“New” is the watchword for Japanese baseball in 2005.
We have a new expansion team in the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, a newly named team in the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks and the newly merged entity known as the Orix Buffaloes.
There is a new interleague schedule, expanded number of games (146 for Central League teams and 136 for Pacific League clubs), and the Hiroshima Carp have a dog named Mickey who brings fresh baseballs to the home plate umpire, in a basket carried in its mouth.
Lots of newness at the Tokyo Dome as well. There is a new scoreboard and video screen, four rows of chairs known as “exciting seats,” on what used to be part of the playing field, and the concession stand menus have been revamped to include new items.
The scoreboard was unveiled for the Japanese Dreams vs. Foreign Dreams Charity Game at the Big Egg on March 14.
It now incorporates the display area for the batting orders, line score, strike-ball-out indicators and umpire assignments with the Aurovision video screen, whereas the monitor was separated from the main scoreboard before.
The latest in high-tech electronics, the scoreboard has a changeable background color, as evidenced by the fact it was a loud, gaudy royal blue for the first three innings of the March 14 contest, but was changed to a more easy-on-the-eyes evergreen for the remainder of the game.
It appeared the stadium’s control room staff was experimenting to see which color or colors looked good, and I vote for the green.
Above the scoreboard in lighter green block letters are the words TOKYO DOME in the same script as the neon sign above the ball park’s main entrance outside. To the left and right of that are advertisements for a sporting goods maker. The whole thing catches your eye as you settle in the grandstand.
The “exciting seats” consist of a total 228 chairs; 114 each on the right and left field sides.
There is no protective net above the one-meter, 10-cm high wall in front of the section, so fans have to be on the watch for screaming line drives heading their way, and helmets and fielders’ gloves were distributed to those sitting there at the March 15 Tokyo Giants-Seibu Lions exhibition game. Great place to get autographs too, during pre-game practice.
If you sit there, you are supposed to feel extremely close to the action, as if you were in a cozy major league park such as Chicago’s Wrigley Field, or Fenway Park in Boston.
As for the chow, the new grub selections are also more American major league style and include two kinds of nachos (avocado-salsa and cheese-and-bean), and you can now get a cheese hot dog or one with chili.
Speaking of new, how about those Chiba Lotte Marines road uniforms? Beautiful! They are black with the team’s scripted “M” on the left breast with fuchsia-colored piping around the neck and down the front.
There are new home uniforms, too, and “Wait until you see them,” said Marines manager Bobby Valentine.
There are actually three varieties of the home unis and, says Valentine, “The starting pitcher each day gets to choose which uniform the team will wear for that game.” But, if the Marines lose, the uniform must be changed for the next contest. The new home suits will be worn when the season opens on March 26.
The three foreign pitchers on the Orix Buffaloes have changed their registration designations to first names or initials. Kevin Beirne is now “Kevin,” Jose Parra is “Jose” and Jeremy Powell is “J.P.”
When he played for the Tokyo Giants in 1999, Jose was registered by his full name, Jose Parra. The initials gimmick is also not new to Orix. Outfielder Doug Jennings was known as “D.J.” in 1995-97, and infielder Chris Donnels was called “C.D.” during his days with the then-BlueWave in 1997-98.
The Hiroshima Carp have re-signed pitcher Tom Davey (unofficially called “T.D.”) after he passed a tryout, or what the Japanese call a “test,” at the team’s spring training camp in late February. Davey had been dropped by the Carp after he underwent arm surgery and missed the second half of the 2004 season.
However, he had pitched some great games for Hiroshima in 2003 and 2004, so was given another chance, provided he could prove his arm is OK.
Right-hander Davey is one of eight foreign players in Japan this season who have either switched teams or were re-signed after being cut by their old team.
The list includes Tyrone Woods moving from the Yokohama BayStars to the Chunichi Dragons, Andy Sheets gong from the Carp to the Hanshin Tigers (and from shortstop to first base), and Brandon Knight transferring from the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks to the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters.
Second chance men besides Davey are Eagles pitchers Gary Rath, Kevin Hodges and Matt Skrmetta, and Parra — er, Jose. Rath had been with the Yomiuri Giants in 2003, while Hodges pitched for the Yakult Swallows from 2001 to 2003. Both played in Korea in 2004; Rath with the Doosan Bears and Hodges on the Samsung Lions. Skrmetta was with the Hawks here two years ago.
Yet another former foreign pitcher in Japan has checked in via e-mail.
Ex-Yokohama BayStars right-hander Shane Bowers says, “I am still pulling for the BayStars to turn it around, not just for my former team members, but for the city of Yokohama.”
Shane also weighed in about the Melvin Bunch controversy by writing: “You tell Melvin he does deserve another chance (in Japan); the guy can pitch.”
Bowers spent the 2001 and 2002 seasons with Yokohama, then played in 2003-04 with the Hyundai Unicorns of the Korean Baseball Organization.
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