Only One gets a taste of Japanese Baseball


This column continues the Only One series in which this reporter shares his experiences as the only African American journalist on the scene.

Donald Johnson of Minneapolis had never seen Japanese baseball in person before.

“I didn’t think they could do anything out of the ordinary,” said Johnson, a baseball fan who talked to the Only One between innings of Wednesday’s exhibition game between the St. Paul Saints and a select group of players from Shikoku Island of Japan. He and his daughter took advantage of the Saints’ free admission offer to watch the game at the home team’s downtown St. Paul ballpark.

Shikoku Island of Japan baseball players Ryota Matsushima and Kosei Kawahara
Shikoku Island of Japan baseball players Ryota Matsushima and Kosei Kawahara

The Shikoku Island League Plus independent baseball league, founded in 2005, consists of four clubs: Tokushima Indigo Socks, Ehime Mandarin Pirates, Kagawa Olive Guyners and Kochi Fighting Dogs. Players from the four clubs are heading east to play a 17-game schedule against other independent baseball teams in New York, New Jersey and Canada.

Shikoku is a Japanese island, which according to Wikipedia is the smallest and least populous of Japan’s four main islands. Quick facts on geography, culture and other information about Shikoku was presented between innings on the outfield video scoreboard.

Wednesday’s contest served as a tune-up for the Japanese visitors, who played “small ball” and only gave up three hits in defeating their hosts 6-0.

“Even though we are small, we can show baseball in the Japanese way,” said infielder Ryota Matsushima, who afterwards spoke to the MSR’s Only One through an interpreter. “That’s what we like to accomplish” on the tour. He and catcher Kosei Kawahara were starters in the contest.

The Shikoku Island all-stars scored all six runs in the first four innings with speed, spraying the ball all over the field, and using “good fielding and pitching,” said Matsushima.

After the game, many fans stood in line to shake the visiting players’ hands, take photos, and get autographs. Saints Director of International Development Seigo Masubuchi, who did double duty as interpreter, told us that the league is on break and will resume next month.

Matsushima and Kawahara both asked if the other ballparks on their tour are as nice as the Saints’ new digs: “This is a great ballpark. Are we expecting this kind of ballpark where we are going in the U.S.?” asked Matsushima.

Masubuchi lightly chuckled as he told the two players in their native language probably not.
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