Day 251.jpg

Taiki is the catcher on his team.

In Isesaki, Japan.

He’s in Springfield to perform at the Japanese Fall Festival, sponsored by the Springfield Sister Cities Association. Taiki has studied Judo since the age of 9 and will demonstrate his techniques at the festival — performances are at 1:00 and 5:15 today.

I connected with Taiki thanks to Merry (Day #225). Her fiancé, Taylor, is Taiki’s host home. I think I would enjoy being a host home, whether to international students or summer-league baseball players. Where my English and gesturing failed, Taylor graciously filled in with interpreting.

Taiki is 20 years old and studies at Kokushikan University.

“I’m learning sports biomechanics, training, and conditioning,” he said.

His favorite Japanese baseball team is the Saitama Seibu Lions. He also likes the Texas Rangers, thanks to Yu Darvish, and is an especially big fan of Shohei Ohtani.

“He is amazing!” Taiki said of the Angels’ player who better be the American League Rookie of the Year.

Taylor and Merry took Taiki to see Alpha at the Alamo Drafthouse last night. Clips from Japanese game shows played before the movie. Taiki knew the name of the show and the producer.

“The movie truly transcends language barriers,” Merry said. Naturally, it ranks at the top of Taiki’s favorite American movies.

A fan of Maroon 5, specifically singling out the hit Sugar, Taiki loves the beef jerky from Mama Jean’s. He had wonderful things to say about his time in Springfield, “It’s so exciting and fun here, so funny. And I have wonderful hosts in Taylor and Merry.”

Thankfully, Tropical Storm Gordon let up enough for an early morning “catch-ball,” as Taiki called it. Just behind the third base dugout at the Jenny Lincoln Field, directly adjacent to the parking lot of The Catholic Center, there is a practice pitcher’s mound — rotting plywood mostly covered in green turf grass. I have yet to use it this year and thought Taiki might like it.

Taiki borrowed Dad’s catcher’s mitt, the one we bought when visiting my grandma in Toledo, Ohio. We quickly loosened up and stretched out. At Taylor’s prompting, I confirmed that catcher’s signs in Japan are the same as in the US.

1 – “Straight ball.” Fastball.

2 – “Off-speed.” Slider.

3 – “Drop ball.” Change-up.

I showed Taiki my grips before commenting, “They all go straight.”

I toed the rubber and then started throwing, focusing on his glove. Taiki complimented my pitches, nodding his head, pointing his glove, offering verbal commentary after each one.

“Fastball. Good spot. Nice off-speed. Good pitch.”

I probably didn’t break 60 mph, but it sure felt good to throw the ball “hard.” I slipped twice on the mound, a combination of wet plywood and worn-out tennis shoes. The first time the pitch sailed high. The second time, the ball bounced just in front of Taiki. He trapped it perfectly.

“In baseball, it is important to be a team player, to focus on teamwork. If I don’t have friends, I can’t play baseball,” Taiki said. “In judo, it is the same. A judo match is a bond of friendship.”

I wish the Springfield Cardinals were still playing. I think Taiki would make a great candidate to catch someone’s first pitch.

I am honored to have made a new friend thanks to a game of catch.

Thank you, Taiki, for sharing your gifts with Springfield.

Baseball brings the world together.