Freshman Nate Jakobs is accustomed to upwards of 60 baseball games a season and around 15 hours of practice a week. That couldn’t be more different from the typical schedule of a Japanese player: more than 30 hours of practice a week, but only around 10 games a year.
Jakobs experienced the way the Japanese play baseball firsthand when he and his club team, Walbeck Force, visited Japan as part of a cultural exchange, July 16-31.
He, his team and his mother, Kelley Taber, ‘84, flew into Tokyo and traveled to Hiroshima, Osaka, Kyoto and Hakone. Jakobs’s team played baseball games against the Japanese teams in most of those cities.
Despite a mutual love of baseball, the U.S. and Japan have two very different methods of coaching.
“In America, the philosophy is to get out and play as many games as you can, around 60-70 each year, to gain experience,” Jakobs said. “Over there they just practice a lot and maybe play 10 games a year.”
These methods produce very different players.
“If you’re trying to develop a perfectly skilled player, (the Japanese) method is better,” Jakobs said. “If you’re trying to develop the best player overall, our method would work better. In Japan the players develop perfect baseball skills. Here we also do a lot of other physical stuff, like lift weights.”
“I picked up on the Japanese players’ hard work and the ways it pays off on and off the field,” Jakobs said.
In addition, the baseball fields in Japan are different. “The players practice so much on the fields that a grass one would be hard to maintain,” Jakobs said. “That’s why all the fields are dirt.”
While on their trip, Jakobs and Taber were surprised by the hospitality of the Japanese teams.
“As we arrived at each field for games, we were met by a long line of parents and players, all clapping and waving to welcome us,” Taber said.
“During the games, the mothers were busy serving us snacks, as well as lots of iced coffee and water, which we really appreciated because the heat was stifling.”
Jakobs said “the heat made the games much more difficult because our team wasn’t used to it, and the ball would be really slippery from all the sweat.”
This, along with the fact that the Japanese players were older and more experienced, resulted in Jakobs’s team winning only a few of their games.
On a game day, Jakobs and his team would wake up at 5:45 a.m., have breakfast at a local cafe, and take a train to the countryside. The Japanese team would pick up Jakobs’s team and take them to the field. There they would play one game, have lunch, then play a second game against another team.
According to Taber, the Japanese teams served a bento box lunch between games. Jakobs’s team was also treated to a fabulous banquet at the farm of one of the team’s sponsors. The people at the farm had built a stage and and set up tables with food and drinks.
“There was a lot of fish, which I liked,” Jakobs said.
In addition to many special Japanese dishes, they had pizza and fried chicken, as a special “American” treat. Even the mayor of Kyoto City attended and gave a speech.
Jakobs and his mother also had the opportunity to watch a game between the Hanshin Tigers and the Yokohama Baystars, both Nippon League professional teams, the highest level of baseball in Japan.
Taber said that the fans at the games were very enthusiastic but respectful to the umpires and opposing team. There was no booing or complaining about bad calls, she said.
“We were seated in the Baystars section, so we decided to cheer for them,” Taber said. “When their catcher made a great play at home plate, we started to cheer loudly.
“The Baystars’ fans around us were aghast and told us it was not polite to cheer that time because it showed disrespect to the Tigers’ player, and also it might distract their pitcher from focusing on the next batter.”
But, according to Jakobs, the fans were nonetheless enthusiastic.
Besides playing games, Jakobs and his team visited a number of temples in the area.