My Road to Becoming a Swallows Fan
Howdy Tsubamegun readers! My name is Kozo Ota, and I was recently asked to become a contributor to this fine site. As a fan of both the Swallows, and this site, it took me all of 5 seconds to accept the offer. I hope to contribute posts that provide further information about the team, and about Japanese baseball. But I thought my first post should be about myself, in order to lay out my bona fides, and to tell my story about how I came to be a Swallows fan. In the simplest terms, I am a third-generation Swallows fan. My maternal grandfather was a Swallows fan, back from a time they were the Kokutetsu Swallows. Most of his children became Swallows fans. So it would only seem natural that I would become a Swallows fan, but my story is a bit more complicated than that.
I was born and raised in Montreal. So while I was exposed to the Swallows through my relatives when I visited Japan every summer, I did not feel any strong connection to them. I was, however, a big Montreal Expo fan. I started following the Montreal Expos in 1994 as part of an elementary school math unit. Those of you who know anything about Major League Baseball history know that the 1994 season was shortened by a labor stoppage, and that the World Series was canceled. What is perhaps not as well remembered is that the 1994 Expos, through the play of players like Larry Walker, Moises Alou, and a young Pedro Martinez, accumulated the best record in baseball and seemed destined for the World Series. However instead of building on that strong nucleus of talent, management conducted a fire sale after the season, parting with many of the team’s star players. The 1994 season is seen as the beginning of the end of the Montreal Expos. All of this is to say, I picked the absolute worst time to start following the Expos.
By the time I was allowed to go out on my own, I went to the cavernous Stade Olympique every chance I could. In a town where baseball was the sport that you watched while you waited for the hockey season to start, I was a very rare breed, a young diehard baseball fan. Over the years, I got to see some great baseball, but I also felt the agony of bad management and ownership conspiring to keep my team down. I learned a lot about baseball, and the management decisions that work behind the game. These qualities that will no doubt serve me well as a Swallows fan. My emotional investment in baseball ended in fall 2004, when both the Expos and I left Montreal. The Expos moved to Washington and became the Nationals, while I moved to Hamilton, Ontario to study at McMaster University.
Relieved of the burden of living and dying at the performance of a single baseball team, I was able to become a more objective observer of baseball. I attended a few Toronto Blue Jays games in Toronto, watched the WBC on TV, and even took in a few Japanese games when I visited Japan. I always enjoyed the atmosphere at Japanese baseball games , especially when contrasted against the hollow deadness that I had come to associate with Expos games at the Big O. I also felt a great appreciation for the small ball play that was found in NPB. I knew if ever I were to come live in Japan, I would let myself be taken in by baseball again.
So when I moved to Japan last summer, I quickly got around to getting myself back deeply into baseball. I briefly flirted with the idea of switching my “natural” allegiance of the Swallows to another team, but I couldn’t find any good reason to make a switch. The Swallows play in a nice outdoor park (the kind Expo fans were promised in 2000), the Swallows were not an unlovable juggernaut, and quite frankly I had no good reason to disappoint my relatives. I eased myself into the state of the Swallows, watching games on TV with my uncle and reading up on players. My first, and only, Jingu game of the season was the October 9th game where the Swallows punched their ticket to the Climax Series. I knew I had made the right choice and vowed to be back more often next season. Now, you can regularly find me in the right field bleacher seats at Jingu shouting cheers at the top of my lungs, and commiserating with fellow Tsubamengun contributors and their friends.
I hope to share the insights I gain as I become more informed about Japanese baseball, while also providing unique analysis that comes from my exposure to Swallows lore, and Major League Baseball.