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March 23, 2012 at 8:35 PM

Tokyo-bound after thrilling high school game near Kobe

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What a travel day this is turning into, but I got to witness a fantastic high school baseball game today down at historic Koshien Stadium near Kobe, about 260 miles away from Tokyo. The national invitational high school tournament is on and there appeared to be between 10,000 and 15,000 out there in cold, windy weather to see Naruto High School defeat Sumoto High School 2-1 on a walk off, 10th-inning drive to the gap in left center.
Funny thing happened as the Naruto base runner sprinted home with the winning run. His teammates charged out of the dugout, but there was virtually no celebration. Instead, the players all lined up, faced their opponents and the two sides bowed in mutual respect. The crowd cheered the, on. This is a typical way high school games in Japan finish, but I’d never expected to see it in a walk off win. For a second, I thought I’d read the scoreboard wrong and it was only the top of the inning. Started to worry about making the noon train, which wound up being a sprint in any event.


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Anyhow, the Naruto team sure had a knack for the dramatic. They were being out-hit 8-2 to start the final inning but wound up doubling that total when it mattered.
The atmosphere was electric all game long. I’d compare it to being at a college football game between plays, only in these games, the two marching bands play while the game is actually going on. They sit in the cheering sections on their respective sides and one band plays while their team hits, then the other goes during their half inning.
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The fans in these special sections, numbering in the thousands, all seem to know every chant and cheer and exectute their timing to perfection in sync with the band.
I’ve got lots of video to show you later of that, including one bit where the band plays the Gonna Fly Now theme from the Rocky movie. Plus, we have video and photos of the concessions girls who walk around with backpacks of beer for sale and so much else.
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At the end of the game, the losing Sumoto team walked back to the dugout to pose for some group pictures, then everybody came back out to the first base line and participated in the ritual of gathering the “sacred” dirt from the field to keep for souvenirs. When I went to the Ichiro museum, which you can read about in today’s paper, a container of the dirt gathered was on display.
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Koshien Stadium, home of the Hanshin Tigers, who the Mariners play in exhibition action tomorrow, really is a legendary place for these kids. A bit like Williamsport, PA for Little Leaguers, only a much bigger watched live by many more people. Believe me, I’ve now covered both events. Despite the ESPN Little League coverage, the actual live event here has a much bigger event feel for those participating.
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Anyhow, I’ll have photos, video and more but have to save my battery for the Mariners workout I’m trying to get back for. Check my @gbakermariners Twitter feed for a photo of the dirt gathering.

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