Have you been to a Lions game lately at Seibu Dome?
Fellow Japan Times columnist (“When East Marries West”) Tom Dillon and I venture out to the Tokorozawa ball yard once or twice a year for a “baseball and beer” night. It is one of the few times during the season when I attend a ball game as a fan; sitting in the stands rather than in the press box and enjoying the action from a different perspective.
We saw the Lions play the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters on the hot and humid night of Aug. 7, a Wednesday, joining more than 18,000 spectators. After a couple of brewskies bought from sweat-drenched beer girl vendors, I found myself looking around, up at the roof, out on the field, thinking about how much the stadium had changed since Lions were bought by the Seibu Railways and moved from Fukuoka in 1979.
It is still a bit of hassle to get there from downtown Tokyo. Dillon lives in Tokorozawa, so he has it easy. I live in Kichijoji, west of Tokyo and not that far away from the ballpark, but I still have to make four transfers and ride five trains to get there. Once you pull into Seibu Kyujo-mae Station, though, you are there. It’s about a 45-second walk from the train station wicket to the stadium gate.
The heat took over once we got inside. Because the dome covers the field and stands with the sides wide open, it is not fully enclosed as are the other five domed stadiums in Japan, and the hot air settles under the top. As you might expect, cold drinks and ice cream are big selling items on the hot summer nights.
Seibu Dome is also a billboard extravaganza with signs everywhere. When it opened 34 years ago, Seibu Lions Stadium had only four tasteful advertisements in the whole place — all of them on the center-field scoreboard. Now there are probably more than 100 ads, and they are everywhere you look; on the scoreboard, the infield sideboards and outfield fences, in the dugouts and even on the rafters connecting the roof to its fixtures.
Thinking back to before the dome was added in 1999, I could recall how pleasant it was in the open air. There was a great view of UNESCO Village, with its trademark Dutch windmill — beyond the left-field stands where there was also a lot of greenery.
When a Lions player hit a home run, fireworks were launched in the distance to attractively light the sky from a facility past the right-field stands.
That happened often during the Lions championship years in the 1980s and ’90s when sluggers such as Kazuhiro Kiyohara, Koji Akiyama and Orestes Destrade set off the explosions regularly. Those days of the fireworks displays are sadly gone.
Food service and selections are much improved, though. Whereas, in the early days of the stadium, the cuisine was mostly udon, soba and other noodle dishes and Japanese selections, the fare is now much more international. There are Domino’s Pizza and Kentucky Fried Chicken counters, and outlets selling hot dogs and other items you might find at a major league game.
The crowd that evening was still enthusiastic and seemed to appreciate the efforts of their Lions, currently in the hunt for a Pacific League Climax Series playoff spot despite missing two key players from a year ago.
Former All-Star shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima left as a free agent for the major leagues with the Oakland Athletics, and power-hitting hird baseman Takeya Nakamura, the Pa League home run king four of the last five seasons, has not played this year due to injury.
Still, Saitama Seibu, a third-place team with Nakajima and Nakamura in 2012, was in third place as of Thursday, battling with the Chiba Lotte Marines and Fukuoka Softbank Hawks to secure a post-season ticket.
One who has taken up some of the slack in a big way is first baseman Hideto Asamura, a rising star in Japanese baseball. Last season, Asamura hit just .245 with seven home runs and 37 RBIs in 114 games. This year, he’s played in every one of the team’s games. Through Wednesday, he was leading the PL with 76 RBIs, was third in the league with 21 homers and fourth in batting with a .323 average.
Asamura has an outside shot at winning a Triple Crown, and he’s becoming a great clutch hitter as well. The night Dillon and I were there, he slammed a dramatic two-out, come-from-behind, three-run sayonara walkoff home run in the bottom of the ninth off Fighters closer Hisashi Takeda to win the game 7-6.
Needless to say, those fireworks would have provided extra excitement to an already spectacular finish, but …
It would be better seeing the action there without the roof, and former Seibu team owner Yoshiaki Tsutsumi was said to have once apologized for having it put up. As is, the lid is not going to be lifted, so we’re stuck with it. In spite of the heat and the spoiled view of the outside, it is still fun to attend games at Seibu Dome.
If you go this month, though, be sure to bring an uchiwa fan and lots of spending money for some cold drinks. Make sure you don’t miss the train connections, too.
Contact Wayne Graczyk at: Wayne@JapanBall.com