Yakyu means baseball: Funny business

Yakyu means baseball: Funny business

YOKOHAMA, Japan -- He's no Phillie Phanatic, but he sure as heck isn't a fish either.

Slyly the, umm, whatever he is, is the mascot of the Hiroshima Carp, and the teal, fur-bearing whatsit is a curveball among his colleagues in Japanese baseball. Slyly has nothing to do with his team's nickname, Slyly has no gender-specific counterpart and he also has no mental health issues.

His appearance unquestionably influenced by his Phanatical counterpart, Slyly is one of a large number of mascots in Japan, but oddly enough, Slyly is an American institution.

The Carp have a history of hiring foreigners from across the sea to play the part of Slyly, who becomes a way for college and Minor League mascots to make a step up to the big leagues, not unlike players stuck in Triple-A who head to Japan as a way to raise their profile.

Hiroshima's fans, 15 years removed from their last pennant and 22 years on from their last Japan Series, don't always have a lot to celebrate, but with the way they react to Slyly, Carp supporters could be Yomiuri Giants fans during the V-9 Era (when the team won every Japan Series from 1965-73).

Slyly's so popular he could be mayor of Hiroshima perhaps, which means it's a good thing that he's not neurotic, which more than one Pacific League mascot can claim.

Mr. Carrasco (no relation to Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks farmhand and Kansas City Royals castaway D.J. Carrasco), of the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles has a legitimate identity crisis.

Born in the minds responsible for bringing about the success of Japan's first expansion team in more than 50 years, Mr. Carrasco is not an eagle (nor an Eagle), but a crow.

The trick, however, is that Mr. Carrasco thinks he is an eagle.

"So we'll make Carrasco-san a crow who only believes he is an eagle," one can imagine translations of boardroom discussions among Rakuten's top marketing brass may have said sometime leading up to the Golden Eagles' 2005 debut.

Fortunately, Mr. Carrasco has a couple of actual eagles, Clutch and Clutchina, to balance him out, but that doesn't make Mr. Carrasco (or his bizarre helmet that covers his eyes and seems to impair his judgment) any less fervid about his perceived self.

One mascot who has no illusions about himself is B.B., of the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters.

Mohawk aside, B.B. is the portrait of an ideal pro sports mascot: fit, determined and oh so cultured.

Along with Seibu's Lion, B.B. -- a bearcat, a chipmunk, take your pick -- is one of the more mobile and agile organization faces in Japan, which has earned him acclaim from both fans in the Fighters' native Sapporo and their former home, Tokyo. Among his many exploits, B.B. has demonstrated his piano prowess, along with other polished talents one would never see from Polly the Parrot or even Mr. Red.

But with great talent comes great responsibility. And apparently a lack of sick days.

Earlier this season during one of the Fighters' home-away-from-home games at Tokyo Dome, B.B. was forced to navigate the crowd with his handler, as per norm, and a set of crutches.

Considering how many stairs are in the Big Egg, it wasn't the easiest of assignments, but Yu Darvish threw a shutout that night, so at least B.B.'s probable suffering was not in vain.

Anguish may be just what Yokohama BayStars mascot Hosshey (a play on the Japanese word for star, "hoshi") could handle a little more of. It would be a good excuse for a little up-close time with Hossiena, his female companion.

To make sure no fan is sexually alienated, many Japanese baseball teams have both male and female mascots, appealing to the bulk of the fans, surely, on some level.

Another team which employs this is the Orix Buffaloes, a team contracted of the Ichiro's Orix BlueWave and the Kintetsu Buffaloes.

For better or worse, Orix's mascots survived the merger, which means Neppie (short for Neptune) and his trident are accompanied by main squeeze Ripsea whenever possible.

Even the finicky Ichiro doesn't badmouth Neppie, though. In an interview with ESPN, the ever-critical Mariners outfielder gave Orix's mascot props for his moves.

Neppie often takes the field with a trident, but word is still out on whether that gives him jurisdiction over Chiba Lotte's seagull mascots.

While Neppie may pretend to rule the oceans, at least it is nice to know there is one straightforward mascot, even if his existence is a constant reminder of the Central League's watered-down version of the Curse of the Bambino.

Try as they may, the Hanshin Tigers have yet to win a series since 1985, the number emblazoned on the jersey of their mascot, Lucky.

So happy were Osaka fans in '85 to have nearby Hanshin win its first Japan Series, a statue of Colonel Harland Sanders found its way from a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant into the Dotonbori Canal.

The Tigers have won the CL twice since the Curse of the Colonel began, but the big prize remains elusive, a streak of ineptitude Lucky reminds fans of Japan's second most-popular team of every time he steps out of the locker room.

No word on whether Lucky may have to join the Colonel in the Dotonbori, but if he does, perhaps he can keep his eyes peeled for a couple of carp to dance with Slyly.

Stephen Ellsesser is a reporter for The Japan Times and a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.