Kind of looks like a Bronx school yard, doesn't it? Except that the surface is clay, not asphalt. Clay surface. So much for cleats. No bases or diamond. Just a large, L-shaped multi-purpose area, because like most cities, Tokyo puts a premium on its space. Especially open space.
Another big difference: a rubber ball that bounces just like a tennis ball. Maybe even higher. If you don't catch it in the air, it's impossible to run it down, so you better catch it.
|AH with ball (Saikawa Kantoku in back)|
At this practice, 16 kids showed. Practices last 3 hours on Saturday and then games are on Sunday. If there are no games scheduled on a given Sunday, you have another 3 hour practice. Games play for one hour and end based on time played, not innings played. All that practice for only an hour of play a week.
The organization of the Little League team here is very different from in the U.S. This "team" is really more like a club. They are all known as the Fires, though there are teams for all ages and levels. The boys play in the level for 7-10 year olds. There are almost 30 kids on the team--2 of them are girls. (Girls don't play softball here until middle school.) There are "A" teams and "B" teams, and each team plays the best players in the official games, though they hold "unofficial" games so that everyone gets to play at some point.
Once the introductions were done, the kids headed off to practice. Single file. And then something miraculous happened. They had fun. Serious fun, but fun nonetheless. How serious? Check out the schedule:
First a little catch:
Then a little fielding:
How to field (coach bats; "batter" runs as though it was his hit). No one pitched at all except for the coaches.
Then fielding again. And batting. And base running. Each aspect of baseball (running to first; sliding, etc.) was broken down into its smallest possible component and then drilled again and again. It was hot and sunny, so they took a lot of breaks. But no one complained, and no one dragged their feet.
During practice we were told that parents are encouraged to help with the team or coach. I explained that back in the U.S., I coached, but that here I would just help out. One of the coaches explained, politely, that yes, in Japan, it is best if the mothers help with the team, not coach. Even though this did not surprise me at all, I had to swallow hard and calm the nerves. Not that I want to coach here. I just don't like being told that I can't or shouldn't, no matter how polite. There's no place like home. There's no place like home. There's no place like home. Frank said that he was happy to help, but he doesn't coach, even at home. Good man, my husband. Good man. He knows how to get along. He makes it look so easy.
When all was said and done, the first thing we asked the boys: "Did you have fun?" They both broke into wide smiles: "Yeah, but we're tired." Good enough for me.
|Practice over, IW reverts to his usual lack of seriousness|
Saikawa Kantoku gave the boys their official hats
and AF was invited to "play up" at the 11-12 age level. Though it was a compliment to him and would mean playing in their "majors" (which is part of the all-Japan tournament series, which feeds into to the Little League World Series in PA), we just couldn't allow it.
I am the most gung-ho baseball mom you'll find. I love it. Just LOVE it. I'll spend every weekend at the ball field watching tournament games. But that was not what was asked. Playing up would require that we spend 8 hours (9 to 5) every Saturday practicing. PRACTICING. Sundays would be for games. Call me crazy, but that seems the surest way to kill my (American) kid's love of baseball. (Not to mention our weekend.) 8 hours of games, maybe. But 8 hours of practice. Forget it. Besides, we have an entire country to see in a short period of time. 3 hours of practice every Saturday and a game on Sunday is enough.
Here's a pretty spot-on description of Little League here in Japan by Gordon Edes from 2008: Little League in Japan. I want to say that I find practicing 8 hours every Saturday interesting in a "culturally enlightening" kind of way, but I just find it sad and impossible to believe that it would be fun. At least not fun in the sense of the word as I know it. Maybe fun for kids here in Japan (at least many of them) has to do with feeling you have accomplished a goal, even if it is set for you by someone else. Even if (or perhaps because) it envolves intense discipline. I think that generally, though, in the U.S., fun for kids comes from feeling independent and accomplishing goals. We're foreigners in a foreign land, and even the familiar is strange. At least there aren't any flying monkeys.