The new year leads many people to make resolutions to better themselves by losing weight or spending less or quitting bad habits or a host of other goals. I believe in resolutions, but prefer to focus on travel goals at the beginning of the new year. Since 2014, I’ve posted my ballpark travel resolutions on Twitter at the start of the year. So here are my New Year’s ballpark resolutions for 2019…
My wife Katie will be completing coursework for an additional certification related to her job in Portland this summer. So we are both hoping to make a few day trips to see the state’s three teams, which all play within a two-hour drive from Portland, before returning to Japan.
During my last visit to Oregon in 2008, I attended a Portland Beavers game at PGE Park. However, that visit was before I start blogging about my ballpark visits so I never wrote about that trip. Additionally, the Beavers franchise relocated after the 2010 season, which ultimately cleared the path for the Hillsboro Hops to come into existence in 2013. I am especially excited about this resolution because it will be Katie’s first visit to Oregon, so I am sure we will explore some of the state’s great breweries and other sights.
As my regular readers know, I have participated in the Advanced Placement (AP) Human Geography Reading for the past several years in Cincinnati, Ohio, during the first week of June. On several occasions, I drove to Cincinnati and visited some ballparks on my way back to Georgia or Alabama. I am still awaiting an invitation to the event, but am optimistic that I will get to Cincinnati.
As I have recently visited the nearby ballparks heading south to Atlanta, my goal is to make a circuit of the top Minor League ballparks near Cincinnati. I’ve never been to a Columbus Clippers nor an Indianapolis Indians game, and their parks are consistently rated among the best in Minor League Baseball. I’ve twice attended Dayton Dragons games, but have never blogged about my experiences there.
A perk of visiting Indianapolis is that I would be able to add another presidential site to my list (see the full list), as I would get the opportunity to see Benjamin Harrison’s burial site.
I have previously visited both of these franchises. However, a lot has changed since my visits. The Augusta GreenJackets relocated from Lake Olmstead Stadium (read about my visit here) to SRP Park in North Augusta, S.C., for the 2018 season. In advance of the 2018 season, the Gwinnett franchise ditched the Braves moniker, and rebranded as the Gwinnett Stripers. The team still plays at Coolray Field (read my visit here), but I feel like its worth revisiting consider the makeover of the team since my visit.
For many years I’ve wanted to attend a Japanese professional baseball game, and after relocating to Greater Tokyo in August 2018 I was able to accomplish that goal when I attended a Saitama Seibu Lions game (read about my visit here) at the end of September. I hoped to attend more games before the season ended, but was unable to make it to any other games because of getting settled in our new home.
With us firmly settled and getting better acquainted with the Tokyo transit system, I feel like Katie and I will be able to visit more of the ballparks around Greater Tokyo in 2019. Three of the five teams are a 90-minute trip from our home while the teams in Yokohama and Chiba are respectively two hours and two and a half hours from our house. However, one of the great benefits of Japan’s transportation network is that you truly can get anywhere taking trains, subways, or buses. So I am pretty optimistic that we can add four new ballparks to my tally this year.
Recapping my resolutions
I feel like my 2019 ballpark travel resolutions are relatively attainable. With some planning it is feasible to visit each of the five Tokyo-area ballparks by visiting one every other weekend. Visiting the ballparks in Georgia and the Midwest may be trickier to accomplish based upon whether I get an invitation to the AP Human Geography Reading. I’m hoping for the best, but it is a situation I do not control. However, I am fairly certain that I will find my way to Oregon this summer, so seeing all three teams in the state seems fairly attainable.
With my resolutions set for the new year, now I have to work to achieve them all. I will follow-up on my resolutions at the end of the year. If you want to follow along throughout the year, be sure to follow me on your favorite social media platform (Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter).
Do you make travel resolutions? If so, what motivates you? How do you measure the success of keeping your resolutions?
For a long time I have wanted to attend a professional baseball game in Japan. I don’t remember when I first became interested in watching baseball played outside the United States (and outside of MLB). However, when the prospect of moving to Japan became a reality, I became excited about being able to experience a Japanese baseball game in person. So when the prospect of attending a game presented itself after my wife & I had settled into our new home in Japan I jumped at the opportunity.
Although we live in Greater Tokyo, my first baseball game in Japan wasn’t going to be seeing the famed Yomiuri Giants. Instead my first game was going to be seeing the Saitama Seibu Lions at the MetLife Dome on the western side of the Tokyo metropolitan area.
Instead of taking the train to the ballpark, which is what most fans do when attending games in Japan, Katie & I took a tour bus as part of a day trip organized by the military base where she works. Although we were in the minority of people taking private transit to the stadium, we were not alone as there were three other tour buses in our parking lot and a smattering of cars as well. So after the bus parked we walked across a pedestrian bridge to MetLife Dome.
Although we were in the minority of fans who arrived at the ballpark via private vehicle, the train station let fans out into the large plaza outside the stadium. You could tell when a train had arrived as the plaza swelled with people.
In front of the stadium was a large plaza, which was packed with fans because we were attending the final home game of the regular season. The plaza offers a variety of amenities ranging from concession stands to a merchandise stand for the visiting team to fan club counters for the home team.
Due to a consistent, but light rain I did not take too many pictures in the plaza and instead hurried into the ballpark. Additionally, the nearly overflowing volume of fans in the plaza made it difficult to capture images that properly showed off the amenities.
MetLife Dome is an interesting ballpark because it was not built as a domed stadium. It opened in 1979 without a roof, but one was constructed in two stages following the 1997 and 1998 seasons. Although the ballpark started the 1999 season as a dome stadium it is an open-air stadium, as the roof only covers the field and stands. There is no wall that closes the ballpark from the surrounding environment. So some concession stands around the park sit just beyond the roof, which prevents the concourse from becoming overcrowded.
As I navigated the crowd toward my seat on the third base line I captured a photo of what can best be described as loge boxes.
As I passed the loge boxes I decided to walk around the park to a spot behind home plate so I could capture that perspective before the game began.
As the game started at one o’clock, I grabbed some food after perusing the nearby concession stands while walking the concourse. Stands carried a variety of traditional Japanese fare from bowls of ramen to meat skewers, and even globalized items like KFC and Blue Moon Belgian White beer.
I opted for a simple yet filling option of a beer skewer, mostly because it had a relatively short line and I wanted to be able to enjoy the start of the ballgame instead of missing the pre-game festivities and the first pitch.
After devouring my skewers, I settled in to watch the first pitch.
I settled into my seat to soak in the experience, so the majority of my photos of the ballpark and the atmosphere were taken from my seat along the third base line.
The ballpark was renovated following the team’s posting of Daisuke Matsuzaka after the 2006 season, which garnered over $50 million for the club. So it features many of the amenities fans find at MLB ballparks like a large videoboard in center field and luxury seating behind home plate.
Sitting midway down the third base line, I had several opportunities to capture photographs of the pitchers and batters. So I regularly snapped shots during the game hoping to capture each team’s uniform and the subtle differences in pitching form and batting stance of each player. By far the coolest moment I captured during the game was when Kazuo Matsui came to the plate late in the game as a pinch-hitter.
Matsui played for the Lions for nine seasons before signing with the New York Mets in 2003 and spending seven seasons playing in the MLB. After returning to NPB in 2011, Matsui signed with the Lions for his final professional season.
There are a lot of things to take in attending a game at any professional ballpark, but it’s quite different when you’re attending a game in Japan. There are many similarities between games in the U.S. and Japan, but SO many differences, too. One of the biggest differences is the delivery of beer. In Japan, young women carry mini kegs on their backs and pour beer for fans instead of lugging around giant tubs of beers in cans or aluminum bottles. Additionally, the biiru no uriko (“beer girl”) only sells one brand of beer. So each woman is outfitted in attire specific to the beer she is pouring. Although craft beer exists in Japan, the only brands being poured by the beer girls were the major macrobrews like Kirin, Asahi, Suntory, and Yebisu.
Beyond seeing several young women selling beer, women also dominate the majority of vendor positions. I was able to capture different women selling cotton candy and ice cream later during the game.
One of the better documented aspects of Japanese baseball games is that fans lead the cheers for players instead of the sound system being used to generate excitement. The fan-led cheering results in unique cheers for each player, and sometimes this brings about unique signs for particular players, too. I saw that at play with Lions designated hitter Ernesto Mejía, as fans held up Venezuelan flags each time he came up to bat.
Whenever I attend a baseball game, I always make an effort to get a picture with the team’s mascot. That is usually more difficult to accomplish at a Major League game, and that experience was no different at today’s Lions’ game. I saw the team’s mascots a few times on the field, but never saw either walking through the stands. However, I did get a picture of the pair on the field.
Without a doubt, the seventh inning was the most unique experience I’ve ever encountered during a baseball game. In Japan, fans from both teams sing their respective fight songs in the top and bottom of the inning and then release team-colored balloons into the air. The tradition is called the “Lucky Seventh,” and is a way for fans to help rally their team in the late innings.
In addition to capturing a photo of Hawks’ fans singing their fight song, I got a video of the Lions’ fans singing their team’s fight song entering the bottom of the seventh.
Unfortunately for Lions’ fans hoping to see the team clinch the Pacific League regular-season title, the home team did not come out victorious. However, players from both teams paid their respects to the fans with the customary post-game bow. The home Lions lined up along the third base line and bowed multiple times in different directions to show their respect and appreciation for the home fans while the visiting Hawks lined up in right field and bowed to their fans and the home fans as well.
Like many others in attendance, I had hoped to see the Lions clinch the regular-season crown, so I was disappointed to see them lose and miss the opportunity to watch the trophy presentation following the game. Putting the game result aside, it was a great experience.
It was exciting to be in a packed ballpark. Despite a packed house, I never felt cramped or fighting for space while walking on the concourse. The food options met my expectations, although I had not anticipated such long lines to get food. The food I ate was delicious and satisfying. The beer was cold and refreshing. The atmosphere far exceeded my hopes and dreams. The crowd was loud from start to finish, but it was not a deafening experience because of the unique roof that does not completely enclose the stadium.
Despite traveling by private transportation, I got to enjoy what feels like the quintessential experience at a professional Japanese baseball game.