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Marine, Okinawan ballplayers hit it off in friendship game

Date Posted: 2005-09-26

NAHA, OKINAWA, Japan — The feeling a batter gets when he hits a ball out of the park, and the crowd goes wild is more than words can describe. When more than 100 children stepped onto the field Saturday to start what would surely be a great day of hits, slides, dives and saves, no one really noticed that they spoke two different languages; baseball was speaking to everyone.

Approximately 140 young American and Japanese baseball players met on the diamond for a day of friendship and excitement at the Senaga Island baseball field Sept. 17 for a tournament hosted by Marine Corps Community Services and the Tomigusuku Board of Education.

Fourteen Japanese and American youth teams squared off in a tournament designed to promote friendship between the players. The children, ages 11-13, played with an emphasis on having fun, not winning.

“This is an especially important experience for younger children,” said Glen Polito, assistant youth sports director for MCCS. “Since there isn’t a military installation in this community, it gives members of the local teams a chance to interact with Americans and hopefully gives everyone a chance to make new friends.”

Local leaders and MCCS officials kicked off the event with an opening ceremony where both countries’ national anthems were played. During the ceremony, players pledged to use the day as an opportunity to build teamwork and make friends.

“The players got a chance to not only experience a different style of playing, but also a new culture,” said Lance Cpl. Chris VanSanten, head coach of the Camp Foster Stroz and a patrolman with the Camp Foster Provost Marshal’s Office.

“I think it made our teams better since we faced better pitchers who could throw fast and accurate,” said Andy Bailey of the Camp Foster Black Sox.

Players, parents and coaches ate a free lunch, which featured both Japanese and American foods. During the lunch, the young ballplayers played on a nearby playground while waiting for the afternoons games to begin.

“The Japanese players were really nice to us and gave us some good food,” said Stroz player Patrick Maldonado.

After the end of the tournament, Japanese and American players mixed teams and took part in a pickup game. Bilingual children helped the players communicate during the game. No one seemed to care about the score.

The teams exchanged gifts and thanked each other for a fun-filled day at the conclusion of the games.

“This was a once in a lifetime experience for our team,” said Lance Cpl. Michael Villa, assistant coach for the Stroz and a patrolman with Camp Foster PMO. “Not many kids this age get a chance to experience something like this. I don’t think this event is something these kids will ever forget.”

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