Janesville77.9°

Japanese take their baseball lot more seriously than we do

Print Print
David Whitley
April 1, 2009
— The parking attendant at Disney’s Wide World of Sports looked worried Monday. The game was still 30 minutes away and the parking lot was already about to burst.

“We’re getting desperate,” she said.


For that, we can thank Japan. If there were 9,500 people at Champion Stadium for the Braves-Red Sox game, 8,394 were Japanese journalists.


OK, that’s a slight exaggeration. There were probably 50 reporters and photographers, which was still about 45 more than would have shown up for an all-American affair.


Instead, it was the much-anticipated pitching duel between Daisuke Matsuzaka and Kenshin Kawakami. You may not think it was a big deal, but it was a huge deal from Nagoya to Fukuoka.


Japan loves it sports, probably more than the United States. I’m not sure that’s a good thing for the country’s overall mental health. But I know it’s good for the media’s health, so I’m all for it.


In fact, allow me to rub it in: We’re No. 2!


You think we fawn and fixate over Tiger Woods and Tim Tebow? If we covered Tebow like the Japanese cover Dice-K, 38 reporters would have followed him around the Philippines jungle during spring break trying to interview the cot he slept on.


Every Japanese athlete comes to America with his own traveling army of media. Those soldiers occupied the 11 seats in the front row of the press box at Disney.


First pitch was at 1:07 p.m. Monday; 2:07 a.m. Tuesday in Tokyo. No matter.


“If I were in Japan, I’d probably enjoy it also,” Kawakami said through an interpreter.


About 30 journalists showed up with him at spring training. Imagine how many would have been there if the 33-year-old Kawakami had been a star back home.


Hideki Matsui brought more than 100 media members with him to his first Yankees training camp in 2003. Of course, he was the modern-day Babe Ruth of Japan.


But if Babe himself came back to life and signed with the Nippon Ham Fighters, U.S. media wouldn’t send reporters en masse to live in Japan.


Hopefully, a magazine also wouldn’t offer $2 million for a nude photo of the Babe. A Japanese publication supposedly offered that for one of Ichiro Suzuki a few years ago. The Japanese media wouldn’t be here if the audience didn’t want it. Even in these economic times, coverage hasn’t curtailed that much.


Why the difference between U.S. and them?


Dai Kosaka, who covers baseball for the Mainichi Newspaper group, pondered the question.


“Yes, yes, yes,” he nodded. “Japanese people love baseball.”


Not just baseball. Half the media at last week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational was from Japan, which had all of two golfers in the field.


Most came to follow 17-year-old Ryo Ishikawa, who missed the cut. Their backup was 32-year-old Ryuji Imada, who was born in Hiroshima but moved to America 18 years ago.


Other than his heritage, he’s about as Japanese as a hotdog. No matter.


As Woods was playing the final hole Sunday, about 20 reporters surrounded Imada beside the scorer’s trailer. And he’d just finished 17th.


U.S. media wouldn’t follow John Daly to the Tsuruya Open because, frankly my dear, we don’t give a darn. If it doesn’t happen here, we don’t think it matters.


I don’t like that myopia any more than I like sports writers getting laid off. So if the sports trade imbalance bothers you, do something about it.


Call your local newspaper and TV stations and demand they start covering athletes like the Japanese do. But I’m drawing the line at nude photos of John Daly.



Print Print