Jets head coach les McTavish visited Sendai along with Horizon School Division officials, in which the school in Japan is one of the biggest sports schools in the country, about the possibility of possible player or coach exchanges.
“It something where we could enjoy each other’s culture and learn more about each other’s baseball programs. Ultimately, moving forward, we would like to set something up with Japan. But it’s a lot of work and a lot of legalities going forward,” said McTavish.
“Whether it’s this year or the following year, we’d like to get an exchange going like one of our coaches and players go to Japan and maybe one of their coaches and players comes to Vauxhall and experiences what we have to offer.”
It has long been known Japan has a completely different baseball system than the one found in North America, which McTavish was able to get a brief insight into in his earlier scouting trip, in discussing the possibility of an exchange.
“They have 90 players on their high school team and only nine players get to play at one time. I got to see the junior high level as well and they are extremely talented,” said McTavish.
“It’s just a different way of life and a different way of teaching. With my experience with the national team, I sort of already knew what Asian baseball was like. There’s not a lot of emphasis on hitting, it’s more on pitching and defence and it’s very, very high intensity. It’s not as show-casey if that makes any sense. It’s all about the win, and to teach kids discipline to win. And it’s very, very respectful, like when the coach talks, everyone takes their hat off and all their stretching has chanting with real team-orientated stuff.”
Japan taxes their pitchers more than in North America with higher pitch counts before being pulled, less days of rest between starts and heavier workloads in practices.
On his Japan trip, McTavish was able to see three pro games with the Rakuten Eagles, where pitching phenom Mashahiro Tanaka plays.
“This guy is probably the biggest thing that ever came out of there. He was the top pitcher in the World Baseball Classic,” said McTavish, of Tanaka, who set a Japanese professional baseball record by winning his 21st consecutive game in early September.
To say baseball is a passion in Japan is an understatement. The national high school baseball championship is played in front of 50,000 people in the Tokyo Dome.
The school the VAB is looking to do an exchange with won it two years ago.
Not just a baseball trip in the exchange but a cultural one as well as the Jets look to build life experiences for its players.
“We are going to try and work out the logistics where we are going to try and fund development on our end where we can send a player and coach to Japan to experience where it’s not costing them any money and experience both the culture, the baseball and the academics and get a well-rounded life experience,” said McTavish.
“That is second to none at a high school age where you are able to utilize the athletic side as well. It works the other way too where we would probably bring a Grade 9 or 10 (Japanese) student here.”
Having such a strong Japanese heritage among southern Albertans, McTavish views a potential sisterhood agreement between Vauxhall and Sendai Ikuei Gakuen School as a natural fit.
“We can merge generations in southern Alberta too. Some of our kids have never got to spend time with an older generation that still speaks Japanese,” said McTavish. “It becomes a nice little networking tool on both fronts.”