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Baseball In Japan: Getting To Know NPB

I have always been interested in baseball in Japan. Ever since I saw Mr. Baseball when I was younger, I wondered what the league was like – and how it worked. Do all American ballplayers get to sleep with the manager’s daughter, or just Tom Selleck?

I decided to dive in – deeply – to NPB.

My first step was to buy the video game Pro Yakyuu Spirits 2019 for PS4. The game is entirely in Japanese. I speak zero Japanese.

Here is what I have gathered so far:

  • There are 12 teams.
  • There are two divisions – The Central League and The Pacific League.
  • The Pacific League allows a DH, The Central League does not.
  • Each team is allowed to carry up to 4 foreign players on their roster.
  • Extra innings only go until the 12th inning, then game ends in a tie.
  • All teams have a primary sponsor.

League Formation

The Yomiuri Giants are historically the most successful team in Japan, with 22 NPB titles. While the Central League has been rather top heavy with the Giants, there is much more parity in the Pacific League. The Saitama Seibu Lions have the second most NPB titles with 13 of their own – winning the Pacific League 22 times. The ORIX Buffaloes and Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks have also won double digit Pacific League titles.

Three teams from each league make it to the playoffs. The top seed gets a buy in the first stage while the 2 and 3 seed square off. The first stage is a best of 3 series. The Climax Series (Pennant) and the Japan Series are a best of seven.

The 2018 Japan Series was between the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks and the Hiroshima Toyo Carp. The Hawks won the series 4-1-1. This was their second title in a row after defeating the Saitama Seibu Lions in 2017. The Hawks have won four of the last five Japan Series. The past six teams to win the Japan Series have come from the Pacific League.

Team Locations

Most of the teams in NPB are located in the southern half of Japan. Five of the twelve teams are located near Tokyo. Only one team is on the North Island of Hokkaido. To put the size of the country into perspective, the drive time from Fukuoka Yahuoku! Dome (Hawks) to the Sapporo Dome (Fighters) is 29 hours with tolls and ferries.

Central League

Hiroshima Toyo Carp

Uniforms

The Carp have a jersey that resembles that of the Cincinnati Reds. They have an alternate red top, and they always wear white pants.

Mazda Zoom-Zoom Stadium Hiroshima

They have – without a doubt – the best stadium name in all of sports. The stadium opened in 2009 and has a capacity of 32,000.

Key Players

#Pos.NameStats
1OFSeiya Suzuki.336/.452/.564 26 HR 84 RBI
95OFXavier Batista*.269/.350/.513 26 HR 64 RBI
63IFRyomo Nishikawa.301/.341/.454 16 HR 64 RBI
97LHPGeronimo Franzua7-6 12 SV 66.1 IP 87 K 2.58 ERA
42LHPKris Johnson 11-7 139 IP 120 K 2.40 ERA
14RHPDaichi Osera11-8 160.2 IP 127 K 3.53 ERA
28LHPHiroki Tokoda 7-6 134 IP 99K 2.75 ERA

*Suspended for use of a banned substance in mid-August and deactivated from the team.

  • Statistics were through games played on 9/13.

Tokyo Yakult Swallows

Uniforms

The Swallows home uniform is a pinstriped jersey – kind of like the Twins from a while ago. They have a very unique font across the chest. It is not a terrible look – but not great either. Their away jersey has the Seattle Seahawks colorway – dark blue with gross green writing. The away jersey is also different in that it has their sponsor “Yakult” across the chest.

Meiji Jingu Stadium

Meiji Jingu is the second oldest stadium in Japan – opening in 1926. According to Wikipedia this is one of the last remaining stadiums to have had Babe Ruth play in it.

Key Players

#Pos.NameStats
55IFMunetaka Murakami.229/.320/.472 33HR 92 RBI
1IFTetsuto Yamada.274/.400/.556 33 HR 90 RBI 33SB
23OFNorichika Aoki.295/.382/.441 16 HR 54 RBI
4OFWladamir Balentien.285/.368/.562 32 HR 88RBI
19RHPMasanori Ishikawa7-5 114.1 IP 81 K 3.54 ERA
70RHPAlbert Suarez1-1 17.2 IP 12 K 1.53 ERA
  • Statistics were through games played on 9/13.

Yomiuri Giants

Uniforms

They pretty much wear the Japanese version of what the San Francisco Giants wear. Even though they share the same name and colors, there is no connection between the two organizations.

The Tokyo Dome was opened in 1988 and can hold up to 57,000 spectators. Many MLB teams have played here through the years, and quite a few NFL games have happened in this stadium as well. The last NFL game here was in 2005, when the Falcons beat the Colts in the preseason.

Key Players

#Pos.NameStats
6IFHayato Sakamoto.313/.392/.563 35HR 88 RBI
25IFKazuma Okamoto.265/.341/.482 29 HR 84 RBI
8OFYoshihiro Maru.301/.394/.513 26 HR 86 RBI
44OFAlex Guerrero.229/.331/.527 19 HR 50RBI
11RHPShun Yamaguchi14-4 156.1 IP 175 K 2.88 ERA
18RHPTomoyuki Sugano11-6 132.1 IP 116 K 3.74 ERA
  • Statistics were through games played on 9/14.

YOKOHAMA DeNA BAYSTARS

Uniforms

The BayStars uniforms are stuck in the early 90’s. Way too much going on here. Either go with the pinstripes or the under-arm patch, you can’t have both. They have an away top that is shimmery blue, and it looks like something I wore when I played youth soccer in 1995.

Yokohama Stadium

Yokohama Stadium was opened in 1978 and can hold up to 30,000 people. The field is mostly turf, although there is a dirt around the bases. Most of the infield dirt you see in the picture above is turf.

#Pos.NameStats
2IFJose Lopez.238/.293/.456 28HR 78 RBI
99IFNeftali Soto.267/.344/.549 40 HR 100 RBI
25OFYoshitomo Tsutsugo.273/.389/.514 29 HR 79 RBI
21RHPShota Imanaga13-6 158.1 IP 173 K 2.39 ERA
  • Statistics were through games played on 9/14.

Chunichi Dragons

Uniforms

The Dragons have a nice looking uniform, because it is basically the same thing the Dodgers wear. The most noticeable difference is the TV numbers on the front are blue rather than red. The Dragon’s away uniform is royal blue, with their sponsor “Chunichi” across the front in white writing.

Nagoya Dome

The Nagoya Dome was built in 1997 and has room for 38,414 people. The ORIX Buffaloes will also use this as their home stadium a few times throughout the year.

Key Players

#Pos.NameStats
66IFDayan Viciedo.323/.382/.508 17HR 90 RBI
8OFYohei Oshima.315/.381/.375 1 HR 41 RBI 29 SB
22LHPYudai Ono9-8 166.2 IP 149 K 2.59 ERA
17RHPYuya Yanagi10-6 159.1 IP 137 K 3.50 ERA
  • Statistics were through games played on 9/14.

Hanshin Tigers

Uniforms

Y

Pinstripes are really popular in Japan. The Hanshin Tigers keep it pretty simple. Black and white with yellow as an accent. I have never really been a fan of the Black and Yellow color combination in sports, but this may be the best use of it that I have seen.

Hanshin Koshien Stadium

Koshien Stadium is the oldest stadium in Japan – opening in 1924. This stadium is also the host to the Koshien, which is a national high school baseball tournament. This is another stadium that Babe Ruth also played at while he was in Japan. The most notable aspect of this stadium is the all-dirt infield, which is believed to be sacred ground among Japanese baseball players.

Key Players

#Pos.NameStats
31IFJefry Marte.285/.379/.452 12 HR 49 RBI
5OFKoji Chikamoto.270/.313/.380 9 HR 41 RBI 31 SB
98RHPRafael Dolis5-4 19 SV 50.2 IP 46 K 2.31 ERA
22RHPKyuji Fujikawa4-1 11 SV 49 IP 70 K 1.47 ERA
16RHPYuki Nishi8-8 159.1 IP 105K 3.05 ERA
  • Statistics were through games played on 9/14.

Pacific League

Saitama Seibu Lions

Uniforms

Pretty simple uniforms. They have a wild font, but it works. Now that I think about it, this kind of looks like what the San Diego Padres currently wear.

MetLife Dome

This is an open-air domed stadium. There is no wall between the stands and the roof. The stadium was first built without the roof – in 1979. Around the 1998 season the roof was added.

Key Players

#Pos.NameStats
33IFHotaka Yamakawa.251/.363/.543 42 HR 113 RBI
5IFShuta Tonosaki.268/.343/.486 24 HR 88 RBI 20 SB
60IFTakeya Nakamura.295/.369/.548 29 HR 119 RBI
10CTomoya Mori.336/.420/.563 22 HR 99 RBI
55OFShogo Akiyama.307/.397/.480 20 HR 56 RBI 11 SB
25RHPKatsunori Hurai5-3 33 HLD 77.2 IP 62 K 2.90 ERA
14RHPTatsushi Masuda3-1 28 SV 65.2 IP 72 K 1.78 ERA
54RHPZach Neal10-1 86.1 IP 42 K 3.23 ERA
  • Statistics were through games played on 9/14.

Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks

Uniforms

We have another black and yellow team – and they did a pretty good job with this one as well. In the picture above you see the away jersey. I honestly have not seen the large double stripe on the sleeves of a baseball uniform, but it looks pretty good on these. The home uniform is a white top with yellow stripes on the sleeves.

Fukuoka Yahuoku! Dome

This was built in 1993 and is Japan’s first retractable roof stadium. The capacity of this dome is 38,585.

Key Players

#Pos.NameStats
54OFAlfredo Despaigne.266/.362/.528 33 HR 81 RBI
27IFYurisbel Gracial.318/.360/.588 25 HR 62 RBI
5IFNobuhiro Matsuda.266/.309/.489 29 HR 73 RBI
41RHPKodai Senga13-7 168.1 IP 214 K 2.83 ERA
28RHPRei Takahashi11-4 124.2 IP 68 K 3.18 ERA
38RHPYuito Mori2-3 32 SV 48.2 IP 55 K 2.40 ERA
2RHPCarter Stewart Jr.2018 MLB 1st Round Pick
  • Statistics were through games played on 9/14.

Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters

Uniforms

These are wild. It reminds me of an attempt at a future uniform that just didn’t work. We have an unbalanced top – with one white sleeve and one black sleeve, and blue on the shoulders. On the road they wear a gold top with black shoulders and sleeves.

Sapporo Dome

The Sapporo Dome opened in 2001 with room for 41,580 fans. This is a dual-sport stadium – with the ability to host football and soccer. There is a retractable grass field that can go in and out of the stadium – much like the Arizona Cardinals have. The grass field is used for soccer, and there is a turf field underneath for baseball.

Key Players

#Pos.NameStats
5OFTaishi Ota.294/.332/.461 19 HR 75 RBI
6IFSho Nakata.240/.328/.455 23 HR 75 RBI
8OFKensuke Kondo.302/.424/.401 2 HR 56 RBI
16RHPKohei Arihara14-8 157.1 IP 155 K 2.52 ERA
  • Statistics were through games played on 9/14.

ORIX Buffaloes

Uniforms

These look pretty great. I am on the fence with the font, but the overall look really works for this ballclub. The picture above is the road uniforms. At home they wear all white with “Buffaloes” across the chest.

Kyocera Dome Osaka

Not only is this the home stadium for the ORIX Buffaloes – the Hanshin Tigers also use this as their home field during the Koshien. The Kyocera Dome opened in 1997 and can hold 36,627 baseball fans.

Key Players

#Pos.NameStats
9OFStefen Romero.313/.373/.552 16 HR 54 RBI
34OFMasataka Yoshida.332/.425/.555 26 HR 80 RBI
32RHPBrandon Dickson2-1 16 SV 31 IP 36 K 2.61 ERA
47LHPTomoyuki Kaida1-2 19 HLD 45.2 IP 29 K 1.77 ERA
13RHPTaiske Yamaoka11-4 153.1 IP 145 K 3.99 ERA
  • Statistics were through games played on 9/14.

Chiba Lotte Marines

Uniforms

The Marines have a black top to wear on the road, and a white jersey with black pinstripes to wear at home. Their home uniform looks very much like what the Chicago White Sox wear at home.

Zozo Marine Stadium

Zozo Marine Stadium opened in 1990 and holds about 30,000 people. It is right near the beaches of Tokyo Bay. Some have compared it to the same kind of weather that is seen at Oracle Park.

Key Players

#Pos.NameStats
44IFSeiya Inoue.246/.361/.462 24 HR 63 RBI
54IFBrandon Laird.248/.335/.481 32 HR 88 RBI
79OFLeonys Martin.246/.335/.545 14 HR 35 RBI
7IFDaichi Suzuki.287/.370/.557 15 HR 63 RBI
63RHPAtsuki Taneichi7-2 102.2 IP 119 K 3.59 ERA
  • Statistics were through games played on 9/14.

Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles

Uniforms

The Eagles have one of the most unique uniforms in Japan – they totally avoid pinstripes. They also have a unique colorway for a baseball team and a font that stands out. On the road they wear Cardinal/Maroon tops with “Rakuten” across the chest.

Rakuten Seimei Park Miyagi

Honestly, how cool is it that there is a ferris wheel in left field? This stadium originally opened in 1950, and was updated in 2003 for the expansion Eagles. It is the smallest park in NPB, with a capacity of 23,000.

#Pos.NameStats
69OFJabari Blash.263/.399/.557 32 HR 91 RBI
40IFZelous Wheeler.244/.324/.420 18 HR 64 RBI
73IFHideto Asamura.257/.366/.484 29 HR 80 RBI
94RHPRyota Ishibashi7-6 114 IP 64 K 3.71 ERA
52RHPKohei Morihara3-2 25 HLD 58.2 IP 60 K 2.15 ERA
32RHPAlan Busenitz4-2 27 HLD 48 IP 42 K 1.31 ERA
1LHPYuki Matsui2-7 35 SV 12 HLD 64.1 IP 100K 1.82 ERA
  • Statistics were through games played on 9/14.

Wrap Up

I took information to put this together from the NPB website, Wikipedia, and The Japan Times. The table above and map were made by me. All pictures were taken from Google images, I haven’t been to Japan yet.

This took quite a bit of time to put together, but now I feel much more informed about baseball in Japan. The next step for me is to pick a favorite team. I am leaning towards a few teams: Tokyo Yakult Swallows, Hanshin Tigers, Saitama Seibu Lions, Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, ORIX Buffaloes, Chiba Lotte Marines, and Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. My next piece will be on my new favorite team.

– Buzz

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