Renewing a tradition that dates back to 1910, the University of Chicago baseball team spent five days in Japan as the guest of Waseda University. As part of the institution's 125th anniversary celebration, Waseda invited the Maroons to play games at the Hiroshima City Stadium on Mar. 23, the Osaka Dome on Mar. 24, and the Seibu Dome in Tokyo on Mar. 25.
From 1910 to 1930, the Maroons traveled to Japan every five years for a series of games with Waseda. From 1911 to 1936, Chicago played host to Waseda at five-year intervals. Chicago's visits to Japan played a significant role in the development of Japanese baseball and culminated with crowds of more than 20,000 witnessing the Chicago/Waseda games in 1930.
Easter in Hiroshima
The team arrived at Tokyo's Narita Airport on Mar. 22 and made its way to Hiroshima after more than 24 hours in transit.
On Easter Sunday, more than 20 players along with coaches and staff attended services at Noboricho Catholic Church in Hiroshima.
"The priest acknowledged our presence and asked us to stand, and the congregation of approximately 400 rose, faced us, and applauded," Head Coach Brian Baldea recalled. "It was a special moment."
Following the church service, the team toured the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park for a flower ceremony. Dressed in their uniforms, the Chicago and Waseda teams approached the Peace Memorial accompanied by the sound of photographers from several media outlets and placed wreaths at the memorial before standing in respectful silence.
Chicago and Waseda played their game in front of a crowd of more than 13,300 at the home of the Hiroshima Toyo Carp of the Japanese Central League. Despite a steady rain, the large crowd arrived early and stayed to the end of the game.
The game opened with announcements and the singing of the American and Japanese national anthems by students from a local university. Following the national anthems, flowers were presented to the two head coaches and lineups were exchanged at home plate.
"It was an incredibly moving experience for all of us at the stadium," said Associate Athletic Director Rosalie Resch, who accompanied the team throughout the trip.
Led by Yuki Saito, who is considered to be the finest pitcher in Japan and a major league prospect, Waseda won the game 15-0.
After the game at the Royal Rihga Hotel, the team enjoyed a reception which included welcoming speeches from dignitaries from the city of Hiroshima, the Hiroshima Municipal Stadium, and Waseda University. The speakers stressed the importance of the Waseda/Chicago baseball series in the development of the baseball in Japan and the deep and special significance of the return of Chicago to Japan.
Baldea and Waseda Head Coach Outake Atsuyoshi were presented with rice scoops to commemorate both the 50th anniversary of the Stadium and the Waseda/Chicago game. At the conclusion of the evening, all of the guests joined in a traditional Japanese athletic cheer that translated to "Rah, Rah, Chicago".
"We left the reception overwhelmed by the warmth and generosity of our hosts," Resch recalled.
Game Two in Osaka
The team arrived in Kyoto on Mar. 24 to visit the famous Kinkakuji Shrine before heading to Osaka for the second game. Chicago played a very competitive game, holding Waseda to two runs through six innings before eventually falling by a score of 8-1.
Series Finale in Tokyo
The final game at Tokyo's Seibu Dome began with an emotional opening ceremony. Two descendents of Waseda players who competed in 1911 presented flowers to the coaches. The crowd responded warmly to these individuals who represented the long history and tradition of the Chicago/Waseda rivalry.
A dramatic moment occurred in the ninth inning when Chicago's Dominik Meyer ripped a hard line drive off Saito, who fortunately was not hurt. Waseda won the game 10-0.
"Waseda is the best college baseball team I have ever seen," said Baldea, a 25-year college coaching veteran at the NCAA Division I and III levels.
Two descendents of Waseda players who competed in the 1911 games presented the flowers to the coaches for this final game. At a reception later that evening, the daughter of one of the descendents was presented with a Chicago felt banner that she planned to place by the photograph of her late father.
"As representatives of the University, we were, yet again, overwhelmed by the respect that was afforded to our team and to our shared baseball tradition," said Resch.
The team was honored one more time with a closing reception at the Seibu Dome. Prior to the opening remarks, Resch presented a game ball from the final Chicago/Waseda series in 1936 to Dr. Katsuhiko Shirai, the President of Waseda University. The ball was autographed by several members of the Waseda team who played in that series.
After the captain of the Chicago and Waseda teams added closing remarks, the evening came to a moving close as the Waseda team formed two lines, raised their arms, and provided an exit canopy for the Chicago team. The team exited to the applause of the assembled crowd and the team members spontaneously repeated the gesture for the Waseda team's exit.
Tokyo to Phoenix
Thirty-six hours after leaving Tokyo, the Maroons arrived in Phoenix to begin a five-day, six-game swing marking the start of the 2008 regular season.
Chicago won four of its six games against NCAA Division III rivals, capped by a 20-5 win over Thomas College. The team returned to campus on Sunday, Mar. 30 for the start of the spring quarter.