A Baseball and Sumo Trip Through Japan

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[Editor’s Note: Today we have an excellent guest entry from longtime reader/contributor Gordon Blau — that’s him above, with his wife, Chrysse — who’s going to tell us about his recent uni-related observations in Japan. — PL]

By Gordon Blau

Visiting Japan has long been on my list of dream vacations. So when I reached a milestone birthday recently, my wife, Chrysse, and I made the trip a reality. As it turned out, there were many uni-notable highlights.

For starters, there was this soft drink [for all photos, you can click to enlarge]:

This may not be a direct Mets rip-off, but damn close! [As an aside, people have been sending me photos of these cans for over 20 years now, even from before I founded Uni Watch! — PL]

Japanese baseball fans have a reputation of being far more enthusiastic than what we’re accustomed to in the States, so I was very curious to experience that for myself. They did not disappoint. Indeed, the entire in-game experience is amazing — more like European soccer than an American baseball game.

First up was a game at the Tokyo Dome, home of the Yomiuri Giants. I’m sure having a dome is convenient, but it felt a bit like the Trop in Tampa Bay:

Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack? Not so much. The guy sitting next to us was eating squid jerky and some crunchy snack that smelled exactly like creamed corn:

In America, we get sundaes and nachos in souvenir helmet cups. In Japan, they do noodles:

The entire right field bleachers area was designated as the home team cheering section (there was a smaller section in left field dedicated to the visiting team’s fans). There was a cheerleading conductor, a drummer, and horn players, all exhorting the crowd the entire time when the Giants were at bat, all game long.

As great as the fans were in Tokyo, I had heard that fans of the Hanshin Tigers in Osaka were the most enthusiastic in Japan, so that was our next stop. No dome here — Hanshin Koshien Stadium is covered in ivy:

Side note: In the lower-left portion of that photo is the area where they’ll pour the beer you have brought from home into cups, so you can bring it into the stadium. Can you imagine doing that in the U.S.? You’d need to smuggle it inside a prosthetic limb!

This time we had seats inside the home team cheering section, which was significantly larger and louder than in Tokyo, stretching from center field to beyond the first base foul pole. The cheering section was so large, they had three sets of cheerleading conductors, drummers, and horn players. And again, they sang and chanted the entire time the Tigers were at bat, right up to the last out. It was an amazing experience. A Hanshin Tigers game should be item No. 1 on any baseball fan’s bucket list.

As in Tokyo, there was an entire section devoted to the visiting team, this time the Toyo Carp of Hiroshima. They did this amazing balloon launch (not helium, but the long variety that rockets into the air) in the seventh inning.

The vendors, unlike the surly, slovenly characters we’re accustomed to back home, were all enthusiastic girls wearing uniforms reminiscent of the women’s league of yore. The beer is dispensed from these jetpack kegs:

The fans wore some interesting gear. Here are some good examples from people who were sitting near us:

We gave our Mets hats to our seat neighbors, who were kind enough to translate our vendor transactions. Plenty of Yankees hats in Japan, since it’s more of a fashion item than fan wear, so we figured it was time to spread some love for the Mets:

Next up in our Japan adventure was a day of sumo matches, which was the one thing I was most excited to see. Unlike baseball, sumo is uniquely Japanese. The customs, the ceremony, the thundering collisions of naked flesh — there’s really nothing else like it.

As we approached the arena, there were several large gentlemen walking in from the trains, just like the fans. I’m assuming they were either wrestlers from the lower divisions or trainees serving as handlers to the higher-division wrestlers.

The arena itself was not especially big, similar to a small college arena. The top tier had regular stadium seating, and the lower tier had traditional Japanese-style box seats separated by low chrome rails, where you sit on the floor with thin cushions. Shoes off, of course.

The boxes are intended for four people (and are sold as such), but with our older and larger bodies, we decided to keep the two additional spots for ourselves and stretch out a bit. The Japanese gentlemen in front of us managed to squeeze four in with little problem. They were also kind enough to share their shochu (sort of a Japanese vodka) with us.

After the junior divisions finished their matches, the higher-rank wrestlers paraded out to the ring. The aprons they wore inside their mawashi (or loincloths) looked traditional, but many of them contained advertising. Perhaps because we can’t read Japanese, it seems less obnoxious than the logos on NBA uniforms.

For some matches in the top division, there will be a parade of banners around the ring as they start to get set for the match. These are more obviously advertising. The bigger the match, the more ad banners there will be:

When each match is over, the ref hands the winning wrestler some envelopes — that’s the payment from the advertisers whose banners had just appeared!

As for the action itself, the matches typically were very brief. The actual wrestling was over in a few seconds. The bulk of the time was spent getting set and posturing. They’d smack their bodies and mawashi, throw a little salt, raise their legs high in the air, and get into their squat. But if they weren’t perfectly comfortable, they’d break position, return to their corners, do some more smacking and armpit-wiping, and then start the whole thing over again. Usually no offense was taken, but every so often it would annoy one of the wrestlers and he’d stomp off briskly to his corner, smack himself extra-hard, and in one instance, grab a massive handful of salt and whip it high in the air.

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Paul here. What a sensational travelogue! Big thanks to Gordon for sharing it with us. He left behind this photo, saying, “It’s easy to get swept up in the pageantry and action”:

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Glovely: Weird development in last night’s Dodgers/Angels game, as Dodgers infielder Kiké Hernández went with four different batting glove formats (or lack thereof) in five plate appearances. I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen anything like that before.

Then again, maybe I have seen it and just not realized it — you have to have your uni radar set very high to be attuned to this type of thing. In this case, all the credit goes to Jakob Fox, who spotted this one.

As an aside: Hernández is hitting only .215, so maybe the various glove/gloveless maneuvers are a slumpbuster move.

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Another Padres focus group report: In the wake of Monday’s post about a participant in a Padres focus group, I heard from another Uni Watch reader who also participated. He says the renderings above, which he prepared himself, are accurate portrayals of what he saw (aside from the vertically arched lettering, unfortunately).

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rafflet ticket by ben thoma.jpg

ITEM! TATC shirt raffle: Our TATC shirt, which celebrates the dual 20th anniversaries of Uni Watch and MLB’s 1999 “Turn Ahead the Clock” program, has been a big hit. And now, thanks to longtime reader/contributor Jerry Kulig, who’s sponsoring today’s raffle, you can win one for yourself.

To enter, send an email with your shipping address and size preference (refer to this size chart) to the raffle address by 8pm Eastern today. One entry per person. I’ll announce the winner tomorrow.

Big thanks to Jerry for making this possible.

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Glove-repair auction reminder: In case you missed it on Monday, Jimmy Lonetti of D&J Glove Repair is generously auctioning off a full glove re-lacing and reconditioning, plus a glove-leather wallet, with the proceeds going to Uni Watch.

This is a $150-$175 value, with the bidding starting at just $75 — perfect for Father’s Day.

For full details, look here.

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Uni-versary update: Reader Christophe Davy, who’s organizing the Uni Watch 20th-anniversary party in Paris on June 27, made this made this custom candy jar for the party attendees! “Of course, the candies inside are green and yellow,” he says.

Remember, there’s an interactive map of all the gatherings here (click on the party locations for more info), and a spreadsheet of the various parties is here. If you want to organize or attend a gathering in your city, contact party coordinator JohnMark Fisher.

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Patchwork: It had been a few months since I’d received any orders for the awesome chain-stitched patches that are made for us by master embroiderer Amy Bengtson, but then I suddenly got a few orders last week, so I had Amy make a few more.

The patches are gorgeous and measure about 6″ by 6″ — perfect for sewing onto a jacket or sweater, or just for displaying. Amy makes these by hand, so no two are exactly the same. If you want one, the price, including shipping, is $35 (80% of which goes to Amy). You can send payment via Venmo (use @paul-lukas-2 as the payee), Zelle (plukas64@gmail.com), or Cash App (plukas64@gmail.com). To use Apple Pay or a paper check, shoot me a note. Once you pay, let me know your shipping address. Thanks!

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ITEM! I’m on TV tonight: Uni Watch’s unlikely 2019 televisual tour will continue tonight. Only this time it won’t be one of our caps or shirts appearing on the tube, and it won’t be a broadcaster mentioning Uni Watch on the air either — it’ll be me appearing on the new-ish MSG roundtable show MSG 150 (that’s their usual studio crew pictured above).

I’m told that we’ll be talking about the leak of the Nike-fied Yankees jerseys, the Bears’ new throwback, the Jets’ new set, some bests/worsts, and more. The show airs from 8pm to 10:30pm. We’ll be taping in the afternoon, and I’m told that my segment will probably appear sometime around 8:50 or 8:55, although that could change.

I used to do a lot of TV in the 1990s, but not so much anymore. I think this will be my first time on-camera since I went on Olbermann’s show in 2013. I’m reasonably comfortable on TV, but I’m not a “natural,” so I view every on-camera opportunity as a learning experience, or at least that’s what I’m hoping for. It’s always interesting.

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dads in unis

Father’s Day reminder from Phil: Phil here. Sunday is Father’s Day, and I’ll once again be posting photos of Uni Watch readers’ “Dads In Uniform,” a tradition that began in 2013 (and has continued in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, and last year). This is always a very special day, and I’d love for as many readers as possible to participate — especially those of you who haven’t done so before.

To take part in this annual tradition, select one photo of your father in uniform (it can be sports, military, work — as long as it’s a uniform) along with a short description of 100 words or less (refer to our prior years’ entries to get a feel for the style of the descriptions). Then email the photo — again, only one, please — and text to me (not to Paul) with the subject line “Uni Watch Father’s Day 2019” by this Thursday, June 13, midnight Eastern. I’ll run all of the submissions this Sunday. Thanks!

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The Ticker
By Paul

’Skins Watch: The school board for a Connecticut district whose high school calls its teams the Indians and uses a logo featuring a Native American in a ceremonial headdress will vote on whether to change the team name on June 24 (from John Dankosky).

Baseball News: The Double-A Biloxi Shuckers wore Saints-themed uniforms on Friday. Note that the guy in the last photo managed to mimic the look of NFL socks! (From Robert Hay.) … Lauren Gentry’s dog, Sherlock, has uni-themed doggie treats! … The White Sox outfitted their statues with U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team jerseys for the Women’s World Cup. … Lou Orangeo and his wife play on a softball team called the Trump Train, with intentionally over-the-top Trump-themed jerseys and NOBs. … The Yankee Stadium scoreboard for the first game of yesterday’s Mets/Yanks doubleheader showed a badly outdated Mets jersey. They haven’t had the black drop shadow since 2011. … In a related item, Mets 3B Todd Frazier wore a black undershirt, instead of the team’s usual blue, in the second game (from Chris Nichols). … Brice Wallace found this 1976 photo of Reds 2B Joe Morgan wearing a shin pad under his stirrup. Good look at the National League centennial patch, too. … The Durham Bulls will reference the movie Bull Durham by becoming the Lollygaggers on Friday (from Eric Postlethwait). … Reds 2B Derek Dietrich has hit particularly well while wearing the team’s various throwbacks. … Next season’s U. of Michigan season ticket holders will get a pretty cool cap (from @run_100mi). … The Norfolk Tides have added a sleeve patch for the Virginia Beach massacre victims (from Kevin Kurz). … The Rocket City Trash Pandas will unveil their new uniforms on June 20 (from Kyle Little). … 1880 throwbacks (!) today for the Worcester Bravehearts (from Lance Harris). … Angels P Félix Peña had one of those pink Mother’s Day ribbons on his glove last night.

Football News: Trading cards from the now-defunct AAF are still floating around out there. … New Jets GM Joe Douglas showed up at practice yesterday with the team’s outdated logo on his pants (from H. Rosengarten and Chris Mueller). … Rut-roh: The Panthers went mono-black for their Media Day pics. That can’t be a good sign (from @PathnersUnis). … Here’s a rare take: someone praising the NFL’s uniform regulations (thanks, Phil). … At the 20:30 mark of this podcast, there’s talk of the Browns having a throwback in the works for 2021 (from Tony Crespo). … Speaking of the Browns, here’s a long-ish thread about what people do and don’t like about Brownie the Elf (from Jim Perry). … “Good golly,” says Gene Sanny, “what a mess these newer types of helmets are.” … There’s a good thread on the Washington Huskies’ uni history here.

Hockey News: This photo of the 1929 Bruins is super-tasty. So much texture in the gloves, the pants, the socks! … Interesting article about an 86-year-old Montreal tailor who makes suits for many NHL players (NYT link).

NBA News: Monster Energy is challenging the Raptors’ logo trademark, saying it’s too similar to the company’s own mark (from Ted Arnold). … Here’s a pretty adorable video of a six-year-old Golden State fan naming every Warrior’s uni number (thanks, Brinke).

Soccer News: The daily download from Josh Hinton: New uniforms for VfB Stuttgart, and Werder Bremen’s new home kit has leaked. … Speaking of Werder Bremen, I’m still calling it Weserstadion (from James Gilbert). … Cross-listed from the baseball section: MLB’s Chicago White Sox outfitted their statues with USWNT jerseys for the Women’s World Cup. … Thailand’s light-blue women’s kit has made its on-field debut (from our own Jamie Rathjen).

Grab Bag: The city of Richland, Wash., was instrumental in developing the atomic bomb during WWII, so the local high school’s teams are called the Bombers. But a Japanese exchange student who grew up near Nagasaki and is currently attending the school isn’t too thrilled about the school’s logo, which is a mushroom cloud (from @JayJayDean). … Interesting piece on what 2019 college graduates are wearing on top of their mortarboards (NYT link). … Someone at Jeopardy! Gets It™. Reader Michael Trautman was playing the TV’s show’s app the other night when he came across the category “Gimmick Jerseys.” He says, “The first question asked about the camo baseball jerseys from 2016 and which holiday they were worn for. Then there was one about those St. Louis Blues monstrosities that were never worn. I finally thought to get a screen shot of the last question in the category, because this just needed to be shared.” … A New Jersey woman could face federal charges for stealing a postal worker’s uniform out of a dryer at a laundromat. … Here’s an assessment of how corporate logos have changed in 2019. … Mozilla’s new Firefox logo, which was teased last week, has now been released. … New logo for the town of West Hartford, Conn. … There’s a beach volleyball team in Buffalo — let those words sink in for a minute — that has Hamilton-inspired uniforms (from @zubazshorts). … Here are Australia’s and South Africa’s uniforms for the Rugby World Cup (from Jeremy Brahm).

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I have a complicated day today, with two doctor’s appointments (nothing serious) plus the TV thing, so I’ll be running around for most of the day. Play nice while I’m away, and I’ll see you tomorrow. — Paul

34 comments to A Baseball and Sumo Trip Through Japan

  • DenverGregg | June 12, 2019 at 7:54 am |

    good catch about K. Hernandez. Looks like he also had two fingers taped in the first pic, but not the second. wonder if he put the tape back on before gloving his right hand

  • BurghFan | June 12, 2019 at 7:59 am |

    Thanks, Gordon, for describing your experience. It looks like you and Chrysse had a good time.

    • RS Rogers | June 12, 2019 at 8:38 am |

      Agreed! Great report, and as a former expat who got tired of the rest of the world’s ubiquitous Yankees caps, good on you for leaving your Mets caps on some local heads. Also, what’s that YG logo on the bright green noodle helmet? Haven’t seen that Giants mark before; is that something they actually wear on the field?

      Interesting that the point of reference for the Tokyo Dome is Tropicana Field, since the Tokyo Dome was modeled after the then-new Metrodome in Minneapolis. Whose sterile, climate-controlled atmosphere I used to describe as being just like watching a ballgame on your TV at home, except the seat isn’t as comfortable and the view isn’t as good. But man, fill the Metrodome with fans and get them riled up as in a playoff game, and the atmosphere there became magically electric. The Metrodome is gone now, of course, and based on attendance figures since the mid 1990s, not many people alive today ever actually attended games there. Whereas the Trop, which was in some ways designed in reaction against the Metrodome, survives as MLB’s living example of how a domed stadium can degrade the fan experience.

      • Jeremy Brahm | June 12, 2019 at 9:00 am |

        The YG green ice cream helmet is a YS for the Yakult Swallows.

      • Gordon | June 12, 2019 at 10:00 am |

        Good point, RS Rogers. The energy in the Tokyo Dome was excellent, as you could see from the videos, but something about domes, and that style of dome in particular, that lacks ambience. Feels a bit like walking into a huge warehouse.

        • Scott | June 12, 2019 at 8:33 pm |

          The Metrodome was far worse than Tropicana, especially since it had to accommodate football. At least the sightlines in Tropicana are mostly good for baseball.

    • Gordon | June 12, 2019 at 9:56 am |

      Awesome time, BurghFan. Highly recommended!

  • Johnny | June 12, 2019 at 8:29 am |

    Hey Paul, the 99% Invisible podcast replayed the Raptors/Barney episode featuring you this week as well (released yesterday with NBA Finals updates). You’re everywhere!

  • Joel Keller | June 12, 2019 at 8:30 am |

    Fun Japan travelogue. I did the same things when I went in ‘04, except I saw the Carp at home instead of the Tigers. Back then they were still playing in their old ballpark, built during the city’s post-A-bomb rebuilding phase. All dirt infield, and fencing instead of netting to protect fans. I had a noodle bowl despite it being 80 and humid… just to say I did.

    When I went to the sumo tournament, I went to the lunchroom where the wrestlers (some of whom were Eastern European) were eating a protein-filled soup before their matches. I ate the same thing, and it was fun to see these big guys and their coaches getting psyched up for their matches.

  • Tony C | June 12, 2019 at 8:39 am |

    Re: Browns 2021 throwbacks

    i am thinking since it’s going to be their 75th anniversary. they might do something like this one. maybe by then the NFL will allow for multiple helmets or even some sort of cover to emulate the white helmets

    http://www.gridiron-uniforms.com/GUD/images/1946_Cleveland.png?6181

  • Graf Zeppelin | June 12, 2019 at 8:56 am |

    We’ve actually been seeing a lot of the Jets’ old logo in photos and video coming out of Florham Park. From a distance it’s sometimes initially hard to tell if it’s the old or the new, which may or may not be deliberate, as the similarity between the two makes it easier to phase the old one out without calling too much attention to it.

  • Alex D | June 12, 2019 at 9:05 am |

    Man, I’d love to see that unusual (for us) energy at a minor league game just to spice things up

  • Brett Alan | June 12, 2019 at 10:08 am |

    This may not be anything new, but some may find it interesting. A baseball card blog today shows off some cards including a 1995 Ozzie Guillen where he’s wearing a throwback cap–to the Chicago American Giants of the Negro League–but the regular White Sox uniform. A little checking shows the picture appears to have been taken May 7, 1994, a Negro League tribute night. Must have been one of the first. I found a listing for the game on sportslogos.net and posted it in the comments there, so this isn’t something unknown, but I wasn’t aware of it. Was it, in fact, the first Negro League throwback? Here’s a link to the post:

    http://cardboardgreats.blogspot.com/2019/06/frankenset-page-55.html

  • Peter | June 12, 2019 at 10:09 am |

    Too bad our MLB teams can’t have vendors that consist of “enthusiastic girls wearing uniforms reminiscent of the women’s league of yore”…that would be sexist (we’ve almost got rid of ice girls…”slowly people”

    Seriously, would that be such a bad thing?

  • Dumb Guy | June 12, 2019 at 10:51 am |

    Seinfeld voice: What’s the deal with the new Firefox logo? No fire. No fox!

  • KB | June 12, 2019 at 10:58 am |

    Awesome entry Gordon! I think I might need to start planning a Japan trip here soon :)

    • Gordon | June 12, 2019 at 9:01 pm |

      Do it!!!

  • dave t robb | June 12, 2019 at 11:48 am |

    Re: 1929 Bruins photo. A good look at why “jerseys” are called “sweaters” in hockey.

  • Graf Zeppelin | June 12, 2019 at 11:56 am |

    Just saw on Facebook that the Jets are having Star Wars Day November 24 against Oakland.

    Is it me, or are “theme days” like this really a baseball thing and not a football thing?

    • DenverGregg | June 12, 2019 at 12:29 pm |

      they’ve been around in NCAA. NFL has had leaguewide ones like pinktober or GI Joe or “play 60”, just not so many team-specific. seems extra bad for NFL with so many fewer games, but i’d be happy to eliminate all the outside commemorations so as to avoid the inevitable political ones

  • Drew | June 12, 2019 at 12:27 pm |

    “There’s a beach volleyball team in Buffalo — let those words sink in for a minute”

    Contrary to popular belief, Buffalo is not a year-long winter hellscape. Just most of the year. Summers are wonderful though.

    • JTH | June 12, 2019 at 12:46 pm |

      It’s situated on a very large body of water but are there very many beaches within the city limits?

      • Drew | June 12, 2019 at 4:46 pm |

        Not in the city limits, no. But I doubt that was the distinction being made in the quoted text.

  • Tom V. | June 12, 2019 at 12:42 pm |

    I think it’s been mentioned here once or twice over the years, referring to bringing your own beer into the stadiums…NASCAR allows you to bring in your own beer. In the mid 2000’s when NASCAR was booming I think it was maybe up to a 12 pack per person. After the economy tanked they allowed each fan (if you wanted to) to bring in a case and a half of beer. It’s been in the range of 7 years or so since I’ve been to a race, so not sure if those are still the rules. It’s really something that makes NASCAR unique and it’s a good thing.

    • ChrisH | June 12, 2019 at 3:06 pm |

      I think it may vary by racetrack (I’ve only been to tracks in the east) but the rules I’m used to following typically govern the size of the cooler, the contents of which get checked not for volume/number of beers (outside food/soft drinks/water are also allowed), but for prohibited items…glass containers, hard alcohol, hard alcohol in glass containers, etc…
      For what you pay for admission and sometimes parking, it’s a substantial cost savings for the fans.

  • ThresherK | June 12, 2019 at 12:56 pm |

    Paul, re the ticker item on Manchester CT HS: Is the John Dankosky who sends in items sometimes the same one who is the news director for Connecticut Public Radio?

    If so, we can add WNPR / CPTV to the list of media who Get It (TM).

  • Bill Di Ponziano | June 12, 2019 at 5:18 pm |

    So the new Rams player videos appear to show a new Away uniform. Any word on this!

  • Jerusalem Stone | June 12, 2019 at 5:58 pm |

    Loved Gordon’s travelogue!

    Reminded of my first trip to Japan at age 14. First thing I noticed was unsupervised beer and cig machines on the street.

    The (Japanese) father of the friend whose family i was traveling with politely explained that kids in Tokyo wouldn’t disrespect their parents by patronizing these machines.

    Still have the Swallows and Tigers caps from that trip!

  • Noel | June 12, 2019 at 5:59 pm |

    “Thailand’s light-blue women’s kit has made its on-field debut”…and proceeded to get thumped 13-0 by a USAWNT not showing not a great deal of class.

  • Scott | June 12, 2019 at 8:38 pm |

    Nice to see the Worcester Bravehearts pay tribute to Lee Richmond’s first NL perfect game. Always loved the fact that there were two perfect games in the NL within a week in 1880, and not another thrown in the Senior Circuit for 84 years, until Jim Bunning’s in 1964.

  • Mike Wissman | June 12, 2019 at 10:11 pm |

    What awesome timing—I’m going to Japan on Friday and will be seeing the Giants next Thursday night (Free Jersey Night!)!

  • Mark in Shiga | June 13, 2019 at 4:55 am |

    Great Japan photos! Paul, for a second I thought you were the one coming to Japan and that you hadn’t gotten in touch with me to get a beer!

    Count me in with the Hanshin Tiger fans — the best in Japanese sports! Koshien Stadium, for the uninitiated, is also the host for the infamously-grueling high school tournaments where young boys are forced to throw hundreds of pitches on consecutive days as their schools ride their arms into the ground. (The Tigers also have to play a lot of road games in August, and have suffered some tailspins as a result.)

    I also like the vendor girls, and the only-mildly-outrageous prices of stadium food. But while the raucous cheering is fun to experience, sometimes I just want to hear myself think!

  • Marcus Jackson | June 13, 2019 at 8:04 am |

    Why is the Panthers’ all-black ensemble a bad sign? I think they look good like that.

    • Paul Lukas | June 13, 2019 at 8:07 am |

      Well, I *don’t* think they look good like that. So for me, it’s a bad sign.