The nose-to-toes strike zone spooked the batters. The opposing teams' ploy of withholding their lineups until minutes before game time spooked the manager. And fans with trumpets played the same fight tune so many times players found themselves whistling it in the dugout.
During an exhibition tour of Japan, the Baltimore Orioles found that more than weight and biceps measurements separate the U.S. and Japanese brands of baseball.
"The Japanese like to hit and run. They like to steal bases. They generally play a much more aggressive, a little quicker game than the Americans do," said catcher Rich Dempsey, who also toured Japan with an all-star team in 1979.
But, in the end, it was old fashioned American batting power that carried the day. After losing, 1-0, in their first game, a loss blamed on jet lag and lethargy, the Orioles picked up and started hitting.
They finished their tour Wednesday with a record of 8-5-1. A Thursday game was rained out.
The tour dampened proud talk in the sports press here of baseball equality and a "real" World Series. But with all but one of the games televised, the Orioles cheered up this nation of baseball junkies by delaying the withdrawal pains of season's end.
Games with the Yomiuri Giants, the country's most popular team, filled all 50,000 seats in the stadium. And at home, millions of "salarymen," as Japan's harried white-collar workers are known, unwound before color televisions and got to push the office out of mind for a few more evenings.
It was never clear how serious the Orioles took the tour. First baseman Eddie Murray probably set the tone when he remarked at the tour's start, "You just come over here to enjoy yourself and try to play a good game of baseball."
Pitchers were not about to risk arms in games that would mean nothing for pennants, players said. Still, Manager Joe Altobelli gave his players good marks on motivation. "We've hit 29 home runs in 12 ball games and you can't knock that," he said near the tour's end.
The tour kept the Orioles in perpetual motion. They were shuttled the width and breadth of Japan by a withering succession of buses, high-speed "bullet trains," jets and taxis. Hotels and food were generally first class.
One hundred and two people arrived by chartered jet for the tour, which was sponsored by the Giants' parent company, including 29 players, five coaches, one manager and assorted wives, physicians and other camp followers, as well as Orioles owner Edward Bennett Williams.
In their first-game loss, against the 1984 Japanese champions, the Hiroshima Toyo Carp, the Orioles faced a dazzling young pitcher and umpires who tend to assume an American pro can hit anything if he tries.
But the Orioles won the remaining four games against the Carp. They also did well against the Giants, still the country's sweethearts despite a third-place finish this year. All-star and combined teams gave the Orioles more trouble.
Like Americans who play in Japan's major leagues, the Orioles found it hard adjusting to Japanese ideas of what is a strike. "If you've got a strike zone from your neck to the ground, it's hard to hit," said Lenn Sakata. Many batters settled on swinging at almost anything.
Players noted that the Japanese try to offset lack of batting power by fine-tuning the game. Japanese pros are masters at stealing bases and making theatrical bunts, although bunts were rarely used against the Orioles.
The Orioles got a surprise introduction to Japanese psychological warfare in the opening game with the Carp, when the lineup did not reach Altobelli until 30 minutes before the game, as is the custom. It also arrived written in Japanese. The Orioles' starting pitcher, Mike Boddicker, had been announced in the newspapers.
Altobelli, in the dark as to whether to prepare for a left-handed or right-handed pitcher, came up with a solution: "When I found out what the rules were, I simply had two lineups ready, and when I found out who was pitching for them, I presented the one that fit."
Players found Japanese fans both pleasing and a bit disappointing. People don't throw beer cans at players here; they also don't cheer very loudly. "In New York or Detroit, the cheer from the crowd comes out and it kind of gives you goose bumps," Dempsey said.
Outfielder Ken Singleton, however, found some things are the same the world over. "They do want your autograph," said Singleton, a free agent who has been mentioned as a possibility for the Japanese major leagues. "They hang around in hotel lobbies, just like in the States."
No one would admit to being vexed by the trumpet players found in the outfield stands of every Japanese park, from which they pump out the same fight tune for almost every ball and strike. But it did stick in everyone's mind, often following them to bed.
There was relatively little time for sightseeing. Still, the Orioles managed to sample Japanese food; pick up dolls, clothing and other presents for home, and visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, where they posed for a group photograph.
Sakata, a fourth generation Japanese-American, found himself under special scrutiny from reporters. "They wanted to trace my ancestry, see where my relatives are over here. They weren't too concerned about me as a player."
Before one game, relatives from his father's family -- the descendents of a great uncle who stayed behind in Japan -- showed up and visited briefly with Sakata. He had never met them, or known they existed.