Saga Kita, a team from a nearly unknown school in the southern island of Kyushu, finished the perennial summer drama yesterday by hitting a grand slam home run in the 8th inning of the Japan Summer High School Baseball Tournament to take home their first championship trophy. This reversed a 1-4 deficit to finish the game with a score of 5-4 and sealed their fate in Japanese high school baseball history.
For those who have not experienced the drama that is Japanese High School Baseball, you are truly missing a great experience. I remember now the first time I attended a day of this tournament 29 years ago. My Japanese friend, Teichi, invited me to attend a day at Koshien Stadium in the beginning of August. For those of you who are not familiar with August in Japan, this is the very hottest time during the summer and the heat is unrelenting. I remember how exciting it was to watch those young players running, throwing, pitching and hitting under the baking sun. It is a wonder that they do not die from heat stroke! I remember well my sunburned ears and neck that peeled a day or two later. Now-a-days I watch this tournament during my OBON holiday from the comfort of my air-conditioned room.
This tournament is the most popular sporting event in Japan during the summer and there always seems to be an interesting story surrounding this tournament. Last year it was the “Handkerchief Prince”. The pitcher, Yuki Saito, of the winning team was dubbed the “Handkerchief Prince” because he was often seen wiping the sweat from his brow and face using a blue handkerchief. I guess that it was rare to see this and, in fact, I did not see one player using a handkerchief during this year’s tournament.
In any case, I really enjoyed seeing Saga Kita work its way through this tournament. They played a total of 73 innings including one 15 inning tie that resulted in replaying a new game the next day on which they won 9-1 over Uji Yamada Shogyo High School. I guess it was also interesting that my wife often saw the team’s bus passing on the road near our house in Ikeda. It seems that the team was staying at a hotel near my home.
What made this team’s play so exciting was that they were not a powerhouse at all, but they played excellent defense to prevent the other team from scoring and worked patiently for a chance to tie the game or win in the later innings. This makes for exciting baseball.
So living in Japan, even during the hot summer of August, can be a lot of fun. Also, this high school baseball tournament makes for a lot of interesting discussions with students who enjoy the sport of baseball. Great fun!
Al Bartle (Smith’s School of English – Okamoto-Kobe)