On the field of the private Homare High School in Komaki City, Aichi Prefecture, stands an 18-year-old with a beautiful silhouette of 184 cm, 82 kg, and especially his prominent thighs, which are very elastic and flexible, indicating that he is an athlete of sprinter’s type.
His name is Ihine Itua. He is a junior at Honor High School, the son of Nigerian parents. He has never played in Koshien, and until this fall, his name was unfamiliar to anyone but the most devoted high school baseball fan.
However, before the professional baseball draft on October 20, the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks, who are looking for a future successor to Kenta Imamiya (31), announced their No. 1 pick for this unknown player, and Ihine’s stock skyrocketed.
I was surprised,” said Ihinne. I had submitted a letter of intent to become a professional player, but I thought I wouldn’t get the No. 1 pick.
I thought I would never be ranked No. 1,” said Ihine, who was born in Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture, the youngest of four siblings. I was in the third grade of elementary school when I first came into contact with the white ball. A friend who had already joined a youth baseball team invited him to join.
My parents’ country, Nigeria, is all about soccer,” he said. I wanted to play soccer, too, but once I tried baseball, I was hooked. Catching, throwing, and hitting. It was a sport I had never experienced before, so it was a new experience for me. When I first started, I played center field. I gradually became better and better, and when I was in the fifth grade, I started dreaming of becoming a professional baseball player, thinking that such an enjoyable sport could be my career,” he said.
A boy with such athletic prowess could have excelled in any sport he tried.
Soccer, well, to a certain extent (laughs). I am more confident than others in jumping and running. One time, I joined the basketball team, which was short on members, for a bit of practice, and when I went straight into a game, we won by scoring a goal in an interesting way. The next week we had another game, but I couldn’t go because it conflicted with baseball that day. Then the team lost. I was also good at basketball, but I never wavered in my love for baseball.
In junior high school, I was a member of the Higashiyama Club, a softball club team. This year, he was teammates with Naito Peng (Japan Aviation Ishikawa), a top draft prospect like Ihine, but unlike Naito, who played in games from the lower grades, Ihine was still an alternate in his junior year.
Nevertheless, the boy who dreamed of playing professional baseball never gave up and spent all his time practicing, eventually becoming a candidate to be considered for the draft. His idol is Yuki Yanagita, 34, an outfielder for Softbank.
He said, “Now that SoftBank has decided to pick me, you might think it’s an afterthought (laughs), but I’ve liked Yanagida for a long time. We are both left-handed hitters, and his strong full swing is cool to watch.
After entering Honor High School, he grew 4 cm taller and gained nearly 20 kg in weight. He started playing defense as a ranger before the summer tournament of his sophomore year. In practically one year, he has grown into a DRA1 rated ranger.
He handles both difficult ground balls and sharp flying balls with his flexible body movements, and his throws are accurate from any catching position. He has hit 15 home runs in high school. Although it is hard to shake off the impression that he is still playing baseball based solely on his natural physical abilities, SoftBank and other teams are eager to see how brightly he can shine if he is polished in a professional environment.
He is working on his batting right now. I think everyone wants to be successful from their first year, but I’m not sure if I can actually do that. Do I want to continue playing baseball for a long time? No, I don’t think it’s enough to just keep playing baseball for a long time. I want to be active. And as a result, I hope I can keep doing it for a long time.”
Listening to Ihine, I was almost sucked into his eyes as he looked into ours and chose his words. Unlike the dirty eyes of an adult (like mine), her eyes are beautiful and purely hopeful for the future.
‘No, no, no, no one has dirty eyes!
He already has the star quality to win the hearts of his interlocutors with a single word.
Interview and text by： Yuji Yanagawa Photo： Masahiro Kawayanagi