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Frosty reception greets Giants at Seibu Dome

by Kaz Nagatsuka

TOKOROZAWA, Saitama Pref. — At this time of year, particularly after sunset when the games are played, it feels almost like winter rather than fall at the area around the wood-surrounded Seibu Dome.

Fans wear thick jackets and some even put on gloves, exhaling white breath while watching the ongoing Japan Series games on the chilly green seats at the stadium.

Or in the outfield, where there is artificial turf instead of chairs, the loyal fans keep standing and popping around, violently beating small plastic bats against each other to keep themselves as warm as possible during the contests.

Playing the ballgames in November is something that had not been practiced until recently. But what’s worse (especially for the visiting Yomiuri Giants in this case) playing games at this stadium, the home of the Lions, in November is that it gives off a different sort of atmosphere.

For those who have never visited this ballpark, Seibu Dome is covered by a roof and is a place that you don’t have to worry about a rain-out. But unlike other domes, it is not completely covered; just a round roof like a big lid placed on pillars surrounding it. Because of this, there are wide spaces where the wind can easily blow in — an air conditioner wouldn’t work here.

In Games 3 and 4, the temperature dropped to around 10 degrees but might have been way colder at game time.

“The Giants would be surprised by the chill here,” Lions skipper Hisanobu Watanabe said with a grin during his team’s workout here on Monday.

But for the Giants’ fire-balling closer Marc Kroon, who is from New York, that’s not a problem.

Kroon was walking (sometimes running) while playing around the field and bullpen, wearing just a short sleeve undershirt and jersey.

“I don’t like long sleeves,” said Kroon, taking off the jersey and sitting on a chair in the chilly photographers’ area, which he called “my locker room.”

The 35-year-old vet, who has recorded the fastest pitch in the NPB at 162 kph, added that he doesn’t want to be bothered by a sleeve around his forearm.

Meanwhile, looking into the stands, some of them don’t seem to mind the chill, and some claim that it’s not quite the right atmosphere to watch a baseball game.

“I’m a bit cold, but it doesn’t really bother me because this is the Japan Series,” said a 41-year-old company employee Toshiya Tanabe, a Giants fan, before Thursday’s Game 5. “Although I might not have come if it wasn’t the Japan Series.”

Tomohiro Ashida, a 43-year-old company employee and Lions fan, was holding a cup of beer in his hands during Game 4 but didn’t really enjoy the taste due to the cold air.

“It’s a bit too chilly to do this,” the Tokorozawa native laughed. “It’s almost inevitable and like a ritual to have beer at ballparks.”

Keeping his cool: While there was a bench-clearing wrangle when Giants starter Seth Greisinger hit Seibu’s Hiroyuki Nakajima’s elbow in the fourth inning of Game 4, the following batter, Takeya “Okawari-kun” Nakamura, nicely preserved his cool and came up with a positive outcome.

“I don’t like something like that,” joked the chubby third baseman, who hit two homers in the contest. “I knew (Greisinger) was coming inside to get a double play, so I was prepared. The second homer, I had his changeup in my mind.”

With the big barrel of Nakamura, who now has three dingers in the series, the Lions won 5-0 and equaled the series at 2-2.

Pundit has his say: Kimiyasu Kudo, who is visiting the Japan Series as a commentator for TV Asahi, had a casual talk with reporters backstage on Thursday.

Kudo, who has played both for Seibu and Yomiuri — winning Japan Series titles at both — started to talk about Greisinger’s losing performance the previous night.

“They weren’t on the same boat, obviously,” the 45-year-old southpaw, who currently plays for the Yokohama BayStars, said, referring to Greisinger shaking his head against catcher Kazunari Tsuruoka throughout the game.

“They weren’t on the same boat in the Climax Series, then they should’ve talked together to have common awareness.”

Kudo said that the Giants could have avoided the loss and that it may cost them the series, because they could have given Game 5 starter Koji Uehara, who normally starts after a five-day rest, more time off.

“If they won with Greisinger, they didn’t have to start Uehara today. Seibu starts Wakui, but he could pitch again in Game 7, if not as a starter, but as a reliever because he’s younger.”

Kudo’s topic moved to Takayuki Kishi, the winning hurler of Game 4. He said Kishi’s fastballs were phenomenal as well as his other pitches.

“You know, he fanned the batters making this big space with their bats,” he said, making about a 15-cm gap with his hands. “How can you hit his balls then?”