1. Getting to Sendai
After seeing a ballgame in Shinjuku Tuesday night, we rose early to take the train from Shinjuku to Tokyo Station to catch the Shinkansen to Sendai for an early afternoon ballgame. Since we were leaving Tokyo for a few days, we checked out of our hotel, taking our luggage with us. Typically, we would not take the train during morning commute in Tokyo (considering the crush of people during this time), but we made a reservation on the Narita Express. This gave us some breathing room while lugging our bags.
Upon arriving at Tokyo Station, we boarded Car 9 (the Green Car) on the 0910 Hayabusa (the Falcon) for Sendai station. During the one hour and 30 minute trip, we were treated to sweeping vistas of the terrain. While a flight would have been shorter, taking the bullet train afforded us a view of Japan that was well worth the extra time.
Arriving at Sendai station around 1040, we were too early to check into our hotel (located across the street from the station). However, we planned for this. Within Sendai station were rows and rows of lockers, many large enough to easily hold our bags. Conveniently, we were able to pay with our Suica cards. Luggage secured, we headed out toward the ballpark.
2. Rakuten Seimei Park Miyagi
Initially, we planned to take the subway from the station to the ballpark, a distance of a little more than a kilometer. Confused by which direction was which down in the subway, we abandoned this option, and instead decided to walk. The weather was cloudy and cool, perfect for an early April stroll. The walk also allowed us to take in more of Sendai.
We were far from alone on the walk; it seemed as though much of Sendai was headed to the park for the early afternoon game. Reaching the park well ahead of the start time, we had plenty of time for pictures. Like most Japanese ballparks, there was plenty to do and see outside of the park, with games, food stands and places to purchase team apparel.
There were signs outside the park indicating the stadium was cashless, meaning we needed to buy a card to make purchases within the ballpark. This was something we had not yet seen. Should you plan to catch a game in Sendai, this is something to consider.
Our seats were just to the third base side of home plate, at the top of the lower level. These seats allowed for a great view of the field. For the 1300 start, the Sendai Rakuten Golden Eagles hosted the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters. Unlike other parks we’d visited, there was less English here, with just some on the scoreboard and on the field. In a strange sense, it felt like we were really in Japan, as Sendai is NOT an international city (like Tokyo or Osaka).
Rakuten Seimei Park Miyagi was as appealing as expected, in spite of the gray skies. The capacity is small compared to other NPB ballparks, holding less than 25,000 people. Nearly every seat in the park was filled, even with the early afternoon start. It seems that, unlike MLB contests, the start time of the game does not curtail crowd size. Like some MLB parks, it was interesting to note that the home team’s dugout was on the third base side.
As was the case in other NPB ballparks, we were limited as to how much of the park we could access. This did limit of our ability to fully explore the stadium, as well as take pictures. However, the view from our park was excellent, with only the far left field corner obscured. After the typical pre game pageantry, the first pitch was thrown precisely at 1300.
The Golden Eagles struck first, scoring three runs in the bottom of the first. Due mainly to his inability to contain the Golden Eagles offense early, the Fighters starting pitcher lasted only 1 2/3 innings. The teams settled into the game by trading scoreless innings through the fifth inning. The Golden Eagles offense erupted once again in the bottom of the sixth, scoring eight runs and putting the game out of reach of the Fighters.
As the game continued, the clouds slowly dissipated, with sunshine providing some warmth toward the end of the game. The increasing sunshine also lifted the veil over the ballpark, revealing its colors. The Golden Eagles won the ballgame 11-3, with a game time of nearly 3 hours and 40 minutes. Rakuten Seimei Park is a cozy ballpark, barely larger than the biggest MiLB parks in the US. Its size holds a charm not generally not found in MLB parks. If it was not so far away from Tokyo, I would readily visit the park again.
On the way back to the hotel, we discovered the Golden Eagles team store. In the store we found a MUCH larger selection of team apparel than at the ballpark, which allowed my brother to find a Tohuku jersey (a reference to the region of Japan). We noticed many older Golden Eagles fans wearing the same jersey at the game. Following some exploration of nearby Sendai, we had an early dinner, then relaxed after a long day.