94th National HS Baseball Championship: Japan’s biggest summer spectacle-A A +A
Saturday, August 11, 2012
OSAKA, Japan – The 55,000-seater Hashin Koshien Stadium here was jampacked as the much-awaited 94th National High School Baseball Championship opened on Wednesday filled with colorful tradition and dynamism from a people who are united in rebuilding its country from the nightmare of last year’s tsunami tragedy.
A participant, who led the oath of amateurism sans a copy, recalled the fate that befell them, thus, vowing to play his best in the tournament as baseball helps in rebuilding Japan from the horrors of 2011.
Datu Uchida Development Foundation, Inc. sports director Yusuke Uchida, who sponsored this writer’s baseball study tour here, said the annual students baseball championship is among the three most important and biggest summer events that also include the commemoration of the atomic bombing anniversary of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.
He said employees usually take a leave or miss work just to witness the opening ceremony and the games.
True enough, thousands of baseball fans from all walks of life trooped the home of the Osaka Tigers professional baseball team – families, others with infants in tow, elders, teens, little children, professionals, executives, employees, vendors and VIPs, among others, didn’t even mind the scorching heat of summer, all willing to pay over a thousand yen for a ticket.
Kazuhiro Tanabe, one of the directors of the organizing Japan High School Baseball Federation, said 4,100 teams joined some 90 prefecture tournaments that determined the best 49 teams seeing action in the national competition.
“West Tokyo and Hokkaido are each represented by two teams, being the biggest prefectures, in the tournament. Thus, a total of 47 prefectures are being represented in every championship. This is a knockout format tournament,” Tanabe said in an interview at the VIP and media lounge.
He said their students’ baseball history traces back in 1873 but it was in the early 1900s that small tournaments were being conducted until the annual championship was launched.
The English-speaking Japanese added, “We have a very long history of students baseball that is very-highly respected in Japan. The sport develops sportsmanship among players even when they lose. Professional baseball only started in 1934 when Babe Ruth visited here.”
Veteran baseball expert Hidetoshi Suzuki, who mentored Japan’s little league baseball team to a World Championship title in 1976, said university, college and professional team coaches frequent the national High School baseball event, being a breeding ground of professional baseball players, to scout for potential talents.
Davao City-based Mindanao Kokusai Daigaku president Ines Mallari noted that cheering squads from all over Japan, complete with a drum and bugle ensemble, come to Koshien to boost the morale of their respective teams.
“They cheer only when their team is on bat and they never jeer at their team’s rivals. Such discipline and sportsmanship being displayed from cheering squads are worthy to be imitated,” Mallari said.
Adding prestige to the baseball tradition is the presence of media outlets from radio, TV and print, from all over Japan covering it. Every team captain and coach of winning team, even just in the eliminations, get to be interviewed. The opening ceremony was broadcasted live.
Every year, the ceremonial pitch is a must-see as the ball is dropped from a helicopter then prominent guests will do the pitch. It is indeed a unique way of opening Japan’s biggest summer spectacle.
Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on August 12, 2012.