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:
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
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
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:
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
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
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
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!"