Japanese visitors take on America’s pastime | VailDaily.com

Japanese visitors take on America’s pastime

EAGLE — There's nothing more all American than a summer afternoon spent enjoying a game of baseball.

Just ask the Ikoma Chuo boys from Japan.

The Japanese team was one of 40 participants in the PBR West Championship Youth Baseball Tournament, held last week at locations in Eagle, Vail and Edwards. The tournament included players ages 9 to 14 and in addition to the international competitors there are teams from Montana, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming and several Front Range communities.

The Ikoma Chuo boys are competed in both the U13 and U14 divisions. Back home in Japan, they are known as a baseball powerhouse. In the past three years, the team placed in the top three spots of six major Japanese tournaments. In addition to their athletic prowess, the team earned the Honor Students and Players Award in 2014 and 2015. The team that earns that honor is chosen from more than 600 baseball teams, and it is given only to the teams who demonstrate high academic performance, outstanding character and incredible performance on the baseball diamond.

"All of the Ikoma Chuo boys were excused from their last week of school to come to this tournament," said Peter Moore, one of the organizers who put the tournament together. "To be excused from school in Japan is a very big deal. According to them, they are more than players. They are baseball ambassadors to the United States."

East Meets West

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It's not every day that international athletes descend on Eagle, so to mark the occasion, representatives from the town planned a special welcome ceremony during last Thursday's ShowDown Town concert. Chris Romer, of the Vail Valley Partnership, launched the ceremony with an introduction of the Japanese delegation and a pair of representatives from the Pacific Rim Cultural Exchange program. In turn, a member of the Japanese corps shared a thank you letter from Sanae Takaichi, the Japanese Minster of Internal Affairs and Communications.

"Those of us in Japan are naturally delighted that the Ikoma Chou boys team is taking part in the PBR West Championships, serving as representative from our country as well as goodwill ambassadors for youth baseball," said Takaichi's letter. "We look forward to these young men truly manifesting the fruits of their daily practice sessions and other hard work, excelling to their full capacity at the competition.

"On this occasion we extend our most profound appreciation to the wonderful people of the exquisite town of Eagle, along with our prayers for the very best luck for all the teams in the tournament."

And then the Japanese delegation and a group of Eagle officials broke the seal on a barrel of sake and invited everyone to share a toast in traditional Japanese style. Of course the tournament players — Japanese and American alike — couldn't enjoy that part of the fun, but they made up for it by posing together for photos featuring the kind of classic kid mugging that transcends nationality.

Everyone returned to the baseball fields Friday for tournament play, and there were lots of spectators who cooled off by waving Ikoma Chuo paper hand fans that were liberally distributed by the Japanese players and their entourage — a thoughtful gift that anyone who has ever sat out under the hot Colorado sun to watch a youth baseball game can appreciate.

Score one for the Ikoma Chuo ambassadors.