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Ask a handful of coaches how they feel about a Far East High School Baseball Tournament without defending champion American School In Japan and the answers tend to be all over the map - just like the teams.

In what DODDS Pacific officials termed an “honest oversight” by the tournament’s organizers, the Mustangs were not extended an invitation back to the tournament, and instead will travel to China for a series of friendship games later this week.

“To be the best, you have to beat the best, and from what I’ve heard, they’re the best,” said coach Randy Toor of 2010 Far East champion and seven-time Okinawa district champion Kubasaki, regarding observations from the Kanto Plain that this may be the best team in ASIJ history.

“Unfortunately, the situation is, they weren’t invited. There’s nothing you can do, so you go there and play the best ball you can against the other teams.”

To others, it simply means the tournament reverts to its inaugural year, 2010, when only DODDS teams were invited. “I don’t think it (ASIJ’s absence) will diminish anything that happens at Far East,” said coach Michael Valenzuela of DODDS Japan champion Nile C. Kinnick.

The third Far East baseball tournament commences Monday, for the first time with Division I and Division II teams competing in separate tournaments, Division I at Camp Carroll and Division II at Camp Walker in South Korea.

Coaches also held varying reactions to the idea of keeping to one tournament or the other and not mixing and matching large and small schools as in the tournament’s first two years. Robert D. Edgren, a D-II school, made a big run through last year’s tournament before fading.

“School size really doesn’t matter,” Toor said. “Each team brings 15 players. It’s who gets hot, who plays well under pressure; a lot of factors go into it.”

“I wish we could play everybody,” Valenzuela said.

The D-I tournament figures to be a chase between Kubasaki and young stars such as Tommy Warren and Shoichiro Vivas; Okinawa-rival Kadena, with its young crew featuring freshman flamethrower Justin Sego; Kinnick, with brothers Daniel and Donald Ross; and DODDS Korea champion Seoul American, with its crop of pitching.

Valenzuela said Edgren stands out as a D-II favorite. “They’re decent, strong, well-coached and they have some good athletes,” he said. Though Kinnick won all six games with Edgren, “they always gave us a good game.” The Eagles beat all other DODDS Japan opponents.

Edgren’s big run last year came despite having little preparation due to the March 11 earthquake wiping out most of the season. Now, pitchers Christian Wolfewicz and Leo Austin and the Eagles hope to make greater strides, fourth-year Edgren coach Brett Lehner said.

“With how little we did and how well we did last year, and how well we’re doing this year, we had a good season,” Lehner said.

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Dave Ornauer has been employed by or assigned to Stars and Stripes Pacific almost continuously since March 5, 1981. He covers interservice and high school sports at DODEA-Pacific schools and manages the Pacific Storm Tracker.
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