Can you believe this will be the 25th season of play already at the Tokyo Dome?
In fact, it opened this week in 1988, with Japanese pro baseball exhibition games as part of a 12-team tournament that gave all the Central and Pacific League clubs a chance to play indoors for the first time.
There is a personal story to go with this. Some time back in the early 1980s, a friend and I were listening to a major league game on the U.S. Armed Forces Radio station in Tokyo (then known as the Far East Network or FEN). The Minnesota Twins were playing the Detroit Tigers at the Metrodome in Minneapolis.
The friend said, “It rains so much in Japan. They should build a domed stadium in Tokyo for the Yomiuri Giants, so they can play any time — even on days when the weather is bad.”
I replied by saying, “That’s impossible. There is no place in downtown Tokyo to build a domed stadium.”
A few weeks later, the Japanese sports newspapers reported the announcement a domed stadium would be constructed in the complex where Korakuen Stadium, then the home of the Giants and the Nippon Ham Fighters, was located. That shows how much I know.
They started building Tokyo Dome, shoehorning it into a site adjacent to Korakuen Stadium where there used to be a swimming pool and a small parking lot. As the new ballpark neared completion in the fall of 1987, the Giants were playing Japan Series games against the Seibu Lions at Korakuen, and there is a prominent photo (and postcard) with an air view of the two stadiums overlapping each other.
The facade of the dome actually overhung the upper deck behind home plate of the old facility; its stands full of spectators watching the Series.
In November of ’87, the wrecking ball started demolishing Korakuen, and that ground is now home to an event hall, the Tokyo Dome Hotel and an outdoor mall.
Over the years, Tokyo Dome has been the site for not only Japanese baseball but also Major League All-Star tours and official opening series such as the one coming up next week with the Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics. What is the No. 1 event for me occurred in 2004 when the New York Yankees, with native son Hideki Matsui on the roster, played regular-season games.
Besides baseball, the “Big Egg,” as it is affectionately known, has hosted other big-time American sports such as NBA regular-season contests and NFL preseason games with most of the big-name teams appearing.
On Feb. 11, 1990, Buster Douglas scored a huge upset by knocking out Mike Tyson in one of the most memorable matches in the history of world championship heavyweight boxing. There have been concerts too, with plaques in the Tokyo Dome concourse commemorating performances by Michael Jackson, Paul McCartney, Madonna and many other top singers and musical groups.
Next year will mark the official 25th anniversary, and we may expect they will have special events, though nothing has been planned yet. I would love to see another MLB opening series with maybe the Texas Rangers playing the Baltimore Orioles (with Yu Darvish and Tsuyoshi Wada pitching against each other).
I would also enjoy watching a re-enactment of the matchup that produced the first home run in Tokyo Dome history with former Yomiuri Giants hurler Masumi Kuwata pitching to ex-Yakult Swallows slugger Doug DeCinces.
If the NFL or NBA ever decide to come back, what better time than the silver anniversary year?
Tokyo Dome Corporation senior managing director Hidekazu Kitada, a personal friend of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, would love to see them return. “I would like to have the NFL play a regular-season game with us though, rather than a preseason game,” he said.
Kitada has worked in the Tokyo Dome company for 40 years, starting as a waiter. He says the two biggest events for him in the stadium’s history were the world heavyweight boxing title match between Tyson and Tony Tubbs on March 21, 1988, a few days after the opening of the facility, and the nine-performance concert series by Jackson, Dec. 9-26, 1988.
We shall see how they celebrate a quarter-century of operation for the facility I once thought could never possibly be built.
Diamond Dust: If you have not yet heard, the Central League on March 8 decided to join the Pacific League in adopting the “yokoku sempatsu” system of announcing starting pitchers the day before each regular-season game.
Finally, news reports said former Seattle Pilots first baseman Don Mincher died on March 4 in Huntsville, Alabama. He was 73.
Mincher was a journeyman who played 13 years in the American League with the Washington Senators, Minnesota Twins, California Angels, the Pilots, Oakland Athletics and Texas Rangers.
He is perhaps best remembered though as a “star” of Jim Bouton’s book, “Ball Four,” the controversial chronology of the 1969 season, the only one played by the hapless Pilots.
Mincher was a favorite of Seattle manager Joe Schultz who called him by his nickname “Minch.” The two provided several profane verbal exchanges that helped make Bouton’s book a best-seller.
Contact Wayne Graczyk at: Wayne@JapanBall.com