The chill of winter is still in the air, but the weeks of Spring Camp in Okinawa and Kyushu have at last given way to exhibition games in stadiums. As the blossoms on the trees signal a change of seasons, hearts feel a stirring.
In this first weekend of meetings on familiar stomping grounds, thousands of fans turned out to catch up with old friends and get a closer look at new faces. Cheers and chants echoed anew in the superstructures high above the plastic prairies.
Naturally, these games had no meaning at all beyond practice. 2014 Opening Day is weeks away. Still, there is a lot of magic in seeing over 20,000 people gathered together at a ballpark and hearing the melodies as friendly faces step into the box. Baseball is finally back.
At Tokyo Dome, the Yomiuri Giants hosted the crosstown Yakult Swallows for a pair of contests that ended by the slenderest of margins. A 3-2 sayonara put a dramatic end to the action on March 1st. In a 1-0 blanking of the birds on March 2nd, new addition Leslie Anderson went yard and endeared himself to the Kyojin faithful.
At Fukuoka Dome, the defending Japan Series champion Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles visited the SoftBank Hawks. On March 1st, the Hawks won by a 4-2 margin. After being pulled for a pinch runner late in the game, brand new Eagles slugger Kevin Youkilis flashed a smile in the dugout that was already in midseason form. On March 2nd, a solo shot from Ginji Akaminai put an exclamation point on a 4-1 Rakuten victory.
At Nagoya Dome, the Chunichi Dragons welcomed the Yokohama DeNA BayStars. In the opening game on March 1st, the BayStars shut out the Dragons 2-0. On the afternoon of March 2nd, beloved former Dragon Tony Blanco continued to torment his old club with a two-run shot into the left field seats. Those runs proved to be the difference in a 5-3 BayStars win.
The details of the contests weren’t really very important. Some arms weren’t sharp. Some gloves weren’t in complete control. Some bats were still not timed right. As the action unfolded over the hours, the warm flicker of far-off fields filled screens, and friends gathered together to root for their favorite clubs. NPB fans coming out of hibernation all over the world was the highlight of the weekend.