Minor league game scores with Yokota baseball fans
May 2, 2006
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Turns out, this wasn’t the big leagues after all.
With tickets going for a buck on base, however, a few hundred airmen and their families got a taste of Japanese baseball during “Yokota Day” at the Invoice Seibu Dome on Saturday. The 374th Services Division hauled five bus loads of people to the nearby park for a minor league matchup between the AAA affiliates of the Yomiuri Giants and Seibu Lions.
Absent were the banging drums, rhythmic chants and waving flags that accompany almost every pitch of every game during the Japanese major league regular season, but the setting still offered plenty of Kirin beer, sushi, squid and curry as cultural substitutes for the traditional American ballpark staples of Budweiser, hot dogs, french fries and mustard-coated pretzels.
Maj. Miklos Kiss of the 374th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron made the 35-minute drive from Yokota with his wife, Micol, and their two children — Nava, 5, and Eitan, 1 — in the family’s first visit to the Seibu Dome.
“Awww, I thought it was a major league game,” Kiss said. “We’ve got to come back now. Thought I’d filled in the square.
“This is a lot like American baseball, though. And I would’ve tried a Kirin beer but I’ve got to drive home.”
Micol added: “I’d always heard Japanese baseball games are much more animated and lively. We weren’t sure this was it.”
An American pitcher who started the game for Seibu opened with three walks and a hit batsman — and was promptly yanked for a reliever.
“It’s not every day you get to see a pitcher taken out in the top of the first,” said Airman 1st Class Michael Rogers of Warner Robins, Ga., who arrived at Yokota in January and works for the 374th Operations Support Squadron.
This marked Rogers’ first trip to a baseball game of any kind.
“It’s all new to me,” he said. “This is my first assignment, first time out of my hometown and first time in another country. It’s only fitting it’s my first baseball game. It’s been a string of first things for me.
“When I left, my dad told me not to be afraid to try something different. This is my chance to get out and experience a different culture. I’m up for it. It’s been great and entertaining so far.”
Col. Scott Goodwin, the 374th Airlift Wing commander, threw out the ceremonial first pitch before Saturday’s game.
“It was neat,” he said. “We went to a game last year to see the major league team play. That was a lot of fun.
“It’s terrific having a venue like this so close to the base. The Seibu Lions have been a great supporter of Yokota. It’s great for them to invite us out to the park.”
After the game, the Japanese players conducted a skills clinic on the Seibu Dome’s artificial turf for players ages 9-18 from Yokota’s youth sports program.
Justin Lucas, assistant marketing director for the 374th Services Division, labeled Saturday’s base outing a “trial run” and said a trip to see the Japanese big-leaguers would be considered.