By Lucas Friedman
Millions of people around the world tune into the Little League Baseball® World Series to support their local team. However, a coalition of moms traveled 11,470 miles from Kawaguchi, Japan to Williamsport, Pa., to watch their sons compete for a championship.
Kawaguchi Little League’s “mom squad” has a strong presence at the Japan Region games. Dressed all in red, the mom squad makes Japan’s fan section one of the loudest and most passionate in the entire tournament. They have come so far for the opportunity to cheer on their kids, and they certainly do not disappoint.
The mom squad has been together for seven years. The Kawaguchi Little Leaguers have been playing together since they were six years old, and the moms have developed very close relationships with one another.
Due to the long school days in Japan, Kawaguchi’s Little Leaguers® only practice on Saturdays and Sundays. The moms started the tradition of cooking rice balls to give their sons to eat during practice. In the winter, they would cook hot miso soup to warm up the players in the cold weather. The moms, along with the dads, also helped take care of the fields before and after practices.
Kaori Ikeuchi has become the de facto leader of the squad. Her son, Masaumi Ikeuchi, is Japan’s leadoff hitter and catcher. Mrs. Ikeuchi has been invaluable to the team’s World Series experience, as she speaks fluent English. She has worked alongside the team’s interpreter to ensure no language barrier interferes with all the festivities surrounding this event.
Ikeuchi and the mom squad had no intention of changing their routine during the World Series. In Williamsport, they have made sure that their children feel at home, while competing halfway across the world.
“We cook rice balls everyday here,” said Kaori Ikeuchi. “Including the manager and coaches, there are 19 on the team, so we make quite a bit.”
Mrs. Ikeuchi described the process they use to make the rice balls. After the rice is cooked, they add salt, and shape them. Even though they are called rice balls, they take more of a triangular shape, which makes it easier for the boys to bite.
The rice cookers were provided by Miki Aso Grego of Tioga County, Pa., and used by the mom squad to cook the rice. Ms. Grego makes the rice cookers available to each year’s Japan Region representative.
Manager Hiroyuki Takahashi has taken notice of the mom squad and realizes how impactful they have been for his team on the field. But he knows how instrumental they are off the field too.
“Even though we have been eating here, the moms have kept us on our normal routine from Japan,” said Mr. Takahashi.
In fact, the mom squad’s cooking might be more beneficial for the coaches than the players.
“It’s really easy for the kids to get used to foods from other cultures,” said Mrs. Ikeuchi. “But, for adults, it’s much more difficult.”
The mom squad hasn’t been able to see their boys too often during their World Series run, but their passionate cheering and cooking has provided the team with much needed emotional boosts.
For Mrs. Ikeuchi and the rest of the moms, every single moment of this experience has been precious. They are seeing all the time and effort they invested into their children pay off beyond their wildest expectations.
The mom squad has been cheering on Kawaguchi Little League before their sons even entered elementary school, but now they can feel the support from everybody.
“The best part of this experience has been hearing how many people have wished us luck,” Mrs. Ikeuchi reflected. “There are so many baseball lovers from all over the world.”
The Japan Region plays Asia-Pacific Region for the International Championship Saturday at Howard J. Lamade Stadium.