“The beginning of 2013 was such a painful time for Boston, but I’m really happy I was able to put smiles on people’s sad faces even just a little bit at the end of the year. The pain won’t go away in 2014, but I want to do my best to bring even bigger smiles to people’s faces this year.”
Boston Red Sox pitcher Koji Uehara made this comment at a reception hosted by U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy to celebrate the 2013 World Series Championship. Uehara stood proudly with fellow Red Sox pitcher Junichi Tazawa beside the World Series trophy, which they had brought all the way from Boston to share with their fans in Japan. Guests at the reception included former Major League star and 2009 World Series MVP Hideki Matsui, Boston Red Sox fan Maestro Seiji Ozawa, members of Japan’s Women’s National Softball Team, and the Musashi Fuchu Little League Baseball World Champions.
“Baseball is perfectly suited for Japan and for the United States,” said Major League Baseball Asia Vice President Jim Small during his opening remarks. “I like to say that we’re separated by an ocean but we’re united in our love for the great game of baseball.” He went on to say, “The 2013 Red Sox represented a city and a region absolutely, but they also represented all of us. They were a reflection of who we are, and that is what we’re celebrating tonight.”
During the event, American executives and Embassy personnel mingled with former Japanese major leaguers and baseball fans as they talked animatedly about the Red Sox victory and Uehara’s contributions as the winning team’s closer. Even those who didn’t speak the same language were using gestures and baseball lingo to communicate with each other. Baseball, it seems, is a universal language that requires only a love of the game to bring people together.
Uehara produced a lot of laughs during his opening remarks when he said his goal for this year is to study English more so he can speak the language better than his young son, who captured the hearts of both Americans and Japanese when he responded to media interviews in fluent English. But when asked by the American View how he acquired his English skills, Uehara said, “I honestly haven’t studied much. I just go out there and improvise, doing whatever it takes to communicate using context and gestures, that sort of thing.”
Part of what made it possible for Uehara to overcome the language barrier and become a successful athlete in the United States was his willingness to take risks. He spoke to the American View about encouraging young people in Japan to challenge themselves and pursue their dreams overseas. “Instead of contemplating what you want to do, I think you should just go out there and do it,” he said. “If you think you’re going to regret not doing something, you’ll probably gain more fulfilment by going there and failing than not going at all. I really think you should just go for it.”
Video of Uehara’s speech and interview (Japanese only):