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Reader Response 2: Baseball

There is nothing more encouraging than finding emails or blog posts from readers and viewers. Better still is when questions and comments are hurled in my direction. So, I’d like to answer some questions that I think might interest many of you. As always, send me more mail or posts! Suggest something or ask a question, please!

I was recently asked about the influence of Major League Baseball in Japan. Having just watched, or to be more accurate, having followed pitch-by-pitch online accounts of my New York Mets losing in the seventh game of the National League Championship Series to the St. Louis Cardinals, this is a sore subject of sorts, but who could say no to cultural diplomacy?

Baseball is growing. Or so it appears to me. This should mean something because the sport was brought to Japan in the nineteenth century. In 1920, the first paid league began; Puro Yaky?, professional baseball, was born in Japan. American baseball officials actively promoted this growth, sending some of the league’s greatest stars over the Pacific. Babe Ruth played in a handful of exhibition games here, trying to encourage the sport’s nascent popularity.

I regularly see children playing baseball at schools or catch in the streets. Sumo is dying, basketball is lingering, soccer is strong, and baseball is growing. Any Japanese players who play in the MLB are covered in major newspapers and television. I was at a hostel in Kyoto reading the country’s leading English language newspaper when I read that the New York Yankees were out of the playoffs. In the corner of the sports section was a review of the performances of every Japanese player in any playoff series.

Still, excluding an occasional Los Angeles Dodgers baseball cap or San Diego Padres sweatshirt I see, I haven’t gotten a sense that there is a determined interest in American baseball. Certainly there is interest in Ichiro Suzuki of the Seattle Mariners and Hideki Matsui of the Yankees, but it doesn’t appear there is a youth contingent obsessed with American baseball.

Japanese professional baseball is followed closely enough, though the league is regularly assumed to be financially subsidized. The Yomiuri Giants, the oldest and most successful Japanese baseball team (the former team of Matsui), play in the Tokyo Dome, the very city in which I live. Yes, I would have liked to make it to a game, but by the time I got my act together, the season had entered the playoffs. Tickets were more expensive and rare, if available at all. I didn’t make it.

Keep those questions coming!

Jaa ne,

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