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World Cup 2002 - Japanese Baseball Balks


by R. Sanborn Brown

In a language remarkably devoid of good old-fashioned Anglo-Saxon-like profanity, Japanese often resorts to less polite verb forms to express anger or excitement. Recent headlines on the opening of Japan's baseball season have done just that: "Don't #$@! [add your favorite expletive] lose to the World Cup! The Moment of Truth for Pro Baseball!" screamed one typical headline in the normally staid Asahi Shinbun.

With many of the better players already gone—including Ichiro Suzuki, Hideo Nomo, Kazuhiro Sasaki, Tsuyoshi Shinjo et al—and many more contemplating a move to the greener pastures of America's Major League baseball, domestic baseball daimyo are visibly nervous. Rule changes were implemented in the off-season to speed up the games—even long-suffering Japanese baseball fans can take only so many three-hour bunt-fests. Rumors about a livelier ball—which would result in more home runs—have also been floated in some quarters.

On page two of the same paper, however, Seattle Mariners Ichiro Suzuki's every move in the previous day's spring training game was covered in minute detail by a horde of reporters from Tokyo. Worse still, the next day Ichiro went three for five on opening day, and this dominated the headlines in all the major print and broadcasting media.

In addition, this summer's World Cup tournament is set to eat up at the very least a full month of the baseball season in June. Even media outlets whose interests are closely linked to baseball—e.g., the Yomiuri organization, which owns the Tokyo Giants—will find the momentum leading up to and during the Cup impossible to resist. The Asahi Shinbun, the newspaper with the second highest number of subscribers after the Yomiuri Shinbun, is both an official sponsor of the World Cup and at the same time will underwrite as it does every summer the summer high school baseball tournament. If Japan does well in the World Cup, baseball will temporarily wander even further off of the national radar. Drawn into a group with Russia, Belgium, and Tunisia, co-host Japan should go through into the second round. Militaristic baseball—as the local version of it tends to be—may have to be excused for a bit of justified profanity this summer.

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