Why Japanese Baseball?

» 06 June 2017 » In Uncategorized »

In the nine years since starting this site, I’ve done dozens of interviews and talked to perhaps hundreds of fans, readers, and other writers. The question I get more than any other, by a wide margin, is some variation of “why Japanese baseball?”

I’ve occasionally told the story of how I was introduced to Japanese baseball but I’m not sure I’ve ever answered the question of why it’s appealed to me so much. I’ll try to do that here.

The starting point for me was my interest in Japan. At age 11 I picked up a video game magazine that happened to have an article in Japan, and that was it.

The first thing that hooked me on Japanese baseball was the novelty of it. It was baseball, but it was new and different. The pitchers had funky deliveries and throw off-speed stuff, the batters had more character than their MLB counterparts, the uniforms were different, the fields were different, the fans were entertaining.

As time progressed and I learned more about NPB and baseball in Japan, my appreciation for it grew. It sounds cliched, but the relationship between the players and the fans is different in Japan. NPB players are, for the most part, a bit more down to earth than players in American sports leagues. Hang about the Yakult Swallows’ Jingu Stadium before a game and you’ll see uniformed players and coaches going about their work, going back and forth between the practice field and the stadium amongst the fans and vendors.

It isn’t just the Japanese players who are down to earth. Most of the foreign ball players are journeyman, who are exceptionally good players, but not quite great enough for MLB. Most of them come across as legitimately grateful for their chance at playing in Japan, and I’m always happy to see hardworking players get a shot at establishing themselves in Japan.

The fans, in turn, are a bit more uniform in their support for their favorite teams. Yes, there are fair weather fans and some players are more beloved than others, but at games, the cheering vigor of the fans doesn’t drop from batter one to batter nine. I’ve found Japanese fans to be incredibly welcoming as well. At my first Kitetsu Buffaloes game back in 2001, the salaryman sitting beside me made sure I knew every player on the field, and bought me balloons for the seventh inning stretch balloon launch. Some variation of this has happened at many of the games I’ve attended since.

I feel like this explanation, so far, does a disservice to the quality of play. I won’t pretend the quality of play in NPB is MLB-caliber, but it is certainly good, competitive baseball. The best players have proven to be successfull at the MLB level, and even the role players usually have some redeeming skill. I’ve enjoyed appreciating in players; one guy may have a great throwing arm, another may have great bat control, another may be a bunting specialist.

Most North American fans look at leagues in Asia as sources of talent for Major League Baseball, and that’s fine, but NPB and KBO are good baseball leagues worthy of appreciation for their own merit. I started NPB Tracker primarily to combat incorrect information about Japanese players bound for MLB, but also to increase overseas interest in Japanese baseball. Over the passed nine years, the quality of information on Japanese players has improved dramatically. But I can’t measure any real uptick interest in the league itself from overseas, which perhaps should be next goal.

tl;dr: Japanese baseball is good because:
1. it’s fun and different
2. the bond between the players and fans is deeper
3. it’s good baseball

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