Friday, April 20, 2012

Yomiuri Giants 1 at Chunichi Dragons 4 - April 19, 2012

The Chunichi Dragons are a long-standing team in Japanese baseball, having begun play in 1936. They used to host games at Nagoya Stadium, an outdoor field constructed in 1948, but the Nagoya Dome opened in 1997 and the Dragons moved in, relegating their old grounds to the minor league squad. Despite nearly 70 years of existence, the Dragons have only won two Japan Series, the most recent in 2007. Lately though, they have been the strongest team in the Central League, taking 5 of the last 8 pennants.

Nagoya Dome

When I first visited the Nagoya Dome when it opened in 1997, there was no convenient station close by. That changed in 2000 when the Nagoya Dome Mae - Yada subway stop was opened. It seems to be part of the stadium itself with dozens of old Dragons' photos as well as a shot of each player on the current roster. Because this walkway is crowded before and after games it is tough to stop and look at everything on display but if you can get there a few hours before the game, it should be easier to enjoy.

The dome is quite nice from the outside, its silver geodesic dome shining in the sunlight. There are a couple of restaurants outside one of the gates but I would avoid these and go inside where there is more to see and do. Take note of the roof which has been double glazed to allow natural light through. Each section on the roof can be individually shaded which allows for intricate patterns to be displayed, although this doesn't happen during the game.

There are five seating levels, each painted a different colour. Sitting down low is more expensive and the view is blocked by the screen all the way down the lines, so I chose the cheaper upper deck seat at 2,500 yen. Even this was not optimal as the people in the first row lean over the ledge and block your view from time to time, and it was rather cramped as well. I did notice that the seats in the lower bowl don't face home plate forcing those fans to spend the game with their bodies turned sideways.

The outfield seats are actually reserved unlike most other ballparks here. The view is not bad as you are well above the field as you can see below.

There are some other special seating areas including the Prime Twin, a pair of seats meant for couples, as well as Prime Box, where four fans can sit together at a table. Above the outfield seats is Arenaview, a restaurant that offers a panoramic view of the ballpark.

You can freely move between the upper and lower levels here, with the better concessions down below. The concourses are relatively narrow and rather dated but it was still easy to get around.

The standard fare is available at stands named after their location, such as Snack Home, behind home plate. Of course, this leads to the beverage booth near first base to be called Drink First, a message designed to throw recovering alcoholics off the wagon. The most memorable item was a shrimp and avocado salad dog which I did not try as it looked disgusting. Some of the concession stands had MLB memorabilia above them, including a very old Chisox jersey (below). When walking around, keep your head up, there are a few surprises to be found.

If you want more than just a stadium snack, the third floor has a large food court with 6 choices, including a sushi place that was packed. Judging from the crowd, this would be worth trying but you probably have to arrive just as gates open to ensure a seat.

The third floor also houses the Dragons' Museum, a large collection of memorabilia including the 1954 Japan Series championship plaque. All of the explanations are in Japanese only but it is worth visiting as it is free. It is only open on game days so you do need to buy a ticket to get in.

Overall, this is a decent venue for a dome. I enjoyed the friendly staff and food selection. The seating issues make it difficult to relax. I think only the first row in the upper deck offers a purely unobstructed view among the infield seats, and those tickets can be tough to get. With no unreserved seating area, you'll be stuck with whatever ticket you buy, so be aware of that before going to the ticket window.

The Game

Two top pitchers were starting tonight with Dicky Gonzalez (above) taking the hill for the Giants against ace Kazuki Yoshimi for Chunichi. Things got off to a rough start for Gonzalez, who gave up a leadoff single to Yohei Oshima who was quickly sacrificed to second by Masahiro Araki (below). After Masahiko Morino grounded out, clean-up hitter Takeshi Yamazaki, a 43-year-old veteran, brought Oshima home with a single to make it 1-0 Dragons.

The Giants tied it up in their half of the second when Shuichi Murata led off with a double and scored on Yoshinobu Takahashi's single. Takahashi advanced to second on the throw home, but when the throw went wild, he tried for third. Yoshimi, backing up the play at home, threw to third and Takahashi retreated. Again the throw was too high and Takahashi reversed field yet again, only to be gunned out at third by the throw from left field. The old 9-1-7-5 play if you are scoring at home. The inning ended when Gonzalez grounded out and he must have hurt himself as he was removed from the game after warming up in the bottom of the second. Jumpei Ohno was brought in and took another three minutes to get ready, meaning a seven-minute break between innings.

That still wasn't enough time for Ohno to get loose as he gave up a single to Hirokazu Ibata and then a monster homer to Ryosuke Hirata, his 4th of the young season. After a groundout, Ohno walked Yoshimi and gave up singles to Oshima and Araki to load the bases. That was it for him as Satoshi Fukuda relieved and retired Morino on an RBI groundout before striking out Yamazaki. Two innings were in the books and over an hour had passed. I slumped in my seat, fearing another four-hour marathon, but as it turns out, that was all the scoring.

Yoshimi (above) settled down, giving up a walk and 2 singles the rest of the way, retiring the last 11 batters in a row for the Dragons' first complete game of the season. Fukuda and two other Giants' relievers were equally good, giving up just 2 hits themselves as the final seven innings were completed in just 90 minutes. It was one of the quickest games I have seen in Japan and as the Giants lost, one of the most enjoyable as well.


The Dragons' mascot Doala (a Dragon and Koala mix I guess) tries to land a running backflip during the 7th-inning break. The team keeps his record of success and failure, so far 2-5. He missed again below.



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