BOARDMAN, Ohio (WKBN) – The 42nd annual Friendship Games were played at the Field of Dreams in Boardman on Friday, with 13- and 14-year-olds from Japan making the trip overseas to play local baseball teams. It’s the first time a Japanese Little League team played baseball in Ohio.
The Friendship Games go back and forth each year — one year it’s in America, the next it’s in Japan. Normally, those games are played in Pennsylvania and California but this year, the Friendship Games added Boardman, making a little history.
Tri-T President Jim DeChellis said pony baseball teams always played in Pennsylvania. This year, they thought they’d switch up the venue to enhance playing and allow the Japanese boys to see a different part of the U.S.
These games are a time for new experiences. It’s one of the few times in their lives that the 35 Japanese Little Leaguers are playing on a grass baseball field — something that’s very rare in Japan.
For many, it’s also their first trip to America.
“I’d like them to learn U.S. culture as they talk with each other and talk with U.S. players,” business manager Mitsuru Hiraki said.
Smiles were abundant around the ball park. Opening ceremonies included an exchanging of gifts between the two teams.
“The Friendship Games are an opportunity for the sharing of culture. American baseball is something universally accepted both here and in Japan,” Rep. John Boccieri said. “It’s an opportunity to have fun, play a game, but also experience different cultures.”
The goal is for these children to see kids who have a similar interest but live on the other side of the world. There may be language barriers but all of these boys speak the game of baseball.
“Holding an event of this nature in our Valley speaks volumes that we have the fields, we have the accessibility, we have the coaches, we have the ball teams and when you come to America, one language everyone understands is baseball,” said Mahoning County Commissioner Anthony Traficanti.
Both the 13- and 14-year-olds had a doubleheader. The teams will go to the Mahoning Valley Scrappers game Friday night before the Japanese boys head back to the Pittsburgh area, where they will play more baseball.