During the autograph session that traditionally follows Oilers home games, Luke Simmons was asked by a young fan to sign a ball right on the sweet spot.
Simmons had knew exactly where that was.
The 6-foot, 210-pound, left-handed batter had found it just a little earlier in Tuesday evening, smashing a two-run homer over the right field wall to give the Oilers a one-run lead in the bottom of the eighth against the visiting Aichi Institute of Technology team from Japan.
The visiting team scrapped to tie up the game in the top of the ninth, but Danny Garcia came through with an RBI single in the bottom of the frame to secure a 3-2 win for the Oilers in a non-league game.
"You never know if it's going to go out in this park because it's so big," Simmons said of his blast. "But I figured if it stayed fair, it had a good shot to go out."
Aichi put a run on the board in the top of the third when Tatsuro Oku doubled and scored on a single down the right field line by Masashi Ohno.
Peninsula right fielder Randall Shelley got the ball in to home quickly, but Oku was able to slip in just under the tag of catcher Jim Anderson.
The Oilers threatened to score with runners at third in the second, third, fourth and sixth innings, but Brad Carlson was cut down in the second on a close play at the plate and the others were left stranded.
Simmons remedied the situation with one swing, however. Stephen Copeland, who was pinch-running after John Kaye singled through the hole to right, had an easy the rest of the way home.
"Coach told me before the game that I might have an opportunity to go in," Simmons said. "Fortunately, with two outs John Kaye got a single."
Aichi scored an unearned run in the top of the ninth. Pinch hitter Yasushi Kitazaki singled and advanced on a pair of ground outs. He scored the tying run on a passed ball.
Jeremy Reed drew a walk to lead off the bottom of the ninth for the Oilers and advanced on a sacrifice bunt by Jim Anderson. Pinch hitter Hunter Brown was hit by a pitch, bringing Garcia to the plate for his late-inning heroics.
"I think that's the first time we've left a team on the field," said Oilers head coach Gary Adcock. "If we're looking for some momentum going into (today's) game, that's one way to get it."
While the Oilers might have liked to win both games with Aichi, Adcock said that he got what he wanted out of the series -- a good tuneup for the Glacier Pilots, who are right on the Oilers' heels in the Alaska Baseball League standings.
The Oilers also found out that even played half a world away, baseball is still baseball.
"The biggest difference is that some of their pitchers take a lot of time in their wind-up," Simmons said. "To me, it made it a little easier to time their pitches. They're the same pitches, though."
The Aichi pitchers did throw a lot more breaking balls than their American counterparts, though.
"We talked about trying to hit their fastballs," Simmons said. "They throw a lot of curveballs for strikes, but if you chase the ones out of the strike zone, they'll eat you up."
Peninsula pitchers showed good command of the strike zone themselves, combining to strike out five batters while walking five batters.
Frank Esposito started and went 6 2-3 innings, giving up one run on four Aichi hits. Brian Tarajack, coming off of a hamstring injury, threw 1 2-3 innings and was charged with an unearned run, and David Humen got the final two outs of the game for the Oilers, striking out one.
The Oilers face the Glacier Pilots today at 7 p.m. The game can be heard on 920 AM.
HEAD:Ballgames expose cultural differences
Whether it's played in the Dominican Republic, America or Japan, baseball is baseball, right?
The two-game series concluded Tuesday between the Peninsula Oilers and Japan's Aichi Institute of Technology was as interesting for its sociology as it was for its baseball.
Baseball may be a game with litany of rules stipulating things like nine fielders aside, three strikes and you're out and 90 feet between the bases, but all those rules aren't enough to keep nations from soaking the game with their own culture.
Take Monday's game. Both teams approached it with the best of intentions, exchanging gifts before the first pitch, but the nuance of culture caused unintended offensive actions by both sides.
Aichi, a university of 5,000 students located in Toyota City, had a 10-run lead on the Oilers by the sixth inning.
There's an unwritten rule in America -- but not in baseball -- that such a large lead late in the game means things like stealing and bunting stop.
There's no such unwritten rule in Japan. In fact, through an interpreter, Aichi general manager and physics teacher Shizuo Okada said Japanese feel the exact opposite about big leads.
To show the opponent the disrespect of stopping the little things in the game, like bunting and stealing, is to "rub an opponent's face in the dirt."
As strange as it may sound to the ethnocentrics in the crowd, Monday Aichi showed the Oilers respect by stealing second with a large lead when the first baseman wasn't even holding the runner on.
Baseball is baseball, huh?
"It was just a clash of cultures on the baseball field," said Christian Huggett, an English teacher at Aichi who served as the team's interpreter.
And even after Aichi's bunting and stealing, the cultures weren't done clashing yet.
In the ninth inning, Oilers manager Gary Adcock, who used to pitch for UCLA, inserted himself into the game against Aichi.
Looking at it from the Oilers perspective, the move made sense. Using another pitcher would have thrown off the Oilers rotation for today's and Thursday's two-game series against the Anchorage Glacier Pilots, the Oilers closest pursuer in the Alaska Baseball League.
"I didn't want to overuse and hurt any of my pitchers," Adcock said. "At the same time, I told (catcher) Joe (Hietpas) to stay right in the center of the plate.
"My biggest concern was hitting somebody. It was the last inning of an exhibition game. You don't want anyone to get hurt."
Aichi didn't see it that way.
"It's unthinkable," Okada said through Huggett. "I've never seen anything like that before."
Fortunately, both teams showed a cultural snafu here and there can be overcome with good intent and understanding.
The best example of good fellowship came in Monday's game came when Randall Shelley of the Oilers fouled a ball of the top of his foot.
An Aichi player immediately popped out of the dugout and applied some of the spray that numbs the skin to Shelley's foot, receiving a round of applause from the crowd.
"He was surprised to get applause for that," Huggett said. "In Japan, showing respect like that for the other team is automatic."
The series threw a curve into many of the daily routines at the ballpark, but in the end most welcomed a change from the daily routine.
"I think I'd give myself an 'A' for effort, but a 'C,' or maybe a 'D,' for results," said Oilers public address announcer Dennis Smith of his efforts at pronouncing Aichi's names. "At least there were only about 27 people in the park who knew how bad of a job I was doing."
It was also a busy couple of days for Elmer Luck, who sells souvenirs at the ballpark. Aichi loaded up on T-shirts, bats and hats. Huggett said the players will have to bestow gifts on people in Japan who helped make the trip possible upon returning home.
"They buy more things than our own fans," Luck said. "I had to stay open an extra hour the first day they were here."
Despite Monday's misunderstandings, Aichi players will associate those souvenirs with fine memories and hospitality.
Hugget said Mike Baxter, the baseball operations manager for the Oilers, even went back to the Bingo Hall before the game to fetch a pair of cleats outfielder Keisuke Shimizu forgot.
"We'd like the Oilers for their kindness, fellowship and generosity," Hugget said. "They've went out of their way to help us."
For the reminder that baseball isn't merely baseball, the hospitality was well worth it.
Jeff Helminiak is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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