Source: South Williamsport, Pa.
Date: Friday, Aug. 24, 2012
When Tokyo, Japan, Little League coach Yoichi Kubo was told that some of the other teams thought that his team had a good sense of humor, it came as a shock to him because he was not expecting that.
"Japanese people are generally shy," he said through a translator.
However, when talking to him and players, including Noriatsu Osaka after practice, it was evident that other teams had it right. There was just something about the Japanese team that made people enjoy their time talking to them.
While there sense of humor came as a surprise to them, their performance on the baseball diamond during this year's Little League World Series should not. Japan is usually a favorite to advance deep in the tournament, and for good reason. Every year they always have a well-rounded team that comes ready to play.
For Kubo, in his last two appearances in the Little League World Series championship game, fate has been both kind, and cruel to him. In 2001, his team won the championship game over Apopka, Fla., Little League, 2-1, taking home the coveted crown. Then in 2007, Kubo was dealt the cruel hand of defeat, made even worse by the way they lost. In the championship game, they lost on a walk-off home run against Warner Robins, Ga., Little League.
"This is baseball. He has a future. Try to do his best in his bright future."-- Japan coach Yoichi Kubo
After that game, Kubo was reflective about the loss. While he was upset they lost, he also acknowledged that they played a good team from the Southeast.
"The second pitcher's (Kendall Scott) breaking ball was very nice," he said through a translator in the postgame press conference.
At the time he expressed his desire to come back with the players, saying "This is a very good place."
Well, he just might get that chance. This year his team has advanced to the Little League World Series and opened their campaign in strong fashion, beating Willemstad, Curacao, Little League of the Caribbean, 7-0, on Thursday. Kubo said he feels they have a very balanced team, and defense is a big key to winning games for the coach.
"Defense is a good feeling," he said.Besides their stellar pitching, they performed quite well on the offensive end as well. For the game, they scored seven runs on 10 hits. They had two batters with more than two hits, and five batters with at least one.
Kubo said he also values concentration as well. It was evident both before and during the game of their focus and concentration. Before Thursday's game began, it was clear they had a specific way to perform their warm-ups, while their throws and fielding was precise.
Japan followed their performance against the Caribbean with another strong 2-0 win over Taoyuan, Chinese Taipei, Little League of Asia-Pacific on Sunday night. In what turned into a pitchers duel between the pitchers from both teams, Japan would amass an astounding 15 strike outs over nine innings of work.
Starter Yuta Ishida started off the pitching dominance for Japan, pitching six innings while striking out 11 batters. Noriatsu Osaka came in for Ishida at the beginning of the seventh inning, striking out four.
After Sunday's extra inning game, Kubo said Osaka "went 125 percent." Ishida said he knew the opposing starting pitcher was good, so he had to shut down the opposing offense, which he did. When Osaka came in for Ishida, he gave it his all, continuing to shut down Asia-Pacific's offense.
So if two straight wins and a solid start in South Williamsport was any kind of indication, Japan will most likely be in the running to possibly play in the championship game and capture yet another Little League World Series crown, which is what Kubo wants. While talking to him, he said he wants another Little League World Series championship.
Kubo's team is under the direction of someone who is very balanced in his coaching style. While talking to Osaka after practice, he said Kubo is very hard on the players during the game, but after the game, he is very supportive. He said that Kubo is very good at quickly switching gears from being hard on the players to being supportive, or vice versa.
Kubo being supportive of his players was on display in 2007 after their closer, Junsho Kiuchi, gave up the walk-off home run that denied them a crown. In a press conference after that title game, Kubo said his message to Kiuchi was "This is baseball. He has a future. Try to do his best in his bright future."
Winning and losing games is not the sole reason many players look forward to coming to South Williamsport. Part of the intrigue of coming here, other than playing in front of thousands of people, is meeting players from other countries. When Japan does, Osaka said the players on the Japanese team say "jambo" to them, which means good morning, introducing them a little bit to the Japanese culture.While hanging out and meeting kids from other countries is nice, all teams come here with one goal in mind: they want to be called champions. Osaka said the team carries that same goal and would like to win the Little League World Series.