Big-leaguers take time out from tour to teach kids at Yokota baseball clinic
November 8, 2004
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — About 100 Little League baseball players, including a couple dozen from nearby Fussa City and Kokobunji, got to hang out with four Major League Baseball stars Saturday during a spirited youth clinic and autograph session at Wilkins Field.
Ushered to Yokota via military helicopter, Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Vernon Wells, Texas Rangers shortstop Michael Young, Oakland A’s pitcher Mark Redman and Pittsburgh shortstop Jack Wilson spent about 90 minutes on the diamond, delivering tips on hitting, fielding and pitching.
They were visiting Yokota hours before the second of an eight-game exhibition series between the major leaguers and a team of All-Stars from Japan’s professional leagues. The MLB stars won 7-2 in Friday’s opener at the Tokyo Dome.
Col. Doug Kreulen, the 374th Airlift Wing’s vice commander, welcomed the four players to Yokota, while Tech. Sgt. Henry Williams of the 374th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron delivered renditions of both the Japanese and American national anthems.
“Thank you for having us,” Young told the crowd. “You kids are a lot younger than us, but one thing we share is a love for baseball.
“When we were kids, we’d go to major league baseball camps, and they were a lot of fun. We’re grateful for the opportunity now. It’s our pleasure to be out here.”
Young, who finished second in the American League this season with 216 hits, trailing only Seattle Mariners superstar Ichiro Suzuki, headed into the outfield to toss grounders and fly balls to the youngsters. He was joined by Wells, who had two RBIs in Friday night’s victory.
“It’s important to all of us just to give back,” Wells said. “We’re in a fortunate situation to be able to do this. All of us remember being kids and looking up to the major league players. We’re just like they are. We got a break and ran with it.
“It’ll be fun over here. We came over to see a different culture and play some baseball. It’s fun to watch the Japanese players. It’s impressive to see how they are such big fans of baseball. They’re taught well — and taught from an early age.”
Nearby, Wilson threw some batting practice to the kids in center field. His pointers certainly resonated with 12-year-old D.J. Roberts, a Yokota dependent who hopes to become a major leaguer someday.
“It was pretty cool being taught by someone who actually lived my dream,” Roberts said.
Said Wilson, “It’s awesome to come out with the kids. We do some camps in America, but it’s a different perspective over here.”
Many flocked into right field, where Redman talked pitching and showed off the World Series ring he picked up with the Florida Marlins in 2003.
“Everyone’s very nice and courteous over here. They seem to go out of their way to help us,” Redman said. “If I can give something back to these kids and help them live out a dream that I’m living, I’m glad to do it.
“We appreciate the support of the troops, and we want to thank them for making this world a safe place to live. Thanks very much for all you do.”
Nick Farrar, a sixth-grader at Yokota Middle School, said it was his first time getting an up-close look at a major league player.
“I’ve been waiting weeks and weeks for this. I’m glad my mom got the tickets,” said Nick, whose favorite team is the Chicago Cubs. “It’s been a great pleasure to meet them and learn some things.”
The major league stars have won five straight series in the biennial international showdown, not losing a tour since 1990. The first major leaguers visited Japan in 1908.
After Saturday’s and Sunday’s games in Tokyo, the all-star squads will meet in Fukuoka, Osaka, Sapporo and Nagoya. The series ends Nov. 14 back in Tokyo.
Kreulen was pleased that a few players opted to spend part of their trip at Yokota.
“Moving overseas is a challenge, and sometimes, it’s hard to feel the appreciation of those you’re defending freedoms for,” he said. “It’s nice when you see players who are obviously famous and wealthy and don’t have to do this come out to see the sons and daughters of America’s servicemembers. These four guys have been outstanding. They’ve obviously done this before, and it’s great seeing the interaction with the kids.
“To be able to expose some of the young Japanese players from outside our gates to this makes it even more rewarding.”