Wednesday, August 05, 2009

I love Hokkaido, Day 2: Sapporo Dome Tour

I got home from Chiba Marine Stadium after midnight on Wednesday, and had to be out the door by 7am to get on a flight to Hokkaido... and of course I wasn't packed yet. Somehow, it all worked out, though, and at 9:45 I was on a plane in the air zooming northwards. By 1pm I had landed in Sapporo and thrown my stuff in a locker and taken the subway to the Sapporo Dome.

This was my second time in Hokkaido, as I'd been to a bunch of Fighters games last year for Golden Week. The difference is that this time I actually was able to take the Dome Tour and see the observatory and all. Last year when I went, they said they didn't have it open on game days, and I was pretty sad about that, so this time I specifically planned to go back with a day for being just a tourist there.

By the way, you can actually check the Sapporo Dome Schedule on their website. The schedule page is only in Japanese, but there are some short blurbs about the observatory and dome tour on their English page as well.

You can pretty much just walk up and buy a ticket for the next available tour, which is what I did. Timing worked out that my tour was at 2pm, and I bought a combination ticket for the observatory and tour, so I spent half an hour looking at the observatory first...

A wonderfully empty Sapporo Dome, as viewed from the base of the observatory escalator.

Up, up, and away we go!

The Sapporo Dome baseball field as viewed from the observatory level, 53 meters up.

Since I was there a week after the All-Star Game that was held there, they had displays with signed balls from all the All-Star players as well as the mascots. (This one is the Pacific League one. The ones on the diamond are the starters and the reserves are around the square.)

So, while one side looks into the stadium, the other side of the observatory extends out and looks out over Sapporo. This is the view to the left... of hills and grass and parking lots.

This is the view straight out of the city. If you look at the first photo in this post, I'm basically standing in that glass thing sticking out from the top of the dome.

View to the right, more of city and less of grass.

After wandering around the observatory, I came back down and saw a little exhibit they had about space, but it wasn't honestly that interesting to me, probably geared more to little kids.

Finally, at 2pm, stadium tour! Hooray! We had a group of about 15-20 people, about half kids, half adults. First we walked around the concourse a little while the tour guide told us facts about the Sapporo Dome, including such gems as "In addition to baseball and soccer, we also host concerts and other events here. During events such as SMAP and Arashi concerts, where almost all of the attendees are women, we change half of the men's bathrooms into women's bathrooms for that day."

Anyway, the first place we came out was right behind home plate, where we got to sit in the cushy Season Seats for a bit, while the tour guide talked more about the stadium, and the other domes in Japan, and about the observatory and the scoreboards, and about the architect and the vision for the place, and how they had a contest to call it "Hiroba", and so on. Then they let us run around the seats and take photos and hang out for a bit.

The season seats are CUSHY! And check out the compartment under the seat designed for storing your bags!

I wonder if I will ever get to sit in this area for real...

After hanging out in the season seats for a bit, we went down through a tunnel and onto the field! Hooray! First, people got to sit in the Fighters dugout...

Coming out onto the field.

I'm sitting in Hichori's seat! The tour guide was pointing out where all the various players usually sit, so I thought it'd be funny to get a photo taken there.

Leaving the dugout.

After the dugout, they let us go play... on third base!
I wanted to go to the mound, but for that day, only third base was allowed.

The group swarms third base.

I get my photo taken in the middle of the third-base line. I should have pretended to be running home on a bad call by Makishi, about to be tagged out.

So, we went into a room and watched a 3-minute video about them changing the field from soccer to baseball, and then we came back out to the visiting dugout for a while...

The award placards were still around from the All-Star Game, so we were allowed to play with them.

I chose to be the Best Pitcher!

In the visiting dugout we were also given the chance to play with some actual equipment used by players. They had Kensuke's bat, Inaba's batting helmet, and Yoh's baseball spikes. Inaba's helmet was actually a little too small for me -- no joke -- but Kensuke's bat felt great... and I'm left-handed too...

Me wielding one of Kensuke Tanaka's bats.

Okay, so after hanging out in the dugout again, guess where the next place we went was? The visitor's bullpen!

They asked if anyone wanted to throw a pitch, so naturally like 4 or 5 little boys all said "YES YES YES YES YES" and got in line, so I said "I want to throw one too!" I was the only female and the only adult who wanted to throw a pitch, so I went last. They had set up a tic-tac-toe number board thingy to aim at.

Only one of the boys actually could throw hard enough to hit the board, and he knocked out the 1. I managed to knock out the 5... on a bounce. It's been years since I played softball and I know I have no arm anymore, so I was just hoping to hit the board at all, and I threw, the ball bounced in front of the board, and hit the 5. Our tour guide was joking, "Okay, she's the winner!"

Here's me on the bullpen mound! I'm not sure who I'm imitating.

Bullpen view from behind the mound.

We went down the hall into the lunchroom...

Sort of boring for a lunchroom.

And then down the hall towards the locker rooms. However, since we were on the visitor side, they were completely empty. We didn't get to go in the Fighters' locker room, sadly.

This is the locker room and meeting room for the manager and head coaches.

And this is just the normal visitor's locker room. Each locker has slippers and a chair and a shelf... pretty small compared to the MLB locker rooms I've seen, but they're probably just fine for the players.

Oh yeah, we got to see the bath room in the visiting locker room. This is the outer room where players take off their clothes and put them in the baskets before stepping into the actual shower/bath room.

So after that we stepped into another hallway, and while we were waiting for an elevator back to the main floor, the tour guide pointed out the following room...

It doesn't look like much, but if you saw when the Fighters won a bunch of league championships and the Japan Series, and were literally drowning each other in beer... THIS is the room they held the beer-kake parties! Or should I say, this is the room where they will be drowning each other in beer following winning the 2009 Japan Series, perhaps...

So, that was about it for the tour, and we ended it where we began - by the elevator to the observatory. Since I'd already gone up, I took that opportunity to go to the "Goods Jam" shop at the Dome and see what Fighters stuff they had. The weird thing is, the Fighters goods only took up maybe half of the store, if that. They had a LOT of stuff for away teams, and also a fairly big display for Consadole Sapporo, the soccer team, as well a small selection of MLB stuff, and a large selection of Sapporo Dome goods and souvenirs.

In the area with books and CDs/DVDs, they prominently displayed the new Darvish Pitching Bible.

And a little to the left of that, among other things, you could get a Fighters radio, or computer mouse, OR of course, you could get a pair of Shobu Pants. What on earth are Shobu Pants? Well, you could either look at the red-colored underwear on that page, or just know that "shobu" is a word used to mean, like, a challenge or a game or a match or some sort of competition, and "pants" is the Japanese word for "underpants". (You often hear "shobu pitch"...)

And that's the end of the tour, pretty much. I sat down in one of the stadium cafes (there are several) and had something called "Casablanca", which was essentially a toast-with-syrup snack, but not french toast. Not bad, though. The place also had full display sets of all of the Fighters pinbadges since they came to Sapporo in 2004.

I went back into the city, checked into my hotel, relaxed for a bit, and then went off to Hillman's Hangout. Now that I know how to get there (I was there last year too), it took all of about 15 minutes to walk there from my hotel. When I got there the place was pretty empty, so I got a table near the big screen and ordered some food and sat down to watch the Fighters-Marines game.

The game had Brian Sweeney starting against Yoshihisa Naruse, and well, the Marines went up 6-0 on the Fighters by scoring 3 runs apiece in the 3rd and 4th innings, topped by a 2-run homer by Tadahito Iguchi.

I ordered some nachos in the 4th or 5th inning to drown my sorrows, and they were ridiculously good. You just can't GET good Mexican food in Japan for the most part, and these were chips baked with chili and cheddar cheese and jalapenos and salsa and topped with sour cream. I think the secret here is that Hokkaido actually HAS dairy products, whereas sour cream is unheard of in the rest of Japan.

Sometime around the beginning of the 8th inning I was finishing off those wonderful nachos, and HEY WAIT A MINUTE THE FIGHTERS JUST SCORED 6 RUNS? Koyano bashed another bases-loaded double and Nioka hit one through Chase Lambin and then Tsuruoka launched a ball that I actually thought was a home run, but turned out to be a double. Either way, the Fighters were ahead. Bobby was clearly pissed at a few calls, and he might have been right about them, too, I think.

But, whatever. By the end of the game the restaurant was pretty full of people cheering for the entire crazy 8th inning, and it was a pretty good time all around. Hisashi Takeda closed out the game and the Fighters won 7-6.

Final score showed on the TV at the Hangout.

Me posing with the signs outside.

So, to top off the evening I finally rode the ferris wheel in the Norbesa Building, where the Hangout is located, and then walked home to get some sleep before the big Fighters-Hawks weekend faceoff at the Sapporo Dome.

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