CAMP KINSER, OKINAWA, Japan -- “I got it! I got it!” said a Japanese child running to catch a fly ball during a baseball clinic Jan. 24 on Camp Kinser.
Approximately 50 Japanese and American children participated in the clinic with a special guest appearance from Keiichi Hirano, a Japanese major league baseball player with the Orix Buffaloes.
Hirano and Chicago Cubs staff member Masahiro Ito flew to Okinawa to provide instructions on the fundamental skills and techniques of baseball. Ito translated for Hirano and assisted teaching some of the techniques and drills.
“The biggest thing I want is to make a better friendship between the Americans and Japanese,” said Hirano. “Also, I want to show the kids baseball is a lovely sport.”
The clinic began with drills to hone skills and pinpoint issues with catching and throwing for players of all levels.
“I didn’t know how much I would be able to teach them, but the main thing I wanted to do was make them better at the sport and have fun,” said Hirano.
Hirano spent several hours with the kids teaching how to improve batting, base running, fielding and other techniques.
“Watching Hirano interact with the kids and seeing how the kids respond to a guy who is truly passionate about the game was my favorite part,” said Brig. Gen. Tracy King, the commanding general of 3rd Marine Logistics Group, III Marine Expeditionary Force. “They were wide-eyed, paying attention and not fidgeting around. That was enjoyable to see.”
The Japanese and American kids have played against each other competitively in the past.
“This time was more focused on friendships,” said King. “We mixed up the teams so both Japanese and American kids played on the same team. It was more about playing the game than winning the game.”
In addition to coordinating the event, MCCS provided medals, lunch and cake for the participants.
After the friendly game, the youngsters feasted on traditional American ballgame food like hotdogs, hamburgers and popcorn.
"It was a wonderful morning and it’s a wonderful example of good community relations in my opinion,” said King. “We’re guests of Japan and we want to be good guests. I think this is one way to do that by opening our base and facilities for them. I think the goal was just getting to know each other a little better.”
The sunny weather provided a perfect environment for the kids to experience one another’s culture.
“It went really well,” said Warrant Officer Marshall Blair from Greenwood, Indiana, and the food service officer with Headquarters Regiment, 3rd MLG, III MEF. “We went with what we think the kids would benefit most from. I don’t think they could have a better cultural exposure than through engaging in sports.”
Officials said the success of the event has them considering making it an annual clinic.