The Hiroshima Carp have strived for the moment for 25 years, and their fans are full of emotion about the team’s long-awaited league championship.
On Saturday night, the Hiroshima Carp finally sealed the deal, winning their first Central League pennant since 1991 with a 6-4 win over the Yomiuri Giants at Tokyo Dome.
Hideki Fukushima, a Carp fan and Hiroshima native who now owns an okonomiyaki restaurant called “Kinsaiya” in Nagoya, paused for a few seconds, looking for the right words to describe his thoughts on the championship.
But in the end, he wasn’t able to.
“I can’t express my feelings in one word,” he said outside Tokyo Dome before Saturday’s game.
Fukushima also went to the Carp’s home game at Mazda Stadium on Thursday, in which they would have clinched the title had the Giants lost to the Tigers the same night at Koshien Stadium. He said that the unusual atmosphere at the venue that night — created by the loyal, enthusiastic fans — was something that he had never experienced before.
“The stadium was shaking,” he said. “I’d never felt anything like that.”
Shusaku Nishi, Fukushima’s 39-year-old friend and fellow Carp fan, donned a throw-back replica jersey bearing the name of Yutaka Ono, one of the Carp’s star players when they won their previous pennant in 1991. The Hall-of-Famer’s autograph was on the jersey.
Nishi is originally from Saitama Prefecture, not from Hiroshima. But growing up as a child, he watched the Carp play against Saitama’s local team, the Seibu Lions, at Seibu Stadium (now called Seibu Dome), and ever since, he’s been loyal to the team in red.
He actually lived in Hiroshima for about three years. But it didn’t happen coincidentally. He asked his company to let him transfer to the city when he took a job interview with the company, and eventually got his wish.
“It was before Mazda was built, it was between 2002 and 2005, when the team was terrible,” he laughed.
Nishi added that one thing that attracts him and other fans to the Carp is that they are closer to their fans compared with other clubs.
“Like when you go to an okonomiyaki restaurant (in Hiroshima), (star veteran Takahiro) Arai is sitting right next to you,” he said. “Or you attend an event in your neighborhood and Arai is there, giving the local people autographs, and things like that.”
Nishi said that he would even go to the team’s farm games, and is happy to see guys that were in the farm system at that time playing as the core players on the top team.
“Thinking back to it, I’m deeply emotional,” Nishi said.
Things have changed in so many ways in the 25 years since the Carp’s last championship.
Perhaps one is that the team now has a lot of support from female fans, who are famously known as “Carp Joshi (Carp Girls).”
A pair of female Carp fans from Hiroshima, who asked not to be named, couldn’t bear to stay at home watching their favorite team winning the pennant on TV. So they traveled all the way to the nation’s capital to witness the memorial game.
One of the ladies, calling herself “Woman A,” proudly said that she’d been a fan of the team dating back to the time before so many girls became fans, but that she’s happy to see that phenomenon.
“I’m glad that the number of girls that try to get to know the team is increasing,” she said.
The other woman — “Woman B” — said that she vividly remembers 25 years ago, but the atmosphere and circumstances surrounding the team and stadium are much better this year.
“Twenty-five years ago, I don’t think there were this many people talking about the Carp,” said Woman B, who was wearing an original jersey with “No Carp, No Life” written on her back. “Now it’s gotten a lot harder to get tickets. The stadium fills up even on weekdays.”
Woman A said that when the Carp played at the old Hiroshima Stadium, they didn’t have as many fans and that left “wide spaces between the person sitting right next to you.”
Meanwhile, not many experts and fans predicted the Carp’s pennant-winning performance at the start of the year, because they had lost Sawamura Award-winning ace hurler Kenta Maeda to the majors.
Fukushima said that he didn’t expect the title at all, but one of the customers at his okonomiyaki restaurant encouraged him that other guys would step up to fill Maeda’s boots and they would be just fine.
“I think she was right. Everybody on this team grew up and they didn’t have a problem,” he said.
Said Woman B: “Many said that since Maeda was gone, the Carp would finish lower (in the standings). Some even predicted that they would finish last. I was so frustrated to hear those comments, but I thought that as Maeda had left, everybody would put in extra effort and still have a good season.”