The Westbank Cardinals and Team Japan are separated by a world of geography and extreme cultural differences. But, they also share a common bond.
Both won major tournaments in Prince George in the summer of 2016.
The Cardinals finished as the top men's team at the Canadian Native Fastball Championships, which ran from July 29 to Aug. 1 at various city diamonds. Then, a few weeks later, Japan celebrated a title at the Ramada World Baseball Challenge, held at Citizen Field.
In their championship game, the Cardinals defeated the NB Petro Hawks of Regina 5-2 in front of a large crowd at Spruce City Stadium. Westbank fell into an early 2-0 hole but had a 3-2 lead by the third inning. In the fourth, Prince George's Dan Fulton bashed a solo home run and the Cards were on their way to their second consecutive Canadian crown.
"It's a great feeling," the 31-year-old Fulton said after the game. "It's our second year in a row and it's been great having it here (in Prince George) - it's where I learned to play and it was great to come back here."
P.G. product Jessin Potskin, 27, also became a back-to-back champion with the Cardinals. Former resident Colin Ghostkeeper, 43, was also part of the ball club.
To get to the final game, Westbank beat the Prince George River Kings 7-0 the previous day. The River Kings settled for third place.
"It was big for us beating the River Kings," Fulton said. "On Canada Day here we lost to them (3-1 in the final) on an error and it wasn't like that wasn't on our minds."
In the junior men's championship game, the Big Guy Lake Blazers of Prince George pounded out an 11-1 win against the Goodfish Lake Chiefs of Alberta. And, in the women's final, the Alberta-based Alexis Red Nation Jets blanked Curve Lake of Ontario 10-0.
There were also masters men's and masters women's divisions. In total, 77 teams participated.
After a short break for local ball fans, the World Baseball Challenge stepped to the plate at Citizen Field. The tournament had been held in Prince George in 2009, 2011 and 2013 and was planned again for 2015. But, when sponsorship dollars came up short, organizers pushed the event back a year and it was kept alive largely through the unyielding efforts of chairman Rick Pattie.
Five teams - Japan, the Roswell Invaders, Canadian Sidearm Nation, the Thurston County Senators and the Kamloops Sun Devils - competed in the 2016 WBC, and Japan went through the tournament with a 7-0 record. In the final, Team Japan got its only real test in a 5-4 win against the Invaders.
"That was very exciting - that American team is very strong," 32-year-old Japan captain Kimio Watanabe told The Citizen through interpreter Kumi Tam. "We have lots of young guys on this team and it was very important for those young guys to play in an international tournament in another country."
In its seven games, Japan - an actual national team - outscored its opponents 70-28.