When I checked into the hostel in Hiroshima, I knew I was in a baseball town. Behind the front desk hung a baseball jersey of Kris Johnson – an American pitcher for the Hiroshima Carp. I had been in contact with Kris because my brother works with Kris’s brother-in-law. Anyway, the hostel staff told me that Kris was pitching for the Central League that afternoon. The game was starting in 10 minutes!
Amy and I dropped our bags off and headed over to the stadium. The stadium was a fifteen minute walk from the hostel and we could soon hear the cheers from the stadium. I tried to find some tickets, but there were crowds of people looking for the same thing. The only ones I found were going to $200 a pop. I wasn’t going to pay that.
We cheered for the home team for a while with the fans at the gate. The Carp scored two runs in the light rain and the crowd was way into it. We didn’t think we could get any affordable tickets, so we decided to go to a local sports bar – The Red Helmet. The Carp had team colors and logos like the Cincinnati Reds and everyone was wearing their uniform to create a sea of red – like Kansas City when the Chiefs are playing. The sports bar was very busy and they ran out of seats before we got ours. They apologized and said they couldn’t serve us unless we had a seat, so we had to go. We figured that there must be a fire code to prevent people from being served if they didn’t have a seat.
We had to walk 20 minutes downtown to another bar. Meanwhile, the Carp started giving up runs. The locals said that Kris had trouble controlling his pitches in the rain. Kris gave up four runs in the third inning and that ended it for him. The Carp never recovered and they would have to wait for another day to win the championship.
The next day, I was walking to the Hiroshima Peace Park to recreate some pictures of my father from the time he played here with the Dodgers. I was crossing the street when I ran into Kris Johnson walking in the other direction. I wouldn’t have known it was him unless I’d seen him all over the TV the day before. His black Royals baseball cap gave it away. He was shopping with his wife, baby and probably mother-in-law.
I started talking to him in the middle of the busy intersection and changed direction to finally meet him. We’d been communicating through email, but I didn’t think I’d see him. I gave him a copy of my father’s book and showed him how my father had been in Hiroshima playing baseball as well with Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Don Drysdale and all the others.
Kris was disappointed that he hadn’t won the title the day before. The picture below says it all. I told him that he couldn’t win them all. I explained to his wife that my brother worked with her brother in Kansas City. I wish I would have taken a picture with him, but they seemed to be in a hurry. He had another game that night.
Amy and I went out to dinner that night and wanted to watch the game while we ate. We found a little restaurant next to our hostel that had TVs on. The owner was a real baseball fan and had memorabilia all over the walls. He had probably ten bats and pictures of old players like the picture below.
The restaurant didn’t have an English menu, but the owner helped us order some ramen. The restaurant was a one-man show like so many in Japan. They could probably seat only 20 people. Quite a few people were hanging out watching the game and cheering the Carp on. I told the owner how my father was in Hiroshima with the Brooklyn Dodgers and he showed me a picture of the plaque that used to be in the old stadium. Here is a picture of the plaque that the Dodgers donated to the stadium.
The owner had a wooden keg that looked like an old sake keg. The tradition is to smash the keg with a wooden mallet to expose the sake. He said they were going to break it open when the Carp won. He gave us a beer for free and we stayed till the end of the game. The Carp lost the game that night as well and I was surprised to see that everyone stayed around afterwards. They stayed because if the Yakult Swallows lost, the Carp would win the division. The Swallows won too, so the Carps fate was in their hands the next night when they faced the Swallows.
On our last night in Hiroshima, the Carp finally rose to the occasion and whooped the Swallows 10-0. I watched the game in the hostel and one of the workers was a big fan and we exchanged hats to celebrate in this picture.
He told us how there would be a big party downtown since they won, so we went down to see what it was like. I couldn’t believe how many thousands of fans were downtown after 11:00 to celebrate. They were all chanting like in the video at the top of the page. Some had beer and they were shaking it and spraying it on the crowd. Amy even got some of it. The Carp and Hiroshima really liked celebrating their victory. Good luck in the playoffs!