Nippon Professional Baseball finally made its return over the weekend, as fans streamed into ballparks around Japan to support their favorite teams. The camaraderie forged by the common goal of the World Baseball Classic was replaced by loyalty to different teams and players as the pennant races officially began in the Central and Pacific Leagues.
The opening weekend didn’t disappoint, with lots of interesting things happening. The season already has its first extra-inning sayonara grand slam — by the Tokyo Yakult Swallows’ Atsushi Ugumori in the 10th inning against the Yokohama BayStars on Sunday — and seen two teams combine to walk 27 batters and hit another, while allowing 17 runs, in a game between the Hiroshima Carp and Hanshin Tigers that lasted 5 hours and 24 minutes on Saturday. Oh, and the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters’ Shohei Otani looked amazing as usual, doing it from the plate since an ankle injury has so far kept him off the mound.
The Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles’ Carlos Peguero may have hit the home run of the year on the first day of the season, crushing a ball to straightaway center that landed in the upper deck at Kyocera Dome, and the aforementioned Carp-Tigers game might go down as the worst-pitched contest of the year.
We don’t, however, know that either of those things will still be true at the end of the season, or at the end of the next batch of games for that matter — Peguero nearly topped himself with another moonshot on Sunday.
That, above everything else, is the inherent truth of this, and any, opening weekend: it’s great fun, but we don’t know anything yet. Well, not much except that Carlos Peguero can hit baseballs really, really, really far.
There were all sorts of things that can be taken out of the 18 games played over the weekend. The Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks looked as good as they did last year in sweeping the Chiba Lotte Marines, while the Orix Buffaloes looked as bad as we remembered as they were being swept by the Eagles.
That said, it will take at least several weeks, if not months, to really begin to make sense out of everything that happened.
As tempting as it is to make snap judgements, the start of the season is just that, the start. The most overused metaphor in baseball — which is about to be used here — is that the game is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s also true. A ton is going to happen next week, and the week after that, and so on until spring turns to summer and summer into autumn.
The Yomiuri Giants’ Scott Mathieson said it best on opening day, “we’ve got 142 more to go after this.”
That means it’s too early to be too excited about anything. Well, maybe except Otani, who opened the year 8-for-12 with a home run and three doubles in the Fighters’ first series. But we’ve known he was phenomenal for some time now.
The goals every team set for the year are absolutely still intact and reachable. There are hundreds of games left to be played and many twists and turns each team will have to traverse before arriving at Game No. 143.
Opening weekend was extremely fun, but it’s important to remember it was just the start of the race, and there is a long, long way yet to travel.