A recurring theme of Producer David Lubbers’ tale of traveling to Tokyo from Des Moines, Iowa was “quiet.”
He mentioned the Japanese metropolis (“The quietest big city I’ve ever been in — we were walking down a major street and heard no horns.”); and the post-baseball game celebrations (or lack thereof). There was also the quiet that made taping a major segment for Sunday’s Outside the Lines feature on high pitch counts in Japan (9 a.m. ET, ESPN) possible.
“We were going to interview our main pitcher [Tomohiro Anraku] and his manager [Masanori Joko] at practice, and we set up, no problem,” Lubbers said. “Even though we were quite a distance away, their practices are so loud and intense we had to ask the manager if the players could practice without yelling. A manager is pretty powerful, and he turned around, said three words, and it was silent the whole time — all you could hear was bat hitting ball.”[box color=gray size=small align=right]
While investigative reporter T.J. Quinn (OTL’s reporter) and columnist Chris Jones (who authored this ESPN The Magazine piece in “The Body Issue”) were Lubbers’ journeying journalists, Masa Niwa was equally important to the traveling troupe.
“Without him we may have survived, but it would have been difficult,” Lubbers said of their “translator and tour guide” who helped them navigate planes, trains, busses (including four trips across the Pearl Bridge — the world’s largest suspension bridge), and located Nobuyoki Takatsuka, a multi-purpose find.
“We knew he would be a good part of the piece — he was a pitcher who threw too much in high school and says that shortened his career,” Lubbers said of Takatsuka, adding he’s also an apprentice Sushi chef who works with his father-in-law. “They kept feeding us this amazing meal, and finally Masa explained because they considered us guests, they would keep feeding until we were full.”
The eight-day assignment was full of work, as Lubbers said, “We wanted to give an even-headed view of the pitch-count situation. We didn’t want to take the American stand — ‘Look at the Japanese pitchers, they throw too much.’ Who are we to say that? We just wanted to show what it’s like there.”
What baseball’s like in Japan is a “different vibe,” according to Lubbers. “It’s part of the way they conduct themselves. It’s a very respectful society.”
Such as the quiet that followed a walk-off win.
“There was screaming and yelling with the hit, but as soon as the winning run touched home plate, it all stopped,” Lubbers said. “They formed two lines on the field — the winning team bowed to the losing team, the losing team bowed to the winning team, they each bowed to the managers.
“Then, the winning team went and bowed to the fans in the stands. After winning, it was time to respect the teams, the coaches and the fans.”
– By Dan Quinn
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