East meets West as Tri-T All-Stars
host Japanese at Fields of Dreams
By Greg Gulas
The respect exhibited by Japanese National team players was a breath of fresh air.
Watching Japan’s pre-game warmup was like watching a well-oiled machine, complete with whistles and drills.
Scores aside, Friday’s 42nd Friendship Series between Japan and the local all-stars at Boardman’s Fields of Dreams yielded plenty of smiles, photo opportunities and memories that won’t be forgotten any time soon by either team.
“Whenever a sub entered the game for Japan, each one took the time to bow to me, which I am sure is a part of their playing rules,” umpire Jay Donatelli said. “When foul balls were retrieved and eventually returned to an umpire, they were always placed in our hands and never thrown back to us, which tells me they are a disciplined group. Watching the teams have fun made today was an absolute blast for all of us.”
Games were played between each team’s 14 and 13 year-old all-stars beginning at 11 a.m. with pre-game ceremonies featuring team photos, a gift exchange and Color Guard presentation of both the Japanese and U.S. national anthems.
Cortland’s Pam Kilpatrick, whose son Brendon was on the 14-year-old Tri-T squad, said the final score didn’t seem to matter.
“It isn’t very often that you get to see players from another country up close and it was evident that the Japanese National team is well-trained,” Kilpatrick said. “Just watching the players interact prior to the game and between games was a lot of fun. Many team members were using the translation app on their cell phones in order to understand one another and to me that was absolutely awesome.”
Japan’s business manager, Mitsuru Hiraki, who also served as translator for his traveling unit, was impressed with the Fields of Dreams complex.
“This facility is a very impressive facility and our kids were very excited to play here,” Hiraki said. “We have fields along various rivers back home, but they aren’t in one place like they are over here.”
Manager Asao China said he was glad that his team accepted the invitation to come to the Mahoning Valley.
“These fields are absolutely beautiful and I am really impressed by our opponents’ uniforms because they are so beautiful,” China said. “It was exciting to be invited here to play, but more exciting to watch the players from all four teams interact with one another as they exchanged customs and friendship.”
Jason Triveri, who will be an eighth grader in the Boardman school system this fall, pasted a fastball through the infield to register one of his team’s three RBIs in the 14-year-old opener.
“This is a once in a lifetime experience. I cannot even begin to tell you how glad I was when I was selected to play,” Triveri said.
Japanese shortstop Ryunosuke Harada said that the local Tri-T all-star team is an excellent offensive team.
“America’s team batting is very strong and the ball just jumps off of their bats,” Harada said. “I love the well-groomed infield and cut of the grass because it made it easy to field the ground balls.”
Teammate Daisuke Yokoyama pitched two innings in the opening game.
“[The USA Tri-T all-stars] aren’t afraid to swing their bats,” he said.
Left fielder Fukuda Takumi says his team likes to take big leads when they get on base, adding that China like’s to run when they get runners on base.
“In Japan we take large leads when we get on base and also like to bunt. Over here, they don’t do much of that,” Takumi said. “I love to travel and am having a blast over here. This is a very beautiful area.”
Poland’s Nate Williams, whose father Ryan is the Poland High School head football coach, said it didn’t take long to sink in that this was a very special honor when he was chosen.
“The experience and competition made this a very special day for everyone,” Williams said.