If your summer vacation takes you to northern Japan this year, be sure to make a stop in Sendai and see a game played by the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles at Fullcast Stadium Miyagi. I had watched on TV games played there earlier in the year and decided to take a day-and-a-half trip to see for myself what is going on with Japan’s newest team and what I had heard was an exciting experience in a cozy, revitalized ballpark.
The Tohoku Shinkansen’s Hayate train gets you from JR Tokyo Station to Sendai in an hour and 48 minutes and costs 10,500 yen for a reserved seat. I went on Friday afternoon, May 27, expecting to see that night’s game against Hanshin and catch a second interleague clash between the Eagles and Tigers the following afternoon. Unfortunately, heavy rain from thunderstorms washed out the nighter, but the Saturday matinee was played under brilliant blue skies with warm and sunny weather. And the Eagles won!
If you stay overnight, try to find a hotel out of the East Exit of Sendai Station, or on the right side as you head away from Tokyo toward Morioka. The place I stayed was near JR Tsutsujigaoka Station, a stop from Sendai on the Senseki Line and one stop before Miyaginohara Station which serves the neighborhood at Fullcast. There is also a shuttle bus between Sendai Station and the stadium, and the fare is only 100 yen. It is convenient on the way but necessarily jam-packed on the way back after the game.
I walked to the ballpark (about 10 minutes from my hotel) but saw where there was a fellow giving rides in a peda-cab decked out in the Eagles maroon-and-gold logo. In fact, that logo is all over town. You see it when you first get off the bullet at Sendai Station. It is on walls, on signs, even on food and drink products for sale at convenience stores and in vending machines. Once you get to the ballpark, you walk up toward the gate and see the colorful Fullcast Stadium logo above the main entrance. To the right is the Eagles Stadium Store where you can buy goods, apparel and other merchandise, including the Rakuten team’s cool caps and official jerseys. Should you forget, or if the store is too crowded, there is another outlet at Sendai Station to shop on your way back to the Shinkansen.
Game admission advance ticket costs range from 6,000 yen for special field reserved seats behind home plate to 1,000 yen for sitting room only on the outfield lawn. For kids, it’s half price, and there is a slight increase for tickets bought at the gate on game day. If you’re in the stands, you’ll sit in a comfortable red plastic bucket chair — a far cry from the decaying wooden benches they had the last time I was at the then-Miyagi Kyujo for an all-star game in 1992; the ones that left splinters in your butt.
Take your seat and take in the best part of being there — the atmosphere. You’ll feel thrilled to be with the pumped-up fans in the friendly ballpark with the bright green artificial turf which is colored brown to outline where the infield dirt would be if it were a traditional-style major league field.
An interesting feature about Fullcast is the contour of the infield stands which jut out toward the outfield just beyond first and third base, a la Fenway Park or Yankee Stadium, making for a minimum of space in foul territory down the right and left field lines.
The Japanese national anthem is played before most Eagles home games and, on the day I was there, a choir of schoolgirls performed “Kimigayo,” and everyone in the stands got on their feet as they do for the “Star-Spangled Banner” at big league games in North America.
At about the seventh inning mark, former general manager and now team advisor Marty Kuehnert makes the rounds to greet the crowd, and he gets mobbed as he shakes hands and signs autographs for admiring fans. Perhaps Marty’s new title should have been Director of Community Relations, because the Eagles fans sure do seem to love him.
Proud of the work he and the Rakuten staff have done in having the ballpark refurbished and establishing a fan base for the expansion team, Kuehnert looked toward the 18,000-odd spectators packed into Fullcast rooting for their Eagles that Saturday in May and said, “This is the way it should be.” Throughout the game, Eagles mascots, Clutch and Clutchina — and Mr. Carrasco (that masked, motorcycle riding crow) — entertain in the stands, and the Rakuten Golden Angels cheerleading group performs on the field during between-inning breaks. Food concessions at Fullcast include Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza-La, Rookie’s Hot Dogs, Nakadon for the beef bowl or udon noodles, the Ajisai Kitchen serving yakisoba and “rice burgers,” the Fujisaki take-out stand offering Japanese regional selections from Tohoku, and an onigiri counter.
I enjoy listening to the game I am watching on a transistor radio and, if you bring one yourself, know the games are broadcast on TBC, 1260 on your AM dial, and JONPA-FM at 78.8.
The Eagles upcoming schedule at Fullcast calls for games July 9-10 vs. the Chiba Lotte Marines, July 13 against the Orix Buffaloes, July 25-27 with the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, Aug. 5-7 vs. the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, Aug. 12-14 with the Seibu Lions, Aug. 20-21 against Lotte and Aug. 23-25 when Rakuten will again host Orix.
There is also a Central League match-up with the Yomiuri Giants playing the Yokohama BayStars on Tuesday, Aug. 9.
For the record, this is not a paid ad or publicity for the Tohoku Rakuten Eagles, Fullcast Stadium Miyagi or the City of Sendai; just thought you’d like to know where to have a nice time watching baseball in a picturesque setting as I did five weeks ago. I’ll be going again a couple more times before the Eagles inaugural season ends. See you there?
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