When one of my best friends from college and her partner came to visit us two years ago, they insisted we take them to a baseball game. We had never been to a game in Japan and I had no real desire to go to one, but I’m a good host. One of my partner’s Japanese colleagues recommended we attend a Swallows game because they were “lovable losers like the Cubs.”

I used to live in Chicago and fairly often attended Cubs games. It was a great excuse to drink beer and people watch while you waited for Sammy Sosa to bat. It wasn’t until I moved back to New York that I realized I had a soft spot for my lovable losers. So when I heard the Swallows were Japan’s answer to the Cubs, I said, “Ret’s go Swarrows!”

I barely bitched about the cold rain sitting in the open air stadium that first game. One look at that silly Swallows mascot “break-dancing” on the field was enough to make me a lifelong fan.

Professional baseball games in Japan have more in common with high school games back in the states: the fans are more spirited, the mood is less tense and the players are a lot smaller. That’s not to say that there aren’t any gaijin (foreign) players. There are several failed or faded American, Canadian and of course, Latin American and Caribbean players on hand to make the whole affair more pathetic. And by pathetic I mean lovable in the way your heart goes out to a wounded bird or a dog whose owner put his back legs on wheels instead of putting him down.

We’ve been fan club members ever since and have recruited numerous friends to the Swallows cause. At the games we mouth along to the chants, sway along to the music, stand up and open up our fan umbrellas when our team scores, and cheer when our team does anything even remotely positive.

“Yea! They managed to catch that easy fly ball!”

“Yea! They benched that awful starting pitcher!”

“Yea! The other team is having an off night!”

“Yea! We didn’t loose that badly!”

I kid. We’re not that bad. We’re not great, but we make due. We’re like a poor family that gets by, sometimes just barely, occasionally with flying colors but always with pride. Think of us as that poor, black, urban family in the Cabrini-Green housing project in Chicago on Good Times.

And while I proudly wear my Swallows jersey with the big blue letters that reads “Swallows” in the front when walking down the streets of Tokyo before a game, I’d never wear it while walking down the streets of Chelsea back in New York. I’d just be asking for it.

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