Baseball in Japan (or MLB vs NPB)

Let’s talk about sports. I love sports. Football (even the American kind), basketball, hockey, baseball, you name it. I love playing them and I love watching them.

Growing up in Romania however, the only sport I really knew was football (not the American kind, and I refuse to call it soccer). I didn’t even know how to play baseball until I moved to Canada, and I barely knew anything about basketball, except that you have to put the ball through the hoop.

Of course, in Canada hockey reigns supreme, so I quickly picked that up as my newest hobby especially since I at least had some experience with it – you’d never guess this but in Romania there’s an (in)famous hockey rivalry between Miercurea Ciuc and Steaua Bucharest.

Basketball followed pretty quickly since my high school prided itself with one of the best teams in the country. So, slowly but surely, even though football was and always will be my biggest passion and hobby, I became a sports junkie.

The latest scores and highlights? Seen them all. The newest transactions and rumours? Way ahead of you. That one game in the Premier League in 2008? I remember it like it was yesterday. My own Sunday league match from two years ago? Let’s not talk about it…

You get the point, but why am I going on about this? Well, all this to say that out of the ‘four major North American sports’ – hockey, American football, basketball and baseball – the latter was by far my least favourite.

Sure, I still knew some scores here and there, as I was keeping an eye on the Toronto Blue Jays since they’re Canada’s lone team in the MLB, but beyond that, not much. Games were slow, long, and unbearably tedious. The amazing highlights I would see on ‘Sportscenter’ were few and far between in actual games, with commercial breaks for pitching changes taking up what felt like half the broadcast.

If that wasn’t enough, I think the worst part for me was to see half empty stadiums and more cheering for random gigs shown on the big screen than for the actual game itself. If you’ve watched football, you know how strange it is not to have a crowd constantly cheer and chant for their favourite team throughout the whole game.

In any case, let’s flashforward a few years and in comes the NPB in my life – Japan’s professional baseball league. After I met Kokoro, I quickly found out she was a huge fan of the Hiroshima Toyo Carp and I decided to hop on the bandwagon and to give baseball one more chance.

And boy, what a difference a change of scenery can make. We spent last summer in Japan and, unless we were out or busy working, I don’t think we missed a single game. I was so hooked. I wasn’t just watching Carp games; I was keeping up with every other team and all kinds of statistics. I even looked into past seasons and the league’s history!

I felt like I needed to learn more since the little I knew about the NPB was of course mainly from the players who came over to the MLB – you know, the huge superstars like Ichiro Suzuki, Hideki Matsui, or more recently Yu Darvish and Shohei Ohtani.

I even now own a Takayoshi Noma jersey, since his walk-up song is the famous Romanian song from the 2000s ‘Dragostea din tei’ or ‘numa numa’ as some of you might know it – there’s this Japanese parody about the song since the chorus sounds like ‘noma noma’, which means ‘drink drink’ but is also the player’s family name. Anyway, that’s a story for another time.

We even had the chance to go to the Tokyo Dome to watch the Carp play the legendary Yomiuri Giants – my birthday present for Kokoro, but let’s be serious, I enjoyed it as much as she did (maybe even more).

Wow, what an atmosphere! Every NPB game is a must-watch show. Constant cheering that resonates in the whole stadium, personalized chants for each player, fast-paced games, and the most passionate baseball fans I’ve ever seen bar none. Even when their team is down 5+ runs, you can still hear the constant drums and chants, hoping that it will help pick the players up.

Anyone you talk to can not only name you most of the teams, but also at least a few players, and most likely has a favourite team that they follow in some capacity.

The best comparisons I can think of is hockey in Canada, or football in the UK, but those are well-known, while the NPB is a gem that few are able to experience outside of Japan. I wish the games were broadcast here, or in North America, just to show people a different side of baseball from the MLB – I think it would do wonders for the sport’s popularity.

I know other countries and leagues also have an equally dynamic atmosphere at baseball games, but my personal experience happens to be with the NPB and so I wanted to share it with you guys here. They’ve won a lifelong fan in me and I can’t wait to be able to catch a live game again!