Nothing Little About It

by Kensatsukan Gaijin

Just a few weeks after Japan and the United States faced off in the Women’s World Cup, today (Sunday) at 3 pm it’s another epic contest between the U.S. and Japan - and this one is at our national pastime, baseball. Japan and the U.S. will face one another at the Little League World Series in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania.  


Advancing past Venezuela, the Tokyo team got down to its last strike in the bottom of the sixth inning before rallying to tie the game, and then overcame a two-run deficit in the bottom of the eighth inning to win the game 5-4 on Wednesday.  Saturday, the International and U.S. Championship games were played at the 2015 Little League Baseball World Series in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania. The first game included Mexico vs. Japan and the score was 0-0 at the end of play. The game went into overtime and during the bottom of the seventh inning, Japan had the bases loaded, with one out when they scored the winning run. The final score was 1-0 Japan. 

Tokyo will face the team from Lewisberry, Pennsylvania, who defeated the Pearland, Texas team on Saturday. This is the 69th annual Little League Baseball World Series, played by children who are generally 11-12 years old. Each year the LLWS games brings tens of thousands of families, fans, and players from around the world to watch 10 day of games. Each year, the LLWS starts with sixteen teams that include eight United States (US) and eight international teams. It’s double elimination, so each team will play at least three games at the LLWS, and the final game is a consolation game. 

Japan has won three of the past five series championships. This year, Japan is being represented by the Tokyo Kitasuna team, which won the 2012 series. 


How do they do it? A quick look at their neighbor, the Musashi Fuchu team, the winner of the 2013 and 2003 world series, tells the story of hard work and dedication. The team practices eight to 10 hours every Saturday and Sunday. Each morning is devoted just to fielding practice. The kids field endless bunts and turn one double play after another.

The team works on technique to perfection, and does not believe in “star” players. Their tenacity is valuable on the field. Team captain and second baseman Dai Okada remembers feeling a bit dwarfed by his opponents in Williamsport. "The American players were physically so big," he recalls. "The pitcher we played against in the final game was 6-foot-4. The one in the first game was 6-foot-5. We thought they must have been coaches, not players."

The Japanese players don't have a lot of power hitters. So instead of swinging for the fences, they focus on getting runners on base and advancing them with bunts, stolen bases, sacrifice flies and even squeeze plays. Players call it the "small ball" strategy.  Every practice session is a family affair. Parents make lunch and drinks for the kids and coaches. Everyone takes responsibility for meticulously grooming the infield, in the same focused and respectful way karate practitioners clean the straw mats in their dojo, or training hall.

Much like American teams, Japanese teams are not afraid to bring on talent from abroad. Bessie Noll is an american who played baseball while living with her parents in Japan and played for the Musashi Fuchu team. Speaking to NPR, she described what it was like to sacrifice six years' worth of weekends and social life to play baseball. Although she found it a lonely, trying experience, being the only foreigner — and the only girl — on the team, it gave her a unique and irreplaceable experience. Noll is now a mechanical engineering major at Stanford and plays for the university's softball team. 

Win or lose, the Japanese and American teams will at least get a chance for some well-derserved rest after the game. Even when a team loses at the LLWS games, they are able to return to their suite-like surroundings at The Grove in South Williamsport and they get to live like rock stars for about ten days. Amenities of The Grove include: a large swimming pool, video games, a room full of ping pong tables, and new friends who have come from all over the world. No parents are allowed! The Little League World Series (LLWS) games air live on ESPN and ABC and the games can also be viewed on the ESPN website. 




The Japan News