By Luke Ramirez
Tokyo Kitasuna Little League from Japan has created quite a legacy when it comes to the Little League® Baseball World Series. Since 2001, the league has won three world championships with the most recent coming in 2015.
This year’s Tokyo Kitasuna team has already clinched a spot in the International Championship game thanks to a 3-0 record. Manager Junnji Hidaka also led the team in 2015, and has put his team in the position of “favorite” for Saturday’s game against the Mexico Region Champions.
“I am really thrilled to make it to the international finals,” said Mr. Hidaka through the team’s interpreter, Fuimoto Ishii. “Our goal when we got here was to reach this point.”
Despite Tokyo Kitasuna’s recent success in the LLBWS, it is still banner headline news back in Japan.
“It is actually still big news for Tokyo Kitasuna to be back and it is very special for me as well,” said Mr. Hidaka through Mr. Ishii. “Our neighborhood is very proud and happy to see us here again.”
Pitcher Tsubasa Tomii and shortstop Keitaro Miyahara have studied the way the style of Japan’s most recent LLBWS Championship team and drawn strength from their success. Tomii has watched the highlights on YouTube over 100 times since they have been in Williamsport.
“The 2015 players gave us special advice and that is, ‘As long as you play Tokyo Kitasuna baseball, you will be fine’,” Tommi said through Mr. Ishii.
Tokyo Kitasuna also won the world championship in 2012 when 6-foot, 200-pound Kotaro Kiyomiya was a star on the team. Now in high school, Kiyomiya has become a very popular baseball player in Japan and is said to be one of the top prospects for the professional league there.
On Thursday, the team traveled to Pittsburgh to watch the Pirates play the Los Angeles Dodgers and even got to meet Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish. He spoke to the team and provided an inspirational message for the games ahead.
“He told us to keep pitching how we always pitch and we will be successful,” Tomii said through Mr. Ishii.
Little League Baseball® has always been prominent in Japan and since 2001, the country’s national champion has earned an automatic berth into the LLBWS. Overall, the country has the third most world championships with 10 and the Tokyo Kitasuna has stood out in the recent past.
“I would say that Tokyo Kitasuna has become one of the best little leagues in Japan and will be in the future,” Mr. Hidaka said through Mr. Ishii.
Mr. Hidaka has worked his way up to the manager position from an assistant coach and says he will continue to coach the teams for as long as he is able to manage. Winning has become a feeling that he has grown very fond of over the years.
While that world championship experience may be more common for Mr. Hidaka and the Tokyo Kitasuna community, the players still have yet to find out what that is like.
“It will be something that I will never forget in my life,” Miyahara said.
Japan meets Mexico’s national champion, Guadalupe Trevino Kelly Little League, in the International Championship game on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. Eastern U.S. Time on ABC with a trip to the LLBWS championship in the balance.