Japan's intense love affair with baseball
High school baseball is a big deal in Japan. Ballparks meant for the pros were instead filled to the brim to watch teenagers play the game during the recently held Koshien tournament. Kai Dambach reports.
Coming together for baseball
The summer national high school baseball tournament (commonly known as Koshien), has been around since 1915, and this year was the 100th edition. The tournament includes nearly 4,000 teams from around Japan. The tournament is not only to showcase the best high school baseball players in Japan; it also brings everyone in the local community together to cheer for their local team.
A tournament for champions
In order to make the national competition in Nishinomiya, the school must first win their prefecture's tournament. The Tokyo prefecture is allowed to have two teams. During opening ceremonies for the Tokyo regional tournaments, teams march in Meiji Jingu Stadium (home of the Tokyo Yakult Swallows) starting with the defending champions from West and East Tokyo.
Down and dirty
Players are expected to fully devote themselves to the team. That even means shaving their heads, celebrating sacrifice bunts, even sliding into first base. That shows their full dedication to the team.
Tough life for pitching
Teams are limited to 18 members, one starter and one back-up player for each position. That means top pitchers throw several games in a row and can destroy their arms in the process. Everyone on the field and in the stands shows utmost respect at all times.
The drive to Koshien
Making it to the national tournament is an accomplishment in itself. Nishogakusha won the East Tokyo regional over Oyamadai, 6-3, for their third ever appearance in the national tournament. Players that make the national tournament have a higher chance of getting scouted by professional teams in Japan and beyond.
The national tournament takes place in Koshien Stadium in Nishinomiya. The ground is usually the home field of the professional Hanshin Tigers, but they leave the ground every year to let the tournament take place. Losing teams take home the dirt from the infield as a token of the hard work needed to get to the national tournament.
Pressure, heat part of the game
If the pressure of playing on the national stage doesn't get to the players, the heat certainly will. Temperatures consistently soar over 33 degrees Celsius (91.4 degrees Fahrenheit) even during morning games.
There is crying in baseball
With apologies to Tom Hanks, there is a place for crying at Koshien. Whenever a team loses, be it in the regional or national tournament, the tournament is over for them. Japan's original "God of Baseball" Suishu Tobita said, "players that cannot even cry when they lose are not serious enough."
Hottest ticket in town
Fans wait for hours to watch the national tournament, and camp out overnight for a chance at a ticket for the finals.
Osaka brings it home
At the national tournament, the winning school's song is played over the loudspeakers after every game, as the winning team stands at home plate. This year, Osaka Toin High School won the tournament after defeating Kanaashi Nogyo in the final, 13-2.