Japan shows improvement from Day 1 of Series
The first game played by Tokyo, Japan, in the 2013 Little League World Series looked more historic because of the other team.
That was a week ago last Friday, when Brno, Czech Republic, made its national debut here. The Japanese team won that game, 7-3, but anyone thinking it was a title contender were doing so based on national reputation, not what they were seeing.
Sure, Japan scored three times in each of the first two innings, but that was about it. Manager Masumi Omae, who won the 2003 title here with a previous Musashi Fuchu League team, used a different pitcher in every inning to acclimate his players to games in front of the crowds in the thousands and television cameras broadcasting every play.
A 3-2 victory over Taoyuan, Taiwan, followed, then came 5-2 and 3-2 victories over Tijuana, Mexico.
The run ended with Sunday’s 6-4 victory over Chula Vista, Calif., a run where the team looked just a little bit sharper and more accustomed to its surroundings with every game. Tokyo didn’t dominate like the 2003 team did when it ended with a 10-1 victory over Boynton Beach, Fla., one punctuated with a sprint to center field and team bow before the statue of Howard J. Lamade, but its players still fly home as champions.
“In 2003, all the players had been thinking they’d win. The 2013 guys know how to have fun, sometimes too much,” Omae said through an interpreter. “But overall, each player on the 2013 team brought more to the team than in 2003.”
By having too much fun, Omae didn’t mean a loss of focus on the field, or even one off of it. But the players enjoyed every moment of being a Little League World Series player, starting with meeting other players and fans from across the globe.
“Just being at the World Series, and the time at the International Grove, there’s so much to do here,” outfielder Takuma Gomi said through an interpreter. “We’re still in awe with everything.”
Perhaps no player epitomized the gradual improvement than Kyousuke Kobayashi. He relocated to Tokyo after the 2011 Fukushima earthquake. Upon exploring his new city, he noticed the Musashi Fuchu Little Leaguers playing baseball. He joined in, took in some coaching from Omae and two of his sons, and developed enough to be a trusted closer to pitch the last two innings of shutout relief to earn Sunday’s victory.
“Being able to accomplish something Omae hasn’t done for 10 years is a great feeling,” Kobayashi said through an interpreter. “I knew if I had the mentality of how I’ve always pitched, nothing could lead me to failure. I had a lot of heart and soul in each pitch.”
Kobayashi and his players will return home to celebrations, but perhaps more muted than a U.S. team where winning players have wound up on everything from Good Morning America to the Late Show with David Letterman over the years.
“Little League is probably not as big in Japan for the press and media to go crazy about,” Omae said. “But people who’ve been involved with this Little League, they’ll celebrate, yes. But in comparison to the United States and Japan, that’s where this thing might be a little different.”
Maybe this team can improve that, too.
Brigandi is the Sun-Gazette sports editor and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.