Baseball ambassadors leave Wednesday for Japan

LIHUE — When the Kauai Yankees, led by head coach Jason Apilado, leaves Kauai Wednesday, the team will be traveling to Japan to play at least six games.

In addition to the coaching staff led by Apilado, his assistant coaches Craig Arzadon and Desmond Torres, the Kauai Yankees will be joined by Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr., Art Umezu of the county’s Office of Economic Development, and James Kealalio from the county’s Department of Parks and Recreation.

“The Kauai Yankees are Kauai’s ambassadors of aloha on a goodwill mission to promote Kauai as a sports and cultural exchange destination,” Umezu said. “One of the goals is to bring Little League teams from Iwaki, Hiroshima, and other cities to Kauai in the future.”

Apilado, excited about the experience of playing ball in Iwaki City and Hiroshima, said he anticipates a strong showing from the Japanese teams.

“We’re playing one team who is two games away from the World World Series,” Apilado said. “Whenever you watch the Little League World Series, there are teams from Japan, or another Asian country. They are strong. Our players are excited to go up against that kind of talent.”

Umezu said the tour starts in Iwaki City, with a population of 330,000 people in Fukushima Prefecture, located 120 miles northeast of Tokyo.

“Iwaki was devastated by a major earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011 and is still recovering from that disaster,” he said. “Players on Iwaki Little League team were impacted by that disaster and are looking forward to meeting and playing the Kauai Yankees, according to Mr. Takao Sato, the Iwaki Little League coach and general manager of Iwaki Little League.”

Iwaki City and the County of Kauai signed a sister city pact in September, 2011 on Kauai, and in September, 2016 in Iwaki. Mayor Carvalho traveled to Iwaki to sign the pact, and at that meeting, discussed the possibility of the Kauai Yankees playing Iwaki’s team in 2017. Iwaki Mayor Toshio Shimizu, himself a baseball player in high school, assigned his staff to ensure the Kauai Yankees’ first trip to Iwaki is successful and memorable.

During their tour, the Kauai Yankees will visit the newly-renovated Aquamarine Center and La La Mew Mall which is home to Iwaki’s fish market. It also has a display area with photos and stories of the tsunami disaster. The team will also pay Mayor Shimizu a courtesy visit at Iwaki City Hall and will be hosted to lunch by the Iwaki Hawaii Exchance Association and Spa Resort Hawaiians, Japan’s largest Hawaiian and Polynesian resort and amusement park. The Iwaki tour will end with a barbque picnic with the players and families of Iwaki Little League.

“I heard the weather is just like here, but with higher humidity,” Apilado said. “This should be good for our players.”

Following Iwaki, the Kauai Yankees head south to Hiroshima, the global city of peace on a four-hour Shinkansen bullet train ride from Tokyo. Once there, they will play three games, all at Senogawa baseball field.

“Mr. Katsukuni Tanaka, an atomic bomb survivor and member of U.S. Japan Society of Hiroshima, is coordinating the Hiroshima schedule,” Umezu said. “He’s the same person who helped Kumu Hula Kapu Kinimaka-Alquiza and Na Hula O Kaohikukapulani when they made their first trip to perform at Otagawa Firework Festival in 1987. At that time, Mr. Tanaka was a production manager at Hiroshima Home TV.”

The Kauai Yankees will be facing Hiroshima Nishi (west) Little League, and Hiroshima Aki district team as well as a match against a combined Hiroshima team.

“We’re all going,” said Janine Rapozo, a team mom. “All of the parents, and even some grandparents. We’ll be gone for 10 days, and everyone is excited, not just the players.”

Between the baseball games, Umezu said the Kauai Yankees will visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and Park, the same place visited by President Barack Obama in May, 2016. The Kauai Yankees will place a wreath for the atomic bomb victims as well as make courtesy visits with Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui and Gov. Hidehito Yuzaki whom Carvalho met at the Japan Hawaii Economic Summit on the Big Island.

“We close the trip in Tokyo where we become tourists,” Rapozo said.

The team has been fundraising since December to make this Japan tour become reality and has received support from the community and a number of businesses, including the East Kauai Lions Club who stopped by practice with a contribution after Lion Stephen Fujii said they heard they needed help.

Kauai Yankees players include Sianni Sakai, Ryleah Torres, Tayden Beadle, Xailer Duarte, Austin Duterte, Reyson Goias-Abrigo, Talan Goias-Arzadon, Qyrin Ibaan, TJ Ka‘auwai, Kaimi Padrones, Kelson Rapozo and Austin Renaud.

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