Tuesday, January 31 2023

By Ben Verlander
FOX Sports MLB Analyst

Editor’s note: Ben Verlander is spending time in Japan exploring Shohei Ohtani’s roots, experiencing the country’s culture and meeting fans. This is the seventh in a recurring series that began Friday, Aug. 19.

The trip of a lifetime is still underway here in Japan, and I took full advantage of my final full day in Tokyo.

Day six started like several others: with ramen.

From there, we were off to Jingu Stadium, home of the Yakult Swallows and the site of that day’s fan meet-up. I was greeted by plenty of fans and heard countless stories. I love these meet-ups so much. Prior to the Yakult Swallows game, I met one lady who had traveled two hours just to say hello and take a couple of pictures.

Ben Verlander meets with a fan who came a long way. (Photo by Nick Rago/FOX Sports)

These stories will never get old, and they will never not be surreal.

From there, it was time to head into the stadium, which has been around since the 1920s. In fact, Babe Ruth and some fellow MLB All-Stars played at Jingu Stadium during their barnstorming tour of Japan. 

On the outside, you can certainly tell it’s an old stadium. I didn’t quite know what to expect inside, but when I walked in the gates and out through the tunnel, I was greeted by a big, beautiful stadium just about filled to capacity.

Verlander takes in the exterior of Jingu stadium. (Photo by Nick Rago/FOX Sports)

Just before the game started, I went to the team store to buy a jersey, as I’ve been doing at every stadium. Naturally, at this stop, I had to get a Murakami jersey. Munetaka Murakami is one of the best players in the league, and at only 21 years old, he already has 107 home runs and more than 300 RBIs. This year, he has his sights set on the triple crown and is looking to win back-to-back MVP awards. This guy is the real deal, and we will be hearing about him for a long time.

The game itself was a great experience. I had been told about the umbrella dance that happens whenever the Swallows score a run, so of course I had to get an umbrella to celebrate properly with the home fans.

Just to clarify, these aren’t big, bulky umbrellas that could ruin the experience of fans behind you. They are tiny little things, with a shimmering yellow look on top. When the whole crowd partakes, it’s awesome.

Verlander shows off his umbrella for the umbrella dance. (Photo by Nick Rago/FOX Sports)

I experienced it for the first time early in the game. A run scored, and sure enough, all the yellow umbrellas around the stadium began bopping up and down to the music. It was so much fun and made me think that more stadiums in MLB need to do cool things whenever a run scores.

Another great experience came after the fifth inning, when they stopped the game for a few minutes for a full-blown fireworks show. I was in shock when the stadium lights went off and the first firework shot up into the sky. It was awesome, and it was my first experience seeing a fireworks show in the middle of a game.

Once the game ended, it was off to Golden Gai to get some drinks and hang out with the crew.

Golden Gai is an area in Tokyo with hundreds of tiny bars lining a few narrow pathways. Now, when I say tiny, I mean tiny. I am traveling with a crew of five or six people, and when we were weaving in and out of these bars looking for the right one, it was important to find one that was empty — because, well, we couldn’t all fit unless every single seat was available. But they were all so quaint and cool, and the experience of being in that area was awesome.

The crew visits a bar in Golden Gai. (Photo by Nick Rago/FOX Sports)

The bar where we settled required climbing up a tiny staircase, but it ended up being the perfect fit. We were there for hours just hanging out, grabbing a few drinks and talking to the woman working, who has been there for 10 years. 

After a bit, she started cooking for us without us even asking. When we asked (through the help of Google Translate) why she was doing that, she informed us that it was part of the cover charge.

She made us bacon, noodles and cabbage and seemed to fill with joy as we started eating. The generosity and inclusion she showed speak volumes about Japanese culture.

All part of the cover! (Photo by Nick Rago/FOX Sports)

After a couple of hours, it was time to head back to the hotel. It was another perfect day here in Japan, full of good food, great baseball and memories that will last a lifetime.

Ben Verlander is an MLB Analyst for FOX Sports and the host of the “Flippin’ Bats” podcast. Born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, Verlander was an All-American at Old Dominion University before he joined his brother, Justin, in Detroit as a 14th-round pick of the Tigers in 2013. He spent five years in the Tigers organization. Follow him on Twitter @BenVerlander.

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Source: FOX Sports


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