Thursday, April 28, 2011
Kokoyakyu: Nichidai San (Part 1) - Practice Makes Perfect
First part in a series, I hope. I've wanted to make a monster Nichidai San post since a month ago when I sat behind their dugout at Senbatsu (or since the Jingu Taikai last fall), but didn't really have time.
Your first question might be, "...what the heck is a Nichidai San? Why do you call it Sanko half the time?"
The full name of the school is 日本大学第三高等学校, or Nihon University Number Three High School, usually shortened to either 日大三 ("Nichidai San") or 三高 ("Sanko", and their school seal is a stylized version of that latter abbreviation, which is also what's on the baseball uniform). The 2-character abbreviation 日大 "Nichidai" is short for 日本大学 "Nihon Daigaku". Many universities in Japan have one or more affiliated high schools, which either end up numbered or named after the type of school or the location the campus is in. For example, "Nodai Niko" (numbered), "Waseda Jitsugyo" (type), "Tokaidai Sagami" (location).
Nihon University is the largest university in Japan (something like 70,000 undergraduates spread among all of their campuses), which kind of makes sense, given that it's kind of "the University of Japan". Though the university's baseball team has produced several solid pro players in recent years (Shuichi Murata, Shohei Tateyama, Mitsuru Manaka, Eiji Ochiai, Hirotoshi Kitagawa, Takumi Nasuno, Naoyuki Shimizu... and that idiot Hisayoshi Chono), in general they actually haven't been THAT great in about... 50 years. Heck, in my 4 years of watching college ball in Japan, Nichidai was only in the top division of the Tohto League for 2 semesters, and promptly fell back out of it.
But bizarrely, the Nichidai high schools are pretty much almost always in Koshien -- you'll rarely see a tournament that does not involve at least one high school with 日大 attached to it, kids wearing uniforms with "NIHON" across their chests. And I've been told that how closely attached they are to the university itself also depends on whether the Nichidai comes first or last in the school's name -- that is, the ones that are Nichidai 1, 2, 3 are the highest, then the ones like Nichidai Tsurugaoka, Nichidai Fujisawa, etc, and then after that, Ogaki Nichidai, Sano Nichidai, Nagasaki Nichidai, etc. What this really means is how much more of a chance a student has of getting into Nichidai itself based on attending a Nichidai high school, really. (Unlike how supposedly with Keio high school, if you manage to graduate, you'll just get into the university automatically.)
Sanko in particular has been a Tokyo high school baseball powerhouse in recent years -- they've consistently managed to end up Best 8 or higher in most regional tournaments for the last decade or so; if they're not representing West Tokyo at Koshien, they're making it awfully hard for someone else to get there. When they do go to Koshien, they're a force to be reckoned with. It was almost unfair in 2010 when the first two teams they faced were 21st Century teams -- schools invited for reasons other than stomping all of their opponents. "Welcome to Koshien. Meet Nichidai San. It won't hurt for more than 9 innings, we promise."
Since 1997, the Sanko team has been under the leadership of this man:
Masayoshi Ogura, born in 1957, went to Nichidai San HS, was an infielder in the baseball club but never made it as a regular. He continued on to Nihon University, but didn't even join the baseball club there, instead working towards becoming a teacher so he could coach high school baseball. After graduating, he became the manager for Kanto Daiichi HS, and took them to several Koshien and Senbatsu tournaments in the mid-80's. Eventually, in 1997, he became manager at Nichidai San, which was his life's goal, and he's been there since. In that time they've been to Koshien 10 times and compiled a 19-10 W/L record, winning it all in summer 2001 (behind Kazuki Kondoh, who now pitches for Orix).
One of Ogura's slogans as a baseball coach is 練習はうそをつかない, meaning loosely "Practice makes perfect". Other things he teaches as a coach and social studies teacher are for self-restraint and to have a caring heart; that is, to put others before yourself (you can go see his lectures on the subject if you want to, in mid-June). One of his comments about this 2011 team is that they were just an unusually solid unit as a team, working together very well, and not only that, they'd built a solid 1-9 lineup where all of the batters were strong, behind a real ace in Yoshinaga. Which is definitely what I saw last fall and what drew me to this team in particular. No weak links. A well-oiled machine. Welcome to Koshien, meet Nichidai San.
Every year in the Koshien magazines, they ask the players various questions, like their favorite food, favorite baseball player, future dream, etc. Most of the answers are predictable; a lot of "pro baseball player" for future dream, some AKB48 member as favorite celebrity, etc. But two of those categories are always also "person I most respect" and "favorite word or phrase". You can actually kind of guess how united a team is and how much they follow their manager by how they answer these questions. The 2010 Nichidai San team had 10 out of 18 players put Ogura as the person they most respected, and 4 put "練習はうそをつかない" as their "favorite phrase". With 2011's team, FIFTEEN of them have Ogura as their "person I most respect". And 10/18 have "練習はうそをつかない" as their favorite phrase.
In recent years, Sanko's team captains have mostly been catchers. In 2006 it was Shuhei Ikenaga (incidentally my favorite Meiji University player, a super-likeable bespectacled catcher), in 2007 it was catcher Yohei Kurosaki, now at Meisei University. In 2008 they took a break and had an outfielder, Kenta Nakashima (now at Nihon Taiiku University). That didn't work so well, so back to a catcher captain in 2009 with Yuta Yoshida (now at Rissho Univ). 2010's team had catcher Kazuki Ohtsuka as their captain (who just entered Nihon University).
Oddly, despite that catcher Takahiro Suzuki seems like total captain material, the captain is centerfielder Sho Azegami. Who is even MORE captain-like:
(Suzuki and Yokoo are the co-captains, actually. Suzuki describes Azegami as being "a natural leader type with a booming voice in the dugout that you can't help but follow." and Yokoo adds, "The three of us work together to make sure the team runs smoothly. So far we haven't had any disagreements.")
It doesn't hurt that Azegami is one hell of a hitter, in addition to being one hell of a leader. He hit well as a sophomore, continued it with a 5-for-11 run in the Jingu Taikai, tied a Senbatsu record when he went 6-for-6 in one of the games this spring, and has continued his assault in the Tokyo Spring Tournament now.
Speaking of which, the final game of the Tokyo Spring Tournament (tourney brackets) is on Sunday -- May 1st -- at Komazawa Stadium.
And said final game pits Nichidai San against Kosei Gakuen HS... whose campus is right by the Salvation Army headquarters out in Suginami. (I only know that because I was out there donating stuff from my house before I left Japan, bizarrely.)
However, as far as I can tell, Kosei hasn't won a game against Sanko for at least the last 4 years. I hope I'm not jinxing anything by pointing that out.
Hopefully I'll get the second half of this post up tomorrow as a Friday Foto, before the final game starts.