The seats inside the Tokyo Dome were empty, but the Giants’ dugout was full of smiles when Gerardo Parra walked to the plate.
Like he did with the Washington Nationals, Parra is still using “Baby Shark” as his walk-up song, and it is still working.
Parra has collected five hits in his first three games with the Giants.
The old cliché is “there is no crying in baseball,” and maybe no coincidences either.
Parra’s first hit with the Giants was in their first game and exactly a year to the date when Parra decided to switch to “Baby Shark” as his walk-up song with the Nationals.
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Parra had been stuck in an 0-for-22 slump when on June 19, 2019, he changed his tune to “Baby Shark” because it was a favorite of his two-year-old daughter, Aaliyah.
With the help of a home run and double from Parra, the Nationals beat the Phillies that day, and the catchy children’s song would become a rallying cry as the team went on to win the World Series.
Fans in Tokyo are hoping there is something to the “Baby Shark” mystique and more than just the shark gloves and finger puppets the Giants are now selling.
— Marly Rivera (@MarlyRiveraESPN) June 19, 2020
The Giants are the oldest team in Japan dating back to 1934 and have won 37 Central League titles and 22 Japan Series championships — the equivalent of Major League Baseball’s World Series.
“They are essentially the Yankees of Japan, the face, the marquee team,” said John E. Gibson, the sports editor of The Japan News and co-host of the Japan Baseball Weekly podcast. “They are the team with the most money, that spends the most money, gets the best players and is expected to win every year.”
Whether the Giants and the other 11 teams in the NPB would compete for a title was previously in doubt.
Concern over the coronavirus has dealt professional sports competitions around the world unprecedented challenges, and in Japan, the country had to employ a different approach in dealing with the pandemic.
“It’s unconstitutional to actually have a lockdown in Japan, but what they did was declare a state of emergency,” said Gibson. “In a state of emergency, the Japanese government requested that the citizens not go outside and leave home, and work from home as much as possible.”
Since the shutdown in March, the NPB had set several tentative startup dates, and that left Gibson and other observers to wonder if games would really begin last Friday.
Even last Wednesday, the Giants said two players tested positive for COVID-19.
The players, shortstop Hayato Sakamoto and catcher Takumi Ohshiro, showed no symptoms of the disease and have tested negative twice since the announcement.
The NPB has since announced that every player, manager and coach on all 12 teams have tested negative for the virus.
The goal now is for each team to play 120 games. The NPB is made up of the Central and Pacific Leagues, and there will be no interleague play or All-Star game.
The Japan Series will be played in November.
There will be regular coronavirus testing for the players and coaches, and the plan to deal with potential positive tests is as fluid as the pandemic itself.
“If somebody tests positive, I would naturally assume they would be removed from the team,” said Gibson. “And I imagine if it gets to a situation where there are numerous players that test positive and a team can’t put out a lineup that really has a chance to win, then we’ll see some changes.”
For now, baseball is back in Japan, and that is big deal.
Baseball is called “America’s Pastime,” but passion for the game is on another level in Japan.
When there are fans in the stadiums, there is cheering and music from first pitch to last out, and for many fans, there is no such thing as meaningless game.
“I’ve seen fans here with their heads down and in tears, maybe even sitting on the ground after a regular season loss,” said Gibson.
“We are not talking after a playoff loss or a game that dooms playoff hopes. Maybe it’s just a regular season game, but they just watched their team blow a lead and I’ve seen just total emotional devastation from fans. So if you can, imagine that the type of passion a lot of people in this country bring to the game of baseball.”