Chicago Shimpo
Japanese Senior Little Leaguers Experience Overseas Through Baseball

• The 26th annual MCYSA Summer International Baseball Tournament was held from July 20 to 29 at Crystal Lake in Illinois. The tournament has been hosted by the McHenry County Youth Sports Association that replaced the CABA (Continental Amateur Baseball Association) about 10 years ago.

• Japan has been participating in the tournament’s under-15-year-old section for 25 years. This year 18 players, who had been selected from the Japan Little Senior Baseball Association, came to Crystal Lake.
• They are very skillful players, and some of them have become professional players. On July 8th, American media released big news about Kaito Yuki, who had played in the tournament last year, and signed a contract with the Kansas City Royals. He is only 16 years old and became the youngest Japanese player to enter MLB.

• The opening ceremony was set on July 20, but was put off to the next day. Japan had already won two games against Chi-Town Reds and Downriver Hawks and was going to play against Crystal Lake Babe Ruth after the opening ceremony.
• Head Coach Kazuhisa Akiyama said that it was going to be an important game because the result would affect a bracket of the tournament, which started the following day.

• Although rain was forecasted, Lippold Park, the place of the opening ceremony, was filled with enthusiasm. All participating teams, their families and host families got together to cheer for the players.

• Head Coach Akiyama said that Japanese players came from across Japan, and had only two hours to get together to have a practice before boarding on a plane. He had difficulties to match their names and faces, and didn’t even know about their strengths and weaknesses. Moreover, they were staying with host families, so he could only see them on the field. “I was watching them during the past games, so I’m much better now. I wish them to be relaxed, befriend each other, and make good memories. That is the most important thing,” Akiyama said.

• Ryo Hosoya, pitcher, infielder and outfielder, and Ryota Watanabe, infielder, said that their at-bats were “So, so,” and they were very much enjoying staying with their host families. “Steaks and hamburgers are the best!” they said.

• Reo Horikawa, pitcher, infielder and outfielder, said that he started playing baseball when he was in the third grade. “I’m in good condition. Being overseas for the first time, I feel that Japanese people, who represent Japan and play in foreign countries, are great. I’ll make my best effort to win,” he said.

• Linda Mugder is mother of a host family and takes care of two players, Ryota Watanabe and Kaito Sasaki. She said, “We jokingly, teasingly call them ‘Trouble’ and ‘Dangerous.” Her husband jokingly said, “It’s much easier to call them ‘number 4’ and ‘number 14.’”
• Linda said that she had no problem to communicate with them because they used translator on their phones, and they loved to play with her 9-year-old twins.
• “They are nice because we don’t wear shoes in our house. They immediately take their shoes off, so we don’t even need to tell them,” Linda said with laughter.

• An elderly couple on a bench was Kaito Sasaki’s grandparents. “I was watching that he was enjoying being with his host family, so I thought that he was doing well,” grandma said. Grandpa is still active in his business, but goes to see his grandson’s games as much as possible.

• The mothers of the players also came to see their son’s games.
• Mother of Taro Tsubota said, “My son seems to be struggling with a bat, which is different from one in Japan. He said that making contact was difficult with an American bat.” She also said, “My son is a catcher and playing with pitchers whom he met on this team. So it might be difficult, but I hope that he can lead pitchers and do a good job.”

• The mother of Yosuke Yamashita was worrying about her son’s position, “He is actually a catcher, but he was a first baseman yesterday and a right fielder this afternoon.”
• Mother of Shinta Nukui also said, “There are 18 players, so my son has to make his best effort to be one of the nine starters. I think that he will do it, and I also do my best to cheer him up!”

• Shimpo asked players about the differences between an American bat and a Japanese one. They said, “You have to hit a ball with a meet point; otherwise, it doesn’t fly far enough,” “A meet point means a sweet spot,” “Japan has its own bat standard, and America has its own. A meet spot is narrower in an American bat, so you have a difficulty.” Thank you guys!

• At the opening ceremony, all teams made a parade on the field, and national anthems were played for foreign teams. Fireworks in the dark sky added a zest for the ceremony.

• Arata Hattori caught the first pitch ceremonial ball and said, “It was a ball, but had power. It was a good pitch.”
• At last, the game against Crystal Lake Babe Ruth began, and tension rose in Japan’s bench.
• Sota Matsui hit a single and stole a base twice to reach third. After Shintaro Ninomiya’s center fly, Taro Tsubota hit a triple, and Matsui made it home safely to get the first score.

• The bottom of the first inning, pitcher Tasuku Ichikawa pitched well, and CLBR couldn’t make a hit. Japan led the game with hits, runs, and kept scoring.
• Rain started again, but both teams played well until the game ended in the fifth inning with the score of 9 to 0.

• Akiyama said, “It was a nice game, and CLBR was a good team, too. Our players used their feet well to run and reach second and third base. They did a good job.”

• In the tournament, Japan beat Na Koa Baseball (IL), Brazil, Next Level (IL) and Phenom Illinois, and won the championship.

• Next year, the tournament will be held from July 19, 2019.

The members of Japanese team and Crystal Lake Babe Ruth pose for a photo after they played a game.

Japan's senior little leaguers sing Japanese national anthem.

Tsubasa Uyama is at batter's box.