Sports

Baseball 'celebrities' leave for Japan

By CASEY OLSON

The Mirror

The culture shock starts today for 16 high school baseball players from Federal Way.

After six months of tryouts, meetings and fundraising, the Federal Way Sister City Association’s all-star baseball team will board a plane at 1 p.m. today for an eight-hour flight to Tokyo’s Narita International Airport. The high school baseball team will play four games in Hachinohe — Federal Way’s sister city since 1992.

“There has been a lot of hard work leading up to this,” said Federal Way Mayor Dean McColgan. “It’s going to be pretty cool for the kids.”

The baseball tournament concept was conceived by McColgan and Hachinohe Mayor Toshifumi Nakamura last year. A similar tournament was held in 2002 to honor the 10th anniversary of the Federal Way-Hachinohe relationship, where organizers learned a few lessons about taking an American baseball team to Japan.

“Going into it we had no idea what to expect,” said Eric Fiedler, who was the coach of the 2002 squad and will head this year’s team, along with Danny Graham and Steve Murphy. “We are so much more prepared this time. It’s a big deal over there. They treat you like kings.”

The players during the 2002 trip were pretty much looked upon by the Japanese as celebrities. Members of the media, as well as regular citizens, followed around the baseball players with cameras and there were countless numbers of autograph requests. This attitude toward the players and the lack of knowledge about the Japanese culture are something organizers are expecting this time around, which wasn’t the case back in 2002.

“We got there a little scared,” Fiedler said. “There was nothing written in English when you get into the airport. None of the kids have been in that situation before.”

During planning meetings leading up to today’s flight, the players received instructions on how to deal with all the attention, learned some Japanese phrases and were taught a little bit about the culture, according to McColgan.

“We are going to basically be visiting dignitaries,” he said. “And with that, there’s some responsibility. Players and coaches are treated very well. They are going to have people cheering for them and people asking for autographs. They are going to be celebrities.”

Players are also going to find out how serious the Japanese people take their baseball, especially at the high school level. The Federal Way Sister City team will play a total of four games against Kosei-Gakuin High School, a Hachinohe all-star team and a team from the Misawa Air Force Base. All the games will be played in front of crowds as big as 5,000.

“They are as exciting as being in a state championship game,” Fiedler said, who has coached in three Class 4A title games at Federal Way. “Their crowds are very different from American schools. They come with their faces painted, are pounding on drums and are very loud. Last time we kind of fell apart under the pressure. But it was really cool for the kids.”

The players will stay with host families in Hachinohe, immersing them in the Japanese culture. During the trip, the traveling party will visit temples and other sites in the region, attend high school classes and a Tokyo Giants professional baseball game.

Today’s trip ends six months of fundraising by parents and players that raised over $30,000. The team held an auction, a golf tournament, a Little League baseball clinic and a steak feed/car show, among other things. The Sister City team also received an anonymous donation of $15,000 from an individual.

“It came from somebody who understands the importance of a trip like this,” McColgan said. “This person obviously believes in a trip like this. So we are all set and raised everything we needed to raise.”

Sports editor Casey Olson: 925-5565, sports@fedwaymirror.com

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