It was just about a year ago when the International Team from Japan was celebrating its fourth Cal Ripken 12U Major/70 World Series championship in Aberdeen.
It was just over a month later that the news broke that the series had seen its last days in Aberdeen as the decision was made and announced that Ripken Baseball was no longer going to host the series that had called Aberdeen home for 13 years.
It was a matter of months later when the new site was known. The series is now in Branson, Missouri.
So, with that said, why was the Japan National Team in Harford County this past week?
“After we won the world series last year, we heard the breaking news from one of our host families. I heard the news right away and that was devastating news,” Taizo Date, Japan’s translator and coach said. “Everybody was kind of shocked and the first thing we thought about was the host families, because they have been helping us the last 10 years."
"Some of the host families has been with us more than 10 years. Once we think about their feelings, it’s very heartbreaking. Once we think about host family, everybody is looking forward to the next season, next summer," Date said. "It’s an every summer tradition, tradition for them. We couldn’t even think about going some other place without seeing them. That’s the first reason we brought the players back here before going to the different place, that’s Branson.”
When the series started in Aberdeen those many years ago, all players, both foreign and domestic (except Harford Champ) were hosted by families. A few years into it, it was only foreign players who were hosted.
Japan wasn’t involved in the first few series in Aberdeen, but once they came, they were a crowd favorite. To that point, Mexico had a stranglehold on the International Championship.
It was Japan that stopped the run by Mexico in 2011. Japan went on to win the 2011 series title and followed that with titles in 2012 and 2013 as well.
“Seven years ago my wife asked me if we would keep a couple Japanese boys for the summer, so she could give back to her place where her mom was from and I said we would do it for one year,” Chris Flosser, a host family dad said. “And seven years later we have 15 boys that we met that have become our extended family back in Japan and it’s just been an unbelievable experience. It’s sad that it has to end, but we’re just happy that Team Japan decided to come back for one more year to visit us as host families.”
So, led by Flosser and wife Regina Flosser, five families stepped up and became host families for a few days this week. Chris and Regina are hosting for an eighth time, while Shane and Jen Mooney hosted for a sixth time.
Jeff and Jenny Graybeal hosted for a third time and LJ and Angel Baker were hosts for a second time. Not to be left out, Pastor Buddy and Millie Flosser served as hosts this week for the first time.
Regina Flosser says they learned of the Team Japan intentions of the visit in early April.
Each family hosted three players that make up the 15-player roster. Chris and Regina hosted Ikuya Iwasaki, Taito Akayama and Shuta Takehara; Mooney’s hosted Tomonori Hyoudou, Issei Okamoto and Taketo Aaeki; Graybeal’s hosted Chihiro Ito, Haruto Yamada and Yuya Utsumi; Baker’s hosted Yudai Ebine, Yuya Okanishi and Hayata Araki; and Buddy and Millie hosted Kosuke Matsufuji, Ryota Kishida and Temma Hoshiko.
“The tournament still keeps going, so we got to do some practice. We usually have a practice session in Japan before coming here, so we saw the idea was having that practice session here in Aberdeen before going to Branson,” Date said. “I thought that was good idea, spend a couple days and have the players adjust to the time zones and also enjoy the time, spending time with the host families. I talked to the sponsors and people liked that idea and that is why we brought back the players here.”
General Manager and Coach Toshiro Sekiya has been with Team Japan on every trip.
“In the last 10 years we’ve been here, we’ve been looking forward to this opportunity and we heard the breaking news in the fall,” Sekiya said. “First thing we thought about was host families and before we go onto the different place, we’ve got to say thank you to the host families and also thank you to the community here. We have bonded with the local here in Aberdeen, so we thought we should say thank you to the local community here before we go on at Branson.”
The players enjoyed practice time and a pair of scrimmages against Team Australia at the Ripken Experience earlier this week. Team Australia was also in Harford County this week, but the players were not hosted by families.
Team Japan was also in attendance at the Kansas City-Baltimore major league baseball game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on Monday.
Japan’s first game in this year’s World Series is Friday at 8 p.m. Central Time in Missouri versus Puerto Rico. They also have pool games against Dominican Republic (Saturday, 5:30 p.m, CT) and New Zealand (Sunday, 10 a.m. CT).
“After the last seven years we’ve had a lot of good friendships that’s formed from us and Tai and Mr. Toshiro and we’re hoping that if the world series does not come back to Aberdeen, they will continue to come back and visit us,” Chris Flosser said.
“But even if they decide not to, we’ve connected on Facebook and through social media and we’ve developed some great friendships and Tai comes and visits us at least once a year, outside of the baseball thing. We’re just hoping that continues, we can just keep the friendships going that we have made with Team Japan.”