Finished Samurai Shortstop over the weekend -- which (hooray!) included the very helpful author's note. This note told me that while the book was ostensibly about baseball it was really about how the samurai class adjusted (or didn't) to the rapid, overwhelming influence of Western culture in the late 19th century. What made a samurai a distinctive and respected member of Japanese society had been eliminated by the Emperor Meiji, who declared that all citizens were the same.
Toyo -- the eponymous shortstop -- is being taught that in school, but his father is teaching him the way of bushido, so that Toyo will be prepared to formally assist in his father's suicide (seppuku). In the course of the story, Toyo learns that he can be both ways -- truly preparing to be a 20th century Japanese.
I was surprised to find this on BBYA's Top Ten for 2007 (http://www.ala.org/ala/yalsa/booklistsawards/bestbooksya/07topten.htm), because -- yes it is a good story, very well told, but I'm not sure that I'd have given it that distinction. It translates well to audio, and the narrator is very good. My quibbles are small ones, but I'm not ready to get off the fence and nominate this.