Baseball | BASEBALL BULLET-IN

Okinawa base trouble puts dark cloud over upcoming Buffaloes-Eagles series

by Wayne Graczyk

This week, the annual two-game series where a couple of Japanese pro ballclubs travel to play at Naha’s Okinawa Cellular Stadium will take place. The Pacific League’s Orix Buffaloes and Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles are scheduled to play there Tuesday and Wednesday. Normally, U.S. military personnel stationed in Okinawa would be part of the crowds — but it may be different this time.

The recent spate of trouble in Okinawa involving Americans working at bases will have an effect— however small — on attendance at pro baseball games in Japan. U.S. sailors and a base-employed civilian have been arrested for alleged rape, rape-murder and two drunken driving car crashes causing injuries to Japanese motorists in the prefecture.

As a result, U.S. Navy personnel, at least for the time being, must file a plan with their commands when going off-base, and they were prohibited from consuming alcohol off-base. It is a shame the actions of a few bad apples spoil what might have been a fun evening at the ballpark for many.

Non-essential activities off-base may not be approved, and it might be difficult for a soldier, sailor, airman or marine to convince his or her commander it is necessary they go to the ballgame where vendors selling the tempting beer, sake and whiskey would be parading past them for three hours.

American GIs have enjoyed watching Japanese baseball since the days of the Occupation in the early 1950s, especially in areas of the country where U.S. bases are — or were — located near the home stadiums of Central and Pacific League ballclubs.

Lots of Navy people from Yokosuka Naval Base in Kanagawa Prefecture regularly attend Yokohama BayStars games at Yokohama Stadium. Air Force members from Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo often make the short trip to see the Seibu Lions play at Seibu Prince Dome in nearby Tokorozawa.

It is not surprising to see sailors from Sasebo Navy Base in Nagasaki Prefecture at Fukuoka Softbank Hawks games at Yafuoku Dome or troops from Iwakuni Marine Corps Air Station in Yamaguchi Prefecture (but not that far from Hiroshima) watching the Carp play at Mazda Zoom-Zoom Stadium.

Fans from Misawa Air Base in Aomori Prefecture have been known to make a trip to Sendai to see the Eagles play at Kobo Stadium.

When the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters played in Tokyo prior to moving to Hokkaido in 2004, the club held an annual “Yankees Day” promotion, giving away 3,000 tickets to the foreign community in the Kanto area. Many of the guest fans came from the various U.S. military bases in the region, and military bands from the Army or Air Force were invited to play the American and Japanese national anthems and other marching songs to entertain the international crowd.

U.S. military members turned out in large numbers whenever a major league team came to Japan on a postseason tour or when a couple of MLB clubs showed up in Tokyo to officially open the National or American League season.

There was even an exhibition contest between a squad of MLB all-stars and the Samurai Japan team played in Okinawa in November of 2014. The game attracted many locally based U.S. military personnel to Cellular Stadium.

I do not recall any problems with the Americans attending or any incidents such as drunk driving after a game.

I saw my first Japanese game on Aug. 20, 1970, at Heiwadai Stadium in Fukuoka, where the Nishitetsu Lions played the Kintetsu Buffaloes. I was a member of the U.S. Air Force at the time and went to watch the Lions play several more times during a three-year tour in that city in Kyushu.

Sometimes friends and I would drive to Heiwadai, as there was parking near the stadium. However, if we knew we were going to order a couple of cold beers on one of those hot summer southern Japan evenings, we left the car at the base.

On those occasions, I am proud to say we had enough common sense to: a) not get completely plastered, and b) take advantage of the available public transportation that included streetcars, buses, trains and a ferry that would take us across Hakata Bay and back to our little Air Force communications site.

We did not bother anyone or cause any problems on the way home.

Obviously, those who committed the crimes in Okinawa were not thinking about the consequences of their actions. These include the ruining of their own lives and careers as well as the lives of the victims and their families, penalties and restrictions imposed on innocent fellow service members and even an apology offered from U.S. President Barack Obama to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe over the death of the Okinawan murder victim.

I told a friend I cannot understand how those people could have perpetrated such acts of violence and ignored the responsibility of driving sober. My friend had a good response. He said, “It is a good thing you don’t get it because, if you did, there would be something wrong with you, too.”

When the Buffaloes and Eagles take the field in Naha on Tuesday and Wednesday, it would be nice if the U.S. military could be there with the local fans, enjoying the game and cheering together while partaking of a brewski or two. Sadly, that may not be the case.

Contact Wayne Graczyk at: Wayne@JapanBall.com

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