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July 19, 2005

I'm back

Did you miss me? Sorry for the prolonged absence, but I was camping with my son and the Cub Scouts this weekend. Yes, this weekend. The weekend that saw the temperature rise to over 100 degrees. It was like camping in a blast furnace. But even with all the heat we still had a great time. I'll be writing more about it later, but for now I just wanted to let you know that I am alive.

More later or tomorrow.

Posted by snackeru at July 19, 2005 10:06 AM | Life

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Japanese "Waving Kitty" Making Waves for St. Paul Saints Baseball Fans

by Atsumi Kiyoshi
special to the Tokyo Shimbun

July 20, 2005

TOKYO -- This kitty is making waves in America now, and Minnesota
baseball fans can''t get enough of her.

While the ubiquitous "maneki neko" of Japanese culture is famous
throughout Japan -- as a lucky charm for stores, pubs and night clubs
-- the pan-Asian icon has found a new home for herself in St. Paul,
Minnesota, where a minor league baseball team called the St. Paul
Saints is using a "Waving Kitty" caricature on its video scoreboard to
raise fan excitement and help bring in the runs.

One fan of the St. Paul Saints wrote on an Internet site: "The
Japanese 'Happy Waving Kitty' has been sighted several times this
summer in Section A here at home and at a Sioux Falls away fame. She
has been the source of many rallies, and a woman named Michelle, who
we also call the 'Candy Lady', is the owner of two kittys, and she
brings them to each game she attends. Look for them on the 3rd base
dugout or on Rusty's table."

What's this? A Japanese cultural icon is being used as a fan motivator
for a minor league baseball team in the Midwest of America? Yes, and
acccording to the team's management staff, the Waving Kitty has adding
a certain "je ne sais quoi" to this season's games, as well as helping
a few runs come in during game rallies, runs that might not have come
in otherwise.

The Happy Waving Kitty is displayed on the Midway Stadium video board
whenever the Saints need a rally, according to a team spokesman. And
the strategy seems to have worked in one crucial game, he said, noting
that the Saints took the Northern League first-half title with a
little help from the Happy Waving Kitty!

Now word reaches Tokyo that on August 29, the first 2,500 fans who
arrive at the Midway Stadium ballpark will receive a free ''maneki
neko'' piggy bank, compliments of the St. Paul Saints and a local
steak house called the Ichiban Steak House.

An international website based in Japan -- located at
http://japundit.com -- has already shown the spotlight on this unique
cross-cultural sports phenomenon, and websites and blogs across Japan
and the USA have been talking about the arrival of the Happy Waving
Kitty in St. Paul for the past few weeks.

A new baseball legend is born, and St. Paul, Minnesota is the place
where it all happened. According to news reports, a few people from
the team's management staff were having dinner at a local restaurant
earlier this summer when they saw the cute and colorful Waving Kitty
at the cash register. When they asked the waitress if they could buy
one, she told them they could buy two and the staff took the lucky
kitty statues back to their office and began to brainstorm.

The result was an idea born from that luncheon: put the Waving Kitty
on the video scoreboard at Midway Stadium and use her to help bring in
some runs, build fan excitement and create a media sensation at the
same time. If all goes according to plan, it won't be long before the
New York Times, ESPN, Sports Illustrated and CNN come calling and put
the story of the St. Paul Saints' Happy Waving Kitty on the front page
of newspapers everywhere, according to one Tokyo sportswriter who
spent several years studying in America and knows the power of the US
media to make a heroine out of this colorful and cute Waving Kitty.

"Are you going to show the video of the Waving Kitty at every game?
This could become a new fad!" one Internet poster asked the team
website in May.

And the team management noted on another website: "The good news about
yesterday is that
"Happy Waving Kitty" made her big-screen debut here at the stadium. We
animated a 'maneki neko' and showed her on the big screen during the
many rallies we had. It worked well!"

"There is the beginning of a small 'Maneki Neko' club here at the
stadium," another St. Paul baseball observer noted on a website.
"After appearing on the videoboard a second day, some fans have
started to mimic the waving cat's waving paw. I think the cat's time
has come. The Waving Kitty might help put this team on the map, all
over the world, if word gets out via the media. So far, not one local
paper has picked up the story. It's a natural for the sports papers.
So what are they waiting for?"

Move over, Smokey the Bear and Tony the Tiger and Mickey and Minny,
here comes the Happy Waving Kitty in St. Paul, Minnesote, and minor
league baseball in America will never be the same.

##

[Atsumi Kiyoshi is a Toky-based sports commentator from Shibamata,
Tokyo, with a longtime interest in American baseball.]

Posted by: dan bloom at July 19, 2005 10:44 AM

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