I went to a Major League Baseball game recently, and it wasn’t what I was used to. Pitchers didn’t try to hit batters in the head with a 90-mph pitch. Fans didn’t fight in the stands or pummel each other for wearing the other team’s hats in front of the stadium. Players didn’t play selfishly. Amazingly, all they seemed to care about was the team. Was everybody on good behavior because it was a playoff game? No. Was it a Little League game? Of course not. I said nobody fought in the stands. No, the game was in Tokyo.
The stadium was different from every Major League stadium that I’ve ever been to. There was absolutely no litter. Before walking into the men’s room, I didn’t feel the need to wear surgeons’ booties, latex gloves, and a gas mask.
The game was between the Yomiuri Giants and the visiting Chunichi Dragons. I had heard of the Giants, primarily because of its most famous player: Sadaharu Oh. He played professional baseball from 1959 to 1980 and hit more home runs than any major leaguer in the world — 868. You can be sure that there was never an allegation that Oh used any performance enhancing drugs. He was never even accused of using too much dipping sauce with his noodles.
There is basically no street crime in Japan, and the ballpark was no different. The only theft during the game was when someone stole second base. When a woman who sat in my row got up to get something to eat, she just left her purse on her chair. Nobody blinked. Except for me.
Fans cheered wildly for their team, but nobody ever booed the opposing team. The idea of a fight breaking out among fans was as unlikely as Wrigley Field selling eel sushi. Players also had a completely different relationship with the umpires. A Dragon made a mistake, and was called “out” at first. He looked confused, so an umpire walked over to him, put his arm around him and explained the situation. In America, if an umpire ever touched a player, it would probably start a riot.
There was one big similarity between Japanese and American baseball. Beer. Beer was sold by attractive, young female vendors who walked around the stadium with a keg-like device on their backs. These young women were dressed in very short shorts. I had read in my guidebook that while cleavage was almost never seen in Japan, women’s legs were seen in public as much as ramen shops. The Japanese take the term “neckline” literally, as they do the term “shorts.”
The Giants won the game 8-6. I walked out without getting shoved once. My shoes weren’t any stickier after the game than they were before. As I headed back to the hotel, I realized that I had just seen a Major League baseball game where there was not one gratuitous crotch scratch. No spitting. Nobody in the bleachers hurled insults or batteries at the players. No drunken fans threw up on the people in front of them. And they had the nerve to call that, “baseball?”
Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from “Sesame Street” to “Family Ties” to “Home Improvement” to “Frasier.” He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out his website at lloydgarver.com and his podcasts on iTunes.