In Which I Jump On A Japanese Baseball Team’s Bandwagon
February 2, 2010
(Note: This is stupid long. And all about baseball. Turn back now if that doesn’t get you off.)
It’s officially February, which means it’s the start of the worst month to be a sports fan. Save for a last hurrah with the Super Bowl, February features nearly nothing of athletic noteworthiness. Football season ends, the NBA is smack-dab in the doldrums (unless the prospect of Shannon Brown in the Slam Dunk contest gets you jazzed), and the NHL…no. Excluding checking English soccer scores/pretending to be globally aware, nothing interesting happens until March Madness. For once I’m OK having absolutely no access to American sports.
To fill the “people playing with balls” void in my life, I’ve begun immersing myself in baseball. That means it’s time to blindly declare fandom to a Japanese baseball team to make the upcoming season of Nippon Professional Baseball much more exciting. As noted numerous times, the Japanese love baseball. Entire stores devoted to Ichiro exist. My students practice baseball during typhoon-like weather. Half my conversations with elementary school principals have involved a question like “do you like the Dodgers or Angels more.” I watched as many NPB games I could last fall, but wasn’t really following any one team in particular. Just watching the one thing on TV I could actually understand. Now, however, I want to root for some team. But which one?
I’ve decided to rank the 12 teams making up professional baseball in Japan using a set of criteria that remains a mystery even to me. I didn’t factor in geographical closeness (though, that would have actually made the most sense. Lists work in mysterious ways). Also, nearly every team in this country has corporate sponsorship right in it’s name…I’m not going to a Hawks game, I”m going to a SoftBank Hawks game…so that has to be taken into consideration. OK, onto the pointlessness.
12. Yomiuri Giants
Description – The New York Yankees of Japan.
Based In – Tokyo
Stadium – Tokyo Dome
Uniforms – Oh hey wonder what that’s ripping off.
Cuteness of Mascot – Pretty cute, though species is seriously in question.
Notable MLB Flameout – Tie between Alex Ramirez and Dicky Gonzales. Can’t choose between them.
Pros – Winners of the 2009 championship, the Giants also have the most titles in the history of Japanese professional baseball. This is because…
Cons – …they are the New York Yankees of Japanese baseball.
Fun Fact – The team’s most famous player of all-time, Sadaharu Oh, was once mentioned in a Beastie Boy’s song.
Verdict – You know those strange folks who are Yankee, Cowboys and Laker fans? They’d root for the Giants.
11. Saitama Seibu Lions
Description – The team Ichiro played for.
Based In – Tokorozawa
Stadium – Seibu Dome (look at the original stadium names we got going so far!)
Uniforms – Looks like the NHL tricked the team into buying outfits.
Cuteness of Mascot – Cute, but based off the anime Kimba the White Lion. Why didn’t they just put a Gundam in a baseball cap, that would have been cooler.
Notable MLB Flameout – Alex Graman, former Yankees relief pitcher. Noted for giving up five runs in his first professional start.
Pro – Good team, logo of a lion’s paw wrapped around a baseball, were once called the Clippers.
Con – Where the hell is this team located? Also, the franchise only recently decided having the place they represent in the name was a good idea. That, coupled with a bunch of name changes, doesn’t offer much in confidence.
Fun Fact – Leo Durocher once managed them. Huh.
Verdict – If I’m pulling for a team featuring an anime character mascot, it best be the Fighting Gokus.
10. Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles
Description – Catch Charlotte Bobcat fever!
Based In – Sendai
Stadium – Kleenex Stadium Miyagi. Imagine the sportswriter jokes possible.
Uniforms – The opposite of interesting.
Cuteness of Mascot – Cute in a Baby GAP sort of way.
Notable MLB Flameout – Todd Linden.
Pro – Have only existed since 2004, so a very easy team history to memorize.
Con – Having only been in existence for five years, nothing about this team seems particularly exciting. No history, no tradition…feels exactly like a young expansion team should.
Fun Fact – Many J-Pop groups record songs for baseball teams. Par for the course in Japan. The Eagles first team J-Pop song came courtesy of noted gaggle of androids Morning Musume. It was called “Manpower.”
Verdict – Boooooooooooooooooooooring.
9. Yokohama BayStars
Description – Hooray another team near Tokyo!
Based In – Yokohama
Stadium – Yokohama Stadium. Sorry, they couldn’t all be named after tissue products.
Uniforms – Ehhhhh, can’t complain. Lookin good Jose!
Cuteness of Mascot – Not very. Fuzzy animals wearing uniforms trumps celestial bodies wearing uniforms every day.
Notable MLB Flameout – Sammy Sosa almost signed with this team, so I’m going with him.
Pro – No corporation in the team name.
Con – Five Japanese clubs are located stupid close to Tokyo, including the BayStars. Though Ken Burns dreams of it at night, that’s like putting five teams in the New York area. Insufferable. Also, “BayStars” sounds like a Major League Soccer name.
Fun Fact – Once called the Yokohama Whales, but changes to whaling laws factored heavily in the team’s new name direction.
Verdict – Basically rooting for New Jersey. And if Jersey Shore has taught us anything….
8. Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters
Description – MEAAAAAAAT.
Based In – Sapporo
Stadium – Sapporo Dome
Uniforms – Y’all forgot to make the sleeves match.
Cuteness of Mascot – Fighty the deranged dinosaur. Well, actually it’s now a boring bear, but Fighty is a lot better.
Notable MLB Flameout – Terrmel Sledge, better known as “the first Washington National to hit a homerun.” And now he’s in the coldest part of Japan.
Pro – Prominent meat item featured in name of team.
Con – Not nearly enough references to meat after that.
Fun Fact – Once based in (where else) Tokyo, the team had the good thought to move away to the north at the start of last decade.
Verdict – I actually did root for them once already, during the championship series when they lost to the Giants. If bacon were still the hot Internet meme, maybe I could back them, but the Fighters missed their chance with me.
7. Chiba Lotte Marines
Description – Presented by the same people who make those koala cookies I like so much.
Based In – Chiba
Uniforms – Good googly moogly!
Cuteness of Mascot – Cute in a sorta pathetic way.
Notable MLB Flameout – Previously managed by Bobby Valentine.
Pro – Lotte makes a boatload of the unhealthy snack foods and drinks I consume here in Japan!
Con – You are the reason I need a gym, Lotte.
Fun Fact – Staring at the Marines uniforms for an extended period of time causes you to lose vision.
Verdict – Stick to the cookies.
6. Tokyo Yakult Swallows
Description – “Hey Beavis, he said Swallows, uh huh huh.”
Based In – Tokyo
Stadium – Meiji Jingu Stadium
Uniforms – Nothing too exciting.
Cuteness of Mascot – Daw, look at the lil’ guy trying to swing the bat.
Notable MLB Flameout – Ahahaha, Aaron Guiel. Canada is so proud.
Pro – Favored team of Haruki Murakami, one of the best writers in the world.
Con – Liking a team because a famous author roots for them has already been done. Fever Pitch anyone? Geez, I already cheer for Arsenal…
Fun Fact – The weakest team in Tokyo!
Verdict – You tell someone you cheer for the Swallows.
5. Hiroshima Toyo Carp
Description – Slightly better name than Swallows.
Based In – Hiroshima
Stadium – MAZDA Zoom-Zoom Stadium Hiroshima. They still doing the whole “zoom zoom” thing?
Uniforms – Cincinnati Reds.
Cuteness of Mascot – Uhhhh, Phillie Phanatic?
Notable MLB Burnout – Andy Phillips.
Pro – Use a dog to bring balls out to the mound. Only in Japan.
Con – Seemingly have stolen every aspect of their identity from somewhere else.
Fun Fact – First Japanese team to establish a training academy in Latin America. It’s called Carp Academy. I want a degree from Carp Academy.
Verdict - The Zoom-Zoom thing buries the hatchet.
4. Hanshin Tigers
Description – The Boston Red Sox of Japan.
Based In – Hyogo Prefecture
Stadium – Koshien Stadium
Uniforms – Pretty cool, I gotta say.
Cuteness of Mascot – The opposite of fierce.
Notable MLB Burnout – Kenji Johjima. Take that Seattle.
Pro – This cat.
Con – Read the Wiki page. They do sound like the Red Sox of Japan. And I can think of few worse things to be.
Fun Fact – Tigers fans believed in the Curse of the Colonel (must read here). Basically, some guy chucked a KFC Colonel Sanders statue into a river, and the fried chicken chain apparently cursed the team for 18 years. Just…Japan amazes me some times.
Verdict – Because it was so fun the first time a “cursed” team finally won something noteworthy and then the majority of their fanbase turned into the biggest idiots on the planet. They place this high because they threw Colonel Sanders into a river.
3. Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks
Description – Make my iPhone work, SoftBank, please.
Based In – Fukuoka.
Stadium – Fukuoka Yahoo! Japan Dome. The Japanese still love Yahoo! because it came to the country first and change terrifies them. Good I say, GMail is currently ruining my life.
Uniforms – “SoftBank” looks really stupid.
Cuteness of Mascot – The team has developed an immense family of kinda pudgy birds. Runaway winner.
Notable MLB Flameout – Bobby Thigpen once pitched for this team????
Pro – Cool location, large number of feathered mascots.
Con – SoftBank
Fun Fact – Ehhhh, not very fun.
Verdict – Currently, I can’t look at e-mail on my phone. It just says “loading” and never goes anywhere. It is really annoying. Fix this, SoftBank, then we will talk.
2. Orix Buffaloes
Description – Osaka!
Based In – Osaka! (and sometimes Kobe)
Stadium – Kyocera Dome Osaka
Uniform – Kinda sharp.
Cuteness of Mascot – More creepy than cute…
Notable MLB Flameout – Tuffy Rhodes.
Pro – Osaka!
Con – Once named the Kintetsu Buffalo, I like Kintetsu a lot more.
Fun Fact – In 2004, the Kintetsu Buffalo and Orix Blue Wave merged into one team due to financial reasons.
Verdict – So close to the top…which goes to…
1. Chunichi Dragons
Description – Cool and close.
Based In – Nagoya
Stadium – Nagoya Dome
Uniforms – They changed the lettering, but this is still a pretty good Dodgers rip.
Cuteness of Mascot – Off the charts. It isn’t a dragon but…a koala. Look at that face!
Notable MLB Flameout – Tony Blanco in the house.
Pro – All in all, probably the team with the least going against it. They aren’t terribly far from where I live, and they represent “central Japan.” Which sounds pretty much like where I’m stationed.
Con – Dodger similarities
Fun Fact – Featured prominently in the film I never saw Mr. Baseball.
Verdict – Dragon games get broadcast all the time here, and they also have a weekly report show that I always find myself watching on Sunday afternoon. So…guess they are the home team. Works for me, go Dragons and Chunichi Corporation!
(Japanese Fun Fact #39 – More of an observation in class…today I told the class about my winter vacation in America. I gave them a worksheet to fill out. One student said I “flew to roast beef.”