NISHINOMIYA, Hyogo Pref. — One of the new elements in this year’s Japan Series is the “Public Viewing.” While games are being played in Fukuoka Dome, fans of the Hanshin Tigers gather at Koshien Stadium, all decked out in their oendan (cheering group) garb.

They pay for tickets, sit in the stands, eat bento (box lunches) and drink beer while rooting their heads off watching the game on the big center field scoreboard screen, almost as if they were at the game. Sort of.

When the action is at Koshien, backers of the Daiei Hawks congregate at Fukuoka Dome for their own “public viewing.” The fans have fun; it’s a great show of solidarity.

Last weekend, 13,000 people wearing the yellow, black and white Tigers team colors showed up at Koshien for the PV for each of the two games played at Fukuoka. They paid 1,500 yen to watch the big screen from the grandstand or 1,000 yen to cheer from the bleachers, where the viewing angle is not as good, I guess.

On Wednesday night, 8,000 took advantage of the opportunity at Fukuoka Dome for Game 3 at Koshien.

Super idea, but “public viewing?”

They could have come up with a better name than that. Tigers batting coach Tom O’Malley said, “It sounds like somebody died and is lying in state.”

Hanshin, almost dead after losing 5-4 and 13-0,came back to life in Game 3 of the Series on Wednesday night in Kansai, thanks to the great pitching of lefties Trey Moore and Makoto Yoshino, who spoiled the evening for those “viewing publicly” in Fukuoka.

The Tigers’ win also eliminated the possibility that Hawks’ American right-hander Brandon Knight, the Game 4 starter on Thursday, could win the Series clincher.

However, should Knight or Moore, or Tigers relievers Jerrod Riggan or Jeff Williams get a victory in a series-ending Game 6 or 7, that guy would be the sixth foreigner to post a “W” in a decisive Japan Series contest.

Joe Stanka won Games 6 and 7 of the 1964 Japan Series, in an incredible feat we’ll never see again, pitching back-to-back shutouts for the Nankai Hawks vs. the Hanshin Tigers in the only previous matchup of these teams in the finals.

Rich Gale threw a complete Game 6 to wrap up the 1985 Japan Series for Hanshin over the Seibu Lions, and Taiwanese fireballer Taigen Kaku won Game 4 in 1990 when the Lions swept the Yomiuri Giants.

Terry Bross beat the Orix BlueWave in Game 5 to give the 1995 championship to the Yakult Swallows, and Darrell May was the winning hurler in 2000 when the Giants eliminated the Hawks in Game 6 of the Japan Series.

Stores in the baseball-crazed Kansai area are flooded with products bearing the Hanshin Tigers logo. There are cookies, chocolate, canned drinks, cigarette lighters, articles of clothing; you name it.

I found the most interesting item, though, while browsing in — of all places — a Daiei department store in Osaka.

The Hawks fight song was playing over the store’s P.A. system as I examined something every Tigers fan should have. A “Showerlet” high-tech toilet seat with the Hanshin roaring Tiger insignia on top.

What a great gift for the Tigers fanatic in your life, either as a congratulatory present if Hanshin wins the Series or, if they lose, something for Christmas maybe.

Public viewings, ball team logo toilet seats and an exciting Japan Series.

What more could you ask for?

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