Take me out to the (Japanese) ball game — watching a Hanshin Tigers baseball game

16 Oct

The crowd is quiet, save for areas in the outfields where the hardcore fans seem to be. From where we are, near first base, I can faintly hear their songs and cheers. All around me people are drinking beer and eating greasy baseball food. But here there is more takoyaki and yakitori than hotdogs and corn dogs. I’m a bit disappointed that it’s not as rowdy as I’ve been told it would be.

That is until a Tiger steps up to the plate.

Hanshin Tigers player Takashi Toritani at bat.

Hanshin Tigers player Takashi Toritani at bat.

Small plastic bats, towels and other paraphernalia begin to appear. These Japanese people, who rarely ever raise their voices or answer a phone call on a train, start to yell and cheer. They hit the bats together, singing elaborate songs for each player and moaning in disappointment at every out.

Though they are respectful when the other team is at bat, in this case Tokyo’s Yakult Swallows, Hanshin Tigers fans are known as some of the most dedicated in the game.

The Tigers are the favourite team of the Kansai region. Koshien Stadium, the Tiger’s main stomping grounds, is the oldest ballpark in Japan. The Tigers have a strong rivalry with the Tokyo Giants, often compared to the Red Sox and the Yankees. The Tigers, like the Red Sox, even have their own curse — the Curse of the Colonel.

The Tiger's main turf, Koshien Stadium, is old school -- natural grass and dirt.

The Tiger’s main turf, Koshien Stadium, is old school — natural grass and dirt.

The cursing Colonel after being fished out of the Dotonbori canal.

The cursing Colonel after being fished out of the Dotonbori canal.

In 1985, after the team won their only Japan Series championship, fans gathered downtown Osaka near the dirty Dotonbori canal. Player’s names were called out and people looked like that player jumped into the canal. When American born Randy Bass’ name was called, there was no foreigner with a beard in sight. That is, except for a statue of the Colonel in front of a KFC. In the canal the Colonel went and the Tigers haven’t won the Japan Series again.

The statue was finally recovered in 2009 but the curse still hasn’t lifted.

You’d think with such a long history of losses, the fans would get a bit discouraged. Watch a game and you wouldn’t think so. Tigers games are filled with rituals. Each player at bat has their own song that everyone tries to sing along to. As a foreigner, and one unacquainted with the team, watch the scrolling screens above home plate for the player’s names written in the roman alphabet.

The highlight of the game is the seventh inning stretch, after the singing of the Tigers’ fight song, when everyone in attendance lets balloons off into the sky.

Balloons being let off into the sky at a Hanshin Tigers game.

Balloons fill the sky at a Hanshin Tigers game.

Watching baseball in Japan is not only a lot of fun, but a great time to see Japanese kicking back and getting a bit rowdy. And while it’s America’s favourite game, it sure feels very Japanese.

 

TIPS

I purchased my tickets from a Family Mart convenience store, they were 2,500 yen each. There is a stand-alone machine that sells all sorts of tickets. It’s all in Japanese and a bit confusing, so enlisting a cashier’s help is a good idea. Tickets can also be purchased on the Tigers website, but it’s also in Japanese and even more confusing.

The Tigers usually play at Koshien stadium for home games, but not always, so double check. The stadium is right next to Koshien station, twelve minutes from Umeda on the Hanshin main line.

There is lots of food and drinks available inside and outside the stadium, everything from curry rice to pizza. Food and drinks can be brought in, but beer is poured into plastic cups at the door. Beer girls carry around kegs on their backs and sell cups for 600 yen.

News story about the Colonel’s reappearance:

5 Responses to “Take me out to the (Japanese) ball game — watching a Hanshin Tigers baseball game”

  1. Sarah October 16, 2013 at 11:24 am #

    Oh man, baseball is my least favourite sport to watch or play. This looks kind of hilarious and fun though. I do like balloons and songs. It’s also an excellent reminder never to mess with the colonel.

    • Lindsay Lafreniere October 16, 2013 at 11:32 am #

      It’s basically sitting in the sun, drinking beer, yelling weird things, singing, hitting bats together, eating greasy food and letting off balloons. SO MUCH FUN.

  2. Kenneth November 13, 2013 at 3:04 am #

    Well, beaseball season is over in Japan and congrats to Rakuten Eagles for winning the Championship. Me being Hanshin Tiger fan, it was bit disappointing to see my team unravel toward the end of the season, but none the less I enjoyed watching Japanese professional baseball this year. Also, there’s plenty of good ex-major league players to cheer on too, like my man Matt Murton who’ll be back next year wearing Hanshin stripes!

    • Lindsay Lafreniere November 14, 2013 at 9:00 am #

      Glad you enjoyed the season! When will the Tigers ever win? They sure do have enthusiastic fans though!

  3. John-San June 17, 2014 at 11:44 pm #

    I am a Australian and have always really enjoy watching professional baseball. For the last 4 years I have been working in the Japan alps during the snow season. I have had many conversation with many local about Japan Baseball. Many of these conversational were about The Hanshin Tiger,s from Osaka. Osaka people seem to be more outgoing and adventurous compare to the the rest of the Japanese. Osaka women are ICHIBAN!!. I have never been to a Professional Baseball game and I have only watch the game on TV. I decide to spend this year summer in Japan so I could enjoy a season of Japan Baseball. Being impress with the Osaka people and the Tiger,s, I decide to became a Hanshin Tiger,s supporter.
    I went to my first game ( 6 of June ) to watch the Tigers play the Buffaloes at the Old Koshien Stadium. I totally enjoy the atmosphere and the Tigers fan support for their team has one would expect from the home game but they are has devoted at aways games as well. During the seventh inning all of the Tigers fan started to blow up balloons for a ritual which start with the tiger,s team song then followed at the end of the song by releasing the balloon in unison. What a sight and feeling of utter devotion I experience. The Tigers lost 3-2.
    A week latter I experience this again at a away game at Saibu Dome where the Tiger lost to the home team of the Lions. I can not get enough of this. I have made sure of booking my seat for the Tigers grudge match against the Giant at Tokyo Dome on the 12 of August. Between now and Giants game I will also take in many other Tigers matches. I now know the Tigers song and tune. O-o-o-o Hanshin Tigers fure fure fure fure. It was all so appealing to see the that this devotion does not involve into post game violence. The Japanese are well oiled and community driven society which is breath of fresh air compare my own and western Societies.

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