Only the die-hards remained when the final pitch of the Indians' 9-5 win over the Padres was recorded at 1:20 a.m. Saturday morning, June 14. Count 10-year-old Sayaka Horio among them. Sayaka lives in Kobe, Japan, and is of Japanese and Korean descent. She just finished a year's worth of study on the island of Guam.
So how did she find herself at an American ballgame at Progressive Field on a rainy Cleveland night? The answer is Debbie Staley, a central Ohio native who was Sayaka's teacher in Guam and was able to bring the young girl to the States with her this month to give her a small taste of life in America. Naturally, a trip to the ballpark was in order. "At first, I didn't tell her where we were going," Staley said. "I asked her if she likes baseball and she said, 'No.'" Staley, a lifelong Indians fan, just laughed at that response. She knew she could sway Sayaka the same way she was once swayed as a child -- by watching a Tribe game on TV. "When she got here, we were watching one of the games, and I showed her some of the players," Staley said. "I said, 'Now do you like baseball?' And she said, 'Yes!' Now she understands a little more and enjoys it more." But Sayaka's first experience of coming to a ballgame would be made more special by the rare opportunity she got beforehand. Staley had arranged through the club's public relations department for Sayaka to meet Japanese pitcher Masa Kobayashi and Korean outfielder Shin-Soo Choo. Sayaka, fluent in both languages, held a conversation with each of the players. Sayaka had a big, beaming smile on her face throughout the experience. She received an autographed ball from Kobayashi and a signed bat from Choo. "I am too happy," she said through interpreter Ryo Shinkawa. "There are no words to describe it." The game that followed was unconventional. The first pitch was thrown, as scheduled, at 7:05 p.m. But a first-inning rain delay that lasted two hours and 43 minutes threw everything out of whack. Most of the fans who showed up at Progressive Field could be forgiven for filing out early. Everybody has their limits, after all, when it comes to waiting out a rain delay and delaying sleep to catch a ballgame. But Sayaka, a bundle of energy all night, wasn't going anywhere. This was her first baseball game, and she was going to take in every minute of it -- even if that meant staying up well past her bedtime. "She loved seeing Choo's hit and Masa when he came in and pitched," Staley said. "It was a neat experience." And it was an experience that carried over many cultures. Not to mention hours.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.