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MLB's last off-day in Japan loaded with culture, goodwill

MLB.com @AnthonyDiComo

NAHA, Japan -- If anything, the fervor over Major League Baseball's All-Star team in Japan has only increased over the past two weeks. Early Wednesday evening, Red Sox manager John Farrell, Rays third baseman Evan Longoria and Mariners starting pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma visited Shuri Castle, Okinawa's seat of power for nearly half a millennium and the top tourist site on this southerly island outpost. Nearby, a group of schoolchildren were taking group photos in front of the castle.

Suddenly, one of the children noticed the big league ballplayers and screamed. The entire scrum began sprinting toward them, until a group of security officers managed to turn them back.

NAHA, Japan -- If anything, the fervor over Major League Baseball's All-Star team in Japan has only increased over the past two weeks. Early Wednesday evening, Red Sox manager John Farrell, Rays third baseman Evan Longoria and Mariners starting pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma visited Shuri Castle, Okinawa's seat of power for nearly half a millennium and the top tourist site on this southerly island outpost. Nearby, a group of schoolchildren were taking group photos in front of the castle.

Suddenly, one of the children noticed the big league ballplayers and screamed. The entire scrum began sprinting toward them, until a group of security officers managed to turn them back.

It has been this way since the All-Stars landed at Kansai International Airport 10 days ago. When they left their hotel in Sapporo on Wednesday morning, autograph seekers stood faithfully next to the door -- as they had for the players' entire stay in that city. Nothing changed in Okinawa, where the players and coaches fanned out across the city of Naha on Wednesday on a series of goodwill missions.

At Okinawa Cellular Stadium, where the MLB squad is scheduled to play one last exhibition against Samurai Japan on Thursday (4 a.m. ET/9 p.m. JT on MLB Network and MLB.TV), Astros second baseman Jose Altuve, Indians first baseman Carlos Santana and Cubs pitcher Tsuyoshi Wada worked with a group of 200 youth baseball players on their fundamentals -- an event that Altuve called an "unbelievable" experience.

"As soon as I came here to this field and saw the little kids, I said, 'OK, we're going to have a [big] job today teaching the kids how to play,'" Altuve said. "But then when we started, they looked really good. I was real surprised how they catch the ball, throw the ball. They're ready, man. They're ready."

Across town, Dodgers catcher Drew Butera and Rays reliever Jeff Beliveau made a visit to a local children's hospital, while yet another group of players visited an orphanage. Everywhere the All-Stars went, admirers followed.

Video: Beliveau and Butera visit hospital in Japan

"This is the fourth city that we get to come and play against the Japanese All-Stars, and this has been a tremendous experience for us," said Farrell, manager of the MLB team. "For many of us, it's the first time that we've been to Japan. … For the fans here to be able to see All-Stars from both leagues compete on one field, we'll look upon this game [Thursday] as we have the first five games of the series, and that is to compete to the best of our ability."

The island of Okinawa, best known stateside for its World War II history and continued military presence, is an Asian tourist destination and a baseball hotbed. Ten professional Japanese teams held Spring Training on Okinawa this year, along with another six teams from Korea.

MLB's All-Stars will only add to that tradition on Thursday alongside Samurai Japan, ending their tour of the country with one final exhibition. Though the game has no bearing on the five-game series that ended Wednesday -- MLB lost, three games to two -- both teams are committed to putting on one final show.

"Baseball is very popular on this island," [Japan manager Hiroki] Kokubo said through an interpreter. "We're so grateful to be able to show the top teams to fans on Okinawa."

Japan All-Star Series schedule
• Exhibition: MLB 8, Hanshin-Yomiuri 7 | Box
• Game No. 1: Japan 2, MLB 0 | Box
• Game No. 2: Japan 8, MLB 4 | Box
• Game No. 3: Japan 4, MLB 0 | Box
• Game No. 4: MLB 6, Japan 1 | Box
• Game No. 5: MLB 3, Japan 1 | Box
• Thursday: Exhibition against Samurai Japan, 4 a.m. ET/9 p.m. JT, Okinawa

MLB Network will broadcast Thursday's seventh and final game of the Japan trip live at 4 a.m. ET, and MLB.TV subscribers in the U.S. and around the world can watch live and on-demand streams as well.

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.