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Japan overcomes Pennsylvania, huge crowd to win LLWS

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Did the Little League World Series Championship Game move from Williamsport, Pa., to Denver? Did they put cork inside the metal bats?

Did Cincinnati’s Todd Frazier, the 2015 MLB Home Run Derby Champion, return to launch moon shots as he did for New Jersey in 1998? How else can one describe what happened on Sunday?

Tokyo, Japan, won the LLWS on Sunday by the mind-boggling score of 18-11 over a quality team from Lewisberry, Pa. Seven home runs landed in multiple parts of Pennsylvania. During the 10 days of the tournament, 86 home runs cleared the fences, beating the previous record by 10.

The victory provided Japan with its 11th world title. They have now won four of the last six.

Japan was not known as a strong offensive team coming in. Tokyo’s 18 runs surpassed its total of 16 from the previous four games combined. With four home runs on Sunday, the team nearly matched its previous tournament total of five.

Viewers witnessed something historic. This game broke the previous championship game-scoring record of 23 by the THIRD INNING!

On the same day the Cubs’ Jake Arrieta threw a no-hitter in Los Angeles, Japan pounded out 22 more hits in three fewer innings than the Dodgers achieved in nine. It seems hard to fathom, but the Japanese kids were actually down by eight runs at one point.

After Tokyo put up two quick runs in the first, Pennsylvania followed with 10 runs in the bottom of the first. A grand slam by Dylan Rodenhaber, an opposite field shot that did not appear to be struck that hard, was the key blow. Jaden Henline completed the 10-spot with a three-run homer that landed somewhere near Pittsburgh.

Compounding the obstacles posed by the gigantic deficit was the enormous crowd of 45,000 in and around Lamade (pronounced la-mah-dee) Stadium. Those seated in seats or on the hill were mostly there to root loudly for the home state Pennsylvania team. Lewisberry was the home team in every aspect, including batting last.

First, Japan had to stop the bleeding. They went to pitcher Noboyuki Kawashima, who was quite familiar with baseball in America, having resided in San Diego for four years. He gave up only one run over the final five innings.

“Having lived in the U.S.A., I was used to the crowds,” said Kawashima. “I just pretended like they were cheering for me.”

If Japanese pop culture has an equivalent to Alfred E. Neuman, their dugout collectively adopted his mantra of “What, me worry?” Tokyo hit the comeback trail by nailing three consecutive home runs in a seven-run third inning.

Two more Japanese homers in the third completed the comeback. Pennsylvania trailed 13-10 after three.

The United States Champions would score only one more run – on a home run of course – while Japan tacked on five insurance runs in the sixth. Over the final five innings, Japan outscored Pennsylvania 16-1.

Japan deserves congratulations for what they achieved. They demonstrated a great deal of mental toughness, uncommon in pre-teens, that should carry them to success as adults in areas other than baseball.

Pennsylvania’s coaches and players can learn from it, too. They have nothing for which to be ashamed.

All in all, quite a spectacle.

Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at [email protected]

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