Hot Springs’ international recognition as the Birthplace of Major League Baseball Spring Training is responsible for bringing a high school baseball team from the Spa City’s Sister City, Hanamaki, Japan, to town for a friendly game with players from Lakeside and Hot Springs High Schools.
Players from Hanamaki Higashi high school will be in Hot Springs December 2 through December 8 as a result of their vice principal’s 2018 tour of the city’s Historic Baseball Trail, which traces sites throughout the city associated with baseball immortals who trained in the city during the first half of the 20th Century.
“Hanamaki Higashi and Lakeside High School have been sister schools for over 20 years,” said Mary Zunick, cultural affairs manager for Visit Hot Springs and a leader of the city’s Sister City program. “A small student delegation has traveled to Hot Springs for many years and in 2012 Higashi started sending a second delegation made up of their College Prep Class.
“Hanamaki is known throughout Japan for its incredibly successful baseball teams. They are consistently one of the top high school teams in Japan and two of their recent graduates are playing in the United States: Yusei Kikuchi for the Seattle Mariners and Shohei Ohtani for the Los Angeles Angels.
“You may remember when Babe Ruth's family came to Hot Springs for our 2018 Baseball Weekend, a Japanese journalist attended because he was doing a story on Shohei Ohtani, the ‘Japanese Babe Ruth’ — who pitches as well as hits home runs, just like The Babe.”
Zunick said that last year one of the chaperones of the Higashi school’s student group, Vice Principal Sugawara, was given a tour of the Baseball Trail.
“He had been a baseball coach before he became vice principal,” Zunick said, “and suggested that Higashi might want to bring their baseball team to Hot Springs. He went home and began putting together a plan.”
The result, Zunick said, was that the Hanamaki Higashi baseball team as well as seven other students from the annual visiting College Prep Class, will be in Hot Springs December 2 - 8.
“The baseball team will practice with players from Lakeside and Hot Springs High all week,” Zunick said. “The combined Lakeside-Hot Springs High team will be coached by Bryan Bolt.
“Lakeside Coach Leighton Hardin has put together a wonderful itinerary for them to visit local colleges to tour their facilities, and the students from Hanamaki, Lakeside and Hot Springs High will practice together, and then play a friendly game at Lakeside High School at 1 p.m. on Saturday, December 7. That game will be free and the public is invited.”
Lakeside Coach Hardin said, “We are excited to spend a week and share cultures with the young men from Hanamaki. It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for our kids in Hot Springs to practice, play, and share our city and state.”
“This visit and exhibition game by the Hanamaki high school kids is a perfect example of the ways that the things we do here in Hot Springs resonate in ways that we often don’t anticipate,” said Steve Arrison, CEO of Visit Hot Springs. “We discovered, somewhat to our surprise, that our World’s Shortest St. Patrick’s Day Parade, the Historic Baseball Trail, the Northwoods Trail System and other things like our upcoming Majestic Park youth baseball facility have reaped attention for the city from places far distant from Hot Springs.
“We’re pleased now to add the Hanamaki baseball players to our roster of visitors from around the world.”
For information call Mary Zunick at 501-321-2027.