Part 2 in a series. See Part 1.
Due to time constraints, I only managed to get through the first 4 batters in the lineup for today's photopost. Sorry.
I started to write an introduction to this post but then found that captain Sho Azegami had clearly written it for me already. This is from page 35 of the spring 2011 Kagayake Koshien no Hoshi magazine, the "Captain's Team Check":
戦力的には、去年のチームと比べ、長打力では少し劣ります。 でも、去年になかったタイプの谷口が、足を絡めたプレーをしてくれたり、今年は9人全員で一点を取りにいく野球ができます。 1番の高山が出塁して、谷口が送って自分と横尾がかえす。
そのパターンが秋はうまく機能しての優勝でした。 でも、もう少し走塁を絡められたら、ラクな展開で勝てました。 冬は、走塁練習にも力を入れています。 エースの吉永も成長し、自分が抑えるという気迫であふれています。 昨年、なしえなかった優勝に向け、全員１つになって戦います！
(And my translation:)
"If I compare this year's batting to last year's, our power numbers may be a little smaller. But, last year's team also didn't have a speedster type guy like Taniguchi, who has caused our team to play more of a running game. This year our play style is more like, any guy of the 9 in our lineup can score a run at any time. Leadoff man Takayama gets on base, Taniguchi moves him up and then either I or Yokoo bring him in. That was the pattern we used to earn our championship in the fall. But, making our baserunning a bit better, that also helps us win in general. This winter, we put a lot of effort into baserunning practice. And our ace Yoshinaga has also gotten better, his mound presence is amazing. (lit: his self-control and determination is overflowing) So, coming back to the Senbatsu crown we couldn't quite win last spring, this year our team fights together as one to win it!"
He's not kidding about the "winning formula". The top of this lineup is certainly one of the best in Japanese high school baseball, currently.
Leadoff man Shun Takayama
(draftrepo HS meikan)
Takayama lists his favorite baseball player as being the Fighters' Atsunori Inaba, and it's not surprising -- Takayama himself is a very similar player, a guy who can hit for a combination of power and speed from the left side, and has a decent arm and glove in the outfield as well. He became the leadoff man and regular right fielder for Sanko as a sophomore, already standing almost 6 feet tall.
Takayama was my introduction to this Sanko team, as a matter of fact -- I showed up at the Jingu Taikai slightly late, the first time I was seeing them play in person. I found a seat as Takayama was coming to the plate for the second time of the day, and no sooner had I sat down than he was launching a 2-run homer into the right-field bleachers. At least it was an easy at-bat to write in my scorecard.
Koshien no Hoshi mentions that he's the #1 モテる man on the team, meaning popular/well-liked: "Takayama has a lot of fans -- he sure fills out a baseball uniform well!"
Number 2, Speedster Yuta Taniguchi
Everyone agrees that Taniguchi is not only the fastest runner on the Sanko team, but he very well might be one of the fastest high school baserunners out there in the current field. He's not a particularly flashy player, and hasn't been written up in the draft notes like most of the other regulars on the team have (although check out this draft repo page -- look at stolen bases). But clearly he's been a contributor to the team both in his fielding and his hitting, and apparently he and captain Azegami have worked out together for their entire time at Sanko ("Azegami called out to me when we first joined the team as freshmen, 'Wanna practice together?' Now, two years later, we just always practice together. It's our habit. If team practice was cancelled, we'd probably still go out and run together or something.")
An interesting side story about Taniguchi is that he has one sister 4 years older than him, and she went to Koshien before him with her high school as a team scorekeeper/assistant).
The Heart of the Team: Captain Sho Azegami
(HS meikan draft repo)
I started talking about Azegami, a rare non-catcher captain, in my last post a little. Basically, when I was sitting behind Sanko's dugout at Koshien, from the minute he emerged from the dugout before the game, I immediately saw him and was like "Ah! That's Azegami, the captain." He somehow manages to carry this air of authority; a somewhat serious, almost professional attitude, but at the same time he's shouting at his teammates with a smile on his face like "Come on guys, it's time to PRACTICE! Up and at 'em! RUN RUN RUN! We can't win today if we don't get in a good pregame!" You could see the other guys kinda laugh like "Yessir!" and fall into line around him.
One scout's report calls him "自主練習の量も自他ともに認めるナンバーワン", or "the team's number one guy when it comes to personal training", basically. In other words, the dude works his butt off and inspires others to do the same. Which makes it no wonder he's in sync with Ogura-kantoku and the team slogan of "practice makes perfect".
Azegami tied a Senbatsu record with 6 hits in one game against Kakogawa Kita, and was overall 11-for-16 for a .688/.722/1.000 line for the tourney. So far in the Spring Tourney he's already 6-for-13 with 2 homeruns as well.
What else can I possibly say? He lists math as his weak subject. Guess that means he's not overly concerned with figuring out his exact batting average, though I'm guessing he can certainly count to 6.
The Okawari Wannabe: Cleanup Man Toshitake Yokoo
(HS meikan draft repo)
If you look up the word "akogare" (憧れ） in a Japanese-English dictionary, the definition it'll probably give you is "yearning", which will sound a little bit weird. The word, when applied to a person, usually actually means "I want to be like them" or "I look up to them".
The first time I heard of Yokoo was from one of my JHS students, who basically used that exact phrase to describe him: 三高の4番横尾はすごい！憧れます！ Even after said JHS student enrolled at a rival baseball high school, when we chatted a bit about Senbatsu and Sanko, he was still like "You saw Sanko? Cool! Did you see Yokoo play? He's the man. I wanna be like him. I'm gonna be a cleanup batter and hit a bazillion homeruns someday just like Yokoo too."
A guy who inspires that in his peers is a little frightening.
Yokoo started playing baseball at a very young age; both his older brother and his father also played. Apparently even as an elementary school student, his father put a lot of pressure on him; supposedly they'd be riding back in the car from his little league practice and his dad would recap the day and berate him for mistakes he made in the game and then make the brothers do more baseball practice at home afterwards as well. Weekday evenings, when his father got home from work, they might also go to a batting cage and practice together as well.
As a result, when Sanko manager Ogura tagged Yokoo as a sophomore and basically said, "You're our cleanup batter. If you don't hit, we don't win. Got that?", Yokoo was already used to such pressure and responded in kind by hitting.
Yokoo's hero is apparently Takeya Nakamura of the Seibu Lions, otherwise known as "Okawari-kun", the man who eats way too much and hits way too many homeruns. As a result, I think Yokoo is already starting to get kinda big, and maybe he'd be better off not continuing that path. Though, in the games I saw him play, he moved just fine over at third base. I wouldn't say he's an astoundingly good fielder (and he got a lot of heat for making a big error at last year's Senbatsu that allowed Konan to win the game) but he's not terrible.
The only thing is, his hitting was kind of on the downturn at this year's Senbatsu. Last year he mashed for a .458/.480/.708 line, and this year was .200/.333/.200 instead. I think I saw 2 of the 3 hits he managed to get. He walked a few times too, but still, the real batter at Senbatsu was Azegami. I read that Yokoo got a slightly heavier bat over the winter to improve his power swing; maybe he's still adjusting to that. In the Tokyo spring tourney he's managed a 5-for-13 average with a homer, although that's against weaker pitching than he faced at Senbatsu.
Amusingly, as a 2nd-year Yokoo wrote his future dream as "major leaguer", but as a 3rd-year, he wrote just "pro ballplayer". Coming down to earth, maybe? He also lists English as his strong subject and math as his weak subject.
(This is proving more difficult to write than I thought it would be, because I keep getting sidetracked reading through Koshien magazines and websites. So, Part 3 will be coming in a day or two. Hopefully by then I can tell you all how Sanko won the Spring taikai...)