Sunday, August 4, 2013

Chiba Lotte Marines at Orix Buffaloes - August 2/3, 2013


One of the interesting aspects of Japanese baseball is that some teams occasionally play home games in different stadiums, even during the same series. Such was the case this weekend, when the first match of a 3-game set between the Chiba Lotte Marines and the Orix Buffaloes was played at the Kyocera Dome Osaka while the other two took place at Hotto Motto Field Kobe, where Ichiro Suzuki gained fame with the Orix Blue Wave back when the ballpark was known as Kobe Green Stadium.

When the Blue Wave merged with the Kintetsu Buffaloes to become the Orix Buffaloes, the team made the Kyocera Dome their regular home ground, but they still manage to get out to Kobe for a few games a year to keep their old fans happy. Given the experience I had this weekend, they should reverse that decision and play most of their games in the open air, saving the dome for a few games during the rainy season.

Kyocera Dome



Opened in 1997, the Osaka Dome was immediately famous for its spaceship-like appearance. Big, round, silver, and lying in the middle of a semi-industrial area in the city, the Dome is conveniently located if you are staying near the nightlife area of Namba. There are several trains that get you close, with the Dome-mae Chiyozaki Station on the Nagahori Tsurumi-ryokuchi subway line the closest.



Gates only open 1 hour before the game, which gives you time to visit one of the two malls next door, or to watch the cheerleaders performing outside the main gate. You can walk around the entire facility but there is not much to see.



Tickets here vary considerably in price, with the most expensive being the field seats at 8,000 yen. I recommend the B seats at 2,700 yen, which still leave you close to the action. With a capacity of 50,000 and crowds around 20,000 for the Buffaloes games, you will have space to yourself regardless of where you choose to sit.



Food here is not that good and you might be better off bringing something from outside. As the Orix team is originally from Kobe, which is over an hour away, there are not as many fans as one would expect in such a large city as Osaka. In fact, the visiting Chiba fans were out in greater numbers. With the cavernous layout, this is probably Japan's quietest ballpark.



The roof is quite interesting though, looking like a huge speaker. This might be the highlight of the entire stadium!



Overall, the Kyocera Dome is perhaps the worst place to experience Japanese baseball for a newcomer to the game. It is just too big and there are not enough transplanted fans to make this a true  home stadium. The location is good and the lack of fans does make it easy to get around, but those are about the only positive things I can say. It is really the opposite of their other home ground in Kobe.



Hotto Motto Field Kobe



Located about 20 minutes from downtown on the Seishin-Yamate subway line, this ballpark has had four different sponsors, with Hotto Motto, a take-out bento restaurant, the most recent. This field is set up like an American ballpark with a grass infield and basepaths.



Seats here are a bit cheaper than in Osaka, with the best bet being the B seats at 2,500 yen. There is a small upper deck here that tapers towards the end, much like Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. If you do sit upstairs, avoid the first few rows as there is a fence that blocks the view. Note that you can save a bit of money buying the tickets in advance, which I recommend as the walk up that day was surprisingly long.



The bullpens here are visible from the stands (most Japanese bullpens are hidden from view) and you can get a unique view from directly above.



There is a restaurant on the 4th floor but it was full when I went to check it out. This is where the 1996 Japan Series pennant won by Orix hangs as well.



The concourse is narrow and filled with arches which makes things even tighter when a full crowd is on hand. The picture above is from the upper deck, which is obviously not as busy. Many food stands are outside the stadium proper though, which alleviates the crush somewhat. I tried a couple of snacks and wasn't impressed. There was one Okinawa-themed stand selling Orion Beer and Blue Seal ice cream, two staples of the island culture.

The atmosphere here is among the best in Japanese baseball. The fans are more vociferous than in Osaka and there are more of them as well. Once the sun sets behind the first base grandstand and the air cools slightly, it is a very relaxing place to spend a summer's evening. Unfortunately, the team only plays a few games per year here, so you'll have to check the schedule before booking your ticket to Japan.

The Games



The first game was a fairly pedestrian affair, with the Buffaloes taking an early lead on a home run from Yoshio Itoi (#7 above). Dai-Ho Lee added a monster shot in the fourth, and the two of them opened the sixth with back-to-back singles, eventually coming around to score to make it 4-1. Another run in the seventh seem to salt the game away, but Lotte pinch-hitter Kazuya Fukuura tripled home two runs in the top of the ninth to bring the tying run to the plate. Closer Yoshihisa Hirano managed to get the next two hitters out though, and Orix escaped with a 5-3 win.



I was surprised to see ex-Yankee Kei Igawa (below) starting for Orix in the second game out in Kobe. He came back to Japan last year after a tough six years in America and struggled, going 2-7 with a 4.65 ERA. This season saw him at 3 wins and 2 losses but he was not sharp on this night, giving up 3 runs in the second and 2 more in the fifth as he departed behind 5-2.



Amazingly, he lasted longer than the Lotte starter, Hiroki Ueno, who was pulled after 3.2 innings despite giving up only a 2-run homer. When Aarom Baldiris (below) crushed a ball to the warning track in center field, the manager had seen enough and pulled Ueno. His bullpen did the job though, limiting the Buffaloes to just two more runs the rest of the way as they won 7-4.



The star was lead-off man Takashi Ogino (below), who had two hits, two walks, and two RBIs on the night.



The two games took 3:22 and 3:25 respectively. We actually left the Kobe game early as we had to get back to Osaka and it was dragging on and on. I really can't understand why these relatively uneventful games take so much longer than they used to, but as far as I am concerned, fans are being done a disservice. Well, for me I doubt I will attend another NPB game, so at least I'll stop yapping about this.

Notes

The Orix designated hitter was Dai-Ho Lee, referred to as Lee DH in Japanese. In other words, DH Lee DH!  He's had a notable career, winning the triple crown in South Korea in 2006, Olympic gold in 2008, and hitting home runs in 9 consecutive games in 2009. He is in his 2nd year in the NPB and hit a monster homer in Friday's game.



My friend Mike came down from Tokyo for these two games and spotted a jersey giveaway for anyone who had bought a ticket in advance. Thankfully we had, so we each grabbed a Buffaloes practice jersey. On Thursday at Koshien, I had received a free Tigers jersey, so I suddenly have two NPB shirts, something I never bought in all my time in Japan.

Next Up

I'm disappearing to the Maldives for 8 days before returning to close out life in Singapore. I'll then be in New York for a week to get set up there before heading off to Denver to begin the NFL Stadium Journey. Things will be hectic, so check back often for updates and let me know if you want to meet up at one of the 32 games I will be seeing.

Best,

Sean

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