Invitational Feedback.

Email to President Chuck Sarver from Puerto Rico:

Hello, just a note to let you know how grateful we are are for helping us come back and participate in your great activity "FOR THE LOVE OF THE GAME". Jeannie and I are very grateful to have met you, you are a great man. I know you, your family and work team put a lot of effort in order for this event to be such a success. Believe me It was. My coaches, my team parents and family that was there with us will never forget the kindness and hospitality we received from all of your people and yourself.

Thank you for everything. Our team is looking forward to going next year. Do you think is possible? Our boys want to know if any of the other teams won 7 or more games. Will kindly appreciate the feedback.

Please keep in touch and best regards to all the staff and of course Sonny and his wife

Thank you one more time, You guys are the BEST!

God bless you, Eddy & Jeannie Arroyo

A view of Freeport as seen by Kengo Takeno of the ICU Baseball Club, Japan.

To the U.S.

Freeport is a small town surrounded by mountains and rivers, about an hour’s drive from Pittsburgh. The population of the town is only 2,200. There was a big baseball field in the middle of town, and quaint old houses lined the streets. There was a rich natural environment, and fireflies appeared all around town after sunset. The tournament this year was larger than the preceding year, and games were played in several adjoining towns. The whole community was involved in the event. A total of 26 teams participated, playing 10 games in five days. There were approximately 100 volunteers to help out, and teams that had come from far away were provided yellow buses like those we had seen in old American movies. The drivers of these buses were volunteers, too. When one game was over, the driver would drive us the 30 minutes it took to get to the next town for our next game and then would wait for us there until that game was over. As soon as we arrived, we were invited to watch the Pittsburgh Pirates, a major league team, play. On the third day of our visit, we played our first practice game against the Freeport team. Although we were playing the same sport, there was a great deal about the way the game was played that was different. One difference was the way we counted strikes and balls. In Japan, if we say “one, two,” it would imply one strike and two balls. But in North America, it would mean one ball and two strikes. When I was standing at bat, the umpire said “three, one,” and I thought I had struck out. In addition, although the game is played on unpaved ground, the field is normally a well-tended grassy area. Before a game, everybody takes his hat off and listens to the national anthem. Those of you who have watched a major league game on TV may have noticed the interesting custom called the “seventh inning stretch.” Everyone sings a song called “Take Me Out To the Ball Game” after the seventh inning, while taking the opportunity to stand up and stretch a bit. I really liked it. Some people even come to watch a game just to see this part of it. This was the first time we played a night game and experienced the “seventh inning stretch.” I also liked the way we shook hands with our opponents and said “good game” to one another. It’s similar to saying “no side” after a rugby game.

Are We Famous?

We were staying in a hotel a short distance from Freeport, and when we entered a restaurant for breakfast, the other guests and the waitresses immediately recognized us. We were really surprised and did not know why we were suddenly so famous, but we had the answer to our question when we saw an article in the local paper that evening, with our pictures on the sports page. We did remember being interviewed after the game, but we didn’t think it would turn out to be such a big article. We would never have received this kind of publicity in Japan. During the event, the games we played were always mentioned on the sports page, and we looked forward to reading those articles every morning. The local people made us feel at home and talked to us a lot. A World War II veteran told me he had been to Kobe and Yokohama 50 years ago. He said the Japanese were kind. Some Japanese-Americans came a long way to see us, just because they heard a Japanese team was coming. Our driver invited us to his house and treated us to cakes his family had made for us. We were also invited to come and have a look around the Sony TV factory in Greensburg. With this warm welcome, we were gradually able to relax.

Play Ball

The games started. Based on my experience from the year before, I told my team to play as hard as they could until the end of the game. Even though we were playing against high school kids, they could hit 120-meter home runs, and some already had informal contracts with pro baseball teams. The difference in stamina and physical build was clear, so we had to think of some other way to compete. They led the game in the beginning, but I told my team to adopt a defensive posture and wait as patiently as they could until a chance came, a very Japanese piece of advice. Playing throughout the game without giving up and always running as fast as you can to first base is the starting point in baseball. And of course, we could not let people down since we had been invited as representatives of Japan. We wanted to play so we would be remembered as having done our very best. The event was full of surprises for us. A member of the opposing team hit a home run over the center fence, a distance of more than 130 meters. The Ohio state championship team that had a record of 26 wins and no losses nearly got a no-hitter off of us (we did make one hit). But ICU played well, scoring a few runs at the end of the game. Our curve balls were effective, troubling a lot of batters on the opposing team. There was the difference in the strike zone (slightly lower and further outside than in Japan), and when we stayed with the curve ball, the opposing team was not able to hit very often. When a straight ball went higher than our pitcher intended, then they hit home runs. This may be the reason players from the major leagues have trouble when they join Japanese pro baseball teams. We had the chance to experience the differences, although at our own level.

The Team at Its Best

When I first heard we were playing two games a day for five consecutive days, I was really worried about the team’s condition. They might be too tired playing such a heavy schedule in such a different environment. But as the tournament progressed, my team looked happier than ever. We moved around by bus, like players in the minor leagues, and slept extremely well while we were on the move. As soon as the team arrived at the place for the next game, they got out their gloves and bats and played very well. The tournament provided an opportunity for the players to absorb a lot, and maybe the spectators also gave us a chance to grow. Everywhere we went, people asked for our autographs, and when we played well, people would stand up and applaud. In the second game on the third day, the spectators cheered for the opposing team and there was not much reaction to what our team did. This was nothing special, since the locals usually cheered for their own team. We were losing at first, but later on it became a seesaw game. In the last inning, the people sitting on our side of the stadium stood up and cheered for us. We lost the game 7 to 5, but I still cannot forget how much the crowd support meant to our team. The atmosphere of that game and the beautiful sunset in the background are something I will never forget.

Four Wins, Seven Losses

The last game for us was at Freeport. We played against another local team. Because it was a Sunday, the Freeport stadium was almost full, with more than 2,000 spectators. Everyone in town was there to watch the game. Our opponents led the game, but near the end, when the batter hit a line drive to right center field, one of our team members ran to catch the ball near the ground. All of the spectators stood up and clapped to show their appreciation of the fine play. It was something I will never forget. This is probably the way Americans are: they applaud for a good play. ICU managed to recover in the next inning and won the game 4-2. Words cannot express the excitement of being united in this way with the spectators. We ended with a record of four wins and seven losses. I think we did quite well.

Farewell

When we attended the closing ceremony, the spectators greeted us again with a standing ovation. We took our hats off to thank them. In the ceremony, the national anthems of the participating teams were sung a cappella. Coach Nakao of our team stood on home plate and sang the Kimigayo solo, which echoed through the mountains of Freeport. After the tournament organizer gave his speech, the lights were turned off for fireworks. Big blasts were followed by beautifully colored fireworks adorning the sky, and we also could see the lights of the fireflies. We will never forget this scene. We were all excited, calling out the words “Tamaya” and “Kagiya” (calls made at fireworks, originally starting in the Edo era, representing the names of the shops making the fireworks), which none of the others could understand. After that we had a party, with the Puerto Rican players leading the dancing. We Japanese are supposed to be shy, but we managed to really enjoy ourselves. We exchanged hats, shook hands and promised to meet again.

Grass-Roots Baseball Exchange

We normally would not have had the opportunity to go on such a tour, since we were not the all-Japan team or anywhere near that level. The fact that we were able to go as representatives of Japan to play on American soil was marvelous. It was like the movie “Field of Dreams.” People really love and enjoy baseball. The stadium at Freeport looked like a jewel box when we looked down on it from a hillside. Our good performance, the warm welcome and the friendship with the local community were all elicited by baseball. It was a wonderful and rare experience for us to actually find people with different ethnic backgrounds and nationalities, coming together to play the same game under common rules. This may be the case in the Olympics, but not everybody gets to participate, so it was wonderful that we were able to go. We also were able to see that there was a different sort of baseball from that played in Japan. The organizers of this event said that it did not matter whether you won or lost. It was great just seeing people from different states and countries run around the same bases. You put as much energy as you can into having fun. If you do your best, whether you win or lose is secondary. The organizer insisted that we participate again next year. Although we do have the big problem of how to pay for travel expenses, I hope we can go. I am looking forward to again playing on that field of dreams as part of our baseball activities. Lastly, I would like to thank the president of ICU and all those who helped to make our tour possible.