Saturday, October 08, 2005

pennant race

No, I don't mean the Red Sox, the Yankees, or the Cubs. I mean, who cares about major league baseball anymore, what with all the steroids, competitive imbalance, and the fact that the only real team that was left in the bigs, the Montreal Expos, is now gone. What I'm talking about is across the Pacific, in the Japanese major leagues.

Forget about singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the 7th inning stretch ... in Japan, they just release a bunch of balloons.

Like in North America, there are two leagues in the Japanese majors - the Central League and the Pacific League. Each league has six teams, and the champions of the Central and Pacific face off against one another in the Japan Series, which is usually played in October.

The playoffs haven't started yet this year, with the pennant race still in gear. In the Pacific League, the excellent Fukuoka Softbank Hawks (89 wins, 45 losses, 2 ties) and the Bobby Valentine-managed Chiba Lotte Marines (84-49-3) are still battling for league supremacy. In the Central League, the Osaka Hanshin Tigers (87-54-5) have run away with the flag. And you know this just can't be sitting well with the folks in Tokyo - the struggles of their own Yomiuri Giants (62-80-4) are bad enough without having their rivals in Osaka celebrating in first place.

It's been a tough season for the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants.

By any measure, it's been a tough season for the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants, Japanese baseball's version of the New York Yankees and probably the most popular team in the country. Despite the the Giants' proud history of pennants, championships, and the highest payroll in the league, in 2005, they've already set a club record for losses with 80, and the season isn't even over yet. Mired in second-last place in the Central League, the Giants are ahead only of the lowly Hiroshima Toyo Carp (58-83-4), whose payroll is Montreal Expos-esque in its frugality. For Giants fans, this nightmare season can't end soon enough. But look on the bright side, Tokyo: at least George Steinbrenner isn't running your team.

Tokyo Dome, Tokyo, Japan. (2002). Affectionately known as the "Big Egg" by fans and non-fans alike, the Tokyo Dome is home to the Yomiuri Giants, the New York Yankees of Japanese baseball. I took this photo early one November morning not long after the season in 2002. Note how amazingly clean the stadium grounds are kept. North America, this isn't.

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