MLB All-Stars arrive in Sapporo: Host of the Winter Olympics, Snow Festival and yes, baseball
Having played a game in Osaka and three in Tokyo, the Japan All-Star Series hits Sapporo on Tuesday for its fifth and final matchup between the MLB All-Stars and Samurai Japan. And so, it is time for our third entry in "Better Know a Host City on the Japan All-Stars Tour."
Just the facts, ma'am: Japan's fifth largest city is also the capital of the Hokkaido prefecture, the country's northernmost island, which makes it "one of the main hubs of the nation," according to the city's own guidebook. Also according to the guidebook: The name "Sapporo" means either "red river lined with large reed bed" or "large dried-up river." So, now you know.
It's also one of the coldest cities in the country, being in the north and all, but that just means it gets to play host to the Sapporo Snow Festival, which is described as "a winter dreamland of crystal-like ice and white snow." That doesn't happen until February 2015, though, so the MLB All-Stars will miss it. Rats.
Sapporo Beer: Yes, the beer. The oldest brand in Japan started brewing in Sapporo in 1876, and hit the United States in 1964.
Sports!: We'll get to baseball in a second, but first, the 1972 Winter Olympics. The Games were the first Winter Olympics held in Asia and the first in which Japan won a gold medal (Spain also won its first Winter Games gold medal in Sapporo). The Olympics took place in the middle of the Cold War and as such came with a few controversies, including an absent Canadian hockey team, which protested on accusations of professionalism in the USSR. The Soviet Union ended up taking home the most medals from the Games with 16 (including 8 gold). The U.S. was fifth in the medal count with eight, and Japan finished in 11th place with three medals.
Saporro also served as a venue during the 2002 FIFA World Cup, when Japan and South Korea hosted the tournament.
The Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters: The Fighters have called the Sapporo Dome home since 2004, when they moved out of the Tokyo Dome. Owned by and named after the meat packing company Nippon Ham, the Fighters have won four Pacific League pennants in Sapporo, and one Japan Series title.
The former Fighter that MLB fans are likely most familiar with is Rangers All-Star pitcher Yu Darvish, who played seven seasons with the Fighters, amassing 1,250 strikeouts in just over 1,268 innings.
Darvish also pitched for Japan in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, when he simply steamrolled competition, striking out a WBC-best 20 batters in just 13 innings pitched:
Another former Fighter: Hideki Okajima, who played one season in Sapporo before signing with the Red Sox for the 2007 World Series championship season.
Former Pirate reliever Michael Crotta pitched for the Fighters in 2014.
The MLB All-Stars will play the Japan national team at the Saporro Dome at 5 a.m. ET on Tuesday. MLB Network will broadcast all seven games of the Japan All-Star Series and MLB.TV subscribers will be able to watch every game as well.