Thursday, August 9, 2007

Why I Am A Fan Of The Hanshin Tigers!

(Koshien Stadium)

(The Lucky 7th Inning!)

"The Japanese Red Sox"

Recently, in my ever growing obsession for ALL THINGS baseball, I have taken up an interest in the Japanese Nippon Professional Baseball League. The best part is there is already a perfect team in place for me to root for!

The Hanshin Tigers (阪神タイガース) are a Japanese professional baseball club, formed in 1935, and currently member of the Central League of the Professional Baseball Organization of Japan. Hanshin, like many early Japanese baseball organizations, took its name, colors, and mascot directly from a team in (American) Major League Baseball -- namely, the Detroit Tigers.

Hanshin's home field is the storied Koshien Stadium, located between Kobe and Osaka in Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture. (To reach Koshien, take the Hanshin line west from Kobe Sannomiya station or east from Osaka Umeda station, and get off at Koshien station.)

Hanshin was one of the first professional baseball clubs established in Japan, and enjoyed great success in its early days, winning the first three Japan pro championships. Since the establishment of a two-league structure, however, Hanshin has played the Boston Red Sox (ボストン赤い硫素化合物), to Japan's answer to the New York Yankees: the Yomirui Tokyo Giants. Although the Tigers-Giants rivalry is fierce, it has been a trifle one-sided; while the Kyojin have won numerous Japan Series titles, the Tigers have claimed only one, in 1985. The Tigers have finished second to the Giants in the Central League race 13 times, while claiming only three pennants of their own.

Koshien Stadium adds to the Red Sox comparisons, for while it is the oldest (built in 1924) and most famous ballpark in Japan (in addition to the Tigers, Koshien hosts the exceedingly popular annual national high school tournament), the stadium is in dire need of repair (though the new Red Sox ownership has poured Millions inot renovationg Fenway Park recently).

Tigers fans do not fall short of the mark set by their Beantown and Chitown counterparts. This oft-abused but ever-hopeful bunch is reputed to be the loudest and most loyal in the country. They would have to be in order to root for a team that has set new records for futility in the past several seasons. The fans' enthusiasm does not preclude much shaking of heads and sighs of "Wait 'til next year," and indeed Tigers fans will have to wait, for as this node speeds into the ether, Hanshin finds itself an also ran yet again.

In 2003, further binding their connection to the Red Sox, the Tigers easily won the 2003 Central League pennant, only to fall in the Series, mirroring the Red Sox crushing ALCS defeat.

No write-up of the Tigers would be complete without mentioning the Tigers' fight song, Rokko Oroshi. (See the fight song, Tessie, for the Red Sox Equivalent.). Easily among the most recognizable tunes in Japan, it inspires a frenzy of balloon waving, clapper clapping, and "Fure" shouting whenever played.

The lyrics, in romaji and English:

Rokko oroshi ni sasso to Soten kakeru nichirin no Seishun no haki uruwashiku Kagayaku wagana zo Hanshin Taigasu O-o-o-o Hanshin Taigasu Fure-fure-fure-fure

Toshi hatsuratsu tatsu ya ima Nekketsu sude ni teki o tsuku Ju-o no iki takaraka ni Muteki no warera zo Hanshin Taigasu O-o-o-o Hanshin Taigasu Fure-fure-fure-fure

Dashing swiftly through the wind blowing from Rokko
Like the big sun soaring in the clear blue sky
Mighty spirit of the youth shows the victor's grace
The name that shines in glory "Hanshin Tigers"
Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh! Hanshin Tigers
Hooray, Hooray, Hooray, Hooray!

Powerful hits and skillful pitches achieved a thousand times Trained with every discipline here at Koshien Crowned with constant victory, glorious, matchless feats Always proud, invincible "Hanshin Tigers" Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh! Hanshin Tigers Hooray, Hooray, Hooray, Hooray!

The best part is they even have their own lame "Curse of the Bambino" type issue!

The Curse of the Colonel

The Curse refers to an urban legend regarding a reputed curse placed on the Japanese Kansai-based Hanshin Tigers baseball team by deceased KFC founder and mascot Col. Harland Sanders. The curse was said to be placed on the team because of the Colonel's anger over treatment of one of his store-front statues.

As is common with sports-related curses, the Curse of the Colonel is used to explain the Japan Championship Series drought that the Hanshin Tigers have had to endure since their first and only victory in the 1985 Japan Championship. The curse is a classic example of a scapegoat.

The Hanshin Tigers are considered the eternal underdogs of Nippon Professional Baseball, in opposition to the Yomiuri Giants of Tokyo, who are considered the kings of Japanese baseball. The devotional (or fanatical, from the non-Kansai perspective) fans flock to the stadium no matter how badly the Tigers play in the league. Comparisons are often made between the Hanshin Tigers and the Boston Red Sox, who were also said to be under a curse, the Curse of the Bambino, until they won the World Series in 2004.

In 1985, much to Japanese people's surprise, the Hanshin Tigers faced the Seibu Lions and took their first and only victory in the Japan Championship Series, largely due to star slugger Randy Bass, a gaijin player for the team.

The rabid fan base went wild, and a riotous celebration gathered at Ebisubashi Bridge in Dotonbori, Osaka. There, an assemblage of supporters yelled the players names, and with every name a fan resembling a member of the victorious team leapt from the bridge into the waiting canal. However, lacking someone to imitate MVP Randy Bass, the rabid crowd seized the Colonel Sanders (like Bass, the Colonel had a beard and was not Japanese) plastic statue from a nearby KFC and tossed it off the bridge as an effigy.

This impulsive maneuver was to cost the team greatly, beginning the Curse of the Colonel. Urban legend has it that the Tigers will not win the championship again until the statue is recovered.

After their success in the 1985 series, the Hanshin Tigers began an 18-year losing streak placing last or next-to-last in the league. Brief rallies in 1992 and 1999 brought hope to fans, but they were soon followed with defeat. During this time attempts were made to recover the statue, including sending divers down and dredging the river (again, and eeirie parallel to the Search For Ruth's Piano.), but they all failed. Fans apologized to the store manager, but the statue remained in the canal and the Tigers "cursed".

The Hanshin Tigers Today (Best Unofficial Site)

阪神タイガース公式サイト (The Tiger's Japanese Site)

The Hanshin Tigers Page (Unofficial English)

Japan Baseball Daily

(Current NPB Standings. . .)

Ganbare Mouko!!!



Dutch Baka said...

Nice post you have here. The 31st is going to be the first to for me to watch a Baseball game in my life (Tigers), so I'm very excited.

I have been watching the tigers for over a year now on tv for about every week. And their the best. Nice coming back they have after being 12 matches behind on number one (giants), they are now only 4.5 match away...

Goodluck with Dicekkkkkkkkkk

ColbyPants said...

Thanks man, very cool!

Yakyuu Shonen said...

I needed a team in Japan to root for, too. The Tigers are a great team for a fan!

It'd be cool if one could watch NPB in the USA, though.

ColbyPants said...

O a gree. this is my major frustrations with really wanting to root for a NPB team: lac k of english coverage, and no game action in the US.