City's dream team

City's dream team

Hong Kong's best Little League Baseball players are hoping to compete in this summer's World Series

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(Back row, from left) Keiji Matsuzawa, Hiroyuki Mak, Mino Tatsuki, Kosaku Matsuzawa, Taishi Ono, Atsuki Shinsha, Jonathan Drapeau, Max Nyrop, coach Shingo Tanamasu; (front row) Katsuma Kobayashi, Jay Fong, Ryuji Doi, Daigo Tanamasu, Taichi Fukui, Arnold Ng and Tommy Hill.
(Back row, from left) Keiji Matsuzawa, Hiroyuki Mak, Mino Tatsuki, Kosaku Matsuzawa, Taishi Ono, Atsuki Shinsha, Jonathan Drapeau, Max Nyrop, coach Shingo Tanamasu; (front row) Katsuma Kobayashi, Jay Fong, Ryuji Doi, Daigo Tanamasu, Taichi Fukui, Arnold Ng and Tommy Hill.
Photo: Nora Tam/SCMP
Each summer, thousands of children in the United States try to imitate their professional baseball heroes when they play Little League Baseball. Just like those stars, they dream of winning the championship - the Little League World Series, in the US.

Some 13,000 kilometres away, a group of youngsters from Hong Kong share the same dream.

The Hong Kong All Stars, who play in the Hong Kong Little League, are now competing in the Little League Asia Pacific and Middle East Tournament, in the Philippines, for the chance to represent the Asia-Pacific at August's Little League World Series.

If they get to the Little League World Series, the team will line up against a Japan team - guaranteed their own place - and sides from Australia, Mexico, the Caribbean, Latin America and Europe-Africa - plus eight teams chosen from across the US.

The event, in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, is a huge draw, with all the games shown on television. The 2011 World Series attracted an average audience of 1.3 million.

Last year, the Hong Kong team were one win away from qualifying - a real achievement as baseball is not as popular here as it is in places like Taiwan and Korea, whose teams are usually favourites to win.

"We get to practise only at the weekends, while teams from Japan, Taipei and Korea practise the whole week," says head coach Keiji Matsuzawa. "But I think we're better now than last year because we've got good pitchers and a couple of powerful batters."

The 14-strong team are a real mix - comprising Japanese, American and local players - just like the city they represent. They are the best players from the nine teams in the Major League division of the Hong Kong Little League.

Pitcher, first baseman and outfielder Jonathan Drapeau, 12, who is a Malaysian-American, believes the diverse make-up of the team is a positive. "It's good to understand other cultures," he says. "Communicating can be frustrating and confusing, but it's actually fun sometimes."

Teammate Arnold Ng Wang-lok says the Japanese players raise the level of competition as they've played in Japan.

Playing the game has helped them learn the importance of teamwork, communication and trust - things from which other children in Hong Kong can benefit. "If we do make it to the Little League World Series, it will really help build exposure for the sport in Hong Kong because perhaps they'll show the games on TV," Ng, 13, says. "It's such a fun sport."

Parents play a big role in the team and the Hong Kong Little League, too. Jonathan's father, Bob, volunteers as a coach for his son, as well as for the other children.

"Several coaches have sons playing, so there's obviously an interest," Bob says. "But we take just as much interest in the other children as our own sons. The parents do everything; all of us are volunteers. There are no professionals."

Parents even do maintenance work on the obscure patch of ground where the team practises at Shek Street in Sha Tin.

When it rains, they dry the playing area using sandbags to keep it safe.

Matsuzawa and the team are confident about qualifying. "I won't be surprised if we do get to go if our children give 100 per cent on the field," he says.

"But they are still kids, so not only technical preparation is important, but also their mentality. I remind them that every time they represent Hong Kong, they should have confidence in themselves."

All eyes will be on Williamsport next month; hopefully Hong Kong All Stars will be there.


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