Monday, July 26, 2010

Weekend of High School Games

No photos or boxes yet, sorry. I'm getting on a plane to Seattle in a few hours and I promise that I'll put some photos up while I'm there. I seriously took around 3500 photos of high school baseball in the last week. With luck, at least ONE of the teams I saw will actually go to Koshien... actually, I know for a fact that one HAS to, as I saw the entirety of the East Tokyo semifinals, all four final teams.

Went down to Yokohama Stadium on Saturday to see one of the quarterfinals for Kanagawa prefecture. By a bizarre coincidence, the two schools I saw play each other both have alumni who are current pitchers on the Boston Red Sox -- Yokohama's Daisuke Matsuzaka and Yokohama Shodai's Junichi Tazawa. I sat on the Shodai side because it was slightly less crowded, by which I mean it was still packed, but at least I could find a seat. Shodai was doomed from the start, but they never gave up. They were down 5-0 after the first inning and 10-3 after 2 innings and 12-3 after 3 innings. But rather than be like "oh well, it's hot out, let's just lose and go home", they kept fighting back -- in the bottom of the 5th it was still 12-3 and if Yokohama scored one more run, it would have been called 13-3 on the 10-run advantage, but Shodai wouldn't budge, so it went to the 6th inning, and they managed to hold it at 12-3 then too. Onwards to the 7th, where if they didn't score at least 2 runs, it would be called in 7 innings with a 7-run lead. So what happens? Igarashi hits a 2-run homer and they drive in another run to make it 12-6, and so the game goes on to the bottom of the 7th and they hold yet again! They scored 2 runs off Yokohama freshman lefty Yamauchi in the top of the 8th to make it 12-8, but then the floodgates opened and Yokohama scored 3 in the bottom of the 8th to win 15-8.

It was a seriously exciting game even though Shodai pretty much had no hope of winning. I don't know if they give a "fighting spirit" award for this tournament, although I'm sure plenty of other games have had things like this too. This is why Japanese high school baseball rules, though -- it's such an intense and emotional fight for some of these kids, and they really pour their entire spirit into it, 一球入魂 at its very best.

I didn't stay for the second game of Toin Gakuen vs. Ebina because 3 hours in the blazing sun and 97-degree heat had me already dying of a headache and more sunburn than before. A shame, as Toin Gakuen has turned out many fine ballplayers such as Yoshinobu Takahashi and Taisei Takagi and Koichi Sekikawa and GG Satoh and Keiichi Hirano and of course my favorite pitcher, Kisho Kagami (who is not pro yet, but give it 3 months). Toin lost to Yokohama on Sunday anyway, but that is beside the point.

Sunday, I went to Jingu for the East Tokyo semi-finals, which were Shutoku vs. Kokushikan and Seiritsu vs. Kanto Daiichi. I sat on the first base side to cheer for Shutoku and Seiritsu. I would have been cheering for Teikyo had they been there, but they didn't, so I threw my lot in with Shutoku, and Seiritsu is close to where I live (I always see their soccer club boys in the station with stylized "SEIRITZ FC" bags). And with Shutoku, my college ball friend is a member of the Shutoku Mother's Club, even though her son graduated from there like 15 years ago. He played for the team when they went to Koshien in 1993. So they saved me a seat in the second row behind the Shutoku dugout and I got to listen to older women babbling about what their sons are all up to now that they've grown up and given up baseball for the most part.

One of my JHS students wants to go to Shutoku, and he's been telling me about their ace pitcher slash cleanup batter Taiki Mitsumata for a while. Mitsumata wants to go pro and has had a ton of scouts watching him this year, and having seen him in person now, I could totally imagine it. He's currently 177/82, has a very ballplayer-like build, and can hit the upper 140's on the radar gun in addition to batting for power (15 home runs in his HS career). The other team pretty much refused to pitch to him and he walked three times and had one hit and scored 3 runs. Shutoku won 9-2 in 7 innings. Serves Kokushikan right for beating Teikyo :) One thing that was crazy about this game was that ALL the Kokushikan batters were batting lefty and almost all the Shutoku batters were batting righty. Even a dude who was listed as a righty batter actually went up batting lefty, for Kokushikan. Very bizarre. And yet Shutoku still clobbered them.

It wasn't quite so hot, only in the low 90's instead of the upper 90's, so I managed to stick around for both games that day. The second game was a lot sunnier and hotter than the first, but my friends put an ice pack on my sunburnt neck and that made it a lot better.

The second game was Kanto Daiichi vs. Seiritsu. Kanto Daiichi went to Koshien 2 years ago, they're also a fairly solid team. The boy that captured my heart in this game was Seiritsu's ace pitcher slash cleanup batter Haruki Nishigata, who... I don't know how to describe it, but he pretty much was out there with a smile the entire time he was pitching and batting and playing outfield and whatever. Like, he's not the captain, but he's the kid the others look at when they want to be reassured that hey, everything's okay, we're playing well and we're gonna win, how could we not with a smile like that? The game was close for a few innings and then it started going in favor of Kanto Daiichi, who eventually won 10-3 in 7 innings. The final out of the game was Nishigata, and he slid headfirst into first base, was out, and pounded the ground like "No way. No way. No way." After the two teams lined up and bowed to each other, Nishigata and two other boys collapsed on the ground and started crying like "I can't believe this is how it ends, I thought we were going all the way this year," which is perfectly acceptable here -- usually showing emotion is bad, but for whatever reason, openly weeping after being knocked out of a tournament is normal. They had to be picked up and helped off the field by their teammates.

I did note to my Shutoku friends after the game that I think Shutoku will have a slight advantage in the finals because Daiichi's ace is Keiichi Shirai, a lefty, and Shutoku's lineup is entirely righties, so that should work in their favor. But we'll see. I think it could go either way. Kanto Daiichi's marching band has some AMAZING tuba players, so if nothing else they can entertain the masses at Koshien if they go.

So, that's it for me and high school baseball this year, at least in terms of attending games, but I'll surely be following Koshien over the internet while I'm in Seattle. 13 out of 49 teams have been decided as of right now: Kagoshima Jitsugyo, Nishinihon Tankidai Fuzoku (Fukuoka), Yazu (Tottori), Meitoku Gijuku (Kochi), Konan (Okinawa), Matsumoto Kogyo (Nagano), Hikawa (Yamanashi), Narita (Chiba), Sano Nichidai (Tochigi), Eikou Gakuin (Fukushima), Noshiro Shogyo (Akita), Hachinohei Kodai Ichi (Aomori), and Asahikawa Jitsugyo (Kita Hokkaido). 10 more will be decided by the time my plane is in the air today.

No comments: