Little league baseball team heading to Japan to meet San Francisco Giants 

A San Mateo little league team will be joining the San Francisco Giants on the field of AT&T Park Thursday night before heading to Japan on Monday as baseball ambassadors.

The team of 18 boys, who are between 11 and 13 years old, with be joined by their coaches and chaperones when they leave for Toyonaka, Japan, on Monday. But before their trip, they are visiting the Japanese consulate in San Francisco and running out on the field to meet the Giants.

When asked if the kids were excited to meet the 2010 world champions, team coach Danny Harris just laughed. "Let's put it this way, they've lacked a little attention at practice since they found out that was going to happen," he said.

Scott Rodrick, a father of one of the boys agreed: "For my son, it's like an out-of-body experience to run out on the field, let alone meet a Giant."

The team is heading overseas as part of a cultural exchange program between the two cities, San Mateo and Toyonaka, which are sister cities. The baseball team exchange has been going on for the past 32 years, with each city alternating as host every other year, Harris said.

Tryouts for the team took place in October, and since that time the boys attended monthly culture classes where the teammates studied basic Japanese phrases, geography and how to use chopsticks.

The boys will be staying at the homes of their teammates, many of whom speak little to no English.

Team player Nicholas Novello, 13, said he is looking forward to making friends with his host family and has been brushing up on his Japanese. "Some of it's tough," he said. "But some of it's easy to learn."

This year's trip was in danger of being canceled after devastating earthquakes and tsunamis struck Japan in March, which left many parents concerned about safety.

Many of their fears regarding physical dangers were relieved, but Rodrick said that was not his only concern. "For me, as a parent, I became more concerned that we were sending our kids to families that were psychologically impacted," he said.

Rodrick and the other parents spoke to their Japanese counterparts, he said, and were assured that this was the time when the San Mateo team's presence would do the most good -- to raise the other team's spirits.

"There's no better time than now," Rodrick said.

Harris said he is not overly concerned about safety issues. "The Japanese (organizers) would never want to put us in danger. If they were at all concerned with their homes they would have requested to postpone the trip."

This is Harris' third trip to Japan as a coach. He visited the country as a player in 1990. One of his teammates that year was a then-preteen Tom Brady, who went on to become the quarterback for the New England Patriots.

The team and their parents have raised more than $60,000 to pay for the trip and Harris said that whatever money is left over will be donated to aid victims of March's earthquakes and tsunamis.

Thurday night's game against the Philadelphia Phillies starts at 7:15 p.m.

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