Sayonara Homerun

Five years ago (to the day, actually), I got off a plane in Tokyo, Japan, and started a two-week baseball-watching extravaganza. I took the train from Tokyo to Sapporo back to Tokyo to Chiba back to Tokyo to Hiroshima to Fukuoka back to Hiroshima to Osaka to Kyoto to Tokyo. I watched seven games at six different stadiums (this was, at the time, equal to the number of stadiums I’d been to in the US). I didn’t speak any Japanese at all, but I did know baseball, and I had a freaking blast.

A group of whimsical Rice alums gave me a scholarship to do this (, and it remains the most amazing thing that’s ever happened to me. How on earth do you top it? Also, when can I go back?

Anyway, they’re pulling together a book commemorating all of the Goliard trips (look at all the cool places people went!), and asked everybody who’s taken one to submit a photo and a blurb about their experience. Mine were directly related to photojournalism/The Future, so I’m posting them here.

They don’t sing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” at the Fukuoka Dome. Instead, during the seventh inning stretch, the entire crowd does a balloon release: people buy the long, thin, balloons beforehand and blow them up just before the stretch, letting them go in (near) unison. The balloons soar as a scattered cloud, then fall back to earth in a rainstorm of color. The crowd cheers and claps; the game continues as usual. It is both puzzling and fantastic, which is a pretty good way to describe the entire experience of watching Japanese baseball as an American raised on songs about peanuts and Cracker Jack.
When I took this picture, I didn’t know if it had even come out. The LCD screen of my camera cracked two days into my two-week stay, and I had no way of knowing what any of the images post-break looked like, or even how many remained on the memory cards I’d brought with me (I should have just brought a good old-fashioned film camera). I was in Japan to watch baseball, but I was also there to photograph it. I had just finished my junior year; I was trying to figure out what to do with my life. I thought I might want to be a photojournalist.

I hadn’t planned to be at this stadium in the first place. When I made my carefully plotted itinerary before leaving (so designed to hit up as many baseball games as possible and to avoid the problems of trying to book hostels despite not knowing a word of Japanese), I left Fukuoka off the map. The city’s in south Japan, on Kyushu. I thought it was too inconvenient. Plans change.

I’ve always liked the act of “getting there” just as much as the state of “being there,” and the random, roundabout path I took in getting to my current job–as a photojournalist!–was as fun and eventful as the job itself is now. The seeds were planted before my Goliard trip, but they didn’t start to truly germinate until I was there, in Japan, doing my best to capture the spirit of the game I loved so much and do justice to the ways it’d been tweaked for a different group of fans. I still can’t quite believe the whole trip happened, and am still grateful beyond words to the people who made it happen in the first place, who believe in cultivating the “Why not?”–the little piece of crazy that we Rice kids all have inside. Thanks for helping us get there, wherever we were all going.

I also got to meet Bobby Valentine, but that’s another story.

Leave a Reply