Sunday, March 22, 2009

Japan 14, Korea 2 (7, World Baseball Classic) - March 7, 2009

After two difficult, sports-less months for me, the World Baseball Classic opened in Tokyo. Unfortunately, ridiculously high ticket prices prevented me from attending all the games, but on Saturday, March 7th a friend and I headed over to the Tokyo Dome to see if we could at least catch one game that day. There were two games scheduled, a 12:30 start between China and Chinese Taipei that would eliminate the loser, and then Japan would play Korea in the evening with the winner advancing to round 2. A single ticket would get you into both games.

It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon, really the first day of spring. As we arrived at the Dome just after 1 pm, we saw that the ticket booth was showing the day's games to be sold out. This was not surprising; the Japanese team, nicknamed Samurai Japan, is very popular and a Saturday evening game against arch-rival Korea was sure to be a tough draw.

I was happy to buy a cheap ticket to Sunday's game, which would feature the winner of the afternoon game against the loser of the evening game. It would likely be Chinese Taipei vs Korea if things played out as expected. My friend though, was not interested in this battle - she is Japanese and wanted to see Japan play. So we sat in front of the dome, soaking up the rays and waiting for a scalper. However, in Japan, scalpers have become a rare breed. The police stand outside the stadium with signs warning people to avoid buying tickets from other individuals. After about 30 minutes, I saw a gentleman with two tickets in his hand. Having been to countless events, usually without a ticket in advance, I have developed a good sense for recognizing people with extra tickets.

We watched the guy for a while and it was clear he was trying to get rid of his seats, but he was not being aggressive, just walking around holding the pair of tickets in his hand. We noticed another person ask him something and, sure enough, he offered the tickets. We scurried over to hear the asking price - 6,500 yen each (about $65) which was face value. I quickly offered 10,000 yen for the pair and was rebuffed just as quickly.

The scalper returned to sit and wait, and I decided that I would rather get the cheaper ticket for the next day's game. But my friend had realized that this was a chance to see Samurai Japan, so she suggested we get those tickets. After all, they were face value, and not a rip-off. I went to talk to the scalper and saw that the seats were pretty decent, 3rd row in the upper deck above 3rd base. So I bought them and we headed into the dome to catch the end of the game between China and Chinese Taipei.

By now, the Chinese were leading 3-1 in the 6th inning, a bit of a surprise. The stadium was empty, with a small Taiwanese cheering section making the only noise.
The rest of the game was uneventful, with China adding a run on a solo shot by American-born Ray Chang to eliminate Chinese Taipei (can't call them Taiwan!) 4-1.

We had 3 hours between games, so we left the dome and wandered around looking for something to eat. I had earlier spotted a hamburger joint, so we made our way there to investigate the menu. The place is called "The Burgers Tokyo", a simple, yet accurate name. Their premium burger costs 780 yen, 980 yen with fries and a drink (you can even have a beer!). Unlike your typical fast food place, the burgers are made to order and take about 5 minutes to make. I heartily recommend this place if you are hankering for a decent burger before the next Tokyo Giants game.

Finally it was time for the main event. We returned to the Dome, and were surprised to find a long line waiting to get in. It was security check time! This included being wanded, so it took a few minutes to get back into the stadium. One of the interesting aspects of baseball in Japan is that you can bring in your own drinks and food. But due to the risk of throwing a can or bottle, you must give your drink to a staff member, who will pour it into a paper cup for you.

Once we had completed the necessary procedures, we returned to our seats to watch Japan finish up their batting practice. It was interesting to watch the stadium slowly fill up over the next hour, so that by 7 pm, nearly every seat was filled. There was also a small Korean cheering section in the outfield, led by 5 cheerleaders. The picture here does not do justice to them.

I don't want to recap the game here, but Japan won handily 14-2 in 7 innings as the game was called due to the mercy rule. I think that they should return 20% of the ticket price since we didn't get to see a full 9 innings, but the Japanese people around me were far too happy with their team's performance to quibble. Daisuke Matsusaka pitched well for Japan, overcoming an early monster home run by Korean power hitter Tae Kyun Kim.

For me, the highlight of the game was the "Race Around the World" promotion that took place on the big screen between innings. This was your typical race between 3 objects that was sponsored by some corporation or other. In this case, the objects were balls that were given colours. So we had the Red Ball, the Green Ball, and the Blue Ball. Yep, the Blue Ball. I found this quite amusing, as I am quite childish. The 3 balls race to all the countries that participate in the WBC, finishing in Japan. Naturally, the Blue Ball won, so it was a big moment for those sexually frustrated men.

All in all, it was a good day to start my 2009 sports viewing schedule. I'm glad I didn't go to the game the following day where Korea hammered China 14-0.

Next up is a trip from April 1st-13th, first to Arizona for some spring training baseball and then onto Denver for a smorgsabord of sports. I hope to have more interesting and timely updates going forward, so please stay tuned.



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