The Rakuten Eagles are the lone team without a win so far this spring, albeit they have only played 2 official exhibition matches. Where they have won big is their returning ace’s marketability.
Masahiro Tanaka has an official fan club that is separate from the team itself. As you might know, most teams have an official fan club that costs approximately $25-40 for an annual membership. Various discounts and benefits (merchandise, vouchers) are given in exchange for the fans’ loyalty. In the case of the Tanaka fan club, there are two tiers. One of them is ¥18,000 ($180) for the year and offers fans a special, limited-edition “My Hero” towel plus the opportunity to celebrate Eagles’ regular-season home wins (on Tanaka’s mound days) together online. It took just 30 minutes for more than half of the 1,000 spots to be filled. Even greater than this, though, is the VIP tier, which runs at ¥1,800,000 ($18,000) for the year. This was limited to just 10 fans, and sold out in 14 minutes. They will all receive autographed authentic Tanaka uniforms and caps, plus a VIP Premium ticket to a game, valued at ¥500,000. Though many fans voiced frustration at the high price, the team knows their star is worth that much, and even feels in retrospect that the price was not so steep after all.
In other good news, this year’s Spring Koshien tournament for high school players is set to be played on schedule. The national showdown will start on March 19 at the home of the Hanshin Tigers, and will allow up to 10,000 fans to attend each game. Unlike most years, in which tickets can be bought on game day, this year’s tickets are all being sold in advance online. Many days have already completely sold out. This will be the first high school tournament held at the “mecca” of baseball stadiums in nearly 18 months, so you could say that excitement is at an all-time high.
Finally, a little disturbing news out of the Covid corner. The Kanto area (Tokyo, Saitama, Kanagawa, Chiba) of Japan is still in a state of emergency period until March 21, and the Japanese government is refusing entry into the country for any non-visa holders. Many teams have welcomed back their import players who belonged to their clubs last season, but only one newcomer (who arrived nice and early in 2021) is with his team: Kevin Cron of the Hiroshima Carp. The Yokohama Baystars, in fact, do not have any of their imports with them, including those who were on the team last season. They will start the year short-handed, as the earliest possible date for any of their players to join the team (for practice and conditioning, never mind games!) is April 5.
After the instability of last year’s schedule, it is exciting to think that we are likely to be able to watch real NPB baseball games in just 18 short days.
Hang in there, everyone!