On July 29, former professional baseball player Kenjiro Kawasaki taught a baseball clinic organized by a local NGO called Hands On Tokyo and sponsored in part by the U.S. Embassy. Kawasaki used to play for the Yakult Swallows and the Chunichi Dragons.
Many junior league players from Tokyo and the Tohoku area gathered at the event in Tokyo to take advantage of the opportunity. Also in attendance was U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy, who delivered remarks and posed for a group photo with the youngsters. After that, a young player from Tohoku gave a speech in English on behalf of all the players.
Before the baseball training, a group of U.S. Marines led a warmup session that began with jogging. The players were then split up into groups to try an assortment of exercises that the Marines perform daily. Although the regimen occasionally seemed tough for the kids, their spirits remained high as they teased each other and exchanged high-fives.
After a brief rest, Kawasaki, a former pitcher, began the baseball clinic by teaching the young players how to hold the ball. During his time with the Swallows, Kawasaki won such outstanding titles as the pitcher with the most career wins, the Japan Series MVP award, and the Eiji Sawamura award. Needless to say, his advice was invaluable for the junior players. I was still in elementary school when Kawasaki retired in 2004, so it goes without saying that the kids who participated in the clinic had never seen him play professionally. Nevertheless, Kawasaki’s coaching was easily absorbed and his instructions were enthusiastically received.
The lesson was followed by field practice. Kawasaki gave individual advice to each player. I was watching the whole time, and felt very envious of the kids. I have played baseball since elementary school, and an opportunity to be coached by a player like Kawasaki is something I would love to have. Although it was a sweltering hot day, the players seemed to be truly enjoying this precious time.
The participants feasted on corn on the cob and hotdogs cooked on a barbeque after the training. The young players chatted with the Marines about baseball, using all the English words they collectively knew. It was a scene I will remember for a long time.
A band performed after the barbeque and then the clinic was officially concluded. Watching Kawasaki and the kids continue to play catch even after the event was over, I felt that the clinic had been deeply meaningful for the young players. I have no doubt that the experience will enhance their future performance on the field. Best of luck to these future professional and Major League players!