from Ben Verlander
FOX Sports MLB Analyst
Editor’s Note: Ben Verlander spent some time in Japan exploring Shohei Ohtani’s roots, experiencing the country’s culture and meeting fans. This is the second in a recurring series which began Friday, August 19.
What’s up, everyone? It’s Day 2 in Japan and I couldn’t be more excited for another day of this trip. Before heading to the Tokyo Dome to see the Tokyo Giants take on Hanshin Tigers (the NPB version of red socks–Yankees rivalry), I wanted to take a few minutes to tell you all about yesterday. Which also turned out to be one of the best days of my entire life.
We were at Yokohama Stadium to see Yokohama Baystars and Hiroshima Carp.
Honestly, I had no idea what to expect. We showed up, got our credentials and met with various people from the Baystars organization. They could not have been nicer and more generous throughout the whole experience. It was incredibly cool.
Then we entered the stadium – my first time in a Japanese baseball stadium – and I was blown away. I came out of the tunnel and just took it all. This place is impressive. It holds about 34,000 people and is completely round, with steep rows of blue seats. You really feel like you’re at the top of the field, even if you’re on row 50. Another thing that jumps out right away is that the field sizes are small: 309 feet down the line and just over 380 to center, but with a 16-foot wall surrounding the entire outfield. You can imagine there are some really high scoring games out there.
We went in while the teams were in the middle of taking BP. One thing that was immediately apparent: In Japanese baseball, the home team will have two players practicing at the same time with two separate cages. There is also a lot going on in batting practice. It’s basically a full workout before the game even starts. There are pitchers working out in the outfield, guys hitting tee offs on the sidelines, shepherding drills, the list goes on. You’ll never see that in MLB.
During BP, I got to meet Baystars star pitcher, Shota Iminaga. He was excited to come and say hello. I asked him how he likes playing in such a small stadium. He noted that if hitters from the United States played there, they would hit a lot of home runs in the park. I also asked if he had a goal to play in the MLB, to which he said “absolutely.”
We then headed to the team store. I have decided to buy a shirt for every game I attend this week. Naturally, I had to get a beautiful white stripe Iminaga No. 21.
Then we hit the concession stands. Hard.
Here, the stadium food is noticeably different. I’ve tried everything from pork dumplings to ice with oranges on top to one of the best curries I’ve ever tasted. I’ll have a full video breakdown of all this soon.
Then the gates opened. And let me tell you, I was not prepared for what happened next. I’m going to level with you: I’m incredibly proud to say that my podcast, Flippin’ Bats, is the #1 baseball podcast in Japan. Even knowing this, however, I couldn’t have predicted the reaction I would get from the fans in Japan.
Within 30 seconds of the doors opening to the fans, two girls approached and asked for a picture. One of the girls cried. This would be a common occurrence. We took hundreds of pictures. It was a special day.
It has become abundantly clear just how strong Shohei Ohtani’s impact is. It’s all because of him. I became Shohei’s #1 fan on the other side of the world. After 13 hours of flying over the globe, the appreciation and love was immediately apparent.
Ben Verlander is an MLB analyst for FOX Sports and host of “Flippin’ Bats” podcast. Born and raised in Richmond, Va., Verlander was an All-American at Old Dominion University before joining his brother, Justin, in Detroit as a 14th-round pick of the Tigers in 2013. He spent five years in the Tigers organization Follow him on Twitter @Ben Verlander.
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