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Published:October 22nd, 2009 09:17 EST
The Road to the Japan Series

The Road to the Japan Series

By Geoff Dean

 I can`t claim to be a big fan of Japanese baseball or even its Major League counterpart, really. I always feel like the game is plodding with too many breaks in the action. Of course, the fact that there is no hometown team in Indianapolis, my hometown, doesn`t help. Still, when the playoffs are thoughtful enough to come around, I focus in a bit more than usual.

 Japanese baseball shares a lot with its western counterpart, of course. There are strikeouts and bases on balls, relief pitchers and lame post-game interviews, stolen bases and stuffed animals as rewards for home runs (OK, some things are different.) Hit a game winning home run in the MLB and you are likely to be mobbed, jumped on, punched and the like. I wouldn`t hit a home run even if I could! Hit the same blast in Japan and you are likely to be met at the plate by the team mascot who will give you a respectful bow and the aforementioned stuff toy. I think I`d rather play in Taiwan.

 Getting back to however much of a subject there was here, wherever you go in the world, baseball is baseball is baseball. Except at the end of the season. In America, this year, we had a down to the wire race and an extra game between the Minnesota Twins and Detroit Tigers, drama and tension and extra innings, no less. In Japan, the end of the season is when rained out games are made up. Since the Central League pennant winning Giants play in a dome, they had few to make up and spent the end of the season waiting on other teams to finish up their schedules. When the regular season finally finishes (not all teams finish on the same day), there is a break before the playoffs begin, in order for the playoff teams to get further out of postseason form. For those lucky Giants of Tokyo, there was a further wait as they got a first round bye, giving them almost a month since their last meaningful games.

 If you feel sorry for the Central League champions, don`t. As the top team in their league, they get some serious perks.

 First off, they get the "ultimate" home field advantage. All games in the best of seven series will be played at Tokyo Dome. The Dragons (Nagoya) could win the first three games and still not wrestle away that home field advantage. Nagoya is just a two and a half hour train ride away. Why play all the games in one stadium (the MLB playoffs have all four teams on coast-to-coast flights)? Don`t ask me! Really!

 If that is not edge enough for the rusty league champions, they are given an automatic win. That`s right. Before the best of seven series starts, it is already 1-0 in favor of the Giants. (Note: The Dragons won the first game actually played and tied up the series at 1-1.) Still, an automatic win is a nice cushion. That beats the expletive out of a bye in my book.

 I think they should start the series with the Giants up 3-0 and with an automatic 2-0 lead in the fourth inning if they really want to make it tough on the Dragons, but no one asked me.

 I could go on to complain about the names of the respective Japanese leagues, the Central and Pacific Leagues. And, since I can, I reckon I will. Why is it that all of the Central League teams are in cities on the Pacific coast, but two Pacific league teams (the Hawks of Fukuoka and the Fighters of Sapporo) are not? Why is the not particularly central city of Hiroshima included in the Central League? Of course, my hometwon NFL Colts are in the AFC South Division so Japanese sports officials are not the only ones who are geographically challenged.

 And, at least, the Japanese leagues are modest. The Japan championship series is called, very accurately, the Japan Series, whereas Major League Baseball (in itself, a pretty boastful name) features the World Series (which is, in fact, the American Series or, at best, the American Series plus one Canadian Team).

 I will leave you with a question as my randomness defies summing up; which will come first a Giants` Japan Series win or a Giants` Super Bowl win? I don`t know how you`d predict it, but I`d put my money on the Giants.