Saturday, November 7th, my half-birthday, the Yomiuri Giants won the Japan Series by beating the Nippon Ham Fighters 2-0 at the Sapporo Dome. Yet again, just as in 1981, the Giants beat the Fighters in the Japan Series 4 games to 2, and for the Giants, this was their 21st Japan Series title, which of course is still almost double the next-highest winning team, the Seibu Lions with 13 titles.
If you want to know about what actually happened in the game, I recommend reading up on it in other places:
Japan Times: Giants scratch seven-year title itch
Daily Yomiuri: Giants finish off Fighters / Capture 21st Japan Series title as 6 hurlers combine on shutout, MVP Abe provides punch
Japanball: Giants down Fighters in Game 6 to win Japan Series title
Yakyu Baka: Giants shutout the Fighters 2-0 to take the Nippon Series in 6!
and even Bleacher Report: Japanese Yankees Win Their World Series Too, where I want to punch the author by the end but he does have a valid point: have the damn Yankees and the damn Giants play each other already! Seriously!
As for me, what I'm going to share with you is the fan experience of watching the game at Fighters town Kamagaya on Saturday night, since I didn't keep a scorecard and the only moments of the game I really remember very well are Shun Tohno getting knocked down in the first inning and being replaced by Utsumi, and I remember when Ejiri came out to pitch, and I kinda remember the Giants scoring their runs because we were all like "OMGWTFINABA", and of course the last inning, where we really hoped the Fighters could put one or two of the guys on base into home plate for once but I think we all knew in our hearts it wasn't going to happen.
(More photos and videos at the end of the post.)
Kamagaya, for those tuning in for the first time, is a small town in Chiba prefecture, about 30-40 minutes out of Tokyo by train. The Fighters built a minor-league stadium and training center and dormitory there back in 1996, when their major-league team was still based in Tokyo. When the team moved to Sapporo, they kept the minor league team in Kamagaya, and as such, it has become a bit of a gathering place for the relatively large remaining contingent of Tokyo-area Fighters fans.
I read on the Fighters website that they would be having a free "Public Viewing" of Game 6 (and 7) at Kamagaya. They would set up a big TV and seating outside the stadium, and they advertised that there would be merchandise tables with special postseason stuff, and food stands and "fun events" and the minor-league mascot Cubby and some "presents" and whatnot.
So I emailed Hiromi and she emailed Ojisan, and by the time we arrived at Kamagaya around 5:30, we found Ojisan and another friend Chizaki sitting at a picnic table, and they had also saved some seats up front for us as well!
Before the game, I wandered around, said hi to friends I saw there, looked through the merchandise (there was a LOT, but none of it screamed out to me that I HAD to buy it), went to the food stand and bought some curry and rice, and sat down with my friends to have a little mini-picnic, since we had all brought snacks and whatnot to share with everyone. Chizaki had even brought a huge thermos full of hot water and some packets of powder to make coffee out of.
The "presents", by the way, turned out to be plastic folders, which you could get for free if you wrote your name and address and phone number on an information form for Tokyo Dome and Kamagaya 2010 season tickets. The PL championship folder is pretty cool though, has the entire team on it and says "WE DID IT" in big letters.
I was interviewed by a lady reporting for Chiba TV. Or more like, Ojisan dragged her over like "You HAVE to talk to Deanna! Get the international angle!" So after clearing up that yes, I can speak Japanese, I was filmed for about 3-4 minutes. Oddly, most of what she asked me was things like, who is your favorite player? Why is Imanari your favorite player, what do you like about him? Do you come to Kamagaya a lot? How long have you been a Fighters fan? Stuff like that, rather than about the Japan Series itself or anything. I'm just hoping that it didn't actually make it onto TV, or at least that nobody I know SAW it.
The pre-game festivities included having EVERYONE throw out an imaginary first pitch, and then singing the entire Fighters sanka (team song), all three verses, with the lyrics up on the big screen karaoke-style. They also lit up some strings of Christmas lights behind the screen to look like Mt. Fuji, and we did some cheering with Cubby, the mascot. Almost everyone had brought cheer sticks and wore jerseys, usually over several layers of jackets. Some people brought signs. A group of guys in the back even had big Fighters flags on poles that they waved as if we were in a real ouendan at the stadium.
During the game itself, the atmosphere was not entirely unlike being spread out in the Fighters side of the Seibu Dome outfield, just without the trumpets and drums. Most of us tried to do the cheer songs along with the TV as we could hear them, including the Kensuke call and Inaba jump and the chance themes and even just clapping and yelling "Kattobase" and "Go go let's go" and so on. Guys waved flags in the back when Fighters got on base, and we all generally cheered as appropriate, although for the most part people stayed seated rather than standing up to cheer, partially because the seats were on flat ground and standing up would really get in other people's way.
Between innings, the TV display kept showing Kamagaya mini-commercials. Occasionally, there were even little mini-events between innings. Notably, we did YMCA at the same time they did it at the Sapporo Dome, and another time, they called out, "We have a special timed discount starting now! It's the 38 discount! Does anyone know what 38 is for? Yes, it's Masaru Takeda's uniform number! So from now, we'll be selling hotdogs for the next 38 minutes for 100 yen each! So hurry up and buy some!"
(You would be surprised how many people don't want a hot dog for 200 yen, but when you make it 100 yen, the entire place storms the food counter.)
They also often walked around yelling out advertisements for the merchandise there. "See the super-warm and comfortable Fighters 2009 Pacific League Champions parka she's wearing? Oh, it's very comfortable and so fashionable! And if you buy it now, along with a scarf and bag and cheer sticks, it only costs 5000 yen! What a deal!"
Cubby was out there for pretty much the entire game, cheering along with everyone. In the 8th and 9th innings when things were starting to look pretty bad, Cubby was going up to people and patting them on the head and high-fiving and making motions of "Come on, we can do it!"
Anyway, here are some photos and videos from the evening...
Here we are about 10 minutes before the game, doing the "first pitch" together.
Lighting up "Fuji".
And this was the view from my "seat" in the front.
Utsumi coming into the game after Tohno was knocked down and out.
Here's another view from sitting at our picnic table, towards the side.
One of the flag-waving guys way in the back.
Out in back, near where some charcoal grills were set up for people to come warm their hands by, people had hung out all of the normal big banners that they hang in the stadium during games during the season.
I got a photo in the midst of the "We Love Fighters" one.
Here's the merchandise tents.
A display of Fighters bears in various outfits, on a table with Japan Series programs. They also had the Cubby pinbadge capsule machines out as well.
Food stand being swamped by 600 people trying to get 38 hot dogs.
And, as promised, some videos...
Here we are doing the Inaba Jump in the 9th inning. (It starts with us waving cheer sticks for "I Was Born To Love You" though.)
And the Kita no Kuni Kara chance theme, for Naoto Inada's at-bat in the 9th inning. He eventually walked, and you can see how excited the crowd got every time Kroon threw a ball instead of a strike.
In case you are wondering, by the way, I do believe there were a few Giants fans watching the game there, but for the most part, they weren't vocal. (One guy was fairly vocal in the first inning, and he was either escorted out or told to stop it by the police.) I don't think there was any particular ban on Giants fans, but as someone else put it in Japanese, "Can't that idiot read the atmosphere? This is NOT a place to be cheering for the Giants."
(Seriously, if you're a Giants fan, shouldn't there be a better place to watch the game than sitting out in the cold with 600-700 Fighters fans at their minor-league facility?)
And overall, it was actually a pretty neat experience to be sitting out in the cold with a few hundred Fighters fans. I had been waffling about going because it takes me almost 2 hours each way to go there, but in the end I think it was worth it to finish off the season with my friends.
Thus the 2009 season comes to an end, and in theory in the worst possible way, having the Giants beat my Fighters and the Yankees beat my hometown Phillies, but really, I think I'm already over it for the most part, and focusing on how unbelievable the year actually was. Sometimes I think being a Fighters fan has actually turned me into a nicer person and mellowed me out a lot.
And don't worry, there's still more baseball on the horizon for me in 2009, even if it's not pro yakyu. Jingu Taikai next weekend, fanfests and the JUBF-U26 game after that, Master's league and other crazy things after that. Also some hockey, hopefully. I love this place!