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Baseball Stories: 2000 Japan Trip, Part 6

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Thursday, March 30, 2000

In the morning we met Stacie again; she brought her friend Maria, and the two of them played tour guide in taking us to Kamakura, an old town whose temples were preserved during the World War II bombing partly through the efforts of an American doctor, who is honored in the town square with a plaque.

One of the sights there is the Great Buddha, originally built in 1252, and so large you can actually walk inside it. From there we went to the Hase Temple, a functioning Buddhist temple. The grounds there are gorgeous, and we saw many people there praying, along with shrines that they set up to memorialize family members who have died. There are spectacular vistas overlooking the Pacific Ocean from there, too.

For lunch we grabbed a meat/vegetable pie of the sort that's sold nearly everywhere on the streets in Japan. It was served hot, and a filling lunch for 330 yen (about $4).

Back in Tokyo, we headed to the Dome again for game two of the series and season. I finished buying various souvenirs, though I couldn't find an official game cap (with the sewn-on logo you see on the Cub and Met player caps), even though I found a Japanese man wearing one, and he walked through the entire concourse with me trying to find one. (Note: I eventually did locate one of these caps -- three years later at a Cub Convention!)

I gave away a couple of Cubs caps and pins to some Japanese kids, and showed them pictures of my kids. You know, touristy stuff. It was like this the whole trip -- meeting friendly people, both Americans and Japanese. One Japanese man insisted on taking my photo, and I gave him my address to send me a copy (this was in the days before digital cameras and e-mailed photos were common). He wound up sending me some Japanese baseball stuff, and I learned the polite thing to do was acknowledge these small gifts with small gifts of my own; we did this back and forth for nearly a year. Also spent quite a bit of time with a guy from Cleveland, SABR member Mike Trabert, who bills himself as "Mr. Ballpark", and travels to ballparks all over the world.

The game itself -- which wound up a 5-1 Mets win when Benny Agbayani, of all people, smacked a grand slam in the 11th inning -- was well-played through nine. It is a sobering thought to remind oneself that the starting pitcher in this game was Dr. Tightpants, one of five starts he made that year, and he actually pitched reasonably well -- one run in 5.2 IP, four walks, four strikeouts. Here's what I wrote as game notes that day:

Jeff Huson made some really nice plays in the field; then Don Baylor inexplicably batted for him in the 9th. It almost looked as if Jim Riggleman were still managing.

I can't imagine why Danny Young (who gave up the HR to Agbayani) is even on this team. He's 28, a career minor leaguer, and he had a few good innings in Arizona, and suddenly, he's a major leaguer. Why? Just because he's lefthanded, I guess, and throws hard. To make room for Young, Greg McMichael had been let go. (To be fair, McMichael was about done -- he threw only 15 games for the 2000 Braves and then retired.)

The pitching was fine until two out in the 11th, then Young fell apart -- a single, two walks and the grand slam. In the Japanese regular season, they don't play extra innings (yes, there are actual tie games in Japanese ball), so this was a first for their fans.

I ate some sort of noodle dish for dinner at the Dome -- just to say I'd done so. Jeff & Krista & I also ordered sake -- and the female vendor (pictured below) didn't have enough change for mine. She actually left her ID badge with me while she went to get change. Imagine a US ballpark vendor doing this. They also served, and I had, in the days I still ate ballpark ice cream, an ice cream concoction served in a cone shaped like the dome, which is nicknamed "The Big Egg".

Had the game gone much longer, we were looking at a $50+ taxi ride back to the hotel, because the trains in Tokyo stop running a little before midnight. It was just after 11 when the game ended.

This baseball experience was well worth all the time and effort MLB put into arranging it, despite the bleatings of Jay Mariotti, whose columns I read online while I was there. He wrote at the time that he felt it was a waste of time, didn't write anything about the culture or experiencing such a fantastic trip. Here's a guy sent 10,000 mile away, and I'll bet he never went further than his hotel room and the ballpark. As I wrote at the beginning of this series, I would go back to Japan in a heartbeat, to see more of the country.

Friday, March 31, 2000

My return flight wasn't scheduled to leave till 7:30 pm (going east, you gain the day back that you lose, so I left at 7:30 pm on Friday, and after flying 11 hours, arrived in Chicago at 3:30 pm on... Friday), so I checked out and went to Veno Park to see the cherry blossoms. I learned that about five days later, they were in full bloom, but I got to see some of the early stages.

Sitting in the hotel waiting for the bus to the airport, wearing my Cub jacket, a Japanese man wearing Cub clothing came up to me -- it turned out he was a BIG fan of American baseball and had made eight trips to the USA, and had at the time seen 16 different major league parks. I left him with contact information, but never again heard from him.

Finally, the entire Cub team traipsed through the airport when we were there -- turned out they were on our flight. There was no opportunity for chat or autographs either in the gate area (as they whisked the players up to the first-class lounge), or on the flight, as they were all in Business or First class, and they kept the section closed off in those pre-9/11 days. During the flight they showed the 1998 and 1999 Cub highlight films. OK, so the 1999 one was pretty short. But seeing that 1998 film, reminded me of all the excitement and emotion of that season, one of the many reasons I took this trip halfway around the world, to tour another part of the world, and see baseball.

Top: Giant Buddha at Kamakura; temple at Kamakura; religious shrine at Kamakura (yes, that is a Tweety Bird -- you're supposed to put items that remind you of the person who died; in this case it was likely a child); view of Pacific Ocean from temple

Bottom: Japanese family (you can barely see the pin I gave them in the girl's hand); Al & the sake vendor; Jeff, Krista & Al with our sake; Al at Veno Park

Photos by Al