other fellow bleacherites as well as many other Cub fans, Met fans, and other American baseball fans who had made the trip over.

It really was the trip of a lifetime. Japan is as exotic -- and as familiar (many parts of Tokyo, bombed flat at the end of World War II, look like Los Angeles or San Francisco) -- as you can imagine it, and the people are delightful and friendly and helpful, and I'd love to go back over there someday to see more of the country.

What follows is a transcription of a written journal (in those ancient pre-blog days, yes, I actually hand-wrote notes on paper each day) I kept during the trip, and a few photos for each day of the journey.

It began on the morning of Friday, March 24, 2000, leaving at around noon from O'Hare. On the flight I saw Bert (who we used to call "Bob the Baker" since he worked in a bakery, and would bring us bread all the time), and his friend Danny, who both sat with us many years ago in our right field perch. Actually, Bob/Bert (OK, his real name is "Roberto", thus the two names) never sat much -- he always preferred to stand.

Another former bleacher colleague, Rick Berns, who I had met back in 1979, was now working for United and was also on the flight over.

I had hoped to get upgraded (who wouldn't, on a 13-hour flight?), but it worked out OK because I managed to score an exit row seat with a huge amount of legroom in front of it, and there was an empty seat in the middle. My other seatmate was an American on his way to Shanghai for some sort of oil drilling venture. No, Halliburton wasn't mentioned.

Part of my entry was written at 1:30 pm Tokyo time Saturday -- 11 hours into the flight, which would have been 11:30 pm Chicago time. The flight attendants kept bringing water around, but still, there was time to sleep. The plane was about half Japanese and half Americans. Obviously, you lose a day going west toward Asia --leaving Chicago on Friday noon, arriving late afternoon Saturday, and flying the route over the North Pole, it was daylight throughout the flight.

On clearing Customs, I saw the entire Cub team at the baggage claim. Jeff & Krista, who had flown in separately the day before, met me there and we were picked up by Stacie, a former babysitter of my kids who had moved to Japan after college to teach English, and had met and married a US Navy man stationed there. She was fluent enough in Japanese to help us get around, and played tour guide for much of the week.

The drive from the airport took over two hours -- there was traffic everywhere; Tokyo is an enormous city, sprawling everywhere and at that time, amounting to about twenty-five million people. By the time we checked in and went to get something to eat, it was 8:30 pm. We found a restaurant that had plastic plates showing the menu items in the window -- later on, we learned that this was common almost everywhere in Tokyo. It turned out to be, of all things, an Italian restaurant. Not speaking any Japanese, we had to point at what we wanted; the food was decent and not too expensive.

This is the first of a six-part series which will run every day this week.

Photo: view from the street near my Tokyo hotel; in the background is the Tokyo Tower, built in 1958 and modelled after (and a bit taller than!) the Eiffel Tower.

Photo by Al - many more photos to come in upcoming installments!