Introduction (For the Grown Ups)
Tonight we have a story about a pitcher, traveling across the ocean and learning a new language, and a ghost. If this is your first time reading Bedtime Sports, (or you need a refresher) check out our "How To" post.
Questions in italics are designed to spark a conversation. Encourage your audience to participate, but also feel free to answer the questions yourself and incorporate answers into the story.
The man dancing emoji (🕺) indicates a section where you can add kinetic elements to the story. Mime an action and encourage your audience to join in.
Happy story telling!
Welcome to the Mets (メッツへようこそ)
(5 minute read)
If you were to take your finger and find Citi Field on a map of the world, and then drag it west, across the whole United States, over places like Ohio and Nebraska and Nevada, you would eventually get to California, where the ocean meets the west coast. If you kept going west, your finger would pass over the Pacific, above Hawaii and below Alaska, until finally bumping into a chain of islands that make up the country of Japan. And on the Island of Honshu, you would find the city of Gamagori, the hometown of new Mets pitcher, Kodai Senga.
Have you ever traveled over an ocean? What is the farthest away you have traveled?
This summer, Kodai made a trip opposite of the one we just took with our finger. He left Japan, where he had worked his way to become a star pitcher for the SoftBank Hawks of the Nippon Baseball League, and flew over the Pacific Ocean and across the United States, to New York to join the Mets starting rotation. He had only been to New York once before, but had dreamed of playing baseball in the Major Leagues; when the Mets gave him a chance, he took it.
Would you ever want to move to a new country? What would be exciting? What would be scary or intimidating?
There are a lot of differences between America and Japan. We drive on different sides of the road. In Japan, people eat a lot of rice and seafood. Americans shake hands when they meet new people, Japanese people prefer to bow. In baseball, the ball is a little bit different between Japan and the US. The pitcher's mound is a different height. They play more games in the Major Leagues than in Nippon Baseball.
All these differences can make it hard to adapt. But the biggest challenge might be the language. Like many people who move to the United States to pursue a dream, Kodai will need to learn English to speak with his new friends, fans, and teammates. He showed off his English when he first was introduced by saying, “Hi, I am Kodai Senga, of the New York Mets. I’m very happy and excited to be in the Big Apple and join this team…Let’s Go Mets!”
Do you know how to speak any languages other than English?
Would you like to learn some Japanese together?
Kodai Senga has a special pitch called “the Ghost Fork.” A forkball is a pitch you throw by splitting your fingers like an extra wide peace sign to make a fork.
🕺🕺Can you show me your fork fingers?🕺🕺
Kodai’s forkball got the nickname “Ghost Fork” because it drops so low that it looks like it disappears. In Japanese, ghost is “O” as in Oreo, “ba” like a sheep, and “ke” like kettle. O-ba-ke. (Try it with me: Obake) For forkball, you just say fork, but with Japanese pronunciation. “Fo” as in foe (but make the o a little long), and “ku” like a cuckoo bird. Fo-ku.
Say it with me: “Obake Foku.”
That was awesome!
Are you ready for a whole Japanese sentence? How about the one that Kodai tried out at his first press conference? Kodai said, “Hi, I am Kodai Senga…Let’s go Mets!” Let’s try introducing ourselves.
🕺🕺Sit up behind the table at your own mini press conference. Get comfortable. Now lean forward so you can speak into the mic.🕺🕺
First say Ko-ni-chi-wa. That means Hello. Konnichiwa
Then say, “Wa-ta-shi Wa” That means I am. Watashi wa.
Then you say your name, and add a “de-su” at the very end. That’s one way to finish a sentence in Japanese.
Finally, say, “Let’s Go Mets!”
You want to put it all together?
Konnichiwa. Watashi wa (your name) desu. Let’s Go Mets!
Learning another language is really hard. There are so many words, and so many ways to put them all together! Kodai will need to work on it all year long, along with his driving, and pitching. Sometimes he will make mistakes. But little by little, he’ll get better and better. And he’ll have lots of friends to help - teammates, his interpreter, and even us - the fans!
We can help Kodai feel comfortable by learning some cheers and words in Japanese. We’ll share new ones on our social media every time he starts. Be sure to have your grownup check it out and you can learn them together.
Do any of your friends at school speak another language? What are some words or things you could learn to say to make them feel more comfortable?
Oyasuminasai, Sport. (Goodnight, Sport!)
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Sources and Videos
There wasn’t a single source for tonight’s story - most came from the author’s own experience living in Japan and moving back and forth between Japan and the states. However, both Rob Friedman (The Pitching Ninja) and the Mets’d Up Pod interviews with Kodai provided some background.
Art & Illustrations
With a player like Kodai who has pitched for years in the NPB, I was also able to highlight some great Japanese artists.
Gost Fork Neons and Welcome to NY Kodai illustration both created by the incomparable Dan Abrams at Athlete Logos. Check out his site here, or shop for Mets themed T's and mugs at the Queens Collection.
According to MLB’s Pitcher Report, Kodai Senga threw 32 fastballs against the Miami Marlins on April 2, 2023. He averaged 96.8 miles per hour (MPH) on this pitch. He threw 26 Forkballs that averaged 84.6 MPH. What is the difference in average speed between these two pitches? What do you think that difference in speed does to a hitter?
Nippon or Nihon: This is how you say Japan in Japanese (or as a Japanese person would say, Nihongo). It means “Sun’s Origin” and came from China. Japan was an island to the east of China and it would look like the sun rose out of the islands. In Japanese it is written 日本 .
“Kodai Senga was a star pitcher for the SoftBank Hawks of the Nippon Baseball League
Pronunciation: the way that people say a word. While there might be a “correct” or common pronunciation, different people can say the same word in different ways. Ask a bunch of people to say “tomato” or “data” and listen to what you hear. Sometimes people have different pronunciation because of where they are from, or the other languages that they speak.
“There isn’t an R sound in Japanese, so the Japanese pronunciation of ‘fork’ is ‘fo-ku’
Interpreter: a person who understands two languages and helps people who speak different languages to communicate by translating from one language to the other.
“Hiro Fujiwara is the Met’s interpreter and will change English sentences into Japanese to help Kodai interact with his coaches and teammates.”
Is there anyone you know who speaks a different language? Use Google Translate to learn how to say something to them in their language and surprise them. Then see if they will teach you a favorite word or phrase. Have you’re grown up share what you decided to learn by tagging us on one of our accounts!
More Story Ideas
Talk about a time that you had to learn another language, or didn’t speak the same language as everyone around you.
What is the most interesting place that you have traveled to?
What is a trip that you took that didn’t quite turn out the way you planned it would?