MLB stars leave Japan with lifetime of memories

Results on field secondary to spirit of goodwill with opponents, fans

November 15th, 2018

NAGOYA, Japan -- If goodwill was the primary theme of the Japan All-Star Series, the Major League team that jumped from city to city to city came away winners in the now-completed six-game tournament.

From a strictly a baseball perspective, technically, the Major Leaguers lost to Samurai Japan, winners of five of the six games played between the two teams over the past week. But the on-field results, while disappointing, were not what mattered most to the players and staff as they traveled from Tokyo to Hiroshima to Nagoya.

Aside from winning games, their intentions were three-fold: soak in the ballpark atmosphere, learn about Japan's culture, and connect with the fanbase.

Check. Check. Check.

"They've been so welcoming to us," All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto said. "When we hit a home run, they cheer just as loud for us as they are for their own people. It's really awesome. Just the atmosphere, and the way their fans are during the games, it's just been really fun."

That much was apparent throughout the trip, but it was especially so on Thursday, the final day of the tournament. The Major Leaguers showed their appreciation of the hospitality that was extended to them from the day they arrived, leaving behind souvenirs that they surely hope will turn into cherished mementos for fans whose passion for baseball is among the strongest in the world.

Standing on the dugout, gave away a bat to a fan in the stands minutes before the start of the game. gave away two sets of cleats. signed a slew of autographs.

Manager Don Mattingly spent part of batting practice that day delivering T-shirts, hats and pullovers -- most of it Marlins gear -- to young fans standing near the Major League dugout.

After the game, the players from each team bowed to the crowd and tipped their caps, and then the teams lined up and shook hands.

gave away two of his bats to fans, and several more players -- , , , to name a few -- threw caps and gloves into the stands.

The gestures were not only generous, they were apropos. It's customary in Japan for visitors from foreign countries to leave behind gifts as a show of appreciation.

"I gave a jacket away the other day to a little girl in Hiroshima -- it was just so cool," Mattingly said. "She was so excited. It makes you feel so good to do this."

Goodwill gestures were plentiful behind the scenes, too. About an hour before the start of the game, Mattingly and Japan's manager, Atsunori Inaba, met in the clubhouse, near Mattingly's office, to exchange signed jerseys and express mutual admiration, through an interpreter, for the friendly competition and sportsmanship between the teams.

"It was an honor to meet you," Inaba said to Mattingly.

"I feel the same way," Mattingly said. "It's been an honor to come, and watch your team play. I love the discipline, and I love the way they play."

The Major Leaguers will take home with them myriad memories from their trip to Japan, which for most players was their first time visiting the country. Aside from the sightseeing and culinary indulgences enjoyed each day, most players surveyed agreed that the game atmosphere was the main takeaway from the overall experience.

The coordinated cheering sections, the trumpets and drums, and the karaoke-style singalong that happens during each Japan hitter's at-bat are elements of a typical game in Japan that you won't find at a Major League ballpark in the United States.

The Major Leaguers, understandably, found this to be very cool.

"They're loud every inning, they believe in their team, and this is the most amazing thing I've seen," said. "They're loud, they're always cheering, they're always dancing. It's been great.

"I've enjoyed playing in the different ballparks. It's pretty here [in Nagoya], Hiroshima was really beautiful, and Tokyo is amazing. It's been a great experience."