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Original Issue

Rising Sons A 'new' Japan rules Little League

Ten minutes after Japan defeated Boynton Beach, Fla., in Sunday's
Little League World Series final in Williamsport, Pa., winning
pitcher Yuutaro Tanaka stood on home plate, a championship banner
wrapped around his 5'5", 181-pound frame. He mugged for the
cameras, he pointed to his parents in the stands, and then he
persuaded the members of both teams--23 other 11- and
12-year-olds--to take a victory lap. It was a wonderful Little
League moment, the boys jogging together through the cool summer
night, but it also underscored a vital point: In this tournament
Yuutaro was the player who dictated the action.

"They should name a truck after him," said Boynton Beach manager
Ken Emerson of Yuutaro, who fanned 14, allowed only three hits
and smacked a titanic home run in Japan's 10-1 victory. "He's
very tough."

How good was this team from Tokyo, the third Japanese squad in
five years to win the Little League title? It finished the
tournament 18-0, outscored its opponents 222-21, and trailed only
once (1-0, in the first inning against Curacao in the
international final; Japan won the game 14-6). No Little League
team has flexed this much muscle in Williamsport since 1996, when
Chinese Taipei crushed Cranston, R.I., 13-3 in the final. "The
level of baseball in Japan is continuing to improve," said
Japan's manager, Masumi Ohmae. "And this team is particularly

Yet these Japanese Little Leaguers are different: Unlike their
predecessors, they dream of stardom in the States, not their
native land. Yuutaro is a case in point. Ever since Hideki Matsui
said sayonara to the Yomiuri Giants last winter to play in New
York, every Yankees game has been shown on Tokyo television, and
Yuutaro rarely misses one. Even when the first pitch is thrown at
2 a.m. Tokyo time, he will wake up to watch, then eat breakfast
and prepare for school. "My son always talks of wanting to play
in the major leagues," says Yuutaro's father, Chitomi.

"Hopefully I will one day face the same pitcher [Florida's
Michael Broad] I pitched against tonight in the majors," said
Yuutaro through a translator as he walked out of Lamade Stadium
late Sunday evening. "But it must be in the United States. This
is the place where I want to make it." --Lars Anderson

TWO COLOR PHOTOS: CHUCK SOLOMON (2) HIGH AND MIGHTY Tanaka (left) threw Florida for a loss.