Over 10,000 kilometres away from Jarry Park Stadium where Lord’s favorite team growing up, the Montréal Expos, called home, Lord found himself a new home in 2008 at Koshien stadium in Nishinomiya, Japan.
As a member of the Hanshin Tigers’ ouendan, Lord cheered with a group of hardcore fans who bring Japanese ballparks to life by sitting in the right outfield chanting while accompanied by trumpets, whistles, and flags. And all this happens before, during, and after nine innings of play.
“It didn’t take much for me to fall in love with the Tigers’ fandom. I probably attended close to 100 home games in my three years in Japan,” Lord said in a Reddit AMA.
He moved to Nishinomiya, Japan to teach English taking part in the Japan Exchange Teaching Program with “zero” prior Japanese language experience.
“I’m lucky in that languages come pretty easily to me,” he said.
In a new country and trying to learn a new language he remembered has passion for baseball and made contact with the ouendan, the hardcore fans, who paint the right outfield yellow of their hometown Tigers.
The organized band of fans has unique chants for every player at bat and don’t stop even when the batter reaches base or is called out.
Lord said that ouendan have, “chants for different game situations, scoring threats, third outs on defense, runs scored,” and called it “awesome.”
While he never got the honour of leading the cheer inside the stadium, a highlight of his time in the cheering squad was getting to lead cheers outside the ballpark after a winning game.
One of the aspects Lord loved about the Japanese baseball the most is how they play the game.
He enjoys the Nippon Baseball League’s playing style because they focus less on power than they do in the majors, forcing the defense to make plays on hits.
“There’s nothing more exciting than a runner rounding third while a center fielder hops into a throw,” Lord said.
“The most exciting spectacle baseball has to offer comes from singles and doubles.”
Lord said that fans of the Nippon Professional Baseball League perceive Major League Baseball like Major League Soccer fans see the English Premier League, as a higher level league, but not as unattainable to try and match one day.
Despite the great energy and passion that the ouendan bring to baseball games, Lord doesn’t see the practice of cheer squads coming overseas.
He said he is doubtful the ouendan will become a practice in the MLB because in North America, individuality is highly valued, while in Japan it’s more of a homogeneous society, where, “These massive choreographed cheers work so well, because the whole stadium buys in.”
“Everyone’s got the group-first mentality,” he said.
Lord, who maintains his love for Japanese baseball, is considering starting a sabermetrics consulting firm, specializing in Japanese players after he finishes his MBA at McGill University.