The team of 18 boys from San Mateo’s Little League Majors are back on home turf after a 10-day trip to the sister city of Toyonaka, Japan.
The boys were able to play some baseball during the trip, facing their counterparts in six games and going 3-3 in the series.
“They throw a lot of good sliders and curveballs,” said 11-year-old Alexander Rodrick.
But winning or losing was not important, he said.
“The only thing that really matters is that we’re in Japan learning their culture and playing baseball,” Alexander said.
The boys were selected for their athletic ability, but also for their depth of character and willingness to see a new culture and serve as ambassadors for their country.
Parents, coaches and others involved in the San Mateo Toyonaka Sister City Association helped raise money for the trip.
In the end, they gathered $65,000 — more than enough for seven adults and the team.
In fact, there were a few thousand dollars left over, which the players presented Toyonaka for families impacted by the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan in March.
Toyonaka is more than 500 miles away from Fukushima, where nuclear reactors failed, but safety was still a “major concern,” said Scott Rodrick, Alexander’s father.
“As it turned out, the Toyonaka families were adamant that it was more important than ever before that our boys come to visit and show a sign of support and solidarity and give their children a sense of normalcy again,” said Scott Rodrick.
Alexander described Japan as much different than America, but not entirely different.
“I think they’re more respectful, like they say prayers before and after they eat, and most people here don’t really do that,” he said. “[But] they’re just regular kids just like us.”
Two years from now, the Japanese boys will come to San Mateo, continuing the cycle of friendship that has churned ever since the sister city partnership began in 1963.
Danny Harris traveled to Toyonaka in 1990 as part of the exchange. This time around, he went as a coach, but was able to stay with the same family.
“It seems like yesterday that I represented San Mateo on my own baseball journey to Japan,” Harris said. “I can’t remember all the scores of the games. I do remember how incredibly exciting it was.”