Patchwork Yokohama
3. Baseball Yokohama
by Pencil Louis
          Vince had never  been much of a cricketer. He had taken five
          wickets, all clean bowled with full tosses, for six runs and
          those six runs  off a single ball in one innings as a school
          boy. And his  top  batting  score had been 57, although that
          had been in  a  backyard  game  with  a  tennis  ball and he
          supposed that it didn't count. He had spent his last season,
          the year before  he  came  to  Japan, with a C-grade cricket
          team of the  United  Cricket  Club.  He  didn't bowl a ball,
          dropped three catches and hit seven runs in 23 innings.

          If he had  been  a  baseballer,  these  might well have been
          quite respectable figures,  but  a  batting  average of less
          than a third of a run per innings was a pretty dismal record
          from any cricketer.  Still,  a  lifetime of cricket had left
          its mark on Vince. He had cheered, after all, boyhood heroes
          like Bill Lawry,  Rod  Marsh,  Dennis  Lillee,  the Chappell
          brothers and good old Thommo. And if he suffered any culture
          shock at all  when  he  arrived  in  Japan,  it  was that he
          couldn't understand the appeal of their most popular sport.

          Okay, the bowlers  were  fast  in  baseball,  but  they kept
          sending in full  tosses. He could just see one of the better
          C-graders at United  crunching  the ball down through mid on
          or hooking it  over  the  square leg boundary. And what were
          they aiming at? There were no wickets down the other end, so
          it had to be the batsmen or maybe the umpire, who was at the
          wrong end of the pitch any way.

          Vince was quick  to  realise his own inadequacy. He was at a
          loss when the  Americans  at  work  spoke of screw balls and
          bunting to make first. He also discovered that Americans and
          Japanese alike were  in  the  dark about cricket. One night,
          Osamu had called  him  up  and  explained  that  he  had his
          Encyclopaedia of Sports  on  his  lap  with the page open at
          Cricket. He told Vince that he had a few questions:

          "What's gully?"

          Vince explained that  he was a fielder who was there to stop
          late cuts and thick outside edges.

          "What's late cut?"

          Vince further explained  that  a  cut  was a type of cricket
          stroke which usually sent the ball out to the off side.

          "What's the off side?"

          The batsman, Vince  assured  Osamu, is always on the on side
          or leg side of the field. The other side or the bat side was
          the off side  and this side changed according to whether the
          batsman  was  right  handed  or  left  handed.  Surprisingly
          enough, Osamu seemed  quite happy with this explanation, but
          by the time  Vince had fielded further questions about silly
          mid on, second  slip, third man, deep cover, deep square leg
          and the square  leg  umpire,  Vince  realised  that  it  was
          impossible to explain cricket by its bits.

          Osamu kept trying  to  compare the positions in cricket with
          those in baseball.  Was  the  wicket  keeper  more  like the
          catcher or first  base  man?  Was long on another version of
          Centre Field? Vince  began  to  comprehend  that he couldn't
          possibly expect Osamu  to  understand the game that he loved
          so much without making some attempt to understand baseball.

          He wanted to  go  to a baseball game with Osamu and had even
          managed to secure  tickets, but the date clashed with one of
          Osamu's compost and  manure  meetings.  Reluctantly, he took
          Connie instead. If  Connie  knew very little about baseball,
          she knew even  less  about  cricket.  She  regarded all ball
          games, apart from  tennis, as rather frivolous. She couldn't
          see the point  of kicking a big ball around a football field
          or of hitting a little ball around a cricket field.

          "Well, what about  tennis?"  Vince exploded one day. "What's
          the point of hitting a ball back and forth over a net?"

          "It's very good  exercise, that's the point," Connie snapped
          back. "You take cricket. Almost half the players are sitting
          around drinking tinnies on the sideline ..."


          "They don't drink until after the game."

          "That's what they  tell you, but why else would XXXX brewery
          sponsor the Australian cricket team."

          "Because  they're celebrities.  Why  does  Peter  Stuyvesant
          advertise motor racing?"

          "Probably because so  many  of  the cars go up in smoke. But
          you're getting off the point as usual, Vince. While one half
          of the players  sit  on  the  sidelines,  the other half are
          standing around a paddock ..."

          "A field, not a paddock."

          "I'm sure a  cow  wouldn't  know the difference, but they're
          standing around a  field  doing absolutely nothing. It's the
          slowest, most tedious of games."

          "It builds character!"

          "Hah, so Ian Botham has character ... and Richard Hadlee. If
          that's character, Vince,  then it's better not built, if you
          ask me."

          Still, Connie didn't  complain  when he suggested they go to
          the baseball, together.

          "I've heard that it's very interesting."

          "Oh, I thought you didn't like ball games."

          "Oh, not the game! The fans."

          If Vince didn't know what she was talking about, he was soon
          to find out when they arrived at Yokohama Stadium for a game
          between the Yomiuri  Giants  and  the  Taiyo  Whales.  Vince
          already knew that there were two baseball leagues, each with
          six teams, in  Japan.  The Pacific League was fought between
          the Nippon Ham  Fighters  from  Tokyo,  the  Seibu  Lions of
          Tokorozawa, the Lotte  Orions from Kawasaki, the Orix Braves
          from Nishinomiya, the  Daiei  Hawks  from  Fukuoka,  and the
          Kintetsu Buffaloes from  Osaka.  The Central League included
          the Yakult Swallows  from  Tokyo,  the Chunichi Dragons from
          Nagoya, the Hanshin  Tigers  from  Osaka,  and the Toyo Carp
          from Hiroshima, as well as the Giants and the Whales.

          The Giants were  from  Tokyo  and  were Japan's most popular
          baseball team. One third of all Japanese loved the Giants. A
          second third of  Japan hated the Giants. And the final third
          just hated baseball. The Whales were Yokohama's own team and
          so Vince had  made  sure  that he had bought tickets for the
          Taiyo side of the ground.


          Yokohama Stadium, with  its  manicured  playing area and six
          night lights, might  just  as  well  have been the Melbourne
          Cricket Ground. The  most  expensive seats were right behind
          home base, and  the  people  who sat in them looked as staid
          and as conventional  as  those  in  the members stand at the
          Adelaide Cricket Ground or Lords. The further away from home
          plate you got, the more dyed in the wool were the fans. They
          made a fair  parallel  to  the  boys drinking tinnies on the
          hill at the  Gabba  or  Bay  13 at the MCG, only quite a lot
          more polite and  respectable in a very Japanese way about it
          all. While the area behind home base might have been neutral
          ground for supporters  of  both  teams,  the  outfield had a
          clear line of demarcation between the Giants and the Whales,
          in the form  of  the scoreboard which offered action replays
          and statistics on  the current player's batting average, the
          speed and the  result  of  the  last  ball  pitched, and the
          number of men out.

          Each side had  their  own  brass  contingent in the outfield
          stands, two or  three  trumpets  which were clearly off key,
          just like those  at  the  cricket.  Everybody was armed with
          megaphones and clappers,  to  beat  out  time to the chants.
          Each section of  the stand had its own cheer leader, who was
          invariably male and  filled the roll of a conductor, to lead
          the chanting. There was also the odd pom pom girl who didn't
          really to fit  in  with  the  rest  of  the throng, although
          everybody was glad she was there.

          Try as he  may,  Vince could not pick up any of the words to
          the  chant,  apart  from  the  batsman's  name.  The  rhythm
          resembled The Beatles'  "Ooblah di, Ooblah da". Whenever the
          ball sailed over the out field fence, a gasp of Ooooooh went
          up from both  sides  of the ground and once the home run had
          been confirmed, the  scoring  team's  fans  would  clap five
          times twice and emit a single "yashoi".


          There was some  preliminary  entertainment, when school boys
          of all ages  got  to  pitch two balls at the Whales catcher,
          who dropped all  but  a couple. The first two boys must have
          been about six years old and their respective pitches didn't
          even make it  to  the  home  plate.  Then, a celebrity, whom
          Vince recognised but  couldn't  put  a  name to, came out to
          pitch another two.  He  was  one  of the hottest acts of the
          year and would  no  doubt  would  be  past it, the following
          year. He appeared  as a bumbling fool in two or three dramas
          and on any  game  show  that  would have him. Vince knew him
          best from a  show  about  a policeman who had to get married
          quickly. He had  gone  to a dating agency who kept trying to
          match him with  the  most  unlikely  girls. Anyone could see
          that he was  going  to  end  up  wed  to  the woman from the
          agency. To Vince's  mind,  he  seemed  like a better pitcher
          than an actor.


          Finally, the game  was  underway.  The  Giants batted first.
          Ueda faced the  Whales'  pitcher, Nomura. Vince saw Nomura's
          arm crook back  and  he  resisted  the  urge  to jump up and
          scream:

          "Bloody chucker!"

          Nomura was after  all playing for his side. The Giants first
          innings  showed  that   Vince  understood  even  less  about
          baseball  than he  had  originally  thought.  Anything  that
          looked remotely like a strike was called a ball and anything
          that looked like  a ball was called a strike. One Giant made
          it to first  base,  but  soon  three were out and the Whales
          charged into the bunkers. Vince scratched his head. Perhaps,
          the Giants had  declared.  Still,  it  seemed a bit silly to
          declare after only making one run.


          The Whales did slightly better. They had bases loaded by the
          time their third  man  was  out. Each time a batsman came to
          the plate, his average would appear on the score board. .312
          might very well  have been an impressive strike rate, but it
          was totally meaningless to Vince.


          By this time,  it  had  started  to  rain  lightly. Yokohama
          Stadium was not  Tokyo  Dome and there was no roof that slid
          across automatically in  the  event  of  such weather. Vince
          expected that the  covers to come out at any second, and the
          super sopper to  be  raced onto the field. But no, they just
          kept on playing.  Perhaps they didn't have covers or a super
          sopper, he reflected.

          Vince had to wait for the Giants third innings before he saw
          his first home  run.  The American, Mossby, up for his third
          strike, hit one  cleanly  over  the outfield into the Whales
          stand. The entire  crowd oohed as it arced above them. Vince
          leapt up and cried:

          "Six!"

          Connie was most impressed when, a minute later, the Yokohama
          fans threw the  ball back onto the field to the Whales right
          fielder, who took it across to the other side of the diamond
          and tossed it into the throng of Giants supporters.

          "Now, that's good  sportsmanship,"  Connie  declared. "You'd
          never see that at a cricket match."

          "At a cricket  match,"  Vince  growled, "you'd have to throw
          the ball back  to  the  bowler  wherever  it  landed. If you
          didn't, they'd have  to find another ball just as old before
          play resumed."

          A few minutes  later,  Hara  hit the second home run and the
          Giants were leading,  4  - 0. The rain was coming down quite
          heavily by now  and  there  was  still  no sign of the super
          sopper. Umbrellas went  up  and  Vince found it difficult to
          keep his legs  dry with the constant drip from the umbrellas
          around him. Mossby had hit his second home run in the fourth
          innings and it  was  looking  rather  dismal  for the Whales
          until their fifth  innings  when  they  managed to get three
          home.

          Somewhere in the  Giants  sixth innings, the weather reached
          hurricane  proportions and  although  they  were  absolutely
          soaked, Vince was  delighted  to  discover  that they did in
          fact have covers  and  a  super  sopper.  He  looked  at the
          puddles forming on the ground and shook his head.

          "No," he told  Connie,  "they  won't be playing again today.
          It'd take the Channel 7 chopper till morning to dry this lot
          out."

          They scurried for  cover  and  joined the crowds pressing to
          leave the stadium.  A  man  with  a loud speaker was telling
          everyone that once  they were out, they couldn't get back in
          to watch the  resumption  of  play. Vince had even noticed a
          few diehards huddled  out  in  the  rain,  but  he smiled at
          Connie and said:

          "They'll be lucky!"

          It was later  that  night  that  he discovered that they did
          actually finish the  game,  although  the score remained the
          same at six  for  the Giants and three for the Whales. Vince
          shook his head in disbelief.

          "Gracious! That must have been one hell of a super sopper!"