Draw of baseball brings Ron Wargon all the way from Japan

Living with his grandparents, Kale and Susan Briner, he is playing this summer with Bristol American Legion Post 143 and looking for a fit with a college baseball program in the U.S.

Posted on June 28, 2014 at 4:02 p.m.

DUNLAP — Ron Wargon traveled 6,367 miles to pursue his goal.

Wargon came from Tokyo to Elkhart County in hopes of playing college baseball in the United States.

"I want to play baseball in America," said Ron, 18. "American baseball is a level higher than Japanese baseball."

Ron is the son of American Mike Wargon and Japan’s Naomi Nara. Ron goes by the last name Wargon in the U.S. and Nara in Japan.

Ron — his first name is the same in English or Japanese Kanji — graduated high school in Japan in March and made the long trek to live with grandparents Kale and Susan Briner and play baseball for Bristol American Legion Post 143.

Ron said his days here have been mostly about two things: Baseball and sleeping.

Oh, and eating.

At Post 143's trip to Terre Haute last weekend, Ron kept his teammates and coaches amazed by his capacity for food. There were the 20 wings and hot sauce at one meal and the eight or nine trips back to the buffet table for Cobb salad and lemonade at another.

"We sat around and waited for Ron to finish," says Post 143 manager Jim Treadway.

Ron says his favorite Japanese dish is a soybean and rice concoction called Natto.

But his baseball skills have also turned some heads.

The 6-foot-3, 225-pound first baseman ripped seven hits — four for doubles — in his first 13 at-bats for Post 143.

"Ron is a gap-to-gap guy with power," said Treadway of the right-handed hitter. "His ball is a lot like (former Post 143 player and Ball State University and Taylor University standout) Ian Nielsen. There's a different sound coming off his bat. It explodes."

Post 143 plays in several events that get looks from college scouts and Treadway has many connections. He is looking to exposure for Ron and place him where he can succeed.

Joel Reinebold, owner of The School of Hard Knocks training facility in Mishawaka, had been working with Ron as a hitter and has been impressed.

"He's got a great athletic body on him," said Reinebold, who is also the head baseball coach at South Bend Clay High School. "He's a strong kid with a lot of bat speed. He's been well-trained by the people in Japan. He's no novice at all."

Ron recites what he's learned from Reinebold and his partners.

"Athletic stance. Weight back," said Ron. "I'm looking for a ball in the zone."

Taught by half brother Sosuke, Ron began playing baseball at 7 and played for school teams into his first year of high school. The last few years, he played the game with his friends.

Naturally strong, Ron has stayed away from lifting weights since hurting his shoulder a few years ago while throwing as many as 300 pitches in one day.

The Japanese are known for their lengthy workouts and seven-hour practices are not unheard of for some teams.

Ron swings a big bat — 34 inches and 31 ounces. In Japan, he would often warm up with a wooden bat that was even bigger.

While he roots no Japanese team, Ron does pull for the New York Yankees because they have Japanese players Ichiro Suzuki, Hiroki Kuroda and Masahiro Tanaka.

But his favorite player is from Venezuela.

"I want to be like Miguel Cabrera," said Ron of the Detroit Tigers slugger.

While Ron works on his game, he is also looking to improve his conversational English. He learned to write the language in Japan, but is still getting a handle on speaking it with the help of tutors like "Grandma Susan" and aunt, Julie Gaff.

"Grandma Susan is dangerous," said Ron in a recent session.

His baseball teammates have also helped get the shy kid out of his shell while helping to knock down the language barrier.

On the trip back from Terre Haute, Ron rode with Josh Hudnall, Jake Tucker and Matt Williams.

"He opened up and he was dancing," said Hudnall. "By the end of the summer, he'll start saying a little more.

"He's a great kid. He never complains about anything. He's always polite."

And he's always thinking about baseball.

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