Japanese Team Enjoys Great Experience

High School : : General
Jeff Dahn        
Published: Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Baseballs meeting bats in the batting cages at Perfect Game USA took off on nearly identical trajectories on a rainy Tuesday afternoon, whether the ball was smacked by a high school kid from Iowa using a wood bat, or a high school kid from Yamanashi, Japan, using a metal bat.

The differences in baseball style were more apparent a couple hours later when the rain finally stopped and the PG Iowa Select team played Yamanashi in a seven inning game on Perfect Game Field at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

The game, won by Yamanashi 6-4, was the last of six the Japanese team played in Iowa over the past week, with the previous five played in the Des Moines area. The Japanese delegation was impressed with its visit.

“I’m fascinated by how much people are enthused about baseball in Iowa,” Japan manager Yukihiko Kobayashi said through interpreter Kentaro Yasutake, Perfect Game’s vice president of international scouting who helped coordinate the event. “We got to play at I-Cubs stadium (Principal Park) in Des Moines, and we were very excited and fascinated about playing there.”

The group was also impressed with Perfect Game Field at Veterans Memorial Stadium.

“I thought things went very well, despite the rain we had all day,” Yasutake said. “The Japanese guys were impressed when they walked into the stadium. They were impressed with how clean it is and the stadium seating looked awesome to them, and I overheard them talking about it. We wanted them to play (at Veterans Memorial Stadium), and it happened, so it was great.

“They were honored to be here,” he continued. “Their coaches were happy that their kids got to play against an American team in a good stadium. They were thankful for the overall support of everyone involved, like the host families and the AAU.”

The cultural exchange between sister states Iowa and Yamanashi began in 1990 and was organized by the Iowa AAU. High school all-star teams from the sister states took turns traveling to each other’s countries every year until 2001 when the exchange was discontinued for several years. The exchange started back up in 2009 when a group of Iowa players traveled to Yamanashi.

“We hope to continue this forever, because it’s such a great event,” said Teresa Parmenter, the president of Iowa AAU. “The kids have an opportunity to travel to another country and interact with people from another country that they would never ever get in any other way.”

The Japanese group stayed with host families while in Iowa, which enhanced the interaction with American and Iowa culture. The Iowa delegation receives the same experience when it visits Japan. Last year, the host families took the U.S. group to Mount Fuji. This year, host families in Des Moines took the Japanese group to the Iowa State Fair.

The language barrier really isn’t much of a barrier at all. The team travels with interpreters, and while in Cedar Rapids the services of Yasutake and Julie Cain, who teaches Japanese at Cedar Rapids Washington High School, were employed.

“Sometimes we have trouble communicating, but kids have a language all their own and they seem to be able to figure out what it is each other is trying to say,” Parmenter said.

The style of play on the field was noticeably different. The Americans possess more of a power mentality, while the Japanese will small-ball you to death. Kobayashi, the Yamanashi manager, saw it in a slightly different light.

“I like Major League Baseball and I watch a lot of the players play more individually than in an organized fashion as a team,” Kobayashi said before Tuesday’s game. “Even on the high school level here that we’ve played against so far, I see that already. They still play as a team, but there is more individual talent. In the Japanese fashion, we try to make them all play the same, throw the same, those kind of things. There is more focus on organization. I think the U.S. way, the Japanese players might have to learn.”

The Japanese brought a talented group of players, all of whom are fundamentally sound and baseball smart. Iowa Select countered with equally sound and knowledgeable players, including Andrew Hedrick of Ankeny and Nick Day of Solon, both of whom will play collegiately at the University of Iowa, and Austin Christensen of Cedar Rapids, who will play college ball at Nebraska.

“These are all high school seniors we brought over, and some of them might not play baseball in college, but these are all hand-picked, selected guys and most of them will play in college,” Kobayashi said of his Yamanashi personnel. “I think just looking at the baseball here and playing against high school kids in America, I think it will be a huge benefit for their future as they continue playing baseball.”

The Japanese players like to run, and stole eight bases during the game in Cedar Rapids. They also put a lot of emphasis on bunting and situational hitting.

“You can see the style of baseball is different,” Perfect Game’s Yasutake said. “The Japanese stuck to their small game and an American guy hit a home run, but overall it was a close game and both teams made some real good plays.

“I’m accustomed to American baseball now, and I would like to see (the Japanese) hit more rather than bunting all the time,” he added. “But that’s their style of play and that’s how they scored and won the game, so you have to give it to them, I guess.”

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