He didn’t come to Canada for baseball.
But after two seasons playing for the Whalley Chiefs, Yuta Kikuzaki didn’t want to leave.
“I’m so sad,” said the 18-year-old Japanese exchange student, who left for home Monday (July 1) to write entrance exams for university.
But the right-handed pitcher didn’t rule out coming back.
“If the team makes the playoffs, I will come back for one week,” he promised.
It’s unlikely he will be back for the postseason. The Chiefs aren’t likely to qualify for the B.C. Premier Baseball League’s playoffs this season. But they also aren’t likely to forget Kikuzaki, who impressed his teammates on the field, and became their friend off it.
Kikuzaki wasn’t thinking about baseball when he came to Canada in the winter of 2011. He did play while he was in Japan, but put the game on hold after an arm injury.
“He came over here to learn English, and he wanted to see the western world,” said Chiefs general manager Paul Hargreaves.
“As it turned out, he was at Sands Secondary (in North Delta), and they had a baseball academy.”
Kikuzaki had a solid first season with the Chiefs, posting a 3-1 (won-loss) record in five starts with 36 strikeouts. He appeared in 15 games, and his 1.66 earned run average was 12th-best in the 13-team PBL.
“Last year he was very effective,” said Hargreaves. “No one knew him as a pitcher. He snuck up on a lot of teams. “They remembered him this year.”
Kikuzaki is 3-6 with a 3.26 ERA, striking out 32 batters in 10 games played this season. But although the ERA and win percentage had dropped, he has thrown six complete games, one off the league lead.
“He’s a bulldog. When he gets the ball, he wants to finish the game,” said Hargreaves. “Win or lose, he’s very competitive. He wants the ball at the end of the game.
“It’s no surprise he has the most complete games for us this year and last.”
His two-year stint in the PBL came to an end last week.
Sad to leave, Kikuzaki will have many fond memories of his time with the Chiefs.
“Baseball is more friendly over here, I can talk to the coaches more often,” he said. “And my teammates are more friendly.
“Sands was great. It’s not a big school so everybody knows everybody. The other people were very kind, I couldn’t speak English when I started.”
And what will he remember most about his stay with the Chiefs and at Sands?
“I’m proud of my life in Canada,” he said. “For an exchange student, it’s not easy to make friends.
“But I’m pretty lucky. I made a lot of friends.”