When I attended my first baseball (or bay-su-bo-ru, as it is pronounced in Japan) game in Tokyo, to watch the league-leading Seibu Lions in their home stadium, nothing could have prepared me for the intensity of their fan base. The bleachers were a sea of blue and white: Lions caps, Lions jackets, Lions blankets, clappers, and ice chests; Lions pennants, signs and pompoms. I felt seriously underdressed; the only blue I was wearing was a pair of Levis. I had wanted a Japanese baseball cap, though, so, mildly chastened, I dutifully made my way down to the concession stand and spent a small fortune for a Lions cap. Back in the stands, even my seatmates (these were not friends, mind you, just folks I met upon taking my assigned seat) clearly thought I was underdressed, and they dug deep into their cache of Lions ephemera to outfit me in a manner that they felt appropriate to the occasion. I returned the favor by buying a round of beers from the wandering concessionairette, but it was a case of bringing coals to Newcastle, as my new best buddies had a couple of twelvers of Asahi in their blue-and-white Lions cooler.
The Lions would likely be little more than a blip on the radar for most Americans, but for their fortuitous sale of ace pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka to the Boston Red Sox, for a reported six billion Japanese yen (around $50 million!). And every time Dice-K plays, the game is televised in every bar from Hokkaido to Kyushu, never mind the time difference, almost as if the broadcast were some sort of legal requirement. Attendees cheer as if they were in the stands, and the beers flow freely every time an opposing batter goes down for the count.
I never see this level of excitement about baseball in the US anymore, except once a year when the American League and the National League gear up for their annual showdown. I will be leaving soon to go to my friend’s house, where we can watch Game Four on a big screen. I won’t be wearing a Rangers or a Giants cap (although I must confess a small leaning toward the San Francisco team), there’ll be no blanket, no pompoms. I suspect the beer will be flowing, however. Traditions die hard.