Teaching In Socks

There is crying in High School Baseball
August 18, 2009, 6:08 pm
Filed under: Japan | Tags: , , ,
this year's been berry berry good to me

this year's been berry berry good to me

For our one-year anniversary I dragged my girlfriend out the 91st Japan High School Baseball Championship at Koshien Stadium. This is all part of my secret, long-running plan to propose at halftime during a Rams- Browns game (at Cleveland, obviously) and then honeymoon in the romantic atmosphere of the NBA All-star game. I’m joking, but I’m sure people actually do these things.

The circumstances, were instead the result of an unfortunate scheduling conflict and my girlfriend being a really good sport (no pun intended).

During my year here, I’ve come to understand the Summer Koshien tournament (its nickname) as one of those unique Japanese experiences I had to take part in.Notably, this is because it optimizes all that can be good about baseball– It’s on Jim Caple’s Baseball Lover’s Bucket list for God’s sake.

Unfortunately, the only day I could go, maybe forever, happened to be the same day we planned to celebrate and had already made a dinner reservation in Kobe. However, the games take place during the day and Koshien is only fifteen minutes from Kobe, so my girlfriend suggested we go during the day and then track back to Kobe at night. I made some comment about being concerned about not being able to dress properly for both the game and the dinner and she justly laughed at me for being one of THOSE people (we were going to a pizza restaurant anyway).

The Summer Koshien tournament has the rare cachet of being one a baseball sacrament and a cannon Japanese tradition.  As I mentioned before, the tournament has the ability to display the purest form of baseball devoid of overpaid athletes, uninterested fans and $9 beers.You can see these kids trying. And not in the my next contract depends on this way,not on the I hate losing sort of way, but in the this is my life, and this could be the biggest moment in it sort of way and it’s a beautiful thing to watch.

$9 beers; No, $4 Beers and Beer Girls: Yes

$9 beers; No, $4 Beers and Beer Girls: Yes

In the tournament, which is held over the summer break, over 4,200 High Schools across Japan compete in a single elimination tournament to reach Koshien.  To do so they have to earn one of the 49 spots in the tournament–one for each Prefecture, and two for Tokyo and Hokkaido.

The reward for garnering one of those spots in the tournament is getting to play on national television at Koshien stadium in the hottest weather imaginable.

The tournament has been played at Koshien Stadium, home of the Hanshin Tigers, since 1924. The stadium itself is Japan’s most holy baseball ground–sort of a combination of Wrigley and Fenway. It’s known for it’s eccentric and passionate fans and as the bastion for an absolutely electric atmosphere.

However, it is also an old stadium and as so it’s devoid of the amenities modern stadiums spoil us with. During the day games, only a small percentage of the seats garner an shade. Also,the seats are less seats and more scathing hot backless compact bleachers.

We arrived in time for the start of the second game– at 11:00 A.M. high time if your looking to get absolutely scorched by the sun crammed between thousands of other like minded people. You pay 500 yen ($5) for a ticket -which allows you to sit, in a section for the entire day, or four games.

Aas we arrived the game between  Teikyu High School from Tokyo and a school from Fukui Prefecture was just getting started. Before the game the teams meet at home plate and bow to each other, the teams then go to their cheering section in the stands and bow before them as well.  It’s part of entire code of respect that is strictly followed throughout the tournament. The tournament has this elegant balance between passion and respect. It’s like the Texas High School Football Championship if all the players were Buddhists. zealotry and humanity, clear minds and full hearts…or something.

Teikyu High School was heavily favored; they are one of the few High schools to win the tournament multiple times before. They also had a highly rated pitcher on the mound, who threw in the low 90’s and went 8 2/3s despite the fact that the temperature was hotter than his fastball.  It really was one of those days where they were selling bags of ice for 200 Yen ($2) and I thought it was a steal.

No tournament is a tournament without flags.

No tournament is a tournament without flags.

The atmosphere in the stands was a combination of a European soccer match, a college football agem and a Mensa crowd. The schools bring their own cheering sections–including cheerleaders and college football style bands. The general admission fans are ultra attentive to the game, always applauding great plays by either team and  always encouraging.

The team from Fukui battled hard but was really over matched by the Teikyu pitcher. He had a one hit game going through seven innings before Fukui was able to finally string some hits together. In the end though, it only earned them one run, which wasn’t enough to match the five runs Teikyu grabbed in the first three innings.

The end of the games contains probably the most significant traditions of the tournament. The teams meet again and bow. The winning team then stands behind home plate while their school flag is raised and song is played. The teams then go thanks their fans again.  By this point most of the players on the losing team, especially the third year students (their final year) are in tears–this is their big moment, and they have battled hard to get here. They pack up their belongings and grab a handful of dirt from the infield of Koshien and place it in a bag to take home with them and keep as a memento.

It’s a rather moving thing to watch,  between the effort put into the game and the heat the kids are just absolutely spent. This is something I can sympathize with after the game my girlfriend and I were completely exhausted from just sitting out in the sun for three hours. We canceled our dinner reservation and instead took the train home to find an air conditioner to sit next to.


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