Sri Lanka's Wijayanayake shines as High School Tournament Umpire
Sujeewa Wijayanayake, first Umpire from Sri Lanka to work Regional Qualifiers of National High School Baseball Championship in Japan

Sujeewa Wijayanayake grew up on the cricket fields of his native Sri Lanka, but his strong arm made him a natural for the high school baseball team. Wijayanayake loved striking out batters as much as he loved the game. Now 27, Wijayanayake is an umpire in Japan, and the first Sri Lankan to umpire the regional qualifiers of the National High School Baseball Championship.

Wijayanayake was originally scheduled to serve as umpire for seven games in the first three rounds of the Fukuoka tournament. But his calm and objective judgment was well-received and he was selected to umpire after the fourth round. He umpired 10 games of the Fukuoka regionals.

"I was just glad that I didn't make any mistakes," Wijayanayake said. "But I am so happy (about being asked to continue) that I don't have the words to describe my feelings."

After graduating high school, Wijayanayake's Japanese coach told him about high school baseball in Japan and the Koshien tournament.

He knew it was too late to go to Koshien as a player, but Wijayanayake thought he might have the chance to participate as an umpire.

In 2006, Wijayanayake enrolled in Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University in Beppu, Oita Prefecture. While studying tourism-related management, he began collecting donations of used baseball equipment and sending them to his home country.

"I want to increase the number of baseball players in Sri Lanka," Wijayanayake said.

He also studied to become an umpire, and became the first Sri Lankan to obtain an international license. Since graduating from college last year, he has been working at a hotel in Fukuoka city.

Currently, Sri Lanka has roughly 5,000 baseball players, and there are no professional or collegiate-level ballparks. Wijayanayake's own high school ball field was so under-developed that he didn't pitch from a mound until he went abroad. But he has big hopes for his country's future.

"My dream is for Sri Lanka to host the baseball Asian championship," he said. "If we work hard, we have a chance."

At the Asian Junior Baseball Championship, which starts Aug. 28 in Kanagawa Prefecture, Wijayanayake will participate as an umpire.

"I'm nervous," he said. "But I'm OK. I don't like the cold, but I'm used to the heat."