By Scott Melesky
April 28, 2019
My name in Scott Melesky and I have been working in sports for almost 20 years as a sports journalist and public relations assistant. I have worked and attended thousands of sporting events over the past four decades in the United States, England, and Ireland, but none of that compared to my first professional baseball game in Japan, courtesy of JapanBall.
I was always interested in Japanese Baseball. I remember as a child reading about the great Sadaharu Oh passing Hank Aaron’s career home run record. I enjoyed watching Hideo Nomo, Ichiro Suzuki, Hideki Matsui, Daisuke Matzusaka, Koji Uehara and Shohei Ohtani play in person in the Major Leagues. I helped NHK World-Japan, the national Japanese public radio and television station, spot plays for former New York Met Kaz Matsui, at a game I covered in Shea Stadium back in 2003. I am also partially of Japanese descent. My late great-grandfather emigrated from Japan a century ago to the United States. I had also seen Team Japan play Team USA in 2006 in the World Baseball Classic in Anaheim, CA. These personal and professional experiences that I had to Japan made me finally come to my motherland and see baseball firsthand, and I contacted JapanBall.
I was immediately impressed with JapanBall’s credentials. Bob Bavasi, the founder and director of JapanBall in 1999, has deep ties to professional baseball in the United States and Japan. He is the principal owner of Bavasi Sports Partners. Bob and his wife, Margaret were founders, owners and operators of a Seattle Mariners’ Minor league affiliate and the Marysville Gold Sox, a summer college baseball team. His father, the late great Buzzie Bavasi, was a former general manager of the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers and the California Angels and the first president of the San Diego Padres. Major league Baseball scouts also use JapanBall’s services. I was deeply impressed and worked with them to secure tickets for the Yomiuri Giants vs the Yokohama DeNA BayStars at the Tokyo Dome.
The service from JapanBall was impeccable. Michael Westbay left our baseball tickets at our hotel’s front desk. The tickets included descriptive directions on how to get to the Tokyo Dome. They made it very easy and convenient for us to get to the game. We got there within 20 minutes from our hotel. What we saw was a baseball paradise. I have been to 10 Major league ballparks including Fenway Park, Dodger Stadium and Yankee Stadium but nothing compares to a sight of an amusement park next to a baseball stadium which includes a hall of fame museum. Three pleasures for the price of one. As we walked to the Tokyo Dome, we saw a roller coaster, carousel and many other rides in what is called Tokyo Dome City. There were many stores and shops adjacent to the park including an MLB Café. The Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame was inside the Tokyo Dome. It would be our first stop before the game. I have been to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY and the Japanese equivalent was just as impressive. I posed with the Hall of Fame plaques of Oh, Nomo and Matsui. I saw lots of vintage baseball cards and memorabilia of Japanese baseball. It was incredible to see.
The game was next. We sat on the steps on the Tokyo Dome for about 10 minutes with the locals when were directed by a Japanese policeman with a megaphone to enter the game. In a moment that reminded me of my days as a college student at Syracuse University and the Carrier Dome, Japanese security held the revolving door to help us enter the stadium. Dome pressure has to be controlled as you enter it. That is the reason for the revolving doors for the fans to enter.. We were then given a packet of Giants information, a free magazine of the team. I ordered my hot dog and cola and my wife got a bento box which consisted of chicken, pork, shrimp, rice and a pasta salad in a convenient box. We then settled into our seats. Our tickets were on the third base side as the BayStars were in the middle of their baseball practice. Western music from Queen and various rap artists blared in the background. The unique part of Japanese Baseball was about to begin. In what is very reminiscent of Europe’s Premier League and American College Football, the fans began to chant, sing and play the drums and horns in coordinated cheers throughout the game. The Giants fans also waved towels throughout the game. Each player on both teams had their own songs and cheers. Each team also had their own fight song that was played in the seventh inning. The Giants also had team of cheerleaders called Venus who danced with the five Jiarabbit mascots between innings. I admired the respect the fans of both teams had for each other. There was no booing, swearing at each other or fighting. Each fan cheered for their team in respect and peace.
Unlike American baseball games, there was no national anthem to start the game or seventh inning stretch. Those are both traditions in the USA. I got my scorebook from home and proceeded to score and realized I was in the minority just like when I score in the states. A couple of the local fans quizzically stared at my scorecard. The BayStars were listed on the scoreboard in Kanji, the native Japanese language writing. The Giants were listed in both English and Kanji. Fortunately, I had downloaded both rosters from their websites before the game and referred to them throughout to help me successfully score.
The Giants won 7 to 2. Nobutuka Iwamura pitched a strong seven innings for the Giants, giving up just two hits with four strikeouts in seven innings. They also dominated the BayStars on the offensive side as well. Christian Villanueva, Hayato Sakamoto and Yoshiyuki Kamei homered for the Giants. Neftali Soto homered for the BayStars. Each player that homered was given a giant stuffed animal by the team staff. The game ended with a press conference with Giants manager Tatsunori Hara and Villanueva being interviewed before the fans after the game. Both teams bowed to conclude the game. It was an incredible and unique experience. The players were just as talented as their counterparts in the USA and the fans just as passionate. I felt it an honor to be at the game. I hope to return again in the future.