It's Game Time

Both teams, coaches and dignitaries

As part of the Tomodachi program, the Punahou Intermediate baseball team is being matched up against a local Ishinomaki team on this afternoon. We had just visited the tsunami-devastated areas of Ishinomaki and are well aware of our purpose: to offer support, camaraderie and hope. We are also looking forward to seeing how the two teams play and interact with each other cross cultures and languages. And, it kicks off a string of events that take place with both teams of kids, coaches and parents together in the days ahead. So, needless to say, it's an important day.

We drove through heavy rain to get to Ishinomaki Kanan Baseball Stadium, so we were unsure whether or not our teams would be able to play. But, when we arrived, the rain had stopped and the Ishinomaki  team had already started soaking up the puddles of water on the muddy field. The Punahou players joined them, in what would be their first interaction with the Japanese players.

Attending the games today was a long list of VIPs:  the Mayor of Ishinomaki Hiroshi Kameyama, the US Ambassador for Japan John Roos, the VP of MLB Asia Jim Small, the Commissioner of Professional Baseball Ambassador Kato, the scouting director of the Japanese professional baseball team Rakuten Golden Eagles, Hiro Abei, and Akihito Sasaki also of the Rakuten Golden Eagles. Good thing it stopped raining.

The boys shaking hands with John Roos

The first game was a competitive one and both teams put forth their best effort. I sat in the dugout with the Punahou players, and realized that this game felt like any other game of baseball among kids. The Punahou players cheered on loudly for their teammates from the dugout and gave words of encouragement to fellow players who struck out. The Japanese team across the field looked slightly intimidating at first, but both teams warmed up to each other by the end. Final score: 5-1, Ishinomaki.

The Punahou team in the dugout

Afterwards, the players were mixed up into two new teams—determined by jan-ken-pon, another game known by all—and, suddenly, the mood shifted. This new baseball game was far less competitive in spirit and more about having fun with their new teammates and forming a bond through baseball. This time, I decided to sit in the  Ishinomaki team's dugout to watch how the Hawaii players communicated with the Japanese coach. He turned out to be very jovial, and assigned players to positions they didn't normally play. This brought big smiles to the kids' faces, especially for the players who were assigned to pitch. Interactions between the two teams were less tense, adding for time to joke and laugh together on the field, with parents cheering from the stands. The game was cut short because of time, but it was clear that relationships between the Japanese and Hawaii players was forming with handshakes, smiles and waves.

The day was capped off with an incredible evening at an Ishinomaki restaurant with both teams, coaches and parents invited. The Mayor of Ishinomaki also joined us and thanked everyone for making the trip. "I greatly appreciate the Tomodachi program and hope that the baseball games will continue and act as a  bridge between the U.S. and Japan," he said.

The rest of the night's lineup included an ukulele performance by Punahou players' Shane Yasunaga and Zack Uchima, an exchange of gifts, aio chairman and CEO Duane Kurisu leading the room in song and dance to The Hukilau Song and a haka performance by the Punahou team, which culminated into two more performances with the Japanese team and a fourth, and final, haka performance with the coaches. The audience went wild, but not as wild as the last performance of the night—a German song and dance number led again by Kurisu.

Everyone raved about the sashimi, how wonderful a day they had and, best of all, how the Japanese and Hawaii players are building friendships and experiences to last a lifetime.

(Edited 7/28/13)

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