San Mateo Little League team will head to Japan

Baseball comes in several languages, and for San Mateo and its sister city, Toyonaka, Japan, Little League is the language of choice.

“Friendship and baseball overcomes any language barrier,” said San Mateo Deputy Mayor Carole Groom, a member of the sister city association.

Continuing a tradition that began in 1979, San Mateo will send a team of 11- and 12-year-old boys from its baseball leagues to compete against teams in Toyonaka, a city of nearly 400,000 in the Osaka region.

The sister city association is in its beginning stages of raising about $60,000 for the August expedition — a 10-day, five-game trip that will include a visit to Hiroshima.

Danny Harris, who will coach the team, was a player when the team went to Japan in 1990. He keeps in touch with the friends he made in Japan and is looking forward to seeing them again.

“Unfortunately, you don’t necessarily know how it impacts your life at the time because you are 12,” Harris said. “But I really started to understand my experience and feel what I had done years later in that I continued to [exchange] letters from time to time.”

The boys selected for the team have attended culture classes to learn more about Toyonaka and the customs. There are some differences in the way baseball is played. For example, gum chewing is prohibited in Japan. Players bow to one another before and after eachgame. And players exchange gifts. The American players will stay in the homes of the families of Japanese players.

“I like Japanese food and we are taking cultural classes and we’ve been learning how to use chopsticks,” said Michael Sweeney, 12, who plays first base and has an exceptional .375 batting average. He admitted to being a little nervous about traveling away from his family.

George Musante, a sister city association member who has been to Japan six times, said players are nervous at first but quickly befriend their Japanese counterparts. “You see these kids go from being really excited to fear on their face,” he said. “And then the next day they are immersed with the family. It’s amazing how fast they become a part of the family.”

City officials are considering expanding the exchange program to local business figures and performing arts and music groups, said Mayor Jack Matthews, who added that the baseball is less about competition and more about friendship.

bfoley@examiner.com

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