If I start talking about regrets, I was aiming for 200 wins, and there were a lot of hardships from that point, such as bad luck and injuries, but…now I feel relieved. I feel liberated. I’ve done all I can do.”
Coach Tetsuya Utsumi, 40, who will retire at the end of this season and become the pitching coach of the Saitama Seibu Lions’ second team next season, looked back on his 19-year active career and began to talk with a fresh smile.
I think now that I have really worked hard myself. I think I did well to survive amidst all the good players coming in. I heard from my seniors that they sometimes want to do it again after they retire, but I don’t have that feeling at all. I’m burnt out.
He joined the Giants in 2003 as a free agent, and supported the Giants pitching staff as their ace, winning the most wins for two consecutive years in 2011 and 2012. However, he was plagued by a string of injuries starting around 2002, and was unable to play at all during his four years with the Giants. As a result, in the off-season of 2006, he was transferred to Seibu as FA compensation. Four years ago, on the day Utsumi took his first step as a player for Seibu, this magazine conducted an exclusive interview with him. We learned of this fact, and he also expressed his desire for a comeback, saying, “Little by little, I realized that I could do it again.
He said, “Little by little, I began to feel that ‘I can do it again. Practice never lies.”
However, in the four years between when he joined Seibu and when he retired, he had only two wins and three losses. He was not able to produce a satisfactory performance.
I really had a hard time during those four years,” he said. That is the only word I can use to describe it. I understood that my physical condition was worse than before, but more than that, mentally, I was facing a completely different image when I faced first-round hitters because I was pitching less and less for the first team. That stress was pretty big.”
Tension and stress almost crushed me.
The atmosphere of the first team, which he had not even been aware of when he was a key player in the team and had to fight in the starting rotation for a year, became so different when he moved up from the Seibu farm to the first team that it was like going to a completely different world that he had never known before.
When you are constantly in the first team, you get used to that environment, and I was the type of person who got used to it and produced good results. But after I moved to Seibu, I spent most of my time on the farm, so I wondered what would happen if I were suddenly sent to the first team under such circumstances. I would feel the tension and stress of a rookie pitching for the first time, and that feeling would come over me every time. But I am not a rookie. The customers are cheering me on, thinking of me in my prime. I felt like I was being crushed by that pressure every time. I want to live up to the expectations. But my body and mind were not up to the challenge. I was filled with frustration. But I never let myself be happy or sad about the situation I was in. I tried to live each day in a positive manner. In bad times, I would watch my feet and do what I could do. That is what I always tried to do. I never gave up, and I think it was a good experience for me to think about all the things I could do to survive.
Utsumi has renewed his determination to put this experience to good use as a coach for the young players of Seibu.
In the second team, there are players in various situations, such as complaining, being unmotivated, and being very motivated. In this situation, I have been trying to motivate the players to move toward the first team as a coach for the past year, but since I was 80% of the players when I was also a coach, I think I was more likely to let the players feel what I was doing by watching my back. However, from now on, since I can no longer pull them along with my back, I want to be a coach who can push the backs of the players who are working hard more, and I want to support the players who are suffering so that I can guide them in the right direction as a roadmap. If pitchers from the second team can break into the current strong first team pitching lineup and push them forward, the team will become even stronger. I would like to see the farm pitchers go on a rampage in the first team. I think it would be great if we could at least replace them all.
I think there was an option to take off the uniform and watch baseball from the outside.
“I don’t think so at all. I wonder if I can make any money. I don’t think so. I have four children, so I have a lot of money to spend (laughs). (Laughs.) I’m just kidding, but I felt a lot of satisfaction from being a coach this year.
Finally, there was something I really wanted to ask him. I really wanted to ask him about his feelings toward the Giants.
I can only thank the Giants for bringing me up and bringing me into the world. I truly believe that it was the best baseball experience of my life to be able to play in the uniform of a team that I have admired since I was a child.
There is one more important thing you must not miss. I was asked if the Giants had offered him a coaching position.
I don’t know about that. I’m not sure (laughs). But I definitely owe Seibu a debt of gratitude for watching me as a player for four years when I had no success, and I mustn’t forget that. When I told the team that I was quitting, they immediately offered me a job as a coach. I knew I had to live up to their expectations.
The second chapter of Utsumi’s career as the undisputed “Otoko” (man) begins here.
From the December 16, 2022 issue of FRIDAY
PHOTO： Shinji Hamasaki