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Baseball Stories: 2000 Japan Trip, Part 5

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Wednesday, March 29, 2000

In the morning we toured the Imperial Palace Gardens, which are the outer gardens on the grounds of the Emperor's palace. Landscaping there includes trees from all over the world. It was that day, a bit too early in the season to see the cherry blossoms; you'll see some of those in part 6.

There is no touring of the Palace itself; you can see the walls around it, and glimpses of it, but are not allowed in. We also saw an art exhibition which was on loan from the Dutch royal family.

After that, it was off to Akibahara, known to the locals as "Electric Town" -- tons of discount electronics and camera stores. Due to the exchange rate, things weren't as cheap as they otherwise might have been, so we did lots of looking and no buying.

And at last, it was back to the Tokyo Dome for the opening game of the 2000 regular season. As I mentioned earlier, I had bought the tickets (see below for a photo of mine) through a travel agency in New York, so we wound up sitting near quite a few Chicagoans and other Cub fans, in addition to two rather obnoxious New Yorkers, Met fans, who spouted out nonsense throughout the game. The Japanese royal family was in attendance, reportedly the first time any of them had attended any baseball game.

There was a playoff atmosphere, despite the fact that MLB had asked the Japanese fans not to bring their usual noisemakers and musical instruments, which led to many, many quiet moments. Since neither the Cubs nor Mets were "their" team, it almost seemed as if they didn't know when to cheer, or for whom. They did applaud loudly for Sammy Sosa and Mike Piazza, both of whom were (and still are) very popular in Japan. The loudest cheers came from the small clumps of Americans in the crowd.

I gave away a couple of Cubs caps and pins to Japanese kids, and took a photo of one family, which you can see below.

The Cubs won the game 5-3 behind the sharp pitching of Jon Lieber, and homers from Mark Grace and Shane Andrews. In retrospect, that was the highlight of that 97-loss season. As I noted in my written journal that day:

And, we are in first place till Monday!

Ah, silly optimism.

On the way back to the hotel we met some people from Rochester, NY, who live and work in Tokyo. We met them literally "up close and personal", because everything you may have heard about how they stuff people into the Tokyo subway trains is true. They even have uniformed, gloved "pushers" on the platforms -- now, don't take that word wrong, it is their job to "push" as many people onto the trains as possible.

You see far more Western-looking people there than you'd imagine, and many times I'd feel like talking to them on the street -- only to realize they were speaking French or German!

Top: Al at the Imperial Palace; sign outside Tokyo Dome; Al outside the Tokyo Dome; Cubs pose for a team picture

Middle: Pregame entertainment; Cubs & Mets line up for introductions and anthems; Rey Ordonez batting against Jon Lieber in the 4th (Mike Piazza leading off 3B, Mike Hampton visible on deck) -- believe it or not, Rey drew a walk in this at-bat; scoreboard showing final score (interesting note: what look like the English letters M, J and E on the lineup board are in fact, the English letters M, J and E. They denote Matt Franco, John Franco and Eric Young. The Japanese language doesn't have any ideograms to denote such English-language things).

Bottom: my Opening Day ticket (price as noted: 10,000 yen, at the exchange rate at the time, it was about $90)

Photos by Al