Freeport International Baseball Invitational is big hit with Japanese players |
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Tsugu Tatekawa is making his third appearance at the Freeport International Baseball Invitational this week for the Tri-Con Roos and what keeps him coming back from his home country of Japan every year is a little bit of everything that captures the spirit of the event.

“We have a nice host family (the Cernickys) and good teammates,” Tatekawa said. “For the baseball … they are playing for the love of the game, and I like that. That’s why I have come here three times.”

With graduation from Tokyo’s International Christian University nearing, this will likely be Tatekawa’s final at-bats at the International, so he is looking forward to taking in every moment.

And he will share the experience with a trio of his college teammates.

Yuta Shiratori is making his second consecutive apperance at the International, and Tomo Arata and Nodoka Sato are at the event for the first time.

Tatekawa is a senior at International Christian and is set to complete his degree in anthropology next year and start his career. No longer being a student may make it tough to play next summer, but he plans on coming back to visit Freeport again.

“I’ll have a job next year and I will try to come back, but it will be difficult for this tournament in the middle of July or late July,” Tatekawa said. “But I will be back to visit my host family, either on holidays or on vacation.”

Tatekawa is a pitcher and first baseman for International Christian. Shiratori, a junior, is a pitcher, catcher and third baseman. Arata, a sophomore, plays left field and Sato, a junior, plays second base.

Aside from playing baseball this week, they also took in the Pirates-Cardinals game Tuesday at PNC Park. Tatekawa came to the United States a week before the International to visit friends in Virginia and went to a Baltimore Orioles game at Camden Yards.

Shiratori, a psychology major, spent 12 years of his youth in Sacramento, Calif., before moving to Japan and is happy to be back in Freeport after a positive experience last year. Aside getting to reconnect with his Tri-Con Roos teammates and his host family, Shiratori also enjoys getting a taste of some of the foods in America that he doesn’t get in Japan, particularly hamburgers.

“We went to Burgatory a few days ago, and we really liked it,” he said.

The two newcomers from Japan share a major in media studies but have different backgrounds.

Arata spent part of his youth living near San Jose before his family relocated to Japan, and Sato is in the country for the first time.

International Christian has had a longstanding partnership with the International, and once Arata learned about the opportunity, he immediately pursued it. Even though Freeport is on the other side of the country to his home state, he’s happy to be back on American soil.

“I used to live in California when I was in elementary school, so this is a nostalgic moment for me,” Arata said. “It was eight years ago when I left America for Japan, and this is the first time I have been back.”

Sato has been intrigued about coming to the United States for a long time, and adding the chance to play baseball into the mix was a good bonus. He has enjoyed exploring American culture and the new experiences that come with it.

“It’s quite different from Japan,” Sato said. “Everything is different from the food to how you spend (weekends). The chance to come visit here is a great opportunity. I’ve always wanted to visit the United States.”

Tatekawa and Shiratori did not give their two first-time teammates much advice on what the International was going to be like. Instead they wanted them to experience everything on their own, just like they did.

Many of the Japanese players who have come to the International have returned multiple times and even though Tatekawa could be making his exit, don’t be surprised if some of the newcomers become returnees like their teammates before them.

“I don’t know a lot about this place, but our host family is really good,” Sato said. “I’m having fun so far seeing what life is like here. It’s a real nice experience.”

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