2020 when Koshien was cancelled. Kazuma Hayami, a novelist who is also a former high school baseball player, followed the summer of two strong schools, Seiryo in Ishikawa Prefecture and Jebi in Ehime Prefecture. At that time, what was the “secret of strength” of the Seiryo Baseball Club, which had won 35 straight games in Ishikawa Prefecture and had not lost for almost three years? What was characteristic was the relationship between the “members” who entered the bench and the “non-members” who were reserve members. From the non-fiction “Summer without Koshien” “Correct Answer of That Summer”, we will publish an excerpt of “Chapter 4 What lies ahead of seriously playing baseball?”
This time, I came to Ishikawa with one theme. It’s about how the Seiryo players, who weren’t members until now, are spending their first two years of school, and this summer.
One of the players who paid attention is Takahiro Arai, a second baseman. He’s always smiling and has the air of being a jerk. Although he is slender, there is a part of me that overlaps with myself in high school, and I have been looking forward to hearing his story for a long time.
Arai, who is from Kanazawa City, started playing baseball when he was in elementary school. The first time I became aware of Seiryo was when a senior member of the boy’s baseball team entered Seiryo Middle School. Arai was intrigued by the story he heard from the senior that “the level is surprisingly high”, and he worked on studying for the entrance exam.
Arai successfully passed Seiryo Junior High School and joined the baseball club.
Even more shocking than that was the ability of his classmates, such as Sota Chita, Ginya Ogiwara, Subaru Kasai, and Hironobu Takagi, who became teammates in high school. I heard that they were all Ishikawa selections for boys’ baseball. Arai didn’t even know such a thing existed until then.
Among them, the most shocking was a player named Soshin Uchiyama who came all the way from Toyama prefecture next door.
“I was short and didn’t have much of an aura, but within a few days of joining the club, I was on the A team and was playing shortstop. Oh, it was amazing, and I felt that there is such a player.”
Arai, on the other hand, was barely able to keep up with practice. He quickly picked up on rigorous training and had his heart broken more than once. Still, he honed the only defense he had confidence in, and he just waited for the opportunity to get into the game.
Although he did not become a regular player, he was able to enter the bench from the new team that became the senior student. I am still proud of the fact that the team won the Kanazawa City tournament in autumn, the Ishikawa tournament, and the Hokushinetsu tournament, and I was able to share the joy with my colleagues who respected me. However, over the winter, at the spring national tournament held in Shizuoka Prefecture, Arai was not on the bench.
“When I was watching everyone from the stands, I honestly felt that I wanted them to lose. Even when we won the championship, on the way back on the bus, I was like, ‘I’m not a member of the winning team,’” he said. I think it was about to rot instead of thinking, “I’m going in.”
Immediately after returning to Ishikawa from Shizuoka, Arai was caught by director Tatsuharu Tanaka for skipping the outer marathon and was scolded severely. He was made to pack all his belongings in the clubroom and went home crying. He didn’t show up for practice for a few days after that.
Admonished by his family and club officials, Arai wrote a letter of reflection with the intention of notifying him of his resignation. When he brought it to school, Tanaka asked him, “Are you running away again? You’re going to run away immediately like that?”
Promising that this was his last chance, Arai bowed in front of his classmates. To Arai, who cried and apologized, his friends said harsh words such as “I don’t need it anymore” and “If you change your mind, do it properly”. It was then that Arai finally got serious about baseball.
Since then, every day he was the first to go out on the ground, take the initiative to sprinkle water and maintain the ground, and practiced louder than anyone else.
Thanks to that, at the summer national tournament at Yokohama Stadium, which is called “Koshien of junior high school baseball”, he was able to enter the long-awaited bench.
I never played a game, but that didn’t matter. I was genuinely happy that the team was winning, and I felt that I was contributing to everyone as a runner coach. So when the team lost 1-2 to the Saikyo Big Stars, the representative of Kyoto Prefecture, in the final match, and the dream of two consecutive victories came to an end, for the first time in my life, I felt frustrated from the bottom of my heart.
Still, he was putting everything on the bench at the national tournament. What remained in my heart for a while after the tournament was not regret or remorse, but a fulfilling feeling that “I finished baseball to the end.” At this point, he was thinking of withdrawing from full-fledged baseball until junior high school.
I listened intently to Arai’s story, recalling my experiences as a substitute in high school. And then, knowing my rudeness, I asked him a question.
“But you actually joined the high school baseball club, right? Would you like to join the club, and tell me how you felt at that time?”
Arai mischievously shrugged his shoulders as though he understood.
“At first, I was really thinking about quitting baseball. Even if I did, I wanted to go to another high school and play baseball. I knew that there weren’t many chances to be given outside the members, but in the end I thought I’d like to try at Seiryo High School.My dream is to wear the uniform of Seiryo High School, even if it’s just for one match. It was to put it on and go to the game.”
I’ve been racking my brain for a long time about how to draw the “members” and “non-members” of this Seiryo.
Those who seek excessive sanctity in high school baseball may frown. Captain Uchiyama said, “In this year’s team, there is no one who has crossed the fence of the members from outside the members.” If that’s the case, even the story I drew in “Hyakuhachi” where “a substitute player struggles just to get on the bench” doesn’t work for Seiryo’s baseball club.
In fact, Arai said, “We never got a chance. When I was in the first grade, I never played in a game.” Then I thought, “How should I participate in the game?”
However, I don’t feel the nuance of criticizing the team in their tone. Above all, neither of them even tried to quit the baseball club. In addition to the fact that he was determined to do so when he entered high school, the main reason for this was the strong relationship of trust with this year’s team, which he heard from many players.
“Uchiyama, (Ogiwara) Ginya, (Chida) Sota, they are all players that I want to support from the bottom of my heart. By the time I was in my first year of high school, the goal of winning the Koshien championship for the team became my personal motivation. I want to be a member of the Koshien winning team.”
This sentence made the most sense to me. One time, while watching a practice session, I murmured something that Mori was strangely satisfied with.
“It sounds corny to put it into words, but I think the pride of being a member of Seiryo’s baseball team is enormous. In Seiryo, that pride in a good sense is shared by all the players, including those outside of the team.
When I confronted him head-on with such an attitude, Arai said something that made me shudder.
“But I think the members of the team are working harder than us.”
There must have been a sense of comfort within me that I was the same alternate.
I was annoyed at how well I could hear his words, and when I blurted out, “That’s not true,” Arai laughed out loud.
(Continue reading in the book)