Anyone who makes his first stop in America at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington must be a baseball fan.
The Ishinomaki youth baseball team left Japan at 11 a.m. Tuesday, Tokyo time. The kids landed at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and made it to the ballpark by 11 a.m. Tuesday -- Arlington time -- just in time for an all-American lunch of hamburgers and hot dogs.
"When we asked them what they wanted out of this experience, all of them said, 'I want to eat American food. I want to see Yu Darvish. I want to see Rangers Ballpark,'" said Karen Morris, Texas Rangers Baseball Foundation, executive director.
The team is scheduled to be in town all week, hoping to experience America through the scope of baseball, including playing catch in the ballpark outfield -- which they did Tuesday afternoon. They would also get a chance to visit Cowboys Stadium and Six Flags Over Texas.
Following a proclamation at city hall by Arlington Mayor Robert Cluck Thursday, the Ishinomaki team will suit up and play a pair of exhibition games at Randol Mill Park.
The Japanese team came to North Texas as part of the 2012 Japan-America Grassroots Summit, an effort that attempts to strengthen ties between Japan and the United States.
Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish has also contributed to the effort.
"We do give a lot of credit to Yu for helping create [a stronger relationship], but just the media that has come, the interest in the Japanese about the baseball game, women, men, children -- they're all interested in Arlington," said Decima Cooper, of the Arlington Visitors Bureau.
Darvish, who helped bring the team to Arlington, grew up near the players' hometown, which was devastated in the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The team nearly disbanded after the natural disaster.
"About 70 percent of their schoolmates were killed, unfortunately, in the tsunami," Morris said. "Several of their teammates and a coach were lost in the tsunami. Yu was very aware of the damage because it was somewhere he had lived."
Seeing Darvish, one of Japan's favorite sons, pitch for the Rangers was one thing the team said it had to experience while in North Texas.
Fortunately, Darvish is scheduled to pitch at the ballpark on Tuesday night against the Tampa Bay Rays.
"They've been all along excited about coming here," Ishinomaki head coach Takayuki Sasaki said through a translator. "As a matter of fact, they've been more excited about coming here than playing in the local tournaments in Japan."