/

Fans cherish chance to see Red Sox, Athletics in Tokyo

by Kaz Nagatsuka

A salad bowl, a melting pot, whatever you call it, the stadium was mixed with all types of baseball fans from all over the world.

Major League Baseball’s season-opening game between the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics on Tuesday at Tokyo Dome provided a much different atmosphere from ordinary Nippon Professional Baseball games at the Big Egg, because of the assembled audience — and the game itself.

A father and daughter, Jack and Jessica Fleming, flew all the way from New England and they’re darn excited about this occasion to watch their club’s season opening games in a foreign country.

“Can’t wait,” said Jessica before Tuesday’s game.

A die-hard Red Sox fan, Jessica didn’t need much time to decide on coming over to Japan.

“As soon as I heard they were coming, we were like, ‘We’ve got to go,’ ” said the 33-year-old Jessica, a resident of Melrose, Mass., who works at a travel agency in Boston.

“I liked to travel around the U.S. to see them (the Red Sox) in different cities. So this was a perfect opportunity to travel to another country.”

Jessica’s father, Jack, humbly said he isn’t as big a fan of the Red Sox as his daughter. Yet, he described the trip to Japan as “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

“I think it is, yeah,” nodded the 62-year-old Jack, who had been in Tachikawa, a western suburb of Tokyo, as a U.S. military member in 1968.

“We’ve done some sightseeing today and we’ve met people from all over the place. They are coming to the game. They are from New York (and) grew up in New England, so they are Red Sox fans. From all over the States that they were actually able to make it here for this. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, really. It may never happen again.”

While the almost-full ballpark was occupied by vivid red T-shirts and jerseys of the Red Sox, the reigning World Series champions, there were few but sincere A’s supporters wearing the team’s signature green and gold colors.

They didn’t travel as far as the above-mentioned Flemings traveled, but Kenji Matsubayashi and his 12-year-old son, Takaaki, took the long road to Tokyo Dome from Toyama.

“I took days off,” said Matsubayashi, a company employee, adding he and his son will stick around Tokyo for Wednesday’s game, too. “We came here taking an overnight bus last night.”

The 43-year-old Matsubayashi said he’s been a fan of Oakland since the club was strong in the late 1980s and early 1990s, featuring standouts Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire and Rickey Henderson. In fact, he wears the same-colored jersey as the A’s for his sandlot baseball team.

“I love their speed,” Matsubayashi, a Henderson fan, said of the reason why he watches the big-league game. “And they play until they have a winner.”

Unlike most of the fans at the stadium, Matsubayashi didn’t necessarily visit Tokyo Dome to see Matsuzaka. Instead, he thought that it would be great to witness the world’s best and the trophy the team won.

“You can’t really imagine a chance like that (to see the World Series trophy),” he said.

Opening Day was also a great occasion for the Flemings, who live in Saugus, Mass., about 15 km north of Boston.

“We don’t get to see it at home,” Jack Fleming said. “Because (the Red Sox) travel around all the different cities in New England. So we never had a chance to see it in person until we came here at Tokyo Dome. And there it is, right at the gate we came in. So that was pretty exciting to actually see it in person.”