As a member of the USA Baseball Team Maryland 13-U showcase team, the HCYP Raiders and a Cal Ripken travel team, rising eighth-grader Blake James has a pretty busy schedule.
One team that he didn't expect to see on the schedule this summer though was Japan. But there he was, at Aberdeen's Ripken Stadium Aug. 14, playing against a group of 12-and-under Japanese All-Stars.
There are actually 18 players on Team Maryland, but coach Eric Metzger only brought the 12 players on his team who qualified for the 12-U age group, to match Team Japan.
Team Japan was in town for the annual Cal Ripken World Series, which features 16 teams from across the globe, and James' Team Maryland was invited to play in an exhibition game.
"That's one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities," said Steven James, Blake's father.
The 13-year-old righthander started the game and pitched one scoreless inning. Since it was an exhibition game, Team Maryland sent a different pitcher to the mound each inning. When he's not pitching, James plays first base.
Team Japan "plays a different style of ball, they're very quick and very aggressive on the basepaths," Metzger said. "They're a very fundamentally sound team."
At the plate, Blake drove two home runs far over the outfield fence — one, 205 feet to left field, and one the other, 215 feet to right center — helping Team Maryland to a 10-8 victory. James' first home run tied the game at 2-2, and the second tied it at 4-4. Each blast came with one runner on base.
"They were two monster home runs," Metzger said. "He can hit for both power and average."
Catonsville's Ethan Gallagher hit a walk-off, three-run homer to win the game for Team Maryland.
"After the game, we got photos with them and exchanged pins, so I got a Japan pin," said Blake, who plans to attend Atholton High after completing Clarksville Middle School in 2012.
"I did notice that after the game, they said, 'Nice game' in English," he added. "And we said 'konichiwa', or 'hello' in Japanese."
As of Wednesday, Team Japan was 5-0 in Ripken World Series competition.
James, who also plays basketball, is hoping to make the USA Baseball national team this fall.
"Blake is a big, strong kid who hits the ball a long way," Metzger said. "But he's still a young player and has a lot of growing to do. He projects to be a corner infielder. He can play at the highest level of 13-U right now."