WORLD BASEBALL CLASSIC: 2006, 2009
In a way it's too bad that professional baseball in Japan came into its own as a world class sport at the tail end of the era of doughnut clone stadiums back in the U.S.A. Several large domed stadiums were built in Japan in the 1980s and early 1990s, before the era of "retro" ballparks had begun. On the other hand, it may not have mattered, since Japan doesn't have as much baseball history as the United States, so the aesthetic appeal of traditional brick structures doesn't resonate in the ultra-modern cities of Tokyo and Osaka.
The overall shape of the Tokyo Dome is a rounded square, a.k.a. an "octorad," like Veterans Stadium and Jack Murphy-San Diego Stadium. One notable feature is the high proportion of seats that are in foul territory. The Tokyo Dome's roof is made of white fabric, a cost-saving technique that seems strange in one of the wealthiest, splashiest, highest-tech cities on earth. The roof sections are stitched together in a cross-hatch pattern like the Metrodome. The whole roof is tilted, however, with the lower end toward center field, just like at Tropicana Field. The upper deck tapers down to a point, like at Tropicana Field and Kauffman Stadium. It seems significantly less steep than in most other modern baseball stadiums, however. There is a beautiful wooded park with a pond right outside (beyond left field), but you would ever know it from inside. Across the street is an amusement park with a roller coaster.
As far as the playing field, two things stand out about the Tokyo Dome: Foul territory is quite large, with much more room near the foul poles than in MLB parks in the U.S.A. Two or three extra rows of seats were installed between the dugouts and the foul poles a few years ago, not shown in the above diagram. Also, the outfield fence is quite high: 13 feet. There are no warning tracks in the Tokyo Dome, for some reason. In contrast, the infield at the stadium in Hiroshima is entirely covered with dirt, as is foul territory behind the infield; the only grass is in the outfield. Another peculiarity is that the bullpens are somewhere underneath the grandstand (presumably near the foul poles), even though there is plenty of room in foul territory. To make use of all that extra space, a few rows of box seats were added along the foul lines some time in the last few years.
The Yomiuri Giants are Japan's equivalent of the New York Yankees, having won far more Japan Series championships (20 altogether, most recently in 2002) than any other team. It was thus natural for one of that team's greatest stars, Hideki Matsui, to become one of the Bronx Bombers. The Nippon Ham Fighters (!?) shared this fine facility with the Yomiuri Giants for several years, and in 2004 relocated to Sapporo, in the northern island of Hokkaido, where they play in the ultra-modern Sapporo Dome. Reflecting the vast cultural differences on either side of the Pacific Ocean, baseball in Japan is quite distinct from the good ol' U.S. of A. The degree of fan fanaticism might be considered a form of emulating America's pastime. The movie Mr. Baseball, starring Tom Selleck and Dennis Haysbert, gives a good introduction. Now that Matsui, Ichiro Suzuki, and other big time stars from Japan are playing in the American Major Leagues, some fear that professional baseball in Japan may be threatened.
In early April 2000, the Tokyo Dome hosted the Mets and the Cubs, in the first official MLB game ever played outside of North America. Oakland and Seattle were scheduled to play a pair of official games here on March 25 and 26, 2003, but those games were postponed and moved to the U.S. on account of war. Also, the Yankees played the Devil Rays here on March 27 and 28, 2004, and the Red Sox and Angels played here on March 25 and 26, 2008. The Tokyo Dome hosted the first round of games in the inaugural World Baseball Classic, from March 3 to March 5, 2006, and likewise in the second WBC, March 5 to March 9, 2009.
The Atlanta Falcons and Indianapolis Colts played a preseason NFL game in the Tokyo Dome in August 2005, and there have been a few other football games here, as well as some soccer matches. The gridiron was laid out with one end zone near home plate and the other near center field. The 30 yard line was just short of second base. Various other public events such as concerts (The Police, Bon Jovi, Billy Joel in 2008) and religious services are held here as well.
FAN TIP: Adam Myers