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Taking Jim out to the ball game

Shortly after I returned to Japan in 2001 following a stint on Jim Saft’s capital markets team in London, he came over to Tokyo for a business trip and told me he wanted to go see a baseball game. I understood. As much as we loved working in London, cricket just doesn’t cut it.

The only game in the Tokyo area that weekend was in Chiba, about an hour from central Tokyo. When we arrived at the windy oceanfront stadium, the game had just got started but the home team was already down 0-10. Essentially game over. I felt really bad about dragging Jim all the way out there to see a non-game.

But he seemed quite amused. The home team, the Chiba Lotte Marines, had a few former Major League stars on their roster, and the way those players had blended into the scene seemed to fascinate him.

“Beh-nee!” chanted the crowd in the stands. “Benny? Oh, Benny Agbayani!” Jim exclaimed, pointing his finger at the former New York Mets outfielder. “Foo-ran-koh!” the crowd cheered. “Franco? Oh, Matt Franco! I saw him play for the Cubs!”

It was a pretty ugly one-sided game, but we stayed on till the end. When it was all over, manager Bobby Valentine and the entire team came out of the dugout and lined up in front of the stands, taking their hats off and bowing in an apparent apology for their poor showing. I had never seen anything like it, and neither had Jim, of course. For most people, a more enduring image of Valentine is probably that of him barking at the umpire and kicking dirt as the highly combustible manager of the New York Mets and the Boston Red Sox - but there he was, humbly bowing like a Japanese CEO at a news conference for an accounting fraud scandal at his firm.

On our way back to Tokyo, Jim gave me a book he had picked up at the airport and finished reading the night before. It was You Gotta Have Wa by Robert Whiting, a tongue-in-cheek cultural anthropology essay that examines the Japanese idea of wa (harmony) by comparing the games of baseball played in Japan and the US. That stuff probably prepared him well for his pep talk in the Tokyo bureau.

I’m sure Jim had plenty of opportunities to go to the ballparks after hanging his Treasury Editor hat and returning to the US. I just hope some of those games were closer than the one we watched.

RIP, Jim. ■