Major League Baseball's Urban Youth Academy continues to spread its reach internationally -- and now softball is in the mix, as well.
This week, the UYA in Compton, Calif., has hosted an All-Star baseball team from Japan and an All-Star softball team from Mexico. For the boys, it's really nothing new -- they just wrapped up the sixth installment of what's called the "USA-Japan Friendship Series" -- but for the program's girls, it's the first time they've ever been involved in any sort of international competition.
The handpicked UYA softball team, made of up girls 18 and under, played a team from the region of Nayarit on Tuesday -- losing, 7-5 -- and will play them once more on Thursday at 11 a.m. PT.
Then, at some point this summer, the UYA team hopes to match up with them again in Mexico.
"It's a huge step, to get our girls competing internationally," MLB vice president of youth and facility development Darrell Miller said. "Hopefully we can continue expanding our international flavor and see if we can keep it going."
On Wednesday, the boys wrapped up a four-game set of exhibition games against 40 of the best high school-level players from Tokyo -- and got a surprise visit from Tommy Lasorda.
Lasorda, the Hall of Fame ex-Dodgers manager and somewhat of an ambassador for Japanese baseball, has popped into the nearby facility a handful of times already this year. For the finale of the three-day tournament, he delivered a pregame speech, threw out the first pitch and handed out medals.
"It was unbelievable, actually," Miller said of seeing Lasorda. "We had a great time. It was really awesome."
Carl Nichols, an ex-Major League catcher who serves as an instructor at the facility, coached the U.S. squad, and Shigetoshi Hasegawa, the former reliever for the Angels and Mariners, coached the Tokyo team.
With most kids taking a break during the holiday season, Miller figured facing an All-Star team from Tokyo would be tough, and he was proven right after watching the local team drop three of four.
But the series was competitive.
"It started out that way," Miller said, "and it ended that way."
In Game 1, the U.S. team -- made up of players developed at the Academy, as well as members of the local Brewers and Twins scout teams -- sported a 6-0 lead going into the late innings, but Tokyo furiously rallied back and wound up with an 11-9 victory.
After losing both ends of Tuesday's doubleheader, 10-3 and 8-0, the U.S. team finally pulled one out on Wednesday, striking out the tying run to nail down a 5-2 win.
Next year, the UYA is expected to host a team from Chiba, Japan. And in June, the program will send a team to Japan for a third time, with plans to visit the tough-luck region of Sendai, which was devastated by a forceful tsunami this past March.
"It's a great opportunity for our kids in the Academy to be exposed to international competition, and to introduce the country of Japan to all the very highly competitive teams from our Academies," Miller said. "It's become a little international competition and a great experience to everyone."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.