Bobby Valentine is back in Japan, and this time he has taken a group of teenagers to play in a baseball tournament. The former manager of the Chiba Lotte Marines of Nippon Professional Baseball who led the team to the Japan Series title in 2005, Valentine and his crew departed JFK on July 31 for a ten-day tour of Tohoku with a group of all-stars from Connecticut.
The Japanese American Association of New York, Inc. (JAA-NY), in partnership with the Kizuna Foundation, is sponsoring the players, which consists of six 13-, 14- and 15-year-olds from Connecticut: Jack DiNanno, Toby Clark, Chad Knight, Timothy Mira, Daniel Collazo, Michael Pelli. Sacred Heart head baseball coach Nick Giaquinto will serve as Valentine’s assistant. Joining them is a team from San Diego, which is visiting Tohoku under the auspices of the TOMODACHI Initiative, a signature program of the U.S.-Japan Council that invests in the next generation of Japanese and American leaders through educational and cultural exchanges as well as leadership programs.
Together the group will participate in a four-game round robin tournament that will begin on August 7, competing against players from Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima Prefectures, which were devastated by the triple disaster of earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown of March 11, 2011.
Knight pitched for the Westport Little League team in last year’s Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. The team finished in fourth place overall after losing a slugfest to Mexico in the 3rd place game. Because of his experience in Williamsport, Knight met Masumi Omae, the manager of the Little League World Series champions from Tokyo. Omae will also participate in this year’s tour, along with Steve Mita, who received the Assistant District Administrator Commendation Award in 2013 for his volunteer work with the Little League program.
Bobby V, a former MLB player and former manager of the Texas Rangers, New York Mets and Boston Red Sox, is taking the team to Ofunato, a small town in Iwate Prefecture. There, along with his staff and parent volunteers, he will conduct a week-long baseball clinic in addition to the tournament. The team will stay with host families in the town of Ofunato, and the games will be played on fields that are being restored after suffering heavy damage from the disaster.
“It’s not just about baseball. It’s about the culture of Japan,” says DiNanno in TheHour.com.
“We are bringing our best kids, not necessarily our best players,” said Bobby V, noting that the mission of the visit is to let those in Tohoku who suffered as a result of 3.11 know that they are not forgotten. “I want this to be maybe even a life-changing experience for the kids.”
After spending a total of seven seasons with the Chiba Lotte Marines (1995, 2004-2009), Valentine still has a soft spot for Japan. He helped raise $700,000 for JAA-NY’s tsunami and earthquake relief efforts, hosting a fundraiser in his hometown of Stamford, Connecticut, three months after the disaster.
The visit will culminate on August 9 at Kobo Stadium in Sendai, home of the defending Japan Series champion Rakuten Golden Eagles, the former team of New York Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka. The players will meet the Eagles players and coaches, tour the stadium, and attend a game. Masa Tanaka, Deputy President of Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (the “first” Masa Tanaka), will be in attendance. The group will return to the States on August 10.
“In 1934, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and other future Hall of Famers made a goodwill trip to Japan and actually played in Sendai,” says Gary S. Moriwaki, honorary president of JAA-NY. “Now, 80 years later, we continue in the same tradition; baseball is what connects us across generations and national borders.”
The connection will continue next year, as there are already plans to bring a team from Japan to participate in a tournament in Connecticut.