[A little background. In 2002, the Diamondbacks signed an agreement with Japanese baseball club, the Nippon Ham Fighters - in case you're wondering, in Japan, teams tend to be named after the company that owns them, in this case 'Nippon Ham', who're their version of Hormel, I guess. It seems to be mostly a ceremonial "twin town" kind of arrangement, though some Japanese players have attended spring training for the D'backs.
The most obvious link is an annual 'Arizona Diamondbacks Day', held by the Fighters, for which they give away 3,000 tickets to foreigners living in Japan. Though based in Hokkaido, they're a little like the Expos, and also play "home" games in the Tokyo Dome. This year, D'backs Day fell on April 17th, against the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, and AZ Snake Pit was there, in the shape of Pacific Rim ambassador (and provider of many an entertaining DVD!), Miles Wood. This is his report...]
There's obviously a good reason why the Nippon Ham Fighters have an annual Diamondbacks Day, but I just don't recall it, or why this "home game" is played such a looong way from where the NHF call home [though there was a healthy travelling support for both teams]. And now having been to a Diamondbacks Day game, I'm still not even sure what it is. Was it because we only arrived at the ball-park about 10 minutes before the game started - did I miss something?! - but there was not a single mention of Az or the Db's the entire afternoon.
Still it was a nice sunny afternoon for watching baseball... unfortunately, Tokyo Dome has a roof, so apart from the walk from the JR station to the Dome there was not much opportunity to enjoy it. As for the game itself, the opening innings lasted about 35 minutes with Rakuten Eagles getting men on bases without troubling the scorers and then the NHF's completing the job by making it 3-0.
From then on it was never really a contest. The Eagles pulled 2 back (with the game's only HR, which naturally was when we decided to go look for food!) only for the NHF to immediately restore the 3 run gap and later extend it to 7-2 which is how it finished.
Apparently the NHF's CF Shinjo is quite famous (his name on the scoreboard was the only one written romanized ie. as "Shinjo" rather than using Japanese characters, an honour even the S.American players weren't afforded) having played in the US. [Tsuyoshi Shinjo played for the Mets and Giants between 2001-2003: in three seasons, he hit .245 with 20 home runs and 100 RBIs]
Of course, if I had a scorecard to hand maybe I could provide a more detailed rundown of the day's action, but this seems to be feature that hasn't carried over from American to Japanese baseball. Indeed, in search of souvenirs we came up totally empty-handed - there wasn't even a program! - as I thought the "Tokyo Dome Hello Kitty" box of candy might be a tricky one to ship to the US, even though I did consider it.
One highlight was some slightly crazy baseball otaku (wearing an Eagles shirt) spotting a besuited 50-ish Westerner in the crowd a few rows behind us and rushing over to have photos taken with him and get his autograph. I guess he was a former player but he looked rather bemused (and perhaps slightly irked) by the attention...
------------------------------------------------------- Rakuten 000 020 000 - 2 6 2 Nippon Ham 300 020 20x - 7 11 1 WP - Shoda, 2-1 LP - Kaneda, 0-1 HR - Rakuten: Saito (1) Attendance: 20,115 Time: 3:26
At Tokyo Dome, lefty Itsuki Shoda (2-1) pitched two-run ball over seven sharp innings to carry surging Nippon Ham to its fifth straight win in a victory over last-place Rakuten. Michihiro Ogasawara and Fernando Seguignol each had three hits and an RBI in an 11-hit attack.
Masahiko Kaneda (0-1) was charged with five runs in four-plus innings in taking the loss in his fifth game appearance. Hidemitsu Saito hit a two-out, two-run blast in the fifth to bring Rakuten within 3-2 but Nippon Ham stretched the lead to 5-2 on Seguignol's RBI single and a Tomoyuki Oda pinch-hit sacrifice fly in the bottom half.