When Nature Called and Nobody Answered : Softball: Meyer returns to Japan on goodwill tour, recalls embarrassing childhood mall experience.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

What Heather Meyer remembers most about a month-long vacation in Japan seven years ago the Antelope Valley College softball pitcher would rather forget.

"I remember getting lost," said Meyer of the incident in a 10-story mall above a subway. "I had to go to the bathroom so bad and no one would take me. So, I was like, I'm just gonna go. I went up--I don't know how many flights--and I didn't remember what floor I came from. Every floor looked the same. It was terrible."

Meyer, who is half Japanese, eventually found her parents, and now she is bracing for a return trip to her mother's homeland with the confusing shopping malls.

Meyer, who neither speaks nor reads Japanese, is one of 13 regional players who will leave for Japan today with the Foothill Blazers, an 18-and-under team, to represent the American Fastpitch Assn. and the United States in the Friendship Tour/Japan. It is the first time the AFA has sent a team to Japan.

The Blazers' 12-day, nine-game tour will include sightseeing visits to Kyoto and Tokyo, and games in Shizuoka, Kakegawa and Tanuma.

The Blazers were chosen to represent the USA by the AFA in April after the team expressed an interest in raising the necessary funds to make the trip. Once the Blazers got the nod, the team went to work and raised $40,000 to make the trip possible.

"Representing American Fastpitch Assn.--and the USA--the girls feel the pressure and the heat to be (good) representatives both on the field and off the field," said Tom Zimmerman, founder and general manager of the Blazers.

Meyer, whose mother Lisa will travel as the team translator, is the only team member to have visited Japan. She is one of only two on the team to have ever left the country.

But while Blazer members are unsure of what to expect from Japanese culture, they are familiar with Japanese softball. The Blazers played in the International Friendship tournament in Anaheim last year. One of the four Japanese teams entered won the championship title. Many Blazers sparked friendships with their Japanese opponents and became pen pals.

What players remember most about their Japanese counterparts is their team-wide similarities--in physical appearance and athletic movements.

"I remember when we played them here, they were like clones," Lucinda Buchan said. "Everyone threw the same, everyone hit the same.

"People on our team have completely different styles--even in running. But they were like clones."

Japanese players are required to have short haircuts, not longer than the nape of one's neck. Understandably, they were a marked contrast to the girls of Southern California. "They look like little boys," Kelly Christiansen said.

Meyer said that having played in America her entire life she could never get used to playing under the strict rules to which Japanese players must adhere.

"Japanese people are very disciplined," Meyer said. "Like they can't even wear makeup. I wear makeup everywhere."

And the short-hair requirement?

"No way," she said. "Cut my hair off? You must be crazy."

During last year's AFA International tournament in Anaheim, the Japanese teams began their pregame warmups three hours before a game's scheduled start, Meyer said.

"Their runs are like army marches," Meyer said. "And they chant . . . it's crazy."

Despite the differences in style of play and physical looks, the competition "will be extremely competitive," Zimmerman said.

The Blazers' tour will end July 17 in Tanuma with a doubleheader against Japan's defending national championship team.

Area players include Glendale High's Darleen Anderson; Taft's Keri Borzello; Hoover's Christiansen and Brenda Lyon; Bell-Jeff's Aimee Huett; Granada Hills' Stephanie Kaplan; Quartz Hills' Nicci Manduca, Amanda Richards and Cindy Sims, and Crescenta Valley's Danielle Robertshaw.

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