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Tips for purchasing tickets at Japanese ballparks this season

by Wayne Graczyk

It will cost a little more this season for tickets to Japanese professional baseball games, like everything else in Japan. Because of the rise in the consumption tax rate from 5 to 8 percent effective April 1, most teams are increasing ticket costs by¥100 or ¥200 across the board from 2013 prices.

Also, more teams are going to the “flex” system with various prices for games depending on the day of the week and opponent team. The Fukuoka Softbank Hawks, Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles and Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters are the clubs “flexing” this season.

So, for example, you might pay as little as ¥2,500 or as much as ¥5,900 for an “Eagle” seat at Rakuten’s Kobo Stadium in Sendai, as low as ¥8,000 or as high as ¥12,000 for a Premium SS seat for a Hawks game at Softbank’s Yafuoku Dome in Fukuoka and between ¥4,000 and ¥7,000 for an SS reserved seat at Fighters games at Sapporo Dome.

The Tokyo Yakult Swallows charge slightly higher prices for home games at Jingu Stadium when the visiting team is the popular Yomiuri Giants or Hanshin Tigers. Now the Tigers, playing home games at Koshien Stadium near Osaka, will also charge a bit more for weekend and holiday games and any game—weekday or weekend—against the Giants.

Still, seats at Tigers games remain among the most reasonably priced in Japan. “Ivy” seats along first base (home side) and “Breeze” seats off third base (visitor’s side) are ¥4,500 on weeknights and ¥4,800 on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays and whenever the Giants come in, regardless of the day of the week.

“Alps” seats at Koshien in the steep grandstand between first base and right field and third base and left field are still just ¥2,500 Monday through Friday but will cost ¥2,700 on weekends and whenever the Giants come in.

I can recall going to my first Japanese game at Fukuoka’s Heiwadai Stadium in 1970 and paying just ¥350 for a seat between home plate and first base and, with the ¥360 U.S. dollar, the cost was the equivalent of just about 97 cents.

Even better, as youngsters, my New Jersey friends and I bought grandstand seats at Yankee Stadium or the Polo Grounds for a Mets game in 1962 for 75 cents, although we also had to save up five wrappers from a certain brand of ice cream bars to get the deal. You can imagine what it costs for tickets to major league games today.

Just be sure you have enough yen with you when you go to buy your baseball tickets in Japan this season—and don’t be fooled by the perplexing flexing. You can save too by buying advance sale tickets and becoming an official member of your favorite team’s fan club.

On another nostalgic note, Ralph Kiner died Feb. 6 at the age of 91. The one-time Pittsburgh Pirates slugger carved out a second career as a New York Mets broadcaster that spanned half a century. He, along with Lindsey Nelson and Bob Murphy, formed the original Mets TV — and — radio trio of play-by-play announcers in 1962.

Nelson died in 1995 and Murphy in 2004, but Kiner kept going, making occasional appearances at Shea Stadium and Citi Field, including last season. Back in the 1960s, his “Kiner’s Korner” pre- and post-game program filled the airwaves on WOR-TV, Channel 9, before and after every Mets home game.

It was—can it be?—50 years ago when Kiner introduced the first Japanese pitcher in the majors, reliever Masanori Murakami of the San Francisco Giants. Just after Murakami was called up from the minors on Sept. 1, 1964, San Francisco went to play the Mets at Shea, and Kiner invited the then-20-year-old left-hander on the pregame program.

After a series of questions asked by Kiner and answered by Murakami through his interpreter, Kiner wanted to know for which delivery in Murakami’s repertoire he was most noted. His fastball? Curve? Slider? Change-up? He asked Murakami, “What is your best pitch?”

This time, thinking he understood the question, Murakami did not wait for the translation and quickly blurted out the answer—and remember this was 1964.

“Koufax,” he said.

Murakami, still genki at age 69 and often appearing on TV or at a ballpark, laughs but says he does not recall that story from that magical time 50 years ago when Tokyo staged the Summer Olympics, a 24-year-old Sadaharu Oh belted 55 home runs for the Yomiuri Giants, Shinkansen bullet train service opened between Tokyo and Shin-Osaka, Gene Bacque won 29 games for the Hanshin Tigers and Joe Stanka 26 for the Japan Series champion Nankai Hawks.

The New York World’s Fair opened too, and the Beatles led the British invasion, changing music around the world forever.

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Contact Wayne Graczyk at: Wayne@JapanBall.com