Shohei Otani, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Akira Sasaki, and Yu Darvish …….
The WBC Samurai Japan team features a lineup of pitchers of the highest caliber. Takuya Kai (30), who plays the role of a wife, supports this splendid lineup of pitchers. Kai is synonymous with the “Kai Cannon,” the most powerful shoulder in baseball.
He can send a ball to second base in as fast as 1.7 seconds. Runners from other countries watch Kai’s shoulder and cannot easily steal a base. Kai must be very reliable for pitchers. He never takes the lead by himself and always consults with the pitcher before deciding on a pitch,” said a reporter for a sports newspaper.
Kai has become one of Japan’s leading catchers, but he joined SoftBank as a developmental player and only appeared in the third team game in his first year. How did Kai become such a first-rate player, winning the Golden Glove Award six times and the Best Nine award three times? FRIDAY” interviewed Kai in its December 7, 2006 issue. Looking back on the article from that time, we would like to introduce the process of Kai’s awakening from his constant negativity (some content has been modified).
Numerous similarities with Mr. Nom
Kai looks up to his mentor, Katsuya Nomura, the senior catcher for the Hawks. He has read almost all of Mr. Nomura’s books as his “right-hand book.
Mr. Nomura’s books contain the very essence of what it means to be a good catcher. I was impressed by the phrase, ‘Failure always has a cause. The catcher is the cornerstone of defense. If you lose, you are fully responsible. So after a game, I check all my pitch distribution and think thoroughly about why I was hit by a pitch.
I write down what I notice in a notebook and reflect on it over and over again. You cannot be a catcher without being negative. It is thanks to pitchers that we win. Mr. Nomura also said, “Give the credit to others.
Nomura and Kai have much in common. Both are small for professional baseball players (Kai is 170 cm tall), and both grew up in single-mother households. Both were raised by mothers and children, and both rose from the ranks of unregistered players to become regular catchers.
He says, “It was really tough until about my fourth year with the team. I was confident in my defense in high school (Yangshikan High School in Oita Prefecture), but when I joined the pros, I was shocked at the difference in power between me and other players. My coach told me, “A three-digit number (for a developmental player) is not a professional number. I felt like I was going to lose heart, so I called my mother every night and asked her to listen to me complain.
The turning point came in his fifth year as a pro, in an opening game against Hiroshima.
I passed the ball and we lost the game. The year before that, I played 58 games for the second team and had four passed balls, the second worst in the league. I told my mother, ‘I might be fired now. My mother said, ‘If you have a hard time, come home. My mother is always on your side.’ She told me to go to …….
My mother worked as a cab driver by day and a cleaner at a pachinko parlor by night, raising my brother and me with her own hands. I felt ashamed that I was making my mother worry. Since then, I have been playing baseball with the thought, ‘I will surely make my mother’s life easier by playing professionally.
Kai continues to practice on his days off and stays at the field even when no one else is around. When he returns home, he does not turn on the TV, but uses a tablet to study the hitters he has faced and the catchers on other teams. He became a player of great ability and even won the MVP of the Japan Series (2006).
Kai, who has become the No. 1 catcher in baseball, has a habit that he does every time he plays defense. He pours dirt near his home base and carefully writes the character for “heart” with his fingers, one stroke at a time.
It has two meanings. I don’t want to forget the difficult time I had as a developmental player when my back number was 130, which made my mother worry.
The second is a humble “heart” that I learned from Mr. Nomura’s book. I was often told by then manager Kimiyasu Kudo, “The most important thing for a catcher is to have a good heart. The most important thing for a catcher is to have a good heart. You must not forget that you are not going forward, but rather you are trying to let the pitcher win.
It is because of his humble heart that Kai is able to continue to grow. This is the reason why top-notch pitchers feel comfortable throwing into Kai’s mitt.
PHOTO： Ryoji Shigemasa