Okinawa is busy with baseball lately. This is what baseball folks like to call spring training, even though it isn’t spring yet. But it did rain, which is a little too normal.
After a couple of weeks of workouts, 10 of Japan’s pro teams played on the island today. We watched the Yakult Swallows of Tokyo edge the Hanshin Tigers of Osaka, 3-2. The score was tied at 2 when an odd play occurred.
With the bases full and one out, a Swallows hitter lofted a fly ball to foul ground near right field. The outfielder caught the ball and zinged a throw toward home plate. The runner at third did not try to tag up, but this came as a surprise to the runner on first, who took off for second. One problem. A runner was already standing there, foot on base.
The first basemen cut off the throw to the plate. Spying the runner from first in a vulnerable spot, retreating in a panic from second, the first baseman began to run at that runner to tag him for a problem-solving double-play. Ah, but just then, the runner on third shrewdly took off in full sprint for home plate. If he could touch the plate before the first-sacker tagged the retreating runner for the third out, the Swallows would tally the go-ahead run. If nothing else, this stunt would at least complicate things for the first basemen. And it did.
Seeing the guy streaking for the plate, the first baseman pivoted and began to throw home, to the catcher. But then that runner hit the brakes on the chocolate brown, slightly wet infield, and tried to scamper back to safety at third base.
It was a lot to process in a hurry — for the first baseman and for the rest of us. It also was one of the few times all day the game moved quickly.
The runner retreating to third was looking stranded. A good peg (throw) to third would catch him base-less. And since he was closer to home, he was the important one to stop. The first basemen launched a hard, low throw to his teammate at third base. But throwing as he ran, he wasn’t too accurate.
The runner lunged for third base. The ball arrived first, but it skipped into the dirt on the wrong side of the runner. The fielder couldn’t reach it. It bounced past third base and up against the wall near the dugout. In great danger a second earlier, the risk-taking now jumped to his feet and took off for home, scoring gleefully. His little stunt had succeeded. The other runners moved up, too. And the first baseman just stood there, shocked by his own rotten throw.
That was the how the Swallows took the lead and how the Tigers lost. Bad base-running yielded a run when the throw was even worse. This is not what we expect from Japanese baseball teams, famous for their technical skills.
But we can be generous in rainy February. Bad throws occur best in exhibition games, when they don’t matter so much. I’m sure the first baseman will realize that later, after he practices that running throw a few hundred-million more times in practice, at the urgent request of his manager.
The game was a worthy experience. First, we waited in line in the typical way at a ball game, in a line that wrapped around the outside of the stadium. Then we watched an impressive show of warm-up drills by both teams. No bad throws then. After that came local cultural flourishes when youthful eisa groups performed across the outfield and local beauty queens presented the team managers with flowers in a turnabout of gender roles as an American understands them.
The hitter above is Lastings Milledge, 26, an American who signed with the Swallows two months ago. See more on him below.
Finally met up with this here real cowboy the other day at Mihama American Village. Wondered where he’d been hanging out.
Young pards didn’t talk much. No one around here does, though. Not in English anyhow. But he fit right in with my lectures back in about Week No. 6 of my course in American Culture & Society. Manifest destiny and all that stuff. Westward ho! Rugged individualism.
Notable that even when Commodore Perry first moored his steam-powered war ships in Tokyo Bay back in 1853 to force the Japanese leaders to open to Western whalers and traders, the notion of manifest destiny was on the minds of those Americans, too.
They had a calling and a lot of momentum. You may not know this, but Perry’s fleet stopped in Okinawa before reaching Tokyo Bay. Returned later, too.
For a lot more information about this, see this excellent MIT online presentation on Black Ships & The Samurai by esteemed scholar and historian John Dower. It goes a long way beyond young pards, here, who seems to have lost his momentum. Maybe that’s as it should be.