Coming off the most exciting season in recent memory, Japanese baseball is flying high — in some cases, literally so. Star pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, who signed with the New York Yankees in the offseason after leading the Rakuten Eagles to the Japan Series title, traveled to his first Big Apple press conference aboard a privately chartered JAL 787 Dreamliner. The price tag for the flight from Tokyo? A cool ¥20 million.

When the 2014 season gets underway next week, fans will be hoping for a repeat of such compelling story lines. And for enthusiasts like me, the action at the concession stand promises to rival what's happening on the field. Recent years have seen baseball teams luring fans by appealing to their stomachs, with promotions that feature regional cooking, copious amounts of booze and dishes curated by the players themselves.

Leading the charge are the baseball-mad, food-loving denizens of Japan's far north. During a three-game homestand last July, the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters hosted a large-scale food fest-turned-cooking competition — just what you'd expect of a team owned by a sausage-making concern. Fans voted for their favorites among 18 dishes, from noodle bowls to meat skewers, all made with locally sourced ingredients. The list of top vote-getters reads like an all-star team of Hokkaido dining: scallops with steamed rice; grilled lamb; croquettes of potato and beef; and noodles topped with spicy shrimp.