Been out to a game at Seibu Dome recently?
I took the trek out there June 9 to meet Tom Dillon, fellow columnist (When East Marries West, every third Saturday) in The Japan Times, to watch the Lions interleague game against the Hiroshima Carp, suck up a few brewskies and enjoy the ambience at the ballpark in Tokorozawa, the suburb of Tokyo in Saitama Prefecture.
Though I live halfway out there from central Tokyo, I need to ride five trains and make four changes between Japan Railways and the Seibu lines but, when you get there, you’re there. Seibu Kyujo-mae Station is right outside the park, and you can walk from the station wicket to the stadium entrance in about 45 seconds.
The ballpark is now in its 33rd season of use since the Lions were bought by the Seibu Railways, and there have been a lot of changes over the years; some good and some not-so-great. Overall, it is still a nice place to watch a game.
Construction on the 30,000-seat facility began in 1977 when Seibu chairman Yoshiaki Tsutsumi decided to build it in a picturesque area among a golf course, five lakes, two Seibu theme parks and the UNESCO Village. In the absence of a franchise team, his original plan was to have all 12 Central and Pacific League clubs play about a 30-game schedule in the new yard.
However, before work on the stadium was completed, Tsutsumi purchased the Crown Lighter Lions, then of Fukuoka, from owner Nagayoshi Nakamura. The era of Seibu Lions Stadium and the Seibu Lions team began on April 14, 1979, with the home opener against the Nippon Ham Fighters. I can recall workers still painting and putting finishing touches on the park as the Lions and Fighters were taking batting practice on the artificial turf prior to that Saturday afternoon game.
The stadium was uncovered then; the domed roof would not be added until 1999, and there were only four advertisements in the entire place, all on the center field scoreboard. Today, there are ads everywhere-on the scoreboard, the outfield fences, side walls, behind the plate and on panels supporting the roof.
Things I like about the Seibu Dome include the facts the bullpens are visible from the dugouts and stands, the scoreboard has been upgraded and is one of the best in Japan — and they sell pizza.
Jingu Stadium in Tokyo, home of the Yakult Swallows, also has the bullpens on the field, but most parks in Japan require relief pitchers to warm up under the stands or in the right- and left-field corners, out of sight of spectators. At Seibu, the pens are enclosed, off the playing field, between the foul lines and the grandstand.
The scoreboard is one long monstrosity, extending from left-center to right-center field, with a giant video screen, the lineups easy to see (if you can read Japanese), and the ball-strike count electronically colorful.
Frankly, the Seibu Dome is not one of my favorite parks in Japan as far as its food menu goes, but at least now they have guys coming through the stands selling Domino’s Pizza at ¥600 a slice. That saves a trip to the concession stands and the long hike up what seems to be an endless flight of stairs, especially if your seat is down by the field.
On the negative side, I am disappointed they replaced the traditional female P.A. announcer with a male voice, and there were no updates of other games being played in Japan. There was a full schedule that night, with games from Sapporo to Fukuoka, but no scores were being relayed. If they were, I missed it.
Hey — why is it Japanese ballparks don’t include out-of-town scoreboards, anyway?
All major league stadiums in North America have them.
On the night we were there, a special pre-game event was held to remember the 1991 Seibu-Hiroshima Japan Series. A pitcher from that Lions team of two decades ago faced off against a Carp batter who played then, for one at-bat.
After the regular Seibu starting nine took the field, former Lions hurler Yoshitaka Katori faced ex-Carp comedic catcher Mitsuo Tatsukawa. He grounded out to second base, and the crowd of 17,268 enjoyed the moment of nostalgia.
On the following night, long-time Seibu lefty Kimiyasu Kudo (who still wants to pitch at age 48), threw to Hiroshima old-timer first baseman Takehiko Kobayakawa who also grounded to second but was “safe” on an “error.”
To be honest, I always liked watching games at Seibu better before they put the umbrella-like roof over the field and stands. Then again, it came in handy that evening, as rain began to fall steadily while the game was in the seventh inning.
Hiroshima came out on top, 5-1, with American right-hander Bryan Bullington besting Seibu ace Hideaki Wakui. As Dillon and I filed out with the other fans and headed for the train, Carp designated hitter Ryuhei Matsuyama was being hero-interviewed on the field.
Matsuyama was drafted in 2007 during the Marty Brown managerial era, and Brown thought highly of him, but the outfielder spent three seasons on the Hiroshima farm team. That night, he hit his first career homer to help win the game, and Brown would be proud.
If you get a chance soon, take in a game at Seibu Dome, enjoy the baseball, the pizza, watching the relievers warm up and viewing the spectacular scoreboard, and may all your beer girls be smiling.
Contact Wayne Graczyk at: Wayne@JapanBall.com