Baseball | BASEBALL BULLET-IN

Out-of-town scoreboards would enrich experience at all ballparks

by Wayne Graczyk

Why don’t the Japanese pro baseball stadiums have out-of-town scoreboards, and why do many of the main ballparks not display the home-run distances on the fences?

These questions are asked often, but there does not seem to be a definitive answer to either.

I happened to attend a late-season Chiba Lotte Marines game at QVC Field and was pleased to see the 99.5-meter dimensions on the left- and right-field fences, and the 122-meter mark in center. Also, to my surprise and delight, scores of other Pacific and Central League games were visible throughout the game on a video screen above the right-field bleachers.

It is not actually an out-of-town scoreboard per se, and the scores disappeared between innings when the digital video screen ran a commercial or team announcement, but most of the time fans could glance at the board and see what was happening in the important pennant race games going on in other cities throughout the country.

At Yomiuri Giants games at Tokyo Dome, the other game scores are flashed on the main scoreboard only once and not until the middle or at the end of the eighth inning. And I do mean flashed; you need to look quickly and know the kanji or katakana characters for the team designations, or you will not get through them. The scores are up there for only about 10 seconds at the most.

In North America’s Major League Baseball, all 30 stadiums have an out-of-town scoreboard. Some of them are iconic, such as the one at the base of the Green Monster at Fenway Park in Boston. Some have an inning-by-inning line score, such as at the Chicago Cubs’ Wrigley Field, while others display the score, inning and uniform numbers of the pitchers currently in the games.

If you bought a scorecard, you could look up those numbers and know who is pitching or when a pitching change has been made.

Fans at American or National League parks react with a roar of approval or groan of disappointment, depending on the updated scores involving rival pennant contending teams, as they appear on the board for all to see.

In contrast to the infrequency of out-of-town score reports at the ballparks in Japan, TV and radio broadcasters report what’s happening around the leagues as the scores come in.

Sure, in this day and age, anyone with a computer or a smartphone can access various websites for up-to-the-minute scores of games. TBS’ Excite Baseball is one of the best. But, when you’re at the stadium, there should be an ongoing account of the other games in front of your eyes all day or night long on an easy-to-see scoreboard.

There were exciting finishes last month in the Pacific League pennant race between the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters and Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks and in the Central League race for second and third place (and Climax Series home-field advantage) involving the Yomiuri Giants and Yokohama DeNA Baystars.

Fans at games involving those teams, as well as the players themselves, should have been scoreboard watching, but there were no out-of-town scoreboards to watch at most of the stadiums.

Hopefully, as new ballparks are built in the future or renovations are made to existing facilities, the designers will include expanded scoreboards to let everyone know what is happening with rival teams around the country.

As for the home-run distances on the fences, about half the parks in Japan do not display them. There is no indication at Tokyo Dome, Nagoya Dome, Seibu Prince Dome, Jingu Stadium and Yokohama Stadium of how many meters there are from home plate to the left — or right-field foul poles or straightaway center field.

I asked a senior director at Tokyo Dome why there are no numbers on the fences. He replied, saying he did not know but would try to find out, and he never got back to me. Obviously, it is not a priority for them, and it may not be a big deal, but I am often asked by foreign fans at the Big Egg, “What are the home run distances here?”

Before the opening of the Tokyo Dome in 1988, all the stadiums in Japan had the meter numbers painted on the fences down the lines and in center field, even though the distances were much shorter then. At Korakuen Stadium, the predecessor of Tokyo Dome, it was only 90 meters (295 feet) down the lines. At the bandbox stadium in Kawasaki and the old Hiroshima Shimin Kyujo, it was but 115 meters (377 feet) to dead center, but the numbers were there for all to see.

Some parks in the American and National Leagues have dimensions posted on the fences at seven locations — down the lines, in straightaway left, right and center and in the power alleys.

Curiously, when Major League teams opened their regular season at Tokyo Dome in 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012, the stadium people affixed temporary signs on the outfield wall, indicating it is 100 meters (328 feet) down the lines and 122 meters (400 feet) to center. Then, as soon as the MLB games were done and the teams returned to the U.S., the signs were removed.

Along with new asymmetrical stadiums and maybe putting grass on the infield at Koshien Stadium, having out-of-town scoreboards and displaying the home-run distances at the ballparks in Japan would make Japanese baseball more major league-like, don’t you think?

Maybe sell some scorecards too.

Contact Wayne Graczyk at: Wayne@JapanBall.com