A who’s who of baseball stars will be on campus Oct. 27 for a symposium titled “150 Years of U.S.-Japan Baseball Diplomacy,” hosted by a faculty-led research team from William & Mary.
The event, scheduled for the same day as Game 1 of the World Series, is open to the public and will feature former Major League player, manager and broadcaster Bobby Valentine, Senior Vice President of Major League Baseball-International Jim Small and Masanori “Mashi” Murakami, the first Japanese-born player in the big-leagues.
The symposium will be held at the Sadler Center’s Commonwealth Auditorium starting at noon. It will mark the official kickoff to a research project led by Associate Professor of History Hiroshi Kitamura, Government Chair Marcus Holmes and Director of Public Policy and Hyman Professor of Government Paul Manna.
“We are excited to welcome a distinguished group of speakers who are united around their deep love and knowledge of baseball in both the United States and Japan,” Kitamura said. “We look forward to learning about their experiences, research and insights on this beautiful sport and the pivotal role it has played in bringing the two countries closer together over the decades.”
The research group, which also includes a team of undergraduate students, was awarded a grant from the United States Department of State through the U.S. Embassy in Japan to commemorate the 150th year of U.S.-Japan baseball diplomacy. Through scholarship and a series of events planned through January 2025, the team from William & Mary aspires to bring attention to the U.S.-Japan baseball connection and its impact on the countries’ relations off the diamond. More generally, the project is exploring the effects of “soft power” diplomacy through sport as a vehicle for fostering ties between countries around the world.
The project touches on key areas of democracy, which is one of the four pillars of William & Mary’s Vision 2026 strategic plan.
Small is scheduled to open the symposium with the “first pitch” keynote address. He manages MLB’s global strategy and international offices and oversees the World Baseball Classic. Through his efforts to internationalize baseball, MLB has developed a burgeoning presence in Asia for almost two decades.
Valentine will serve as the “closer” keynote speaker. He played 10 years in the big-leagues and managed for another 16 for the Texas Rangers, New York Mets and Boston Red Sox. He also managed the Chiba Lotte Marines of the Nippon Professional Baseball Organization (NPB) in Japan for seven seasons, leading the team to the 2005 Japan Series championship.
Murakami will participate in a panel of former players. He made his MLB debut in 1964 and played two seasons as a relief pitcher for the San Francisco Giants, finishing his big-league career with a 5-1 record, 3.43 earned run average and 100 strikeouts in 89 1/3 innings pitched. He recorded the first strikeout, win and save for a Japanese player in the Major Leagues and also recorded the first hit, which came against Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax.
Other guests include bilingual baseball journalist and specialist Brad Lefton, who has covered the sport in the U.S. and Japan for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, NHK, Sports Graphic Number and other prominent outlets; former MLB player and 1984 NPB Triple Crown winner Greg “Boomer” Wells; Rice University Professor Sayuri Shimizu and Western Washington University Professor Derek Moscato.
The symposium will also offer a poster presentation of student research. For example, one student will share work on a comparative study of high school baseball in the United States and Japan. Another group of students will share discoveries about baseball in Japan during periods before and after war and what extent the sport helped to improve relations between the countries.
The symposium will be preceded by a film screening on Oct. 26. Filmmaker Ema Ryan Yamazaki will appear virtually to introduce her film, “Koshien: Japan’s Field of Dreams,” which examines the popularity and significance of high school baseball in Japan. The screening will take place in Room 107 at Ewell Hall at 7 p.m., and Yamazaki will do a remote Q&A afterwards.
“A lot of our efforts have been putting the pieces in place so that we have a big successful event that’s going to be translated and later broadcast to our Japanese audience through our social media channels,” Holmes said. “What we really want to do is kick this project off with a bang.”
The project combines academic elements with public activities. In addition to the symposium, there is an interactive online trivia game in the works. The team will conduct oral history interviews with current and former players who have bridged the Pacific. This has been enabled by a partnership with the Japan Retired Foreign Player Association (JRFPA), a non-profit organization that supports former non-Japanese players who have played in the Nippon Professional Baseball Organization. Murakami and Wells are members of the JRFPA.
In addition, the W&M team is organizing a youth baseball exchange targeted for the summer of 2024. For this event, a squad of 10 to 12-year olds from Williamsburg will travel to Kamakura, Japan to play a series of exhibition games. The Williamsburg team will be present at the symposium and will be introduced to the audience.
Nathan Warters, Communications Specialist