A taste of Japan in the air as the Ottawa Titans edge out the Sussex City miners

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Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels is the poster child for Japanese baseball success in North America, but the Ottawa Titans are also getting in on the action.

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Mitsuki Fukuda, a 22-year-old catcher from Fukuoka, is also trying to take a giant cultural leap. From Quebec to New York via New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Ohio, Kentucky and Ottawa, Fukuda is gradually finding its way, one Frontier League stadium at a time. Titans manager Bobby Brown signed him after scouting him at training camp in Arizona in February.

Fortunately for Fukuda, he has the translation services of his teammates Kenny Williams and Kai Moody – their mothers are of Japanese descent – to help him along his journey.

“Little by little I’m getting used to it,” Fukuda said, through Williams, ahead of Saturday’s 6-5 win over the Sussex County Miners at Ottawa Stadium. “At the beginning, I was a little in difficulty. I work day to day. I’m not too worried about the future, but just trying to make the most of every day.

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A quick comment on the differences between Canada and the United States?

“The air is better here,” he says.

The Titans are doing everything they can to make Fukuda more comfortable, including Japan Night at the Park on Saturday. The festivities, honoring the 150e anniversary of the introduction of baseball to Japan from North America, included dance and drum performances. The home plate featured Japanese flags.

As a special treat, Japanese Ambassador Yamanouchi Kanji tapped into his inner Jimi Hendrix, performing O Canada and the Stars and Stripes on his electric guitar.

“If my humble game appeals to people, it’s my great honor and privilege,” he said. “This is my way of expressing my deepest gratitude and respect to all of our Canadian friends and to the Titans. I had dinner with (Fukuda) and we talked about friendship between countries. He’s a good athlete, with a very special brain.

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Ottawa Titans receiver Mitsuki Fukuda (left) and pitcher Kenny Williams pose in front of a group of dancers during Japan Night at Ottawa Stadium.
Ottawa Titans receiver Mitsuki Fukuda (left) and pitcher Kenny Williams pose in front of a group of dancers during Japan Night at Ottawa Stadium. Photo by KEN WARREN /POSTMEDIA

Success didn’t come easily for Fukuda, the Titans’ youngest player. He entered Saturday’s game with a .197 batting average. As a catcher, communicating with the pitchers was also a challenge.

“It’s still difficult, but we’re getting there,” he said. “Striking is better here, definitely.”

In general, baseball in North America has a more casual feel than how the game is played in Japan.

“Every time you talk to your coach, you take your hat off and have both hands behind your back, it shows them respect,” said Moody, who played in Japan as a youth. “When you go out on the pitch, you bow to the pitch, appreciate the pitch and say thank you to the pitch.”

In his new surroundings, Fukuda gets a sense of what a close fight for a Frontier League playoff spot looks like.

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On the court, it couldn’t be closer between the Titans and the Miners, who entered Saturday’s game deadlocked for second place in the East with identical records of 41-29, four games away. of the Capitals of Quebec.

The top teams in the East and West receive a bye to the best-of-three division final, while second- and third-place clubs will have a one-game showdown to advance to face the winner of the division.

Home advantage in the wild card game goes to second, making this weekend’s series crucial in a regular season that ends Sept. 4.

Saturday’s tilt was a back-and-forth affair, with Moody at the heart of it.

Eventually, the Titans retired him in the bottom of the ninth, when Clay Fisher’s single brought home Tyrus Green, who reached base when he was hit by a pitch from Miners reliever James Mulry, returning the crowd of 1,425 people at home in good spirits. Kevin Escorcia took the victory in relief.

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The night didn’t start well for Titans starter Evan Grills, who allowed three runs on three hits in the top of the first inning.

His teammates, however, took it back in the bottom of the inning, replying with three runs and three hits against Miners starter Michael Mediavilla.

After the Miners tied the game at 3-3 in the third, the Titans responded immediately again, with Moody delivering a two-run single for a 5-3 advantage.

From there, Grills and Mediaville both settled into a rhythm.

In the seventh, Moody headed for the center field wall to trap Yanio Perez’s deep volley ball, but in his attempt to make a jump catch, the ball bounced off his glove and over the fence to a two-run home run, stopping the game. 5-5.

The game was then in the hands and arms of the relievers.

Grills went 7 2/3 innings, allowing 10 hits, while striking out eight and walking none along the way. Mediaville gave way to Mulry to start the eighth.

The Titans and Miners end their three-game series Sunday at 1 p.m.

US Ambassador David Cohen will throw the first pitch. He is not expected to bring his guitar with him.

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