Sydney Poapst had a baseball experience of a lifetime when she visited Japan in July.
The 11-year-old Stettler minor baseball player was among five Albertans who participated in the World Children’s Baseball Fair during the final week of July.
“It was pretty much baseball and cultural activities,” Poapst said after returning home last week.
“It was different — the food and the culture — but it was good.”
Poapst had been anticipating the trip since March, when she received word of her selection to the international baseball camp.
“It was late at night,” she recalled. “I had a basketball tournament in the morning. I just checked my email and I saw (the invitation) and I was really excited.”
More excitement awaited Poapst in Mie, Japan, where she was part of a Canadian contingent that included Braeden Asuchak of Okotoks, Daniel Matiushyk of Camrose and Donovan Brooks and Cooper Phillips of Edmonton.
Canada’s representatives showed their spirit and ability on and off the field.
“There was a kid from Canada and he was really excited, so we sang a song every day,” Poapst said of the Canadian players following Asuchak’s lead.
“He’d go up and sing it on the announcer. Before we started the whole day, we’d sing the song. We’d all arrive at the diamond, and then we’d sing it and go on the field and play. It was a chant kind of thing.
“We had clinics in the morning, and then we played a mini game. We had cultural activities in the afternoon, and on the last day, we finished with a tournament.”
Canada was partnered with two other countries to make up one of the 15-member teams. That’s in keeping with the philosophy of the world fair, which promotes international friendships and respect for each country’s culture.
Since 1990, kids from all over the world have participated in the cultural exchange, which also teaches baseball fundamentals.
The world fair was the brainchild of Japanese home-run king Sadaharu Oh and Major League Baseball legend Hank Aaron. It has been held mainly in Asia, but also in the U.S., Puerto Rico and Canada, as Regina played host in 2000.
Canada rotates its representation by province each year, and this summer was Alberta’s turn to pick five players in the 10- and 11-year-old age category.
“The kids all went through a sort of application process, in which they all presented letters to Baseball Alberta stating what baseball meant to them and what it would mean to be selected for the World Children’s Baseball Fair,” said Okotoks resident Bob Dyck, the chaperon with the Canadian delegation.
Baseball means a lot to Poapst, who comes from an athletic family active in multiple sports. This past weekend, she watched older brother Kyle in action with the Camrose Cougars at the bantam competitive Tier 2 provincial championship in Olds.
“Definitely, watching has helped me improve, than just playing,” Poapst said over the ding of a bat and the roar of the crowd during one of the bantam games Saturday.
She has also developed her baseball skills while playing with teams made up mostly of boys. In the Stettler minor baseball system, she was a member of peewee and mosquito teams this season.
“It’s more competitive,” Poapst said of playing with and against boys.
“(At the world fair), there was mostly one or two girls from each country, so that was good.”
Representatives from 15 to 20 countries took part.
Poapst turns 12 on Sept. 1, before she begins her Grade 7 studies at Stettler Middle School.
She ranks baseball as one of her favourite sports, second only to basketball.
She also runs cross-country and plays volleyball and badminton.
“I like the fielding,” she said of baseball. “I usually play first (base) on my younger team (mosquito) and left field on my older team (peewee).”
The International Baseball Federation selects the coaches for the world fair, which isn’t restricted to kids who have previously played baseball.
“It is the intention of the coaches that the participating children, including those who have never held a baseball, will experience the joy of baseball and become able to play baseball by the end of the clinics,” reads the WCBF website. “The participating children will also have the opportunity of getting to know each other, and foster international friendships.”