November 10, 2007


This fall, Japan became a Red Sox nation (Gaku Tashiro, 11/06/07, Sankei Sports)

The Japan Series, which is Japanese baseball's equivalent to the World Series, had already begun, with the Chunichi Dragons, champions of the Central League, playing the Nippon Ham Fighters, champions of the Pacific League. No matter. Like Boston, Japan was going crazy with "Red Sox fever." Because many people were at work - the games started at 9:30 a.m. in Japan - they checked their cellphones or the Internet to obtain information about the World Series.

The front pages of five Japanese sports dailies were all Daisuke Matsuzaka, the MVP of the World Baseball Classic in March 2006, and now champion of the 2007 World Series. The cover story of Sankei Sports told Matsuzaka's saga, from the time he held a replica of the 2004 championship trophy last December at the home of Red Sox chairman Tom Werner, until he held the real trophy. While the story ended in triumph for the $100 million man, there was agony and distress along the way - and a happy postscript, which caused some last-minute scrambling by our staff: Matsuzaka and his wife, Tomoyo, announced they were expecting their second child in March.

Japanese fans were excited that Hideki Okajima became the first Japanese-born pitcher to appear in a World Series game, and struck out Rockies second baseman Kazuo Matsui in the eighth inning of Game 2.

But the big story was Matsuzaka. He became the first Japanese pitcher to start and win a World Series game, something not even the great Hideo Nomo was able to do. A sidelight was that Matsuzaka and Matsui had been teammates for the Seibu Lions, and this was the first time they'd faced each other in a game.

But the Japanese media did not ignore the other Sox players. Sankei Sports, my newspaper, ran a picture of a tearful Okajima and a champagne-splashed Matsuzaka, but also had articles about Terry Francona (unbeaten in eight World Series games), Mike Lowell (Series MVP), and Jonathan Papelbon (three straight saves in Series).

For that day, Sankei Sports looked like something straight out of "Red Sox Nation." Because Matsuzaka and Okajima emerged as key ingredients in their success, the number of fans in Japan walking around with Sox caps has increased to unprecedented levels.

By the end of the season, it wasn't unusual to see fans wearing David Ortiz and Manny Ramírez jerseys, not just those of Matsuzaka and Okajima.

That Dice-K contract everyone was all worked up about is seeming downright cheap these days.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 10, 2007 7:17 AM

We're all used to seeing successful business men lose their mind when they buy sports teams. These guys are actually treating it like a business.

Posted by: Ibid at November 10, 2007 8:54 AM