The Japanese passion for baseball was on full display on Sunday at Port Arthur Stadium.
A team of all-stars from the Japanese Canadian Baseball League ventured to Thunder Bay for a pair of exhibition games against the Thunder Bay Wolves, the first on-field warm-up in advance of the 2017 Under 18 Baseball World Cup.
The two teams split the afternoon doubleheader, the Wolves winning the first game against the junior JCBL team 2-0, while dropping the second game against a more seasoned lineup by a 3-2 count.
But the scores really didn’t matter.
It was all about a cultural exchange.
And the Wolves definitely learned something about how the game is played in Japan.
Enthusiastically might be an understatement.
In the second game, the younger players grabbed orange megaphones and cheered every pitch and every at bat, adding humour and song where they saw fit.
“It was really good for the guys,” said Wolves coach Craig Steele, whose team plays in the Thunder Bay Senior League. “We just wanted to come in with an open mind, bring a good attitude to the park, bring a good work ethic to the park.
“Obviously it was a little different with the ball, but it was really good for our guys just to see how other people play the game in different cultures. I thought the way those guys brought the passion of the game, the fun, the energy, that’s something I really thought we could learn from going forward.”
The JCBL squad huddled coming off the field defensively, danced around the batter’s circle with glee and pumped each other up throughout both games.
That’s just the way it is in Japanese culture, said JCBL pitcher Daisuke Suzuki, the 23-year-old older brother of Thunder Bay Border Cats pitcher Yuji Suzuki.
Baseball is taken very seriously in the Asian nation, especially at the high-school level.
“All the baseball players aim to get into this tournament, called Koshien. To get into that, the whole team comes together and cheers for the team,” Suzuki said, just slightly disappointed his brother and the Border Cats are on the road this weekend.
“If they lose they cry, if they win they cry. That’s the sense of baseball competition in Japan. That was exactly what it feels like.”
So apparently there is crying in baseball after all.
But no matter. For organizer Warren Philp, the games were just what he was hoping for on Sunday. He estimated about 300 or 400 fans caught some of the action over the course of the afternoon.
“We think everything went well from our standpoint,” Philp said.
There’s no question Thunder Bay ballplayers can learn from the Japanese outlook on the game.
“The JCBL all-stars were pumped up for every pitch, for every at bat,” Philp said.
“It was all great.”
Next up for 2017 is a bunch of behind-the-scenes planning.