Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Baseball Season and a Revamped Jingu Stadium

I can't believe that we're more than three weeks into April already and I haven't mentioned baseball yet. Well, I did, but not here.

I've been to seven games so far this season, which is kind of a weak tally for me. There have been a few rained out games so far, and I had planned to be at Jingu stadium for two of them, so mother nature is partly responsible for my slack attendance thus far.

Jingu stadium has been slightly revamped. There's new turf and new hi-tech scoreboards in both center-field and on top of the stands behind home plate. The turf looks gorgeous, but the scoreboards, which are the largest ones in use in Japan at this point, are still not being used to their full potential. The scorers sacrificed two columns of real estate on the left and right sides of the center-field scoreboard to advertising, so it is no longer possible to view the players' batting averages unless they're batting. That needs to change. Another problem with the scoreboards, or the people operating them really, is the fact that they still don't show replays of nice defensive plays. Much like during the former scoreboard's tenure, the only pieces of action worth replaying are home runs.

The corners of the outfield were moved out 10 meters at the foul poles as well. This means that it's now 101 meters to the left and right field poles which is about three feet further than the average professional ballpark in Japan. Straight-away center-field still sits 120 meters from home plate. Several rows of 1,900 yen seats were sacrificed for the expansion of the field, but the home team's pitching staff has breathed a collective sigh of relief that a few extra longballs will stay in the park this season.

As mentioned earlier, the new turf is beautiful, and it seems to absorb the momentum of the baseball a lot like natural grass does. The only thing that the players will have to be wary of is the fact that those artificial blades of grass are pretty slick when it rains. I've seen position players, and umpires, hit the deck on several occasions when making otherwise routine runs on the new surface.

Other than that, most stuff at the park are the same. The food's the same, the fans are the same, the team...is actually quite different, but I'll save that for another post.

Oh! One thing that is different is that there's a new t-shirt stand outside the stadium near where members of the fan club pick up their tickets. Grand Slam Sports Enterprises has begun producing a revolving line of unique t-shirts that are more in line with the thought patterns of the diehard Tokyo Swallows fan than what was previously available through the team's official catalog. I was fortunate enough to be able to chat with one of the main guys at Grand Slam before the game on Sunday, and he seems to have a lot of good ideas about promoting the team through a variety of well-designed and wearable t-shirts.

The t-shirt pictured here is a typical example of what they have to offer, and it cost me 2,500 yen. If it's not obvious, the "We are Tokyo" message is alluding to the fact that there are two teams located within the borders of the metropolis, but the claim to being Tokyo's team has been decided.

It sounds like Grand Slam is going to bring out some new designs every couple of weeks, so be sure to check back every so often and see if they have your favorite player's tee out there. It sounds like they will be offering a lot of limited edition t-shirts this season.

I'm hoping that they make an Iihara t-shirt soon because the team has been so slow to make shirts for some of their young stars (unless they're pitchers). Grand Slam Sports Enterprises is being billed as one of the official t-shirt outlets for the Tokyo Swallows fan club this year.

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