I used to watch Japanese baseball on TV, even though I’ve never been in Japan. Back in the late 1970’s there was a UHF station in New Jersey, outside of New York City, which featured international programming. I used to flip over every now and then to see what kind of unusual-to-me shows or commercials I might see and not understand (because they were often in languages other than English). I always enjoyed the Spanish commercials for Colgate toothpaste because they pronounced it as a Spanish word: Col-GAHT-eh
One night I flipped over, and there was a baseball game from Japan. The play-by-play was all in Japanese, but fortunately you don’t need to understand the broadcasters to follow a game.
What I really didn’t need a broadcaster to understand was when former Met Félix Millán stepped up to the plate. It was cool enough to be watching this familiar, yet strange game, but it was off the charts when a player formerly on my favorite team, a guy who me and my friends used to choke way up on the bat to imitate, is on my TV in a Yokohama Taiyo Whales uniform. I think it safe to say that “freaked out” is an appropriate phrase.
Although I didn’t get to see a whole lot of games – that station wasn’t listed in my newspaper’s TV listings, so finding games was hit-or-miss – it started a lifelong fascination with Japanese baseball. I bought the entire TCMA set that this Félix Millán card is in (it was relatively cheap back in the day), I read Robert Whiting’s “You Gotta Have Wa” and other books, and until fairly recently every Japanese player who came over to this side of the Pacific was instantly a player I collected. This only stopped because it got to be too many guys and not all of them were worthy of excitement. I also reached a certain degree of “Ichiro Fatigue”.
When I went to the National in 2010, one of the highlights of the show was the one dealer who was selling Japanese cards; Not only was it something I was very interested in, it most definitely fell into the category of “Cards you don’t see at most shows”. Japanese cards will be near the top of my want list for this year’s National.
My collection of Japanese cards is relatively small, but I’ll be sharing more of these cards in the future.