July 13, 1999
OK, this is something that would only happen in Japan (even if you aren't a sports fan, bear with me and read until the end -- it isn't about sports, it's about Japan).
There is an 18 year old pitcher, Something Matsuzaka, who has been blowing everyone away in the major leagues here since he pitched his high school team to the national title last year. He is one of the most recognizable baseball players in Japan, and it won't surprise me if he is famous in the US very soon. The kid is damn good.
Anyway, today he was pitching extremely well, so well that with two out in the ninth inning he had a shutout (no runs scored against him). Facing what could have been the final batter, he threw the first pitch, and it was a strike. The crowd roared. He threw the second pitch, strike 2, the crowd roared louder. There were runners on second and third base, so any hit would score runs. It was one an extremely exciting and tense situation. Suddenly, with two out and two strikes in the ninth inning, they cut to a commercial.
It was 9:25 when this happened. To my wide-eyed disbelief and consternation, there were 5 solid minutes of commercials, and at 9:30 another program started. It had been time to end the program, and nothing else mattered. I am sure that people throughout Japan were glued to their screens to see what was going to happen, and the TV network did it anyway. If Matsuzaka indeed got the final batter out and had a complete game shutout, this game will probably go down as one of the most memorable games of the year in Japan, and it still didn't matter. It was time to go to commercial, so they did. This would only happen in Japan. Everything here HAS to run on schedule. The thing is, anyone who has ever been to a baseball game knows that this is impossible. It was absolutely unbelievable. I'm still pissed off that I don't know what happened.
(For those of you who are confused by the subject line of this message, please allow me to explain: In the 1970s, there was a very important NFL football game playing on TV. One team was ahead by a lot of points, and the game was lasting a very long time, and the network decided that they would play the movie "Heidi," as scheduled, instead of waiting until the end of the (supposedly unexciting) game. Unfortunately for the TV network, the losing team staged one of the most amazing comebacks in NFL history and won the game, but nobody saw it. "Heidi" was playing. This game has since become known as the "Heidi Game," and it was the inspiration for the subject of this message. I still say that what happened today would only happen in Japan, because the decision had NOTHING to do with the fact that the game in question was unexciting and thought to be over (as had the actual "Heidi" decision. Instead, it was the definition of excitement in baseball. And yet, they went ahead and played the equivalent of "Heidi" anyway.)