Posted by: Tommy | November 7, 2011

Carp Win! Carp Win!

One of my biggest regrets about the timing of this trip has been Dallas hosting the World Series (twice), the Superbowl and the NBA finals, all while we’ve been gone (on the plus side, I missed a truly horrific Longhorn season in 2010).  But we finally got to make our own special sports memory by taking in a Japanese baseball game – the Hiroshima Carp vs. the Hanshin Tigers.  It may not compete with the Rangers in the World Series, but it was a lot of fun and very interesting.

When Anna asked me what I wanted to do in Japan, the only things I could come up with were baseball and eating Japanese food.  We’ve been eating plenty of Japanese food, so I got online to find out about a baseball game.  The Japanese season runs a later than MLB, so we were just in time to watch a regular season game.  The obstacle – there are only 12 teams and they are spread out.  We have only 20 days in Japan, so getting to the right city on the right days was a bit challenging.  Eventually, we rearranged our entire plan and took a 7 hour trip from Tokyo to Hiroshima.

Stepping off the train, we were surprised to see hordes of Japanese people, all decked out in red gear bearing the Carp logo.  Carp shirts, Carp hats, Carp thunderstix, Carp scrunchies, Carp totebags full of Carp-logoed fastfood boxes.  We saw a million weird Carp products.  It turns out Mazda Zoom Zoom Stadium (yes, that’s the real name) is located half a mile from the train station and we arrived right at game time.  We couldn’t go that night, but would try for the following afternoon (a Sunday).


One of the strangest Carp-related items in Hiroshima is the omnipresent Carp manhole covers.

After spending the morning at the Peace Park, we headed over to the Zoom Zoom Stadium and got general admission seats.  The cheap seats ($27 for the cheapest ticket – cheap used sarcastically) had us climbing 4 flights of stairs.  But then we got lucky – 3 empty seats in the 2nd row, right behind home plate.  3 seats because an Englishman named Paul who had been on our tour of the Peace Park decided to join us – he spent the entire game confused because he’s from England.

The first thing we noticed was the same thing we’d noticed the night before – everyone was wearing Carp gear.  Even the 20-something Japanese girls wearing mini-skirts and knee high boots topped it off with a Carp jersey.  Everyone has a Carp jersey – except for the Tiger fans from nearby Osaka, a much larger team with a national fan base (think Yankees or Red Sox).  The Tigers fans were dressed even crazier than the Carp fans.  We saw grown men wearing full on baseball uniforms, walking through the crowd.  Jersey, pants, batting gloves, stirrups, etc.  We saw children dressed in bright yellow (Tigers are grey and yellow), tiger-striped kimonos.  They were crazy.

Once the game got started, it was fairly similar to a baseball game in America, with a few notable differences.

The beer vendors don’t carry trays of ice-cold beer.  Instead, they have keg-erator backpacks that dispense tap beer at your seat.  Sweet!

Matt Murton plays for Henshin.  Matt Murton was once on my NL-only fantasy baseball team, until I dropped him 2 weeks later because he’s terrible.  He was challenging for the Japanese League batting title with one game left to play.  After watching one game, Murton’s success doesn’t surprise me.  Balls rarely left the infield. The radar gun was reporting pitches in the low 70’s most of the time.  We didn’t see a single pitch over 150 km/h (90 mph).  The game we attended finished 1-0 Carp, while the Tigers won the next night, 2-0.  You’d think they’d be good at fielding, since they can’t hit.  But there were 3 errors in the game we watched.

Instead of some old guys coming out dragging mats, the infield in Japan is maintained by a ton of younger guys with rakes.  They sprint out after every other inning and precisely rake the infield with small hand rakes.

Even for bad teams, the fans are fired up.  This game was the equivalent of Orioles-Nationals in late September.  The second to last day of the season.  Carp are in 5th pace, 20 games out.  The Tigers in 4th, 15 games back and both are guaranteed to miss the playoffs.  But the visitor’s stands were packed.  Both teams had a brass band, complete with flag-waving supporters.  There were choreographed dances and chanting that everyone seemed to know the words to.  But the Japanese are so polite – you chant when your team is batting.  The Carp fans outnumbered the Tiger fans 10-1, but only the section of Tiger supporters would cheer during their at-bats.  No “DE-Fence” chants here.

Each team has their own 7th inning stretch.  After the Tigers finished batting in the 7th inning, their fans blew up yellow and white balloons and released them into the sky.  Each balloon has a slow-release mechanism on the bottom to keep them flying slowly toward the field for about 20 seconds.  They chant, release the balloons, then it’s the Carp turn to bat.  The children of the Carp fans (this ritual is aimed mostly at children, though a few parents bought and released balloons themselves) got visibly more excited as the Carp headed toward 3 outs in the 7th.  After 2 outs, the Carp 3rd baseman got a hit, delaying the balloon releasing.  We saw 3 kids turn to their parents in disappointment, wanting to hurry up and let them go.

Some things were different, but some were almost the same.  The Carp have their own version of the Phillie Phanatic.

They sell hotdogs and nachos, though there were plenty of fans carrying steaming bowls of udon noodles up the stadium steps.

Anna can’t watch baseball without beer.  That’s a standard caveat before taking her to any baseball game, whether at home or abroad.

And in Japan, just like at home, this is what baseball is mostly about.  Well, this and beer.

Let's go, Carp!

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Responses

  1. Thanks for educating us on the way baseball go in Japan.
    I’d like to attend a game there someday.

  2. Sounds like so much fun. I know Jerry wishes he could have been there.

  3. You are so lucky that Anna will go with you to a baseball game. She deserves a beer! xoxoxo, kita

  4. I went to the Carp game the next night with some people from the Hana Hostel, including an Italian and two guys from Holland. The Dutch guys followed the game pretty well because they have ESPN at home, but the Italian guy was super confused. With the Carp still without a hit going into the 8th and the TIgers up 2-0, he looks at me and asks, “Is this considered a good game?” I didn’t really know how to answer that since I really like high scoring games, but can also appreciate a pitchers duel.

    -Jason from WFC and Hana Hostel


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