Tuesday, March 25, 2008 | 2:31 p.m.
TOKYO--- I’m wondering what happened to last Thursday, but I do know it is
gone for ever and it felt like it never happened.
The Oakland A’s charter left Phoenix for Tokyo on Wednesday the 19th and
landed at Norita Airport near midnight on the 20th Tokyo time.
The 12 hour flight wasn’t bad. I’ll never complain about flying on a
charter, and the Japan Airlines 747 was half-full which allowed plenty of
room to move around.
The highlight of our first full day in Tokyo was a welcome reception that
was thrown by the Yomiuri Giants, the A’s opponents in the first of two
exhibition games leading up to the season opening series against the Red
Sox. The Giants are considered the Yankees of Japan and used to be known as
the Tokyo Giants before taking the name of the Yomiuri media conglomerate
that owns the team.
The highlight of the reception for me was the sushi. I was standing at tall
table with a dozen or so very distinguished, impeccably dressed Japanese
businessmen, and while immersed in the sushi I looked up to find all eyes
were focused on me. Suddenly, all of the men broke into huge smiles and
began to bow my way in acknowledgment of my adroit handling of the
chopsticks. I’m thrilled by small things and that was a thrill.
I wasn’t so lucky when it came to my concession stand experience inside the
Tokyo Dome the next night before the game against the Giants. As I was in
line, I was spotted by an A’s fan serving in the military over here. It was
a good break because he coached me on what to say. “Kudasai” means please as
you are asking for something. I ordered a delightful chicken and rice dish,
but I then began to panic because I couldn’t find anything that looked like
a soft drink. I spotted an orange cup and pointed to it, convinced in must
be orange juice. I took the food and the drink into the radio booth and
after a couple of bites opened the cup and took a big gulp. The orange juice
was actually sake, which was probably appropriate since the broadcast began
at 3 a.m. Pacific Time. Our engineer in San Francisco, John Trinidad, joked
that he came straight from last call into the studio.
The Tokyo Dome is a funky place. A cross between the Metrodome and Tropicana
Field, which is to say it isn’t very nice. The roof is just like the
Metrodome ‹ air supported and dirty white, just about the color of a
baseball. In fact, the Hanshin center fielder, Akahoshi, lost a ball in the
roof that led to a gift double in Sunday afternoon’s second exhibition game
for the A’s, a 10-2 win over the Tigers.
The array of food inside the Dome is impressive. One of the columnists for
the English-language Daily Yomiuri was bemoaning the absence of pizza during
the 2007 Giants season, a problem rectified by the appearance of a
California Pizza Kitchen franchise on the lower concourse. You can also get
hot dogs, cheeseburgers, and KFC. And, for opening night against the Red
Sox, there must have been 5,000 boxes of sushi available at every concession
We have done plenty of sightseeing. My impression of Tokyo, and I know it is
terrible to generalize, is that it is New York with civility. The locals
have been warm and helpful and clearly in love with baseball. We took a
wonderful tour on Monday of the Meiji Shrine and walked breathtakingly close
to the Imperial Palace in the heart of the city.
The tour ended with a visit to the ancient area known as Asakusa. Dying of
hunger, we found tiny upstairs hole-in-the-wall buffet, which was only 980
yen per person, which translates to about $10. You can find dining value if
you hunt for it, and can also spend a fortune at the nicer establishments.
A’s closer Huston Street went out for steak on Monday night and enjoyed a
Kobe beef masterpiece main course that he said was as good a meal as he’s
ever had. And, when you come from Austin, Texas, you know your beef.