The Cubs, flush from their 5-3 win March 29, 2000 in the first MLB game ever played outside North America, were the host team for the second game of the series against the Mets at the Tokyo Dome 20 years ago today, March 30, 2000.
Here’s how I experienced that afternoon and evening.
First was buying various souvenirs, though I couldn’t find an official game cap (with the sewn-on logo that was on the Cub and Met player caps), even though I noticed a Japanese man wearing one, and he walked through the entire concourse with me trying to find one. I eventually did locate one of these caps — three years later at a Cubs Convention!
I gave away a couple of Cubs caps and pins to some Japanese kids. 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 (back in the days before digital cameras, smartphones, emailed photos and social media 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; this wound up going on back and forth for nearly a year, mostly an exchange of baseball cards, though I also sent some Cubs programs and other Wrigley memorabilia. I still have those Japanese baseball cards.
I ate some sort of noodle dish for dinner at the Dome. When a vendor came around offering sake I decided to have some, as this is obviously not a thing you’d find at MLB ballparks. The cost was the equivalent of around $5. Unfortunately, I’d run down most of my cash and all I had left was a ¥10,000 note (roughly the equivalent of a US $100 bill).
The female vendor (below) didn’t have enough change for that note. She actually left her ID badge with me while she went to get change. Imagine a MLB ballpark vendor doing that.
If this game — which ran three hours and 55 minutes — had gone much longer than that, I’d have had an expensive taxi ride back to my hotel, because the Tokyo subways stop running at 11:30 p.m.
As it was, the famous “pushers” — uniformed personnel wearing white gloves — shove as many people as they can into the subway cars, almost until you can’t breathe. I was surprised when I turned around — with difficulty — after I got “pushed,” to find out I was standing next to the only other Americans I could see on the subway car, a family of Mets fans from upstate New York.
Beyond all that, the 15-hour time difference between Tokyo and Chicago meant that the game — which started at 7 p.m. Tokyo time (4 a.m. Chicago time) — wound up ending as morning rush hour in Chicago began to get busy.
As I noted in yesterday’s article about the first Tokyo MLB game, at the time the announced attendance for every game at the Tokyo Dome is 55,000. It was again for this game, and since this was officially a Cubs “home” game, the answer to the trivia question “What’s the largest attendance ever at a Cubs home game?” is “55,000.”
The game itself was well-played through nine. Kyle Farnsworth was the starting pitcher. It was one of just five starts he made in 2000, and he never started a game after that year. He threw 5⅔ innings and allowed one run on three hits (but four walks). The Cubs bullpen did fine until 28-year-old Danny Young, who had been taken on the trip because the teams were allowed a 28-man roster, entered to throw the 11th.
Young holds the record for the player drafted in the latest round who actually played in the big leagues — the 83rd (!) round in 1990, by the Astros. Houston must have been stocking their system or something that year, because they continued to select players until the 99th (!) round. After round 74 they were the only team selecting players.
Anyway, Young got the first two outs in the 11th, then gave up a single and two walks and Benny Agbayani hit a grand slam. Since the Cubs were the home team in this game, they batted in the last of the 11th, went out 1-2-3, and the Mets had a 5-1 win. Young pitched in three more games for the 2000 Cubs, all in their first US-based series in St. Louis in April, spent the rest of that year at Iowa, and then was let go.
The day after this game, I was sitting in the lobby at my hotel wearing a Cubs jacket and waiting for the bus to the airport. A Japanese man wearing Cubs gear came up to me and addressed me in English. 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 heard from him.
When I was walking through Narita Airport on my way to the gate, I saw the entire Cubs team traipsing by — it turned out they were on my flight. On the plane the team was all in Business or First Class, although since they were being taken to a separate area to clear Customs, they made the entire team wait until everyone else had deplaned. I can still recall seeing some of the players, arms folded, rather impatient for us to get off the plane so they then could head to Customs.
During the flight they showed the 1998 and 1999 Cub highlight films. Granted, the 1999 “highlights” were pretty short. But watching the 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 country and see baseball.
The baseball and travel experience was well worth all the time and effort MLB put into arranging it. I’ve always been in favor of having games like this in other countries. MLB has gone back to Japan several times and played games in Mexico, Australia and last year’s London Series between the Red Sox and Yankees. It appears that the 2020 London Series between the Cubs and Cardinals has been cancelled due to the current coronavirus outbreak. Understandable, but it’s a pity. I was hoping to go. Perhaps they can reschedule it for a future season.
And again, it sure doesn’t feel like 20 years have gone by since these games at the Tokyo Dome.