Kudoh brings unique experience to Blue Ribbons
By Rich Palzewic
GREEN BAY – The Greater Green Bay Blue Ribbons, members of the Wisconsin State and Northeast Wisconsin Baseball leagues, play its games at Joannes Stadium near Green Bay East High School.
The team is a mixture of younger college kids and veterans still playing for the love of the game.
For one player, Yuta Kudoh, a 24-year-old outfielder from Kawasaki, Japan, it’s more than a game – it’s about learning a new culture.
“I started playing baseball in the second grade, but I wasn’t serious about it,” said Kudoh, with the help of his translator, Yumezo Densaki. “I played whenever the team needed more players. Back then, I was spending more time playing soccer.”
He said he began to take baseball more seriously in the sixth grade.
“Both of my grandfathers played baseball,” said Kudoh. “My father also played for Mitsubishi Fuso Kawasaki, which belongs to the industrial league in Japan. He currently manages the college team in Japan. He preferred I play soccer instead of baseball.”
Kudoh is currently staying with a teammate’s family in Green Bay.
“I play baseball in the United States because I wanted to experience baseball in another country other than mine, and I’m pursuing a professional contract,” he said. “Due to the situation with COVID-19, it’s not easy to continue playing, even in Japan. I was willing to go and play anywhere there was a team that would offer me to play. I’m happy and honored to play in Green Bay.”
Kudoh currently leads the team in on-base percentage (.489), walks (16), stolen bases (9) and hit by pitches (8).
“Having Yuta be a part of the program has been an experience unlike anything I’ve been a part of,” said Blue Ribbons skipper Luke Gajewski. “We’ve learned so much about him and Japanese culture. It’s another great example of how baseball can bring people together and teach life lessons.”
Kudoh said he was interested in American baseball, so he began searching on the internet.
He found a travel showcase team called the “Asian Breeze” from Japan that plays exhibition games against minor league, Mexican and Korean professional teams.
“I joined the team last spring in Arizona,” Kudoh said. “After three weeks, I wanted to play more in the United States, so the team reached out to Blue Ribbons for me, and I ended up flying into Green Bay.”
Even though baseball around the globe has fundamental similarities, Kudoh said there are differences, too.
“The number of fields, the speed of the game, the players’ attitude and the length of practice are different,” he said. “What I find most different is the width of the strike zone. The outside strike zone is way bigger here than in Japan. I want to adapt to it as soon as possible.”
Kudoh said he couldn’t be happier playing for the Blue Ribbons.
“It’s been one of the best experiences in my life for sure,” he said. “In Japan, we don’t play so many games like they do here because there are fewer teams and Japan does more tournaments. The Blue Ribbons let me hit leadoff, which I’ve never done before in Japan. It makes me excited, and I learn a lot as a leadoff hitter. By getting more options at the plate, it helps me grow as a player. I’ve faced great pitchers, so I enjoy playing in this league. Also, I love playing so many games – this is a great league.”
Being halfway around the world can be culturally difficult for anyone, but Kudoh said once he gets on the field, it all goes away.
“I don’t feel any culture or language barriers on the field,” he said. “It’s not 100 percent, but I’m able to understand what my teammates are saying most of the time. Off the field, I’m struggling more to understand English. However, I have great people around me who speak to me with simple English, and I use a translator on the phone so I can understand more. Fortunately, I can communicate to survive at least.”
What does the future for Kudoh hold?
“I will go back to Japan once the league ends, but I would love to come back again if I get the opportunity,” said Kudoh. “As a player, I will continue to pursue a professional contract with an independent league or an affiliate minor league team. After my playing career, I would like to become a teacher and a baseball coach at the elementary, middle or high school level because I have a teaching license. Both as a player and a coach, I will pursue to be a professional person everyone admires, and I want baseball to be my life work.”