June: The Friendly Confines [Fukubukuro 2010]
Jan 7th, 2011 by Dan

Wrigley Field is baseball. No other ballpark I’ve ever been to has exuded quite so much of that je ne sais quoi that makes baseball so great. You know, I think I do know what makes Wrigley so great for baseball. It’s the fact that no matter what year it is, no matter how many garish Toyota signs are up in the outfield, or how the game of baseball has changed since its inception, the Cubs show up in a Wrigley laid out almost identically to its opening day in 1914, complete with a manual scoreboard and ivy walls, and play ball in a park that has become one with Chicago. Wrigley Field is a constant. No matter what you do to it, watching a ball game feels like you’re back in the 1950s. Wrigley is comforting in that way. It immediately makes you feel like you’ve been watching baseball there forever, even during your first visit.

My good friend Duffy lives out in Chicago. She’s getting her PhD. in psychology at Northwestern, which is absolutely amazing, but I miss hanging out with her terribly. A few of my friends and I decided to remedy that whole “we miss Duffy” problem by heading out to the Windy City to take in some good, old-fashioned baseball at the oldest National League ballpark in America. Our tickets were for a day game, my favorite time to watch baseball, and came in at a respectable $40 for pretty darn good seats in the upper decks. Everything but the opponent was looking good, but at least I’d potentially get to see Hideki Matsui take an at bat in the Friendly Confines (NOTE: Matsui did not play).

Our trip on the ‘El’ was uneventful, but it was filled with the same enthusiasm for baseball that I’d seen on rare occasion in Washington, but often on the trains that crisscross New York City when attending Yankees or Mets games. The closer we got, the more packed each car became with that beautiful Cubs blue that the team wears (Quick aside, there is no sports team color that I find hotter than Cubs blue (Gator blue comes in a close second). Maybe I’ve dated too many blue-eyed girls (Cubs blue does things to their eyes that ought to be illegal), but it’s got this perfect aspect to it that makes a girl damn near irresistible to me on a hot summer day. What this says about my psychological health and why I’m not inherently attracted to Marlins teal or Cornell red, I’m not quite sure.). Excitement built as we approached the Anderson stop and I could see the stadium looming over the surrounding buildings.

Did Yankee Stadium ever actually sit within New York City the way that Wrigley Field is nestled within Chicago? Why don’t more ballparks do this? Townhouses line three of Wrigley Field’s four sides, some with bleachers on their roofs for fans to watch the game. The separation between the ballpark and those houses: one regular-sized city street. Citi Field is right in the middle of Flushing, but the giant parking lot is on one side and I don’t think the other has much in the way of actual New York City. These are missed opportunities to make your ballpark, no, your team a part of the community. Instead Yankee Stadium has done all it could to alienate New York City. Ticket prices are astronomical, parks have been destroyed to construct parking garages, and everything about the team screams “We are too good for you.

The Phillies are a blue team. It annoys the people who think baseball should be an elite institution, but Philadelphians know no other way to do things. Their team is managed by a salt-of-the-earth kind of guy, the fans are allowed to bring food into the ballpark, and members of the team that don’t seem like they belong in Philly quickly find themselves on the shit list of fans. The Cubs aren’t this way; they’re a little more like the Red Sox, with their pink hats and facetime-seeking fans, but Wrigley…Wrigley handles everything the way a ballpark should. Wrigley belongs to the people. You can sit behind the plate for $100 or less (assuming you could find a ticket the almost always sold out games).

Despite not winning for over 100 years, the Cubs are a premium product without being as stuck up as the Yankees. That’s the overwhelming feeling that I couldn’t escape while I was in Wrigley. This team, one of the biggest, most storied franchises in the world, both loves and is loved by the fans. I’ve yet to attend a game at Fenway, the other remaining “classic” stadium, but I find it hard to believe that any ballpark could be more perfect or more baseball than Wrigley Field.

The Famous Sign - Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Chicago Cubs 19 June 2010

MLB 2010 Season Projections [Wednesday Morning Quarterback]
Mar 31st, 2010 by Dan

Another year, another season! 2010 looks to be another good one. The Marlins don’t look like they’re about to run away with their division, but the Rays have a fighting chance this year. I’m getting ahead of myself, so let’s back up and go through this division by division like we do every year.

AL East

After a (glorious) season where the Yankees didn’t make it to the playoffs for once, the Bronx Bombers came back with a vengeance and took it all. The Yanks may have lost Damon and Matsui, but they’re still in a strong position in the AL East and look poised to make the playoffs in the division. Players are getting older on that team and the pitching isn’t as strong as they’d like, but, barring some kind of major injury, I stand by that prediction.

The Red Sox also made a few big moves, getting rid of Jason Bay and adding in Adrián Beltré, and they’re projected to have a solid season with strong defense and slightly weakened bat strength. I think a lot of how well they do this year depends on whether or not they’re able to produce runs at the plate with David Ortiz, who did not perform to standards last year.

My favorite in the East, the Tampa Bay Rays, have had a super strong spring. With the best spring record of the AL, they could upset the Yankees or Red Sox if and only if their rotation and bullpen return to 2008 form. The offense is there, the defense on the field is there, it’s just a matter of making outs. Will Rafael Soriano be enough to solve their closer woes? That alone will tell you what this team will do this year.

I’m excited to see what the Orioles put together this year. Their investment in youth is starting to bear fruit as prospects make their way onto the field, but this young, inexperienced team is up against juggernauts in the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays. I’m going to call this a building year for the Orioles, even if that’s selling them a bit short. They would have a good chance in any other division, but not the East.

There are few teams in baseball that bore me more than the Blue Jays (:cough: Royals, Pirates, and Padres :cough:). This is a team that acknowledged that they have no chance to make a run of it by trading Roy Halladay to the Phillies.

Projected Standings:
Red Sox
Blue Jays

Remember that I’m a Rays fanboy and my positioning makes sense. I think the Rays have a strong chance to take the AL wild card this year.

AL Central

For a while there, this division was the Twins’ to lose. Then the second best closer in the game, Joe Nathan, went down for the season, muddying up the waters. Add in that the team is moving to a brand new ballpark and things could get interesting. Gone are the super-competitive advantages of the Metrodome, replaced by what will be a SUPER frigid open-air ballpark that will take some getting used to. When it comes to Joe Mauer, I’m reminded of the fictional words of Michael Bluth, “You gotta lock that down.” Lucky for the Twins, they managed to get that done with an eight-year, 184 M$ contract. It should help.

I hear a lot about Chicago’s rotation being so vastly improved, but it’s almost always followed by the caveat that Peavy needs to pitch well. It’s been a long while since his 2007 Cy Young campaign and he hasn’t been able to remain healthy. Despite how much Obama loves this team, I can’t stand A. J. Pierzynski and, by extension, the team.

Detroit has a team that I want to love. Those poor guys live in a third world city that is on the verge of absolute collapse. They keep giving Dontrelle Willis chances to succeed (and he might be in the rotation this year), but I’m not sure that they will be able to keep up with the Twins this year thanks to weak pitching. I’ll be keeping an eye on these guys.

The Indians may be on the upswing and ready to bounce back, but I’m not ready to believe that yet. I don’t see much happening for this team.

Kansas City has an awful team aside from Zack Greinke.

Projected Standings:
White Sox

AL West

Despite their stupid long name, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have had one of the most consistent teams of the century. They contend every year and make it to the playoffs almost every year. It’s hard to ignore how solid this team is. Unfortunately, they’ve been fighting a war of attrition these past two years with Texas and Seattle getting closer and closer to robbing AL West dominance away from them. They gained Matsui, but lost vital starter Lackey. Will it be enough?

Seattle wants it this year. They went and signed Cliff Lee and even took the risk of signing the volatile Milton Bradley to bolster their bats. Things were looking great for Seattle until Cliff Lee ended up on the DL and Milton Bradley got himself ejected from two straight spring training games. Will they be able to keep it all together and make a real run for the West?

The Rangers are solid, but they have a lot of reliance on players like Josh Hamilton who are very injury prone. They’ve been just short of the playoffs for several years now and they’re real hungry for it.

I have so much apathy for the Athletics. I’m sure their team is pretty good and has a chance this year, but it never seems to pan out for Oakland.

Projected Standings

I’m going out on a major limb there. I could be dead wrong.

NL East

My favorite division also contains two of my least favorite teams in baseball, both of which are set to have great seasons. Last year’s NL Champions, the Philadelphia Phillies, are still just as good with Roy Halladay instead of Cliff Lee. They’ve still got a great lineup with good pitching and, even without their closer, they should still have a solid season. They are The Team To Beat (TM) in the East.

Atlanta, my least favorite team, has got stars in their eyes for Jason Heyward, a top-prospect who made the team this spring. Heyward’s bat, combined with Hanson and Kawakami’s arms, could be very formidable in the East. This is a team that worries me.

The Mets have had such terrible luck recently that it’s almost bound to start swinging back in the other direction…right? With an adjusted outfield to help home runs, their offense might perform a little better, but that injury-riddled team is not looking all that much better this year. If they outperform the Marlins, I’ll be surprised.

Speaking of teams that won’t outperform the Marlins, Washington is almost guaranteed to make marginal improvements this year. Their rotation is still a mess, but veterans like Chien-Ming Wang and Liván Hernández can combine with the brilliance of Stephen Strasburg and the promising performance of Drew Storen and produce what might actually be a major league rotation. The lineup needs some work to score runs, but pitching is infinitely more important for a team that wants to win.

Speaking of a team that emphasizes pitching, we’ve finally arrived at my favorite team, the Florida Marlins. Over the off-season they finalized a strong contract for Josh Johnson and kept Dan Uggla, keeping the rotation and lineups strong. Combined with Hanley Ramirez and Chris Coghlan destroying NL pitching and Ricky Nolasco’s brilliant performance on the mound, this is a solid team with only a few holes that need filling. If Cameron Maybin and Gaby Sanchez live up to their potential, I don’t see much standing in this team’s way. There’s always a question of pitching with the back end of the rotation, but Chris Volstad has been looking good of late and Anibal Sanchez fluctuates, but trends on the better side most times. The real question is in the bullpen where the Fish will be relying on Leo Núñez to close games. I’m not confident in Núñez yet.

Projected Standings:

NL Central

The Central has a chance to be interesting this year with strong squads being fielded by St. Louis, Cincinnati, and “this is our last chance for a while” Chicago. St. Louis has the best chance here thanks to strong pitchers Carpenter and Wainwright and their strong offense in Pujols and Holliday. Cincinnati has been a dark horse so many years in a row now that they’d better start performing. The promise of Aroldis Chapman could push them ahead if the offense follows, but otherwise the team has a strong uphill climb. The Cubbies don’t have much time left before they have to start “rebuilding”. If they don’t put together a playoff season this year, it might be a while before we see one happen again. I still love Fukudome, even if the Cubs don’t. He’s a consistent and solid player.

I don’t know much about Milwaukee’s squad this year, but they’re usually a solid team, but I didn’t hear much in the offseason that would convince me they were ready to push ahead of last year’s performance.

The rest of the Central, the Pirates and the Astros, really don’t make an impact in baseball nowadays. Pittsburgh is really a AAAA team and Houston has failed to make any kind of splash in a long while.

Projected Standings:

NL West

Colorado made the biggest turnaround I’ve seen since the last time they did it in 2007 to win the wild card last year and make the playoffs. After that strong finish and with LA’s messy divorce keeping them from making significant progress on their team, I see Colorado as the frontrunners in this division.

A messy divorce has been draining Dodger ownership of cash and the ability to run their team. At best, the Dodgers remain as good as they were last year. Realistically, they fall behind the Rockies and maybe even the Giants too.

Solid pitching, but not much offense. It’s been the same story for years now. A strong team only because it keeps the run count down on the opposing team.

What about the Padres?

Projected Standings

I’m bound to be dead wrong, per usual, but we’ll see how I’m doing in July and again in September. I can’t wait for Sunday/Monday!

Wow, A LOT Has Happened [Wednesday Morning Quarterback]
Jan 6th, 2010 by Dan

I’m pretty sure that I haven’t mentioned anything about the NFL this year, which I find hilarious, considering that I use a modified football saying as my sports category. Now’s as good a time as any to talk about it, I guess, since the regular season is over. As far as the playoffs go, I’d like to see the Ravens advance to the Super Bowl, but that’s just because they’re the local team. If we’re lucky, we’ll also get to see Brett Favre face-off against the Green Bay Packers (and hopefully knock them out) too in this postseason. Beyond that, I haven’t paid enough attention to the NFL this year to really care one way or another.

While I’m talking about football, I also haven’t talked too much about the Gators, who handily won their bowl game 51-24. It was Tim Tebow’s final game for UF and I’m excited to see where he ends up in this year’s draft class.

Again, let’s keep the subject on football, only to mention that I’m actually glad that the USA is in the same pool as England for the World Cup. One victory against the Queen’s team would be enough for me to make fun of Phil for the rest of my life. If Team USA can knock them out of the World Cup, I’d die a happy man, even if they were to lose every match afterward.

Beyond that, I’ve mostly been focusing on baseball (no surprise there!) in both the USA and Japan. A lot of huge moves have gone on so far, most notable among them Matsui leaving the Yankees for the Angels, but the other big move (to me) was the whole Cliff Lee/Roy Halladay trade involving Philadelphia and Seattle (and Toronto and Oakland (I think)). After seeing Cliff Lee absolutely dominate the Yankees in the World Series, it makes nearly zero sense to see the Phillies trade him away, but Halladay should be a fully adequate (and scary) replacement for the team that will most likely top the NL East yet again. Seattle also gets their hands on one of the finest pitchers in the league which should allow Wakamatsu to make a real move against the Angels who lost a lot of pitching and some offense this off-season.

In Japanese baseball news, the Seibu Lions drafted the best pitching prospect, Yusei Kikuchi, who should be ready to start tossing for the team as early as next year. Whether or not he appears in relief in 2010 is an interesting question.

My team, the Carp, avoided picking Kikuchi to go mostly for pitching, getting some of the best talent left in the pool. Their season was looking up until they lost one of their aces, Colby Lewis, to family issues stateside. It will be interesting to see if they can actually finish this season in the top three this year as they haven’t reached a Japan Series since 1991. They’re the team most removed from their last league championship and last Japan Series victory, so they’ve got a lot of catching up to do.

Man, I miss baseball season. Hurry up April!

World and Japan Series Results [WMQ]
Nov 18th, 2009 by Dan

It’s time for Wednesday Morning Quarterback, your weekly sports round-up.

It’s all old news by now, but the World Series champions for this year were the New York Yankees. Powered by a ridiculous performance by Hideki Matsui, the Yanks pulled far ahead early in the game as Matsui clobbered anything Pedro Martinez threw at him. It wasn’t a massacre, but it wasn’t pretty either.

World Series Time-Lapse by Robert Caplin from Robert Caplin on Vimeo.

Across the pond (the other pond…the one to the west), there was much disappointment to be had too. Not wanting to be left out, the Giants ended their drought (since 2002) and won their 21st Japan Series title (NOTE: Yankees are on their 27th). In the end, Darvish didn’t get to pitch again, but that’s probably a good thing for his health.

The NPB also had its amateur draft happen and my beloved Carp got themselves some great talent. Top pick, Yusei Kikuchi, selected by six teams, went to the Seibu Lions via lottery, continuing the trend of fantastic pitchers headed to Saitama started by Daisuke Matsuzaka. Whether or not he will make an impact remains to be seen, but expect to see him starting the season off in Ni-gun (that’s their AAA) and pitching in the NPB next year. He may not pitch as fast as Strasburg, but I have a feeling both will end up on a professional roster before year’s end.

Super Ichiban Travel Blog Part IX: It’s A Small World [II]
Oct 5th, 2009 by Dan

Good riddance! I mean...Ill miss you!

Good riddance! I mean...I'll miss you!

The day opened with some sadness. David, who had already missed a week’s worth of school, had to finally head home. In fact, most of the tour was going home unless they paid to go to Tokyo Disney Sea or had other plans in Japan to attend to and once that was done, we’d be down to eight, including myself, who were going on to see the rest of the teams of Japan.

My morning was dominated by a briefing for the rest of the tour, since Bob and Mayumi would not be accompanying the final eight on the rest of the tour. After we were fully briefed on the intricacies and tricky finer points of the trip, it was time for me to head back to the room and help Dave prepare to go home.

After seeing David off and wondering how the rest of the tour would be when pared down to so few, I decided to grab some chow for lunch at a Go! Go! Curry! we spotted the day before after karaoke. I’ve never mentioned it on the blog before, but Go! Go! Curry! is one of the few Japanese curry shop branches in the States and the only one I know of on the east coast (there’s a location in New York City) and I’ve had curry there once, so I was eager to compare.

The gorilla on the signage is the logo for Go! Go! Curry!

The gorilla on the signage is the logo for Go! Go! Curry!

Just like the GGC in America, the restaurant was decorated with Yankees paraphernalia, mostly centered around Hideki Matsui (his player number is 55, the Japanese word for 5 is go, you do the rest). Just like the curry place at Meiji Jingu, GGC had one of those sweet curry ordering machines, so I put in an order of tonkatsu curry (CURRY! The official food of Dan’s JapanBall trip to Japan!) and scarfed it down before heading back to the hotel.

Go! Go! Matsui!

Go! Go! Matsui!

Once I’d returned to the lobby, I ran into Leon, who I learned hurt his leg at some point earlier on the trip. Although he paid money to go to Tokyo Disney Sea, he realized that he wouldn’t be able to manage wandering around a theme park and being on his feet all day, so he offered me his ticket for free. Since I didn’t really have anything on the agenda besides running errands, uploading pictures, and writing, I took him up on his offer and…had to check out and check back in, since no longer needed a double. After I did that, it was off to Tokyo Disney Sea!

Its Mickey Mouse! TOKYO DISNEY SEA!

It's Mickey Mouse! TOKYO DISNEY SEA!

…but first we must digress into an educational treatise on the Japanese rail system.

On this blog I have lauded the Japanese rail system for its punctuality, ubiquity, and general usefulness. It’s time to scale back on the praise parade. You see, the Japanese rail system is marred by what I’m calling overcomplexity.

Let me illustrate my point with a look at the New York City subway system. Within NYC there exists the MTA that runs the subways, the buses in the city, and the regional rail lines that all lead to the city. One entity runs all of this. Subway fare is not transferable to regional rail tickets nor is it transferable to bus fare, but the same subway card will allow you to ride any subway in New York City. Best of all, your trips are all a flat rate. You can swipe the card once and ride the train all the way to the furthest reaches of the city and it would cost the same as taking the subway one stop over. It’s simple, assuming you can decipher the railway maps which are, admittedly complicated, and the stops don’t help to indicate which way the train is going.

On that last point, the Japanese trains seem to be pulling ahead. They clearly indicate, based on platform, what the next stop is and all the trains have easy-to-understand railway maps that clearly express what stops the train will be making. It’s all downhill from there.

I’ve already mentioned that certain teams have their own rail lines that lead to their respective ballparks, but I don’t think that fully captures the extent of how confusing Tokyo’s rail system can get. When you include the Greater Tokyo area, you’ve got a total of 30 operators (realistically only about four or so within Tokyo itself) each with their own set of rail lines that have stops peppered throughout Japan. Compare this with the one operator in NYC and it starts to make sense just how confusing this can get. By our hotel there is a stop for the Tokyo Metro and a stop for the JR Railway. These are two, ostensibly competing, companies each operating their own lines that sometimes stop in the exact same stations throughout Tokyo. Lucky for us, the largest provider is the East Japan Railway Company, known in the vernacular as JR, and we picked up JR rail passes that allowed us, as tourists, unlimited access to all railways (and even that ferry in Miyajima!) and shinkansen that they operated throughout Japan, but it still presents needless complication in getting around the city. On the day that Dave and I went to the Square Enix store, we rode trains run by three different companies. Each time we switched, we had to buy completely new tickets from non-standard machines.

While we’re on the subject of tickets, as I’ve mentioned before, the Japanese rail system works something like the DC Metro in that you’re required to pay for how far you went on the train. That’s no problem on maps that feature English to let you know what the Kanji translates to, but some are far enough out of the way or not considered touristy-enough to not offer any English guidance at all before buying a fare. It can get confusing and difficult rather quickly.

As I’ve mentioned before, Japan is a small enough country, geographic area-wise, that there is a uniformity in the train paradigm that covers the entire island. Every rail system, no matter where it is, operates along these lines.

With that, we’re ready to dive back into our Disney narrative.

Since I was completely on my own when I was at the ballpark, I took some video and recorded some commentary within the video that I may or may not repeat within the text. Enjoy!

After making my way through the unbelievably large Tokyo Station to get to the train that would take me to Tokyo Disney Sea (hereafter called TDS), I finally arrived at the proper station and was greeted by Disney music and the kind of perfectly-crafted space that Disney is so famous for producing for its theme parks. To my right was the route to Tokyo Disney and to the left was TDS, or so it seemed. I wandered around lost for ten minutes, eventually entering the stores they had conveniently set up to trap tourists, until I realized that I had to take a shuttle to TDS, just like in Walt Disney World.

The Tokyo Disney monorail. Notice the brilliant attention to detail, down to the Mickey Mouse-shaped windows.

The Tokyo Disney monorail. Notice the brilliant attention to detail, down to the Mickey Mouse-shaped windows.

I was quickly thrown for a loop when it seemed that Western designers had failed to properly accommodate their Eastern patrons. By now I had become accustomed to the British-minded pedestrian patterns of Japan (which reflect their driving patterns). Since I should be on the left, the escalator I want to take is, nine times out of ten, on the left. At TDS, I was struck with confusion when I saw that the up escalator was on the right. It seemed that Disney’s attention to detail overlooked this small fact, but that’s ok, I had a monorail to catch.

On the way to TDS...after I loop through Disneyland

On the way to TDS...after I loop through Disneyland

I arrived at the station, it was time to board, except for one obstruction. Remember what I said earlier?

Every rail system, no matter where it is, operates along these lines.

I wasn’t kidding. The Tokyo Disney Resort Shuttle requires passengers to buy a ticket to board. Not only that, but despite the fact that the train travels in one direction and the fee is flat no matter where you go (¥250 per trip, which, if you’ve done your math right, means I’m out another ¥500), you have to insert your ticket at the entrance and at the exit, just like every other train in Japan. This is beyond asinine and stupid. This is the kind of nickel and dime-ing that I would expect in America. This is Tokyo Disney, a park built by Americans in Japan.

My ire over having to pay to ride the tram to TDS was softened by the amazing thoughtfulness of the train itself. The handholds were shaped like Mickey Mouse heads. I would hear about how great these were from Nora and Jill for the rest of the time they were on the tour.

This is the Disney touch that makes people go nuts for this stuff.

This is the Disney touch that makes people go nuts for this stuff.

As you’ve seen in a previous picture, the windows were mouse-shaped too.

Seeing the world through Mickey Mouse-tinted glasses.

Seeing the world through Mickey Mouse-tinted glasses.

I rode the train, which only went one direction (I can’t complain about this enough) for two stops to get to TDS, which would have only been one stop going the other way. Come on Disney, I paid ¥250 for this ticket! Make it go where I want!

While on the train (and immediately after disembarking) I began to notice that, despite it being early September, it was clearly Halloween season at TDS. Some of the Japanese, who go everywhere fully equipped, were carrying whole bags of Disney paraphernalia to put on before entering the park. Mouse ears, Daisy costumes, even Disney-themed face masks were in full force before I entered the park. I suddenly remembered that I knew that Jack Skellington and The Nightmare Before Christmas were super popular out here in Japan. It was only natural that the park would be making a big deal about Halloween.

TDS is centered around exploration, most notably exploration at sea, but not exclusively, which is why it’s not, as I presumed, a water park. The opening area is Mediterranean-themed and tries to reference Venice, Italy in its architecture, which would reinforce the Sea part of TDS, but, as we’ll see later, there’s an Arabian/Agrabah/Aladdin-themed area, which is the exact opposite of the sea, so go adventure!

Early on in the park I came across a strange sight: a group of three gaijin (“foreigner”) performers putting on a show. They all spoke heavily accented Japanese and seemed to be making a point of doing so and acting ridiculous. It wasn’t offensive or anything, it was just strange to see Americans (or Europeans or Australians, I don’t really know) putting on a show here in Japan in TDS in Japanese. Sorry I didn’t tape more.

Right near the performers I spotted a McDuck Department Store, so I had to enter (I LOVE Duck Tales). I was not at all prepared for what I saw inside.

A portrait of Scrooge inside his store.

A portrait of Scrooge inside his store.

The place was packed to the gills with people and all the shelves seemed to feature only one character. Upon closer examination, all of those characters were one I didn’t even recognize. I picked one up to investigate and saw that it was Duffy the Disney Bear.

A smaller, keychainable version of Duffy The Disney Bear.

A smaller, keychainable version of Duffy The Disney Bear.

Never heard of Duffy? Neither had I. A cursory Internet investigation turned up evidence that this little fellow was a failed experiment in Walt Disney World as The Disney Bear in 2004ish (in that he failed to catch on), so they rebranded him as Duffy the Disney Bear, a teddy bear given to Mickey by Minnie to keep him company when out to sea. My investigation also points to him debuting sometime in 2006. Each month they release new clothes for the bear and the Japanese have “gotta catch ‘em all!“, so they flock to the Duffy-dedicated store to get the latest fashions.

I’m not kidding when I say these were flying off the shelves. Employees streamed out of back rooms every five to ten minutes to restock the rapidly depleting shelves. They were that popular. You think the line for Mickey is long? The line for Duffy is supposedly the longest at TDS.

My clever excuse to make use of this picture I took of Mickey and a random family.

My clever excuse to make use of this picture I took of Mickey and a random family.

Since I’m part of the problem (really because I have a friend whose last name is Duffy), I found myself queuing to buy the above-pictured mini-Duffy in one of the four long queues that wrapped around the middle of the shop. As I stood in line I quickly realized that I stood in the wrong line. The couple in front of me had baskets full of mini-Duffys, arms full of regular-sized Duffys, and another basket filled with this month’s outfit, a pumpkin costume for the bear. This was going to be a long wait. When all was said and done, the couple in front of me (older folks, mind you) had spent ¥68700 on Duffy merchandise. To put that in American perspective, that couple spent, based on today’s exchange rate (which is close to the one I got in Japan), $767. It boggles the mind.

Youre making a killing on these bears, McDuck.

You're making a killing on these bears, McDuck.

I continued exploring the park and saw that they transitioned from Venice to a more American riverboat feel. In that area was another character more popular in Japan than the states, Stitch. A good choice to express that Halloween vibe they love so much, Stitch is the character most commonly seen, outside of Mickey and Minnie, on baseball team merchandise outside of the Disney area. From the riverboat area, we transition to a Cape Cod-type area.

Youve gotta use spellcheck before you engrave these things...Also, the shot heard down the road? Really?

You've gotta use spellcheck before you engrave these things...Also, the "shot heard down the road"? Really? I'll assume it's a joke since the year is wrong too.

As I traveled through the Cape Cod area, I noticed something that, if it ever existed in Disney, certainly hasn’t in years. Smoking areas. If you recall (if I’ve mentioned it), it’s illegal to smoke while walking around Tokyo and other areas. You’re now confined to smoking areas until they further marginalize smokers like in America.

In Cape Cod I started to notice some of the subtler differences, like the menu. I’m pretty sure I’m wrong about what I think sets are in the video, because when I’ve seen sets in contexts after TDS, it was used to denote a combo meal. (BONUS: There’s a Duffy portrait near the dessert menu)

The Cape Cod area also had some shows, but I quickly moved on to some of the other areas and left the lighthouses behind.

Is this in America or is it in Japan?

Is this in America or is it in Japan?

It was time to encounter my first ride. Now, I’ll have to admit, I wasn’t expecting the grand roller coasters of Universal Studios or anything, but this seemed to be a bit tame, even by Disney standards.

To be totally honest, I didn’t really ride anything at TDS partly because nothing called out to me and partly because I was there by myself. For those who would be interested in riding stuff, rest assured that Fast Passes do exist in Japan too!

Fast Pass, not just for America any more.

Fast Pass, not just for America any more.

Along the way I saw a Mexican/South American area where they had an Indiana Jones stage show (like in MGM) and eventually reached the aforementioned Aladdin-themed Agrabah area. I knew I was there because there was a curry popcorn stand right outside.

It might not sound appetizing, but, trust me, it smelled delicious.

It might not sound appetizing, but, trust me, it smelled delicious.

The Agrabah area was pretty cool. It had shows and shops that sold Disney-themed curry.

What more could you ask for?

What more could you ask for?

They also piped in some Arabic-themed music from Aladdin.

The next area was called Mysterious Island and it had a very steampunk feel to it, probably inspired by 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and the Disney Atlantis movie. It was the coolest looking area of the park (to an engineering-type like myself) and I’m pretty sure that their 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (under repair that day) was the very same one that was nixed from Walt Disney World back in 1994.

Nemos lost sub.

Nemo's lost sub.

Despite a lack of evidence on Wikipedia (hardly the most exhaustive search option available) to confirm my supposition, I’m almost sure that this is true of at least some of the parts from the ride, if not all of them.

With that I had explored most of the park and seen what I wanted to see. It was time to head out, but not before going to the major gift shop where I spotted tons of souvenirs catering exclusively to the Japanese crowd among the more traditional stuff. The collectors of Japan would love all the pins and stamps that are often limited editions. The hypochondriac or infirmed would love the character-themed face masks.

If you can name all the characters represented here, youre a bigger Disney fan that I am.

If you can name all the characters represented here, you're a bigger Disney fan that I am.

I was skeptical of what TDS would offer me before I showed up, but I was pleasantly surprised. The park exudes that Disney aesthetic that the company does so well and I found myself charmed by the park despite the hardened heart I carried in. Perhaps I’d visit with friends one day and give it a real chance.

After that it was back to the Tokyo Dome to try and get some better shots of the building that I missed on the first day and then to Akihabara to catch up on some souvenir and personal shopping.

The Tokyo Dome exterior with the roller coaster partially visible.

The Tokyo Dome exterior with the roller coaster partially visible.

I returned to the hotel, grabbed a quiet, solo dinner at a nearby convenience store (instant noodles), and turned in for the night. The laundry that I spent way too much money to get done by the hotel staff was in my room. An episode of Naruto Shippuden came on, reminding me that Dave was gone for the rest of my trip.

It seems that Duffy and Domo-kun are rather disinterested in the show.

It seems that Duffy and Domo-kun are rather disinterested in the show.

It was time to repack and get ready to embark on the rest of the journey without my travel companion. I had a good time traveling with Dave and it was already a bummer not to have him with me as I wandered around Tokyo and the rest of Japan.

Dave (2 September 2009 - 9 September 2009)

Dave (2 September 2009 - 10 September 2009). We'll Never Forget.

Citi Field vs. Yankee Stadium [WMQ]
Aug 5th, 2009 by Dan

It’s time for Wednesday Morning Night Quarterback, your weekly sports round-up.

Instead of the usual sports roundup today, it’s going to be a battle of the new stadiums. That’s right, it’s Yankee Stadium vs. Citi Field!

A view of Citi Field from the parking lot

A view of Citi Field from the parking lot


Yankee Stadium from the subway platform

Yankee Stadium from the subway platform

Yankee Stadium

When you’re the New York Yankees, you’ve got certain expectations attached to your new stadium project. Yankee Stadium, even with all the revisions and reconstructions throughout the ages, stood for baseball history, really. Its departure was significant. Along with Fenway and Wrigley, Yankee Stadium stood tall in the face of the new ballpark craze. Yankee Stadium was the House that Ruth Built. You don’t get to be much more important than that. So it goes without saying that there was plenty to be said against building a new ballpark in this era of retro-new baseball stadiums. It would have to ostensibly be exactly what it was while trying to improve itself in every way. As someone who’s never been inside old Yankee Stadium, I can’t definitively say that they succeeded on that front, but anecdotal evidence seems to support that fact. Looking at the shell of the old park right next door, I’d be hard-pressed to argue with that assessment. The Yankee organization succeeded in taking the old and turning it new, but it begs the question. Why?

A view of the old. Tough shoes to fill for the new.

A view of the old. Tough shoes to fill for the new.

Make no mistake, Yankee Stadium is a joy to visit. It’s state-of-the-art and every surface almost sparkles, it’s so new. The fans seem mostly enthusiastic about the new park and they come to see the games in droves.

The fans are always excited to visit.

"I sold my kidney to afford a ticket!"

Right when you enter the ballpark, you see precisely where the millions have gone. There are bright, high definition televisions everywhere and an overall regal atmosphere throughout the interiors.

Yankee Stadium is very shiny and new. It certainly looks like a lot of money was spent.

Yankee Stadium is very shiny and new. It certainly looks like a lot of money was spent.

Unfortunately, all those shiny new additions to the ballpark seem to have taken its toll on the common man. In the current global recession, it seems rather ridiculous that the cheapest seats in the ballpark cost $14. Doesn’t seem that outrageous until you realize that those $14 seats are right next to the batter’s eye, a huge restaurant that obstructs the view of the opposite end of the outfield. You read that right. You pay $14 and you can’t even see Damon on the left if you’re sitting on the right. There are TVs up on the walls to allow you to see what’s going on the other side, but it seems like a major oversight. The next cheapest are the nosebleeders in the outfield for $23 and it goes up from there to over $1000 the closer and lower you get. It seems designed to bring in more money to the already bloated franchise, but at what cost? Do you think the working man with his two kids can afford a day at the ballpark at these prices? $92 just for admission, not to mention any food (which is also overpriced) and you’re looking at an expensive night just for three hours of entertainment.

A beautiful screen, but at what cost?

A beautiful screen, but at what cost?

That being said, you can’t blame them too much for the extravagance. The park is beautiful and the Yankees are a rich team with rich fans. In the back of the park, by the bullpens, lives the Monument Park, commemorating the greats in Yankees history. In fact, the whole park is filled with historical reminders that go a long way in reminding the fan that this team is serious business. I’m making it sound worse than it is above, it’s really a solid location to catch a game of baseball. I’ve gone into the home run business plenty on this site, but let me say that I personally saw two go over that infamous right field wall (one by Cano and one by Rodriguez). It’s funny to me that this park can give up so many while Citi gives up so few. As of this post, no Met has more than six home runs in their own ballpark.

Its really a solid location to catch a game of baseball. -Dan Mesa

"It's really a solid location to catch a game of baseball." -Dan Mesa

Citi Field

Unburdened with a stadium fondly remembered, Citi Field also stands right next to the park that housed the team since the 1960s, the abomination known as Shea Stadium. That place was such a generic, character-less hole that the public was more than happy to see it torn down and replaced. Thanks to the lack of love for Shea, the ballpark designers were free to get creative and they came up with this unfortunately named little gem.

Ill bet not one of those says We will always miss Shea.

I'll bet not one of those says "We will always miss Shea."

Corporate sponsored names pretty much stink for all ballparks (I don’t mind Tropicana Field for some reason, maybe it’s because that’s synonymous with oranges for me?), but what doesn’t is the inspiration for the new ballpark (what a crappy segue…). Modeled after Ebbets Field, former home of the Brooklyn Dodgers, the first thing you see after you are padded down or EM wanded by security (I kid you not, they were padding down incoming fans), is the Jackie Robinson rotunda, a beautiful callback to Ebbets and a worthy celebration of the man to break the color barrier in baseball.

A monument to Jackie Robinson is nice, but all the Dodgers gear can confuse. Hey Dad, arent we here to see the Mets?

A monument to Jackie Robinson is nice, but all the Dodgers gear can confuse. "Hey Dad, aren't we here to see the Mets?"

My friend Lee pointed out that a monument to a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers in the Mets stadium is kind of out of place. I’m inclined to agree, but the space is so beautiful and the cause so important that I can neither fault them nor be mad about the inconsistency.

Toilets from the future!

Urinals from the future!

I don’t really have anything bad to say about Citi Field. Prices are still more expensive at the ballpark than others in smaller markets, but that’s just New York, I guess. The urinals look kind of funny, I guess, the outfield wall is colored black and orange, making it look like the Giants play here, and they’ve still got the same problem with airplanes flying over and disrupting the calm of the game.

Wouldnt be a Mets game without planes taking off and landing.

Wouldn't be a Mets game without planes taking off and landing.

The park feels smaller than Shea, and for a reason, they cut out about 15,000 seats, but it really does the ballpark some major good. Gone are the super steep stairs and feelings of vertigo up in the nosebleed section. The diminished size and the warm feeling that brick evokes gives the park a homey, intimate feeling that the cold concrete of Shea just didn’t offer and the aloof, superior atmosphere of Yankee Stadium just can’t match. One of the major tenets of the retro-new ballpark craze is to have ridiculous corners and unique parts of the park that really bring the home to home-field advantage and make for a unique park. One look at right field in Citi and and rational right fielder would faint. There are so many odd angles, an overhanging patio (hitting it counts as a home run, even if the ball bounces back into the field), and super-high walls that help keep the home run numbers down, but will undoubtedly increase the number of triples given up in the park.

Right field is full of insane angles. BONUS: Clay Zavadas mustache is on the big screen.

Right field is full of insane angles. BONUS: Clay Zavada's mustache is on the big screen.

Even the backstop is made of brick, making getting home on a wild pitch that much harder. BONUS: This picture is following Angel Pagans game-winning, first career grand slam.

Even the backstop is made of brick, making getting home on a wild pitch that much harder. BONUS: This picture is following Angel Pagan's game-winning, first-in-his-career grand slam.

The best thing I can say about Citi Field is that it rekindled my love for baseball. Entering the ballpark I was feeling some fatigue from the long season. By the end of the game, I was pumped for my upcoming baseball trip to Japan and I couldn’t wait to get back home and watch more baseball this season. How can you not love a ballpark that reminds you of everything you love about the game?

The only welcome holdout from Shea, the home run Big Apple

The only welcome holdout from Shea, the home run Big Apple


New York City is lucky to have not one, but two great new ballparks this season and they both succeed at the goals they were shooting for. Yankee Stadium is everything it was, almost down to a ‘T’ and to its own detriment while Citi Field was allowed to be something completely new and chose to embrace its past. Maybe I’m just a sucker for brick (I love you Camden Yards!), but Citi Field just feels more like baseball to me.

Winner: Citi Field

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