Baseball / Japanese Baseball | Sac Bunts

Yuji Kondo continues to chart own path in broadcast booth

by Jason Coskrey

Yuji Kondo is standing in the home dugout at Tokyo Dome with his hands braced on the back of the bench as he listens to a fellow broadcaster tell him about a humorous interaction she had with an NPB player recently while covering a game. Kondo chuckles when she’s done, straightening up and nodding his head in approval.

He likes things that are a little bit unusual.

“I’m not a typical broadcaster,” he says with a smile.

You only have to listen to his home run calls to figure that out about the 45-year-old veteran TV announcer, who has been the voice of the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters for GAORA Sports since 2015.

Most Japanese announcers simply say “haitta” or “hairimashita (to enter)” when balls reach the stands. Kondo, though, regularly punctuates his calls with enthusiastic English exclamations of “It is going..going..gone” or “It’s outta here” among other sayings.

“At first, fairly conservative Japanese people would say, ‘why would you say that? Maybe you should say haitta,’ ” Kondo told The Japan Times.

Before long, however, he won many of them over.

“They like it, because it’s a special moment for their players,” he said. “The fans are really supporting me. That’s why I’m doing it. If they said stop, if all the fans told me to stop it, maybe I should stop it. But they like it.”

Kondo is a fan of U.S. sports and his announcing style was born in part from hearing American broadcasters. He also had a chance meeting with former Chicago White Sox announcer Hawk Harrelson while calling a White Sox game when Tadahito Iguchi was with the team.

“He told me to go original,” Kondo said of Harrelson. “And I said, ‘why not?’ I thought a home run was a special thing for players. So I wanted to make a big moment for them. So that’s why I started to say ‘it’s gone.'”

It soon caught on with Fighters fans and spread. In 2016, Pacific League TV released a highlight package just of Kondo reacting to various home runs with “It’s gone!”

“Him saying ‘it’s outta here’ or ‘it’s gone,’ it kinda gives you that hometown feel,” said Brandon Laird, a former Fighters and current Chiba Lotte Marines infielder. “It’s like what they say at home on SportsCenter.

“So when he was doing it, I thought it was pretty cool and I think the fans, they like it too.”

Kondo is a native of Kyoto, though he traveled a lot due to his father’s job with Japan Airlines. Because his father was a big Yomiuri Giants fan, Kondo was introduced to baseball early on, since the Kyojin were usually on the family TV.

Football, though, is his first love. Kondo played the game in the streets during his time in Guam as a child and went to Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego to see the Chargers play while in high school. In college, he played defensive back for Ritsumeikan University, where he helped win a national championship in 1994.

His first broadcasting gig was calling NFL games for Sky Perfect TV in 2000.

“I’m here because of football,” he said. “I learned a lot from football. Football is a very unique sport. Only 16 games for NFL. It’s passionate, it’s energetic. I have respect for football.”

One day, one of his NFL producers suggested he give MLB a shot. So Kondo set about learning how to call baseball games, which he started doing in 2002.

“I started watching Major League Baseball broadcasts, and they’re saying, “it’s gone” and “who’s gonna put it on the board,” he recalled.

He’s still doing MLB and NFL games, and now some NBA, in addition to his NPB work. Next year, he’ll proudly cover equestrian events during the 2020 Olympics.

On a typical day, Kondo might call an MLB game from a studio in the morning and spend the next few hours watching sports shows on TV.

Then he heads to where the Fighters are playing and reviews stats and talks with other broadcasters and some players. Once the game begins, he’s in his element.

“I think I like talking,” he said. “It’s natural for me. I don’t care if it goes 4 hours, 5 hours. Maybe after the game is done I feel fatigued. But I just love live sports. It doesn’t have any scenarios or scripts. You just never know what’s going to happen. So until the end of the game, I don’t feel the time.”

Kondo has seen a lot during his time in the booth. One moment that stands out is when former Fighters two-way star Shohei Ohtani threw a record-setting 165-kph pitch against the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks in 2017.

“Because the fans are not cheering when he’s pitching, everybody is just staring,” Kondo said. “So I could even hear the sound of the fastball, that’s how I felt. Everybody heard that, I guess. That was a moment.”

Fans haven’t been the only ones to take notice of Kondo in the broadcast booth.

“Brandon Laird, he was always listening to my gone thing,” Kondo said. “(Fighters catcher) Ryo Ishikawa, he’s always asking me for English, like ‘how do you say this thing in English.’

“They’re really kind of becoming interested in baseball English. When I say it, they feel unique, and they ask me for it and I tell them, and they’ve started to use it.”

As for his style, Kondo feels it’s the result of a happy circumstance.

“If you go into a company and you have a senior announcer, they tell you how to do it,” he said. “It’s like tradition. But for me, I just learned from the broadcasts from the internet or from live broadcasts from America. So I don’t have any mentor in that sense.

“My mentor was maybe Harrelson and the Dodgers’ Vin Scully. Those were my mentors I guess. I was just watching and listening to it all day. That’s why I’m doing this type of play-by-play.”

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