U.S., Japan All-Stars Bring Talents to Cooperstown

Written by: Matt Kelly

Just one week after they captivated audiences in the FIFA Women’s World Cup final, the U.S. and Japan are squaring off again – this time on the baseball diamond. Visitors and residents in Cooperstown have a chance to see some of the world’s best baseball players compete live this weekend in the first-ever Cooperstown Women’s Baseball Classic. Members of the U.S. women’s national baseball team and the Madonna Stars of Japan paid a scheduled visit to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum on Friday, July 10 as part of their participation in the Classic, a four-game series between the two nations at the home of baseball. The teams were greeted by Museum President Jeff Idelson and Brad Horn, Vice President of Communications and Education, and were shown The Baseball Experience film in the Museum’s Grandstand Theater before touring the rest of the Museum. Before the film began, a player from each team presented a baseball to the Museum. It was a special experience for players of both nations, who share a commonality in their passion for baseball. Japanese pitcher Risa Nakashima said she and her teammates were excited to learn about the history of a game that eventually captured the imagination of so many youngsters in her home country.

“It means a lot to us,” Nakashima said. “Most of us don’t know what the major leagues are like, because we don’t get to watch many Major League Baseball games – even on TV. So it’s great to see the history of American baseball, and personally I’m looking forward to seeing the exhibit on the AAGPBL.”

The Museum’s Diamond Dreams exhibit, located on the second floor, chronicles the vast contributions of women to baseball in all forms – not just as players in leagues like the All-American Girls’ Professional Baseball League, but as executives, broadcasters, reporters, fans and more.

Team USA defeated the Stars, 8-4, in Game 1 earlier Friday in a matchup at nearby SUNY Cobleskill. The teams will now shift over to Cooperstown to play its final three games at historic Doubleday Field: a Saturday doubleheader at 2 p.m. and 5 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. Admission to all games is free.

Similar to the sport of women’s soccer, the U.S. and Japan have a recent competitive history with one another. Last September, host Japan defeated Team USA in the Women’s Baseball World Cup final, marking its second straight defeat of the U.S. after it also prevailed in the 2012 final. Overall, Japan has won the last four World Cups and is currently rated No. 1 in the International Baseball Federation world rankings. The U.S. is ranked second.

Malaika Underwood, infielder for Team USA, said these games serve as a measuring stick for her team before the upcoming Pan American Games in Toronto. The competition, which will be the first women’s baseball tournament staged at an international multi-sport event, begins July 21.

"The opportunity to play a team of this caliber before going to the Pan Am Games is a great tune-up for us,” Underwood said. “The chance to play with all of these other elite athletes at an international event is something we’re all looking forward to, but at the same time we have some high expectations going in. So to be able to play against Japan instead of just train and practice with each other is big.”

While Cooperstown is recognized around the world as a primary repository for baseball history, Horn says this weekend’s Classic shows that the small town still plays a vital role in shaping today’s game.

“Cooperstown serves as the ideal venue for these two national teams to stage exhibition games, with Doubleday Field the perfect host for this international competition,” Horn said. “We are so pleased we are able to welcome these elite athletes to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum as part of their weekend appearance here in Cooperstown.

“The allure of baseball history continues to generate worldwide interest for athletes, fans and all of those who play and enjoy the sport.”

Matt Kelly was a communications specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum