TOKYO — Told that in Japanese baseball, the record holder for sacrifice bunts was held in nearly the same reverence as Americans held home run king Hank Aaron, Mariners shortstop Brendan Ryan’s eyes grew wide.
“Really? Oh, man, I should have been born Japanese,” said Ryan, throwing his arms in the air. “I’d be so big here.”
Ryan probably would have fit well in Japan, where sacrifice, fundamentals and execution carry more of the baseball day than the power game played in the U.S.
“I know in America, chicks dig the long ball,” he said in the clubhouse before the Mariners took to the Tokyo Dome field for a workout Saturday. “Do they like the short ball here?”
There was no documentary evidence to provide an answer. But checking out the Tokyo Dome, as well as the observations of those who watched and played the game on both sides of the pond, here’s few differences for newbies:
*What Japanese pitchers lack in power they make up for in mastery of breaking pitches. The best are unafraid to throw breaking pitches on 2-2 and 3-2 counts, where American pitchers mostly rely on fastballs.
*The typical Japanese offense is more conservative, eager to scratch out the first run of the game and defend it. Hence the frequent use of the sac bunt.
*Some sections of the stands are organized for cheers with actual cheerleaders, but elsewhere are sections where fans watch quietly, leading some American players to describe the atmosphere often as cemetery-like.
*Tokyo Dome oddness: Built in 1988 with a fabric roof like Minneapolis’s Metrodome, the capacity is always officially listed at 55,000. But in 1990, a newspaper audited every seat and came up with a little more than 42,000. No one has disputed the calculation, but a sellout is always listed at 55,000.
The bullpens are under the main grandstand, accessed through an unmarked door in a hallway.
A couple of hundred VIP seats on the field down the right field line have no protective netting, so each ticket holder is issued a helmet and glove, and is expected to leave both at the seat after the game.
GAME TIME — Games get underway Sunday (Saturday in Seattle) when the Mariners play an exhibition game against Japan’s Hanshin Tigers at 8:06 p.m. PDT (12:06 p.m. in Tokyo). There is no TV, nor of the Monday game against the Yomiuri Giants, the Yankees of Japan. That game gets underway at 3:06 a.m. Pacific Monday, 7:06 p.m. in Tokyo.
ESPN 710 radio will carry both games. The Oakland A’s will play Yomiuri Sunday evening after the Mariners, Hanshin Monday before the Mariners.
The regular-season games between the Mariners and A’s are Wednesday (3:04 a.m. PDT) and Thursday (2:04 a.m. PDT) and will be televised live on ROOT Sports (also on mlb.tv) and rebroadcast again at 7:30 p.m. PDT.
The two games with the A’s will also be broadcast live on 710 ESPN Seattle radio, then replayed in their entirety immediately after the games finish.
If you tune in a name may be familiar: Playing first base (not catcher) for Hanshin is Kenji Johjima, who caught 462 games for the Mariners between 2006-2009. Johjima was an average major league hitter but the language barrier and his style of catching troubled Mariners pitchers and he eventually returned to Japan and Hanshin.
CLUBHOUSE INTRUDERS –– Ichiro, who hit seven batting practice home runs in a workout Saturday — not unusual by his Seattle BP standards — was asked what is unique about the Japanese style of game.
He said he didn’t think anything was unique, but the baseball environment was different here than in the U.S. He said he could offer a long list, but the only one he mentioned was “media aren’t allowed in the locker room in Japan.”
Food and drink is also forbidden on the field and in the clubhouse proper. So why would the media want entrance anyway? Not for quotes like that.