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Jailyn Ford's Experience In Japan Has Shaped Her Dominance

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(Photo courtesy of National Pro Fastpitch)

Playing in Japan was never something Jailyn Ford thought she'd do when she was finishing up her final season at James Madison University in 2016. For Ford, her focus was beginning her professional career in the United States. But when the opportunity to play professionally in Japan presented itself, Ford decided to give it a shot.

"I just started my pro career, and they went through our college coach and said they were interested," Ford said. "At the time, I wasn't as I continued my professional career that summer. I then decided it was something I wanted to do, and they luckily reached back out, and the position was still available."

As she prepared to travel overseas, Ford had to stay active before the season and acclimate to Japan's culture. One of the challenges for Ford was not being able to work out at full capacity due to wrist surgery she had undergone. While training, she read up on the culture and asked former players what to expect.

Once Ford arrived in Japan, she knew everything would be different. She said she went into it with an open mind and tried to accept whatever they asked her to do and to immerse herself into the culture.

Despite not being too familiar with the language, she tried to find things that she and her teammates had in common to get to know them.

"It was almost like playing charades a lot of the time," she said. "Figuring out what each other was saying, but I took some Japanese lessons, and I continued to try and study on my own to try and communicate with them."

Ford says that the experiences from practice and going places with her teammates helped her get familiar with them. Now five seasons in, and Ford says that she and her teammates have a common silent language to help communicate during the games, but they use a translator if needed.

One of the biggest things she had to adjust to was the difference in practices and games in Japan. She recalls the practices being a little overwhelming at first, as they practiced for six to seven hours. As for the games, there's a lot of pressure and focus required during the 22-game season.

"There's a whole lot of pressure and a whole lot of focus on that one or two games a weekend," Ford said.

The game atmosphere is different in Japan. Ford said there's a band at the games, which adds a lot of energy to the stadium.

"So that took a little bit of adjusting to and realizing how much stress and focus that they put on each game, so each game really mattered at the end of the weekend and at the end of the season."

The playing style in Japan differs from the United States, as the Japanese players often focus on the short game, whereas the style of play in the United States is more centered on power.

Since starting her pro career in Japan, Ford has enjoyed success in the Japanese Softball League. In 2019 and 2020, she earned the lowest ERA in the entire league, posting a 0.72 ERA during the 2020 season with Honda Reverta. Her experience with the differing playing style in Japan has helped Ford when playing for the USSSA Pride in the United States.

"There's a lot of coaching styles and a lot of coaching decisions, and just the game in general, that are different than what I would've done," she explained. "I think from a learning aspect, I've tried to figure out and add to my philosophy on softball and coaching styles just by learning from and watching them."

Ford's original plan was to play for two seasons in Japan. However, she's enjoyed her time in the JSL so much that her goal is to continue playing and take things year by year. If she is competitive and having fun, she'll continue to play. In the long run, her goal is now to play for a decade in Japan.

"I think long term, I would like to play 10 years in Japan," Ford stated. "I think that would be kind of cool since I'm halfway there. I'll figure out life once I hang up my cleats. But for right now, I'm just focused on playing and continuing to compete and having fun playing the game."

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