Today, a Cal Ripken Major/70 International Champion was crowned. Teams from eight different countries battled against each other for a spot at the top, but only Japan remained to claim the title.
But while they may be on opposite teams, these kids have still enjoyed the once in a lifetime experience of living in the melting pot that is the Ballparks of America campus.
“You can literally go up to anyone and have a chat with them about the game,” said Billy Sutton of Team Australia. “It’s just really good to meet other people who love the game as much as you.”
Australia, the Bahamas, Canada, the Dominican Republic, Japan, the Republic of Korea, New Zealand and Puerto Rico all sent representatives to the tournament. Not only did these teams compete against one another, they all lived on in the team suites on-campus.
"We just say hello and chat with each other at the front door of our dormitory, with New Zealand, Puerto Rico and `teams from other countries,” said Soto Sugimura of Team Japan. “Even though we use a different language we still have a good time with each other so that's a fun part of it."
Of the aforementioned teams, half — the Dominican Republic, Japan, Korea, and Puerto Rico — are primarily non-native English speakers. In spite of this, teams have found ways to work around the language gap, just as Sugimura said.
Herman Figueroa of Team Canada, for example, is fluent in Spanish, so he can translate when Team Canada wants to chat with Dominican Republic. There is also Optial Colina, a member of Team Dominican Republic, who is fluent in English, but says his team has a great time with teams even he can’t communicate with.
"We talk a lot since we're Dominican,” Colina said, laughing. “We [will] be funny with them, we talk with Korea, New York, and all of those countries. We play a lot of ping pong with [those countries].”
There is a connection that goes beyond anything said between the teams; the language barrier has much less of an impact in the face of a shared love of baseball.
"There is a bond between our hearts,” said Seobeen Kang of Team Korea. “Even though we can't speak the same language."
Another component to the bond built between all the teams in the Cal Ripken World Series is the pins given to the teams after they arrive to the tournament. Every player on every team gets a pin, but that doesn’t mean that they keep it. It’s been a long-honored tradition for the teams to trade pins amongst each other.
“When we got them we traded when the teams were all standing up,” said Mana Dudley-Kikoro of Team New Zealand. “Australia, Puerto Rico, Bahamas. It's actually a privilege to be holding one of those because it came from their country and that gives us knowledge to play with for the next game.”
The pin trading presents the teams an opportunity to get to know each other and approach one another when they would not have otherwise had with teams from the states and outside it.
“I was expecting it to be a bit harder with the Japan teams and people who didn't speak English. but it was super simple,” Figueroa said. “They would sometimes come to you, sometimes you would look for them, and it was very easy and super fun.
The pin trading is also a demonstration of how friendly and welcoming the teams strive to be, while also facilitating the spirit of friendly competition across all the team’s in the tournament.
"We get to meet them and be friends with them,” said Andru Arthur of Team Bahamas. “They don't really be mean to us, they respect us."
This tournament presents a unique opportunity for its participants to bond with other kids from different countries over a shared love for what is not just America’s favorite past time. As far as the kids are concerned, that’s half the fun of playing in this tournament.
“I didn't have this experience in my last tournament,” said Eric Correa of Team Puerto Rico. “I love the tournament. It's very, very, very cool to play with all these guys from around the world."