At the risk of dating myself, which could probably be the lede of any article I write, I was thinking recently about 2001, when the Seattle Mariners signed some Japanese outfielder named Ichiro Suzuki. Eventually, he became kind of famous, but any true baseball fan knows the biggest Japanese import that season was actually New York Mets outfielder Tsuyoshi Shinjo. Yeah, Shinjo may not have had the longevity of Ichiro, and also unlike Ichiro he didn’t win Rookie of the Year, a batting title, and League MVP in his first Major League season, but man he was fun to watch.
I bring this up because Shinjo recently opened his first season as manager of the Nippon-Ham Fighters of the Japanese NPB, and he did so in the most stylish way humanly possible.
That’s right. Shinjo, who (I swear I’m not making this up) also goes by the name BIGBOSS, entered his first game as manager on a hovercraft. There could be no better way to kick off the best six months of the year.
Before you ask, yes, I am disappointed that MLB, unlike Japan, has no teams named for combative deli meats. But the disappointment ends there. I flat out love baseball, and after a nervy lockout in which a full Major League schedule was very much in jeopardy, the season, at long last, is here.
This might seem counterintuitive as, being a Mets fan, heartbreak is my fore-ordained destiny, but maybe it’ll be different this year! Despite the disappointment my team historically achieves, each Spring is rife with enough optimism to make you forget their best player is already likely to miss the first two months of the season.
No matter. I’m still jazzed that it’s baseball season again. That probably doesn’t excite everyone. I can tell you it definitely doesn’t excite at least 33% of my household (our dog has not articulated strong feelings one way or the other). Frankly, I couldn’t care one whit about that. All that matters to me is that on any given night I have the chance to watch the Mets’ bullpen somehow find a way to blow a four-run lead.
And sure, the 2022 MLB season may not have opened with a joyride on a Hovercraft. I’m guessing insurance liability is too risky in this country for such a magnificent stunt. But a lack of flying transport doesn’t mean there’s no intrigue. The AL East features one of the most stacked divisions in baseball history, which could feature as many as four playoff teams thanks to a new expanded postseason format. The NL East is nearly as fierce, with three teams likely to jockey for playoff spots including the defending World Series champs. On Chicago’s south side, the White Sox boast a lineup that’s as fun to watch as it is fierce. After a season of playing a chunk of home games in Buffalo due to the pandemic, the Blue Jays and their exciting young core are back in Toronto for a full schedule with eyes on bringing a pennant north of the border for the first time in 30 years. Out west, former-Nippon-Ham Fighter Shohei Ohtani may not ride any hovercrafts, but his combination of pitching excellence and power hitting are almost as impressive. Meanwhile the Dodgers are likely to continue a years-long display of excellence that is remarkable to behold.
If that isn’t enough for you, well, I’m kind of surprised you’re still reading this article (incidentally, thank you for reading The Oppy!), but It’s more than enough for me. The only thing missing from this MLB season is the possibility that someone might enter the park on a wild form of transportation. Luckily that’s not a terribly foreign idea in the Majors.
One day we’ll get there. We know just who to call when we’re ready.
Photo credit: https://www.inputmag.com/culture/watch-this-japanese-baseball-manager-enter-the-game-on-a-hovercraft