I have been so swamped by work in the last few weeks, including a 2-week period where my group actually went off-site and holed up in a hotel in order to work on our project, that I've barely seen any of Koshien EXCEPT Nichidai Sanko and the occasional outlying game like Kyukoku or Teikyo or Yokohama.
I kept holding off on making the Yoshinaga mega-photopost because I wanted to write something significant about him, being as he captured my heart last November at the Jingu taikai and has been at the forefront of my "irrational emotional attachment to high school pitchers" this past year. I've probably read way more about him than any sane person would, from his tribulations learning how to throw a sinker to his obsession with actress Erika Toda.
But right now I don't have the time. And in about 16 hours, assuming no rainout, he's going to be pitching in the final game of Koshien 2011. The Azegami-team, which I've been writing about here on and off for the last several months, will come to an end in a few short days no matter what the outcome is. I find that so very sad. Part of why I love Japanese high school baseball, but definitely don't usually spend the time getting to learn the players as much as I do in college or the pros, is because the teams are so ephemeral, it's so hard to learn them and really grow any attachment to them. By the time the kids truly mature, it's time for them to step down after the summer of their 3rd year, and let the underclassmen take over.
So this Sanko team has been truly special for me, watching these boys over the last year, seeing Suganuma mature into a power hitter, seeing Suzuki show how to play through the pain, seeing Azegami's leadership on the field. And most of all, seeing Yoshinaga mature as a pitcher. He's got stuff, sure, but he's certainly not the most overpowering pitcher out there. He has his moments of weakness, which make him that much more human. But he also has a fantastic team behind him, and they score more runs than he gives up, and they back him up on the field. And he comes through when they need him most, and they come through when he needs them most.
What can I say, I love this team, and I love this guy.
These are from Senbatsu, but does it really make a difference? :)
(oh, that smile!)
(oh yeah, he can bat too, you know)
I don't know for sure if I'll get to watch tomorrow's game live, but I'll certainly be frantically checking the scores either way. I haven't been this into a team since Saga Kita. Seriously!