This guest-post is part of the 2016 Baseball Continuum Blogathon For Charity, benefiting the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation. The Roswell Park Alliance Foundation is the charitable arm of Roswell Park Cancer Institute and funds raised will be “put to immediate use to increase the pace from research trials into improved clinical care, to ensure state-of-the-art facilities, and to help improve the quality of life for patients and their families.” Please donate through the Blogathon’s GoFundMe page. Also, please note that the opinions and statements of the writer are not necessarily those of the Baseball Continuum or it’s webmaster.
Who are we?: We are an English blog writing about one of 12 teams in the Japanese professional baseball league known as Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB). While the Saitama Seibu Lions are the primary team we cover, we will write anything that connects MLB and NPB, such as the recent signing of Kenta Maeda to the Los Angeles Dodgers. You can follow us on Twitter @GraveyardBall for any instant updates.
Part 12? What?: This is the final piece in a 12-part series on a guide with who to adopt as your NPB team. We connected with some history, trivia and showing who played on each team with MLB on their resume. You can see all posts at the bottom which covers each team.
Saitama Seibu Lions (埼玉西武ライオンズ)
The Saitama Seibu (西武) Lions were originally in Fukuoka (Kyushu island) as the Nishitetsu Clippers in 1950 for one season. Nishitetsu is an electric railway in Fukuoka which still operates today. After a merger with another team, they became Nishitetsu Lions one year later in 1951.
There would be a Black Mist scandal involving players fixing games from 1969-1971, similar to the Black Sox scandal from 1919. Nishitetsu would sell the team and they would be Taiheiyo Club Lions from 1973-1976, which is named after a golf course and resort developer. They would then be sold to Crown Lighter Gas, to be called the Crown Lighter Lions from 1977-1978.
Eventually, they were sold to Seibu Group and they moved to Tokorozawa in 1979, a place they still hold today. Their title would be Seibu Lions until 2008, where they added the prefecture name “Saitama” to the front.
Ownership: Seibu Holdings
Seibu is a conglomerate which owns several businesses. The most well-known one is the Seibu Railway as it operates in greater Tokyo. The trains are one of the best ways to get to a game in Tokorozawa. Seibu also owns hotels, real estate, resorts and more.
Train stations in the area will often be decorated with Lions related colors. The name “Seibu” (西武) derives as an abbreviation from it’s kanji title of west Musashi, which was the old title of where present day Saitama prefecture was located. 西 (Nishi) means West in Japanese.
Payroll rank in 2015: 9
The Lions are a team with a tight budget as they won’t spend a lot. However, they will pay players who prove their worth and this ranking can go up with multiple pay raises happening. Usually they are in the “pack”.
Location/Stadium: Seibu Dome in Tokorozawa, Saitama prefecture
Tokorozawa is a suburb in greater Tokyo. It’s quite a distance from the capital itself, but the Lions represent Saitama prefecture, which is in the North. Saitama prefecture is known for some mountains in their scenery, with plenty of room to go hiking.
The most famous spot in the area, would be Hachikokuyama, which is a park right on the border of Saitama and Tokyo prefectures. The park was used as an inspiration as the scenery for the movie My Neighbor Totoro.
Side note: I recommend everyone sees this short movie, which is nearly 30 years old now.
Seibu Dome was originally an outdoor stadium when the Lions moved there in 1979. It was then known as Seibu Stadium. While there is a roof, you can see that in the outfield and all around the building that it can be exposed to wind and hot temperatures with the open face. The domed roof was added in 1998. Due to one player being sold, the place underwent renovations after 2007.
Mascots: Leo (right) and Lyna (left)
Leo is based off the character Kimba the White Lion in the Japanese Anime known as “Jungle Emperor Leo.” The Lions used to have this as their main logo and still use it for flags (such as what’s in centerfield near the country’s flag. That flag is also seen during the NPB Draft.
Uniforms: The Lions have switched to Majestic in 2016, and had a ceremonial “kick-off” for them last Friday morning:
Note: The Lions used to wear a bright blue design with the Kimba logo since their move to Tokorozawa. However, a scandal in the 00s by then-owner Yoshiaki Tsutsumi made them want to move on from it and rebranded to a dark blue design beginning in 2009.
Cheer song: Hoero Lions (吠えろライオンズ) “Roar Lions”
Instead of a 7th inning stretch of “Take me out to the ballgame”, Fans pull out balloons in 9 out of 12 stadiums and sing a cheer song as an alternative. A video of this can be found here.
Ōendan (Cheerleading) Songs: 2015 Player songs at 00:00, Hoero Lions at 7:03, Special Chance themes at 8:27, [ソリャセ] (Soryase, an equivalent of “Let’s Go”) at 10:42, Regular chance themes at 11:18, Scoring song at 15:08
Every player has their own “song” to hear when they’re batting. Whether home or away, a portion of the crowd will always be singing. A Chance song is a special song when usually runners are in scoring position, hence drawing a “Chance” opportunity.
The regular chance songs for the Lions have similar tunes to “Cotton Eye Joe”, “Do you know the Muffin man?”, but notice how Chance #4 near the end has women and men singing separate lines. You can hear a cleaner version here. (Scoring song featured too)
The Lions are the only Oendan in Japan to wave flags as a group. They do this when scoring and well as during the [ソリャセ], which is almost like saying “We want more runs”.
The scoring song title translates into “I saw a Lion running on the Horizon”. An up close version of the song can be heard in the video below starting at 2:41. They also sing “Happy Birthday” to players on their birthday, which you can see in the video as well.
MLB Comparison: Oakland Athletics
The Lions have found ways to be competitive with a low payroll more times than not. Since their move to Tokorozawa in 1979, the Lions have finished in the Bottom 3 of the Pacific League only three times.
Only difference is, the Lions have won a crucial elimination game multiple times in the 21st Century, including a Game 7 of the Japan Series. They’ve been competitive and avoided the cellar for the most part, which is good for a team that hasn’t been a high spender in recent years. Playing in what is viewed as the “ugliest” stadium in NPB also draws this comparison to the Oakland A’s, who play in the Oakland Coliseum.
Notable former MiLB and MLB players to play for the Lions:
Ryan Spilborghs, Esmerling Vasquez, Matty Alou, Terry Whitfield, George Vukovich, Kazuhisa Ishii
Notable players who played in MLB:
Daisuke Matsuzaka, Kazuo Matsui
Note: The Lions used a portion of the $51.1 million they acquired for Matsuzaka on renovations to the Seibu Dome. You can see the original look of the Dome prior to renovations here. Matsuzaka paid for restroom upgrades, an HD scoreboard, renovated field turf as well as adding bullpen box seats on the side.
Why you root for them:
Because you’re used to being in a big market, but rooting for a team with less fans in numbers. The Lions are far from the city, which is a long train ride away to get to the Seibu Dome. Yes, they’re in greater Tokyo, but forgotten due to teams like the Yomiuri Giants controlling the market.
It could also be that you’re an Oakland A’s fan know what it’s like to compete on a lower budget. The Lions have benefited from their ballpark and developed pitching over the years. Like the A’s, they have a strong amount of success in their team’s history with 13 Japan Series championships overall when combining their time in Fukuoka with the Seibu era.
The Lions had a “Golden Age” where they won 11 pennants from 1982-1994 and took eight Japan Series titles in that timeframe. This dynasty gets overlooked, similar to how the A’s had a three-peat from 1972-1974, due to being in the Pacific League.
Here at Graveyard Baseball, we can provide exclusive coverage of the team and insight in English for anyone. As of the time of this writing, we’re the only blog to write about the Lions in the English language.
Why you don’t root for them:
Like the A’s, the Lions have had their share of disappointing postseason exits. They were a strong team in both 2012 and 2013, but lost in the opening round when they were favored. You also dislike ugly stadiums if not teams from a suburb away from the city.
Crowds are also half empty on week nights due to the proximity from the heart of Tokyo. The average person who works in the city would not be able to attend a game on a week night at first pitch. Assuming the game begins at 6:00 PM local time, it takes 90 minutes by train to arrive at the Seibu Dome from Tokyo, meaning it wouldn’t be worth it for a worker (known as salarymen in Japan) to attend a game late.
Other NPB Teams in the series:
Follow us on Twitter @GraveyardBall
This guest-post has been part of the 2016 Baseball Continuum Blogathon For Charity, benefiting the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation. The Roswell Park Alliance Foundation is the charitable arm of Roswell Park Cancer Institute and funds raised will be “put to immediate use to increase the pace from research trials into improved clinical care, to ensure state-of-the-art facilities, and to help improve the quality of life for patients and their families.” Please donate through the Blogathon’s GoFundMe page. Also, please note that the opinions and statements of the writer were not necessarily those of the Baseball Continuum or it’s webmaster.