Thousands of umbrellas bobbed up and down to the rhythm of “Tokyo Ondo,” creating a glittering canopy in the stands at Tokyo Dome as the stadium lights reflected off plastic umbrella panels while the familiar melody rang out across the stadium before the top of the seventh in Game 3 of the Japan Series.
The festival-like atmosphere resurfaced later in the inning, after a two-run home run by Domingo Santana gave the Tokyo Yakult Swallows a one-run lead and brought the majority of the 24,565 in attendance to their feet, creating a new blanket of flickering lights as umbrellas again rose and fell in unison.
The Big Egg might not be Jingu Stadium, but it will do for a few days.
The Swallows and their fans made themselves at home in what’s usually enemy territory during Game 3, which Yakult won 5-4 over the Orix Buffaloes on Tuesday night.
Yakult brought the Japan Series back to Tokyo, but a scheduling conflict means the team is hosting Games 3, 4, and 5 at Tokyo Dome instead of Jingu Stadium. While multiple teams host a few games at Tokyo Dome seemingly each year, the venue is unquestionably the home base of the Yomiuri Giants, the Swallows’ crosstown rivals.
It’s like the New York Mets reaching the World Series but playing home games at Yankee Stadium.
Swallows fans made the best of the situation on Tuesday, turning out in droves to cheer on the Birds and making it feel like a game at Jingu.
“We had a lot of Swallows fans come to the stadium after all,” manager Shingo Takatsu said. “That was encouraging, and I think that push helped us get the win today.”
The Swallows are here because of the Tokyo Olympics. The season is ending later than usual due to NPB going on hiatus from July 14 to Aug. 13, a break that included the All-Star games, so Japan could send its best players to the Olympics — which worked out as the nation won gold.
That pushed the season into November, and the Japan Series dates clashed with the 52nd Meiji Jingu Baseball Tournament, an amateur event running from Nov. 20-25. That meant Yakult’s home stadium would be unavailable if the team reached the Japan Series, since the Central League is hosting the middle three games this year.
Playing in Tokyo Dome may be weird, but it’s not exactly new this season. Jingu was used as a staging area for the Tokyo Games during the summer, which forced the Swallows to move out of their park for an extended period. The club hosted six games at the Big Egg during that time, going 2-3-1.
The Swallows may not be at home, but they’re still in a far better situation than the Giants were in last season. Delays in starting and ending the 2020 season, due to COVID-19, resulted in the Kyojin playing home games far from Tokyo at Kyocera Dome in Osaka during the Japan Series.
There were still reminders of the Giants at Tokyo Dome on Tuesday, but the Swallows did their best to adapt, replacing some of the Yomiuri-related signage outside and inside the stadium with photos of their own players and logo. There were also Swallows merchandise stalls and inflatable Yakult mascots in front of the stadium.
The team imported the Jingu fan experience, from the usual MC and performances by the Swallows’ cheerleading team to beloved mascot Tsubakuro being up to his usual antics.
The fans didn’t miss a beat either, cheering on the Swallows as they moved within two victories of their first Japan Series title since 2001.
“We’re not finished yet,” Santana said in Japanese, which delighted the fans.
Yakult leads the series 2-1 and wins Games 4 and 5 would give Swallows fans the ultimate bragging rights over Giants supporters, as their rivals’ home stadium would serve as the backdrop to their own Japan Series title celebrations.
The cheers for Santana on Tuesday only grew louder in the ninth when closer Scott McGough made his first appearance since blowing a save in Game 1 and sealed the win in the ninth.
“McGough really wrapped it up at the end,” Takatsu said.
The fans backed up Takatsu’s praise with more applause as they continued to settle into their temporary home away from home at the Japan Series.
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