Golden Week has always been a golden time for Japanese baseball. That series of consecutive holidays between April 29 and May 5 usually sees capacity or near-sellout crowds at all games scheduled during the period.
“If every week was Golden Week, we would never have an attendance problem,” said one team official.
Obviously, every week cannot be a GW, but the next best thing comes up Sept. 21-23, thanks to a shift in the Japanese holiday calendar this year.
Respect for the Aged Day, formerly celebrated Sept. 15, now is observed on the third Monday of the month which falls in 2009 on the 21st. The Autumn Equinox holiday occurs on the 23rd and, by law, any day that falls between two holidays automatically becomes one too.
The Japanese baseball schedule makers are taking full advantage of the “Mini-Golden Week” or “Golden Week 2″ with a full slate of games, most of them day lighters, with some exciting matchups among pennant contenders as the races enter the final stretch.
The Pacific League-leading Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters will play the Climax Series hopeful Saitama Seibu Lions at Sapporo Dome starting at 2 p.m. each afternoon.
The Yomiuri Giants, leaders of the Central League, will host the second-place Chunichi Dragons in a three-game series with “Play Ball” each day at 2 p.m. Tickets for the entire series sold out on Sept. 6.
There are also day games between the Yokohama BayStars and Hanshin Tigers at Yokohama and the Hiroshima Carp and Yakult Swallows at Mazda Zoom Zoom Stadium in Hiroshima.
The Rakuten Eagles play the Orix Buffaloes in a night, day, day series in Sendai, and the same goes for the Softbank Hawks and Chiba Lotte Marines in Fukuoka.
With nine of the 12 teams still having a legitimate shot at making the playoffs, many of these games will draw full-house crowds as families with kids off from school for the holidays take in the action.
According to Nikkan Sports, NPB attendance is up in 2009, despite the economic downturn. Through games of Aug. 27, the Nikkan listed a 1.7 percent increase in spectators over 2008 in the Pacific League.
The Central League audiences are up 6.2 percent, led by the Hiroshima Carp and their attractive new Mazda Zoom Zoom Stadium, where attendance is up by a whopping 48 percent.
Now, if we can just get NPB to schedule makeup games as the season goes along, and have all teams end the schedule on the same day as is done in the major leagues, the situation could get even better. Imagine if they concluded all play every year on the second weekend of October, with that Monday being yet another holiday (Sports Day, nonetheless).
This year that three-day weekend falls on Oct. 10-12, and if we could see six three-game series that would determine playoff position, would that not be a most exciting wrap-up to the season?
Certainly it would be better than the current system of scheduling the makeups at the end and having clubs finish their seasons on random dates.
Heck, it could almost be a “Golden Week 3″ but, at least for now, we have “Golden Week 2.”
Get out there and see a ballgame.
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Upcoming events: Sunrise Japan Co., Ltd., has announced it will open the world’s first Major League Baseball-themed restaurant, MLB cafe TOKYO, on a part of Yebisu Garden Place at 4-19-19 Ebisu, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo.
Opening schedules include the 1F cafe on Friday, Sept. 18, and the 2F and 3F restaurants on Monday, Sept. 28.
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Finally this week, how many of you remember the St. Louis Browns?
Did you know there is a St. Louis Browns fan club?
Though the American League team has not existed since the franchise became the Baltimore Orioles in 1954, the fan organization was apparently founded just a quarter of a century ago, as it will be holding a 25th anniversary dinner next month.
The guest speaker will be Mike Veeck, son of the late Bill Veeck, the last owner of the Browns before they moved to Maryland 55 years ago. Mike Veeck is part owner of six baseball teams, a consultant for one other, and he was recognized in 2005 by Baseball America as one of the 25 most influential people in baseball over the past 25 years.
Eight former members of the Browns are scheduled to attend the dinner on Oct. 8 at the Missouri Athletic Club in St. Louis, including ex-players Roy Sievers, Ned Garver, Ed Mickelson, Bud Thomas and J.W. Porter.
I must admit to being old enough to remember Sievers playing for the Washington Senators and Philadelphia Phillies, and Garver with the Detroit Tigers in the late 1950s, but the others are not familiar, and I cannot recall ever seeing a Browns game.
The team once employed — however briefly — two of the most unusual players in baseball history. It was in 1945 when Pete Gray, a one-armed outfielder, was in the Browns’ lineup. His life story was the subject of the 1986 movie, “A Winner Never Quits: The Pete Gray Story” starring Keith Carradine.
Then in 1951, owner Bill Veeck in a publicity stunt sent to the plate Eddie Gaedel, a dwarf standing 3 feet, 7 inches (109 cm) tall, as a pinch hitter for the only at-bat of his major league career. He walked.
If you are going to be in St. Louis on Oct. 8 and want to attend the dinner, join the club or subscribe to the Browns Magazine, contact Frank Kane at 443 Fieldcrest Dr., St. Louis, Mo., 63119
Now, when is the next meeting of the Seattle Pilots Fan Club?
Contact Wayne Graczyk at: wayne@JapanBall.com