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Tokyo Dome begins hosting night games with reduced power supply

by Wayne Graczyk

There had been speculation, following the events of March 11, it might not be possible to play professional baseball games at Tokyo Dome for the entire 2011 season, on account of the problems at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power facility. Because it is an indoor stadium, lighting and other energy consuming power sources are needed for day and night games.

A total of 12 Yomiuri Giants games scheduled between March 25 and April 24 were canceled or moved to other ballparks, and a Pacific League series, slated March 29-31 between the Nippon Ham Fighters and Orix Buffaloes, was also scrapped. However, the Giants, after three weeks of playing on the road, were finally able to host Golden Week afternoon games at the Big Egg on May 3, 4 and 5 against the Hanshin Tigers. They also played the Yokohama BayStars in the first night games at Tokyo Dome this season May 11-12.

Crowds of better than 45,000 showed up for each of the matinee games against the Tigers, and the concern for the visibility was evident on the field and in the stands where an eerie feeling reminded fans they were in a setsuden (power saving) situation. Minimal lighting was used in the stadium concourses, concession stands and in the areas below the stands where players, coaches, managers, team staff and media members have access to the field.

Several banks of field lights were left off during both teams’ batting practice sessions, though the brightness was more than adequate for safety. Prior to each game, the NPB umpires could be seen on the grounds, consulting with Tokyo Dome personnel, pointing to the light standards hanging from the roof and checking to be sure they knew which lights would be switched on prior to the game’s first pitch.

Although it was a cloudy day with not much help from sunlight filtering through the stadium’s light-colored canvas roof, there did not seem to be any problems seeing pitches during the May 3 game. Six home runs were hit, including three in a row and four altogether by the visiting team. Yomiuri starting pitcher Shun Tono even connected for a homer–an opposite field shot to right.

On May 4, it was different story, as it was actually too bright. The sun shone full blast outside, making the roof color lighter and the ball more difficult to see. As a result, there were some weird plays on high pop-ups.

Alex Ramirez of the Giants lost a hit when he came up with runners at first and second and one out and lofted a fly toward the right side. Hanshin first baseman Craig Brazell did not see the ball and covered his head with his mitt for protection. Second baseman Keiichi Hirano also did not see it and stretched out his arms, calling “Braz!” for help from his infield mate.

Meanwhile, first base umpire Kenji Nishimoto did not see the ball either and, thinking Hirano was going to camp under it, called Ramirez out on the infield fly rule. However, the ball landed in short right field. While the runners advanced to second and third, and Ramirez stood on first thinking he had a lucky hit, Nishimoto had to tell him he was out. Once the infield fly call was made, there is no taking it back.

On another strange play, Giants shortstop Hayato Sakamoto caught a pop-up on the dead run just a few meters from home plate because three others closer to the play (pitcher Norihito Kaneto, catcher Kazunari Tsuruoka and third baseman Rusty Ryal) had no clues as to the location of the ball.

On the final day of that series, cloudy skies returned, and the pop flies were less adventuresome.

Looking out at the field from the press box behind home plate, it appeared the lighting was normal, but the stands seemed dimmer, and the concourses appeared very dark. Estimates of the reduction in power throughout the ballpark ranged from 28 to 50 percent. A row of lamps above the press box and stands was out, some of the food display lights at the concession stands were cut and the hand dryers in the bathrooms were not operating.

Prior to each game, stadium ushers and other staff members performed “earthquake practice,” waving their arms toward where spectators would be sitting in case there was a temblor during the game and urging the fans to remain calm and stay in their seats. The Tokyo Dome is an extremely strong building and earthquake resistant, but it could be disastrous if everyone headed for the exits at once.

When the Giants played their first “nighter” of the year at Tokyo Dome on Wednesday, a generator was brought in to boost power. The field lighting again seemed normal, and NTV reported the energy usage throughout the stadium was at 62 percent of usual. Nippon Hoso radio commentator Takenori Emoto mentioned he thought the lights in the spectator areas “had always been too bright anyway, so it was no big deal.” Before the gameday, the Yomiuri ball club took out a series of ads on the Japan Railways Chuo Line and other trains servicing the stations near Tokyo Dome, explaining the situation for fans and insisting they can still have a good and safe time but to be aware of what is going on. “Gochui kudasai,” read the placards above the straphangers, urging everyone to “Pay attention” while at the game. So, if you’re going to a Giants game at the Big Egg in the coming weeks, be sure to “gochui” and bring a small towel or handkerchief to dry your hands after using the bathroom. *** Contact Wayne Graczyk at Wayne@JapanBall.com