I wasn't planning to write a post for the MLB Season Opener, but the pre-game ceremony was interesting, so I've decided to do a short recap after all.
As this was an MLB game, extra security precautions were required. First, a small plastic bag was handed out and all fans were instructed to place metal objects into this plastic bag before going through the metal detector. Of course, carrying two cameras, binoculars, and a cell phone, there was no way everything would fit into the tiny bag, but it didn’t matter. At the gate, my knapsack was scanned by an earnest young man who asked permission to use his white-gloved hands to check the belongings. The check was cursory at best, more to ensure that I did not have any cans or bottles rather than anything dangerous.
I had chosen the line that bypassed the walkthrough metal detector; instead I was greeted by a cute young lady who performed another check using a wand. Interestingly, she only scanned my body and not the knapsack, finding nothing of interest and allowing me to finally enter the dome.
My seat was far down the right field line, in the 8th row of the upper deck. Despite being about 400 feet away, we were duly warned before the game to be aware of foul balls coming our way. If you were to be hit by a foul ball sitting this far from the plate, you deserve your injuries, but regardless, no foul balls came remotely close to us.
As game time approached, Amy and Joe Franz, Mariner season ticket holders and inventors of the Ichimeter, the signboard they use to count up Ichiro's hits, were shown on the big screen to much applause. They are probably more famous here than most of the Athletics.
The pre-game ceremony was focused on Tomodachi, a new initiative that is designed to deepen relations between the US and Japan after the 2011 disasters. The US Army Band from nearby Camp Zama marched onto the field and a large flag for each nation was unfurled.
Lights were dimmed and there was a lengthy video dedicated to three heroes from March 11, including Taylor Anderson, an American teacher who lost her life in the tsunami after ensuring that her students were safe. Derek Jeter, Bobby Valentine, and Cal Ripken Jr. each narrated one story. When the video ended, a Tomodachi flag was revealed between the other two to symbolize the growing friendship between the two nations.
When the home-team Athletics took the field, they were joined by some young baseball all-stars from the Tohoku region. After that, the national anthems were sung, with famous actor/singer Ryotaro Sugi performing Kimi Ga Yo much to the surprise of the locals, who gasped when his named was announced.
With the ceremonies complete, it was time for the baseball season to start. Brandon McCarthy took the mound for the A’s and at 7:08, threw a called strike to Chone Figgins. Two batters later, Ichiro approached the plate and the crowd erupted with a long ovation. It is difficult to overstate just how much of an icon he is here in Japan; he is the most successful athlete to have played overseas and a great source of pride for Japanese people. Every pitch to him saw thousands of flashbulbs going off. He was not distracted in the least, knocking an infield single off of McCarthy’s glove (that's him above, reaching first on another infield hit later in the game).
Coco Crisp flies out
I’ll avoid a detailed recap here, other than to say that it was a great game with the Mariners winning 3-1 in 11 innings. Ichiro going 4/5 and adding the insurance RBI. It was just my type of game, with good pitching and aggressive hitting, which meant that not a single walk was issued on the evening. Cuban rookie Yoenis Cespedes (above) received mixed reviews in his first MLB action as he smashed a double in 3 at-bats, while striking out twice. The game officially took 3:04, but the scoreboard operator let the timer run a few extra seconds I guess.
I've added another couple of Japanese destinations to my schedule in order to get all the NPB stadiums reviewed for Stadium Journey. This weekend I'll travel to Sendai to watch the Rakuten Golden Eagles host Chiba in an afternoon affair before moving over to Yurtec Stadium to watch the US Women's National Soccer team take on Nadeshiko Japan in a rematch of last year's World Cup final. I've also added a night in Fukuoka on April 10th for a Hawks game. In between, I'll be in Sapporo for a few days to catch the Fighters and Consadole, both tenants of the Sapporo Dome. Check back often for updates.