Japanese-American middle schooler to be ambassador of friendship to Cuba

Yujin Sasaki will be distributing 48 baseballs adorned with a handwritten message to Cuban children as a sign of friendship between the United States and Cuba. Photo by Chris Miller.

By: Chris Miller

Yujin Sasaki is going to Cuba to play baseball in the Caribbean Baseball Goodwill Tour, but that isn’t all the 13 year old middle schooler will be doing on the island once off-limits to most Americans.

Sasaki will be giving away 48 baseballs adorned with a handwritten message as a sign of friendship between the United States and Cuba.

“I love baseball,” Sasaki saif, “and the point of going to Cuba was to make friendships.”

Sasaki’s family, friends and people in his community are paying $8 to write inspiring messages on the baseballs, including “Good luck from the USA” and “USA loves Cuba.”

Sasaki has been a part of the Takoma Park-Silver Spring Blazers for a year and a half. The team plays in the Montgomery County Baseball Association, and will be joined on their trip to Cuba by another local baseball team, the Bethesda-based Koa Greenwaves.

The players will leave April 8 and return April 15.

The Caribbean Baseball Goodwill Tour sends Canadian and American baseball players to Cuba to play against Cuban teams. With the U.S. embargo against Cuba lifted, this will be the second straight year that American baseball players have traveled to play in the country, but the first time any of those players are from Maryland.

While in Cuba, Sasaki and his team will donate baseball and school supplies to the Cuban children.

“Trying to buy baseball equipment and school supplies is harder for them than it is for us,” said Sasaki’s mom, Makiko Murotani.

Yujin Sasaki and his mother Makiko Murotani show off the baseballs Sasaki designed. Photo by Chris Miller.

While the players and their parents have decided to pay their own way to Cuba, they had a fundraiser at Mama Lucia’s on March 15 to raise money for the baseball equipment and school supplies. The restaurant donated 20 percent of its sales to the cause.

For Sasaki, this will not be his first time playing international baseball.

Sasaki played two summers of baseball in Japan a few years ago. He played in Wakayama, the city his mother grew up in.

Both she and her husband emigrated to the U.S. about twenty years ago.

Because Japanese students are in school until June, Sasaki attended classes for the first five weeks — at his mother’s old elementary school.

“It was better than sitting around all day,” Sasaki, who speaks fluent Japanese, said.

Sasaki has been playing baseball since he was in the 4th grade and his favorite position is pitcher.

“It’s fun to strike people out.”

His ultimate goal is to play Major League Baseball, and the Cuban tournament is a step along the way to that dream.

“I’m looking forward to playing against the Cuban baseball players and seeing how they play and seeing the difference between our baseball and their baseball.”