A pair of "Iron Men" are working together to mold the baseball skills of children in Japan.
Former Baltimore Orioles star and all-time consecutive-games-played record holder Cal Ripken Jr. and former Hiroshima Carp great and Japanese Iron Man Sachio Kinugasa are holding national clinics for junior high and high school players that kicked off on Wednesday.
Ripken's former teammate Brady Anderson, a player with a rare combination of speed and power--both 50-homer and 50-steal seasons--also joins the tour.
The group held a pair of clinics in Tokyo and will travel to Ofunato, Iwate Prefecture, today before heading to Nishinomiya, Hyogo, on Saturday. Kinugasa will miss the event in Nishinomiya, but rejoins the group in Kyoto's Ukyo Ward on Sunday to help wrap things up.
Ripken, a Hall of Famer, 19-time All-Star and two-time American League MVP, became a special public diplomacy envoy for the U.S. State Department in 2007. He said baseball is something to enjoy and can be a particular boost for those in the tsunami-battered regions in Iwate.
"I think we measure success on this trip by the number of smiles on the kids' faces," Ripken said at a Wednesday morning press conference at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo.
"There's no way, really, that you can see an image on TV and fully understand the circumstances that you're coming into. But you know whatever you can do, it would be great to help," said Ripken, who played in 2,632 straight games during his 21-year career, all with the Orioles.
The clinics are part of the "Tomodachi" program in which the U.S. and Japanese governments, along with private sectors, are working jointly to rebuild baseball infrastructure and provide equipment in the Tohoku region. The tour officially opened with a reception at the residence of U.S. Ambassador to Japan John Roos on Tuesday.
Kinugasa, who played in 2,215 consecutive games, called it a privilege to be part of the event.
"To be able to participate in the Tomodachi project alongside Ripken is a real honor," the 64-year-old Kinugasa said.
"I'm very happy to be a part of the group that starting today is putting on clinics from here to Kyoto. I'm hoping that we can spread even a tiny bit of joy, happiness or emotion to young people through the game of baseball."
Anderson said the time constraints of the clinics don't offer a great deal of opportunity to make extensive improvements in players, but his reward is seeing an immediate effect, no matter how slight.
"I didn't think that I was going to get into instructing when I was finished playing," said Anderson, who retired in 2002 after 15 seasons. "I didn't think I was going to get such a thrill, a thrill that rivals playing, actually, to make a little improvement and to see somebody improve right before your eyes and know that you were part of it.
"I really like the attention to detail in hitting, that's what I like to teach. You can make those little tiny improvements and it means so much to them. That's what I love about it and that's why I continue to do it."
Love and respect for the game were part of the reasons both Ripken and Kinugasa continued to play and have such distinguished consecutive-game streaks.
Kinugasa said his record string didn't end with tears.
"When you have a streak, there is a beginning and there is always a conclusion," said the Japanese Hall of Famer.
"When it ended, I didn't feel a sense sadness or loss. Instead, the first thing I felt like this was the birth of a great record."
Ripken said his streak is a target for others to pursue.
"It's the overall meaning that's beyond the actual record and the actual games," Ripken said. "It's a sense of responsibility to your team to be there every day, to set a standard, to set a goal, to set an example for future players.
"When people ask me about my record, I always say, 'Sure, if I can do it, somebody else can.' And I would be really happy if somebody pursued that to break that record."