Friday, March 15, 2013

Nichidai Sanko, One Year Later

I've had this post sitting in the "draft" state for almost a year. How silly.

Anyway, I was a huge fan of the Nichidai San HS team that managed to win the Jingu Taikai in fall 2010 and the entirety of Koshien in the summer of 2011, as can be seen in back posts under the Sanko 畔上組 label on here. I first saw them play at said Jingu Taikai and fell in love, then went to Senbatsu in Spring 2011 and sat behind their dugout, and then cheered for them all the way through Koshien, from afar, while working in San Francisco.

So when I went back to Japan in the spring of 2012, of course I had to go hunt down as many of the Sanko boys as possible in their new college digs. Fortunately, most of them were at easily accessible colleges, so here's some photos/details about the Sanko Nine.  (Technically, this post should be called Two Years Later in terms of details, but the photos are all One Year Later, so...)

#1: Pitcher Kentaro Yoshinaga.  College: Waseda.

I was totally in love with Yoshinaga when he was pitching for Sanko, and it was pretty painful for me to watch him go to my least favorite college team, almost like watching a player I love get drafted by the Giants.  Even worse, they gave him Saitoh's old #16 and basically started calling him "the new Golden Boy".  And EVEN worse, he's living up to it -- his freshman year line is a gorgeous 7-2, 1.79 with 71 strikeouts in 70.1 innings. (And batting .385 while doing so -- you'd think he was trying to outdo Sachiya Yamasaki at being the next Sanko Double Threat.) He was the front cover of Shube's 大学野球 magazine for the Fall 2012 semester, and there was a 15-page article on "Sanko Boys: The Amazing Freshmen", with 8 pages on Yoshinaga alone, comparing him to Saitoh, among other things.

Anyway, his fans are nowhere near as annoying as Saitoh's fans were, and I think I'm finally feeling slightly less heartbroken about him being at Waseda.  Except when he pitches against Hosei, of course.

#2: Catcher Takahiro Suzuki.  College: Rikkio.

Suzuki's crowning moment in the Senbatsu 2011 was when he actually split his lip while making an amazing play at the plate, had a towel to his mouth to catch the blood... and was back in the game catching and kicking ass again a few minutes later.

Unfortunately, he hasn't had much of an impact at college yet, only appearing in 3 official games, and not even getting an at-bat in any of them.  I was even at one of the games, on October 7... of course, I was sitting in the Hosei cheering section.  Rikkio hasn't had a lot of luck with catchers in recent years since Yuki Maeda left, so hopefully Suzuki-kun will catch on soon enough.

#3 First Baseman Ryoya Kaneko.  College: Hosei.

Actually, so Kaneko was a year behind the rest of the Sanko Nine, and so he spent 2012 still in high school, as captain of this year's Sanko team, which didn't go to Senbatsu, did go to summer Koshien, and lost their first game to Seiko Gakuin (though Kaneko himself hit a solo homer in the 9th to bring a 2-0 game to a 2-1 game).  It will be super-interesting to have two consecutive Sanko captains at Hosei this year (with Azegami there as well), along with the fact that Hosei's captain this year is Kanji Kawai, who was on the 2009 champion Chukyodai Chukyo team.

#4: Second Baseman Kenichi Suganuma.  College: Asia... except he dropped out and is actually entering Nittaidai (Japan Sport Science) college in the fall.

I still have absolutely no idea what the hell happened here.  He made it onto the bench for Asia's team as a freshman, probly on his Sanko credentials, I saw him at a game and took this photo (he didn't play but was on the sidelines) and then never heard of him entering any of their games at all throughout the year, and in the fall he wasn't even listed as being in Asia's baseball club roster at all.  I asked Azegami about it when I had a chance to talk to him in the fall and he was like "I'm not sure, but I think he might have dropped out?"

Anyway, rumor is he's joining the Nittaidai team which has several of his former Sanko teammates, including Taniguchi, so maybe that will be good for him.

#5 Third Baseman Toshitake Yokoo.  College: Keio.

Yokoo was the cleanup batter for that Sanko team, and he did hit a pretty scary number of home runs in high school, and he idolized Seibu's Okawari-kun.

He hasn't been smashing the snot out of the ball quite as much in college -- to the tune of a .196/.316/.393 line for the year with only 2 homers -- but Keio's manager Etoh has been basically letting Yokoo go out there and bat 5th in the lineup for every game.  I guess we'll see how he fills out in college.  I didn't really see him play much, but his swing looked just like it did in high school, so I'm not sure what's up.

#6 Shortstop Koki Shimizu.  College: Nichidai.

Bizarrely the only one of the main 9 Nichidai Sanko boys to actually go to Nichidai (Nihon University).  Unfortunately for Shimizu, first Nichidai fell from the top Tohto League to 2nd League in the fall, and he didn't get enough playing time to end up on the league's stats site, so I'm not entirely sure how he did (though I should probably do more webstalking to figure it out sometime).

#7 Left Fielder Yuta Taniguchi.  College: Nittaidai.

Unfortunately, Nittai is in a league I just don't go to see, so I didn't stalk Taniguchi.  Maybe some other time.

#8 Center Fielder and Captain, Sho Azegami.  College: Hosei.

The great thing for Azegami going to Hosei is that he got to experience them winning the Big 6 League in the fall.  The bad thing is that he was going to a team that was fairly strong and so he barely got any playing time in the spring at all, though a decent amount in the fall.  Still, his attitude seemed to be pretty much "I'm a freshman, I know that if I work hard I'll get playing time and to contribute to the team later."

Fun fact: Azegami was 6-for-16 (.375) with 1 strikeout while I was in Japan for the first 3 series of the fall.  Then he was 0-for-8 with 4 strikeouts for the remainder of the semester after I went home.  Conclusion: for Azegami's sake, I should consider moving back to Tokyo.

#9 Right Fielder Shun Takayama.  College: Meiji.

I'm going to say something that might sound ridiculous, but I feel like Takayama could easily be the next version of Hayata Itoh (wrong HS/college, but whatever).  He's tall and built extremely well, can hit for power AND speed from the left side, is a decent outfielder, etc.  His first semester in Big 6 he hit .417 and the only reason he didn't get the batting title is because Keio's Agata went on a tear and hit .447.  His batting average went down a little bit in the fall but he hit his first college homer and also walked a bit more.

Seriously, I think Takayama might be the second-most likely to go pro after college out of these nine as of right now (Yoshinaga seems to be the most likely).  Though, Sanko doesn't usually produce that many pro players, oddly enough, so who knows.

Bonus pictures: I actually met some of these guys!

This was after an exhibition game of Keio vs. Sega Sammy.  Yokoo seemed sort of very WTF when I was like "can I get a photo with you please please please I'm a huge fan" but Daisuke Takeuchi (who, BTW, had been kinda picking on Yokoo in the dugout during the game -- bet it's some form of freshman hazing) was like "Sure, no problem, we can take a photo". And being a freshman, Yokoo had to listen to his senior. Ha! I am figuring that later on Daisuke explained to him "don't worry, the gaijin is harmless, she goes to a ton of our games". I gotta say, he won a bazillion "good guy" points with me that day.

Shun Takayama. This was after Opening Day vs. Todai.  I'd actually briefly met Takayama when he was still in high school, actually, when I recognized him outside Jingu and talked to him a little.  I asked for a photo then but he said "sorry, I'm not really supposed to".  This time he really had no excuse, especially after one of my Meiji superfan friends said "You have no idea how much this girl loved your Koshien team, she's going back to the US tomorrow" and so he was like "ok, fine, I guess". Hence the kind of grumpy look, but I was really happy to meet him.

So yeah, being as Hosei is my favorite college team and I have the most context and fan cred there, it was only a matter of time before I'd meet Sho Azegami.  While I was introduced to him briefly in the spring with several other Hosei freshmen, this picture was actually taken during the fall semester.  I told him what a huge fan I was and how happy I was he came to Hosei.  The other guy with his eyes closed is Akihiro Wakabayashi from Toin Gakuen.