Masanao Yoshida of Samurai Japan tells of his college days: “I didn’t become a power hitter because I wasn’t fast enough. | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Masanao Yoshida of Samurai Japan tells of his college days: “I didn’t become a power hitter because I wasn’t fast enough.

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Yoshida during his days on the Aoyama Gakuin University hardball team. He was considered a small big hitter even back then.

The semifinals of WBC 2023 were held at Bone Depot Park in Miami, U.S., with Japan winning 6-5 over Mexico. The final match will be against the previous champion, the United States.

The semifinal against Mexico was a hard-fought match. The first batter, Akinori Sasaki, hit a three-run homer off Urias with two outs in the 4th inning, scoring three runs. The Samurai bats were held in check by Mexico’s starting left fielder, Patrick Sandoval, and by the end of the 6th inning, they had given up 5 scattered hits and no runs. With a heavy atmosphere hanging over the Japanese team, Masanao Yoshida (29), who had two hits, was the most popular player in the game.

Sandoval’s batting average against left-handed batters in 2010 was only .151. In the first inning, Japan was completely helpless against Sandoval, striking out three batters. However, Yoshida gave up a hit to center field in his first at-bat, and then again in his second at-bat, this time to left field, and it looked like he was gaining some popularity.

Then, in the bottom of the 7th inning, Yoshida scooped up a difficult ball low on the inside corner from first and second base with two outs. The ball soared high and flew just short of the light pole for a three-run homer. This tying run gave the team momentum for the come-from-behind victory. It was not a hard swing, but it was a home run that was the result of Yoshida’s mating ability and power from the waist up. At only 173 centimeters tall, Yoshida was a mere 6 feet tall. Where does such power come from in such a small body?’ In October 2003, this magazine conducted an exclusive interview with Yoshida, who at the time was the No. 4 player on the national college team and one of the draft candidates that year. What was the origin of this power hitter?

In elementary school, I was not fast, so I just swung the bat.

If I had been faster on my feet, I would have become a player who could get a lot of hits. But I wasn’t fast. I started playing baseball in the first grade of elementary school, and I just swung the bat. I was just swinging the bat. Then, my father took me to a batting center, and the balls I hit started to fly farther and farther. I will never forget that feeling of joy. If you keep swinging the bat, you can actually feel the ball flying farther and farther, little by little. That was fun, and I found myself wanting to make the ball fly farther. I was always small, but I knew that I could catch up once I got to high school and built up my core, so I wasn’t in any hurry at all.

He did not think he had to do more weight training or batting practice than the other players because of his small size.

I ate the food served in the dormitory as usual, and I didn’t do more weight training than the other players at all. There is no point in just lifting heavy weights or building muscles for show, so I have always been conscious of building the muscles necessary for baseball.

I have not done any special training for batting practice at all. What I am conscious of, however, is that my ideal is to be able to exert my 10 strengths at the moment of adjusting to the ball without wasting any energy, and I do this while trying all kinds of things. For example, I wonder what would happen if I put more force into hitting the ball from the beginning, or in the case of a breaking ball, I wonder how much it would fly if I put more force into the ball at such and such a time. I think of it as experimenting with my own range.

While swinging hard, I try out various things, such as the key to impact and the timing for turning the wrist, and I may have thoroughly tried out what I thought was right! I think he has been thoroughly working on what he thought was the right thing to do. You can’t tell just by swinging a bat. I think it’s a matter of thoroughly working on the important parts in stages, such as hitting the ball firmly while tee-batting, and then free swinging afterwards.

What is Yoshida’s ideal vision for the future?

I don’t want to be a home run hitter. I am not aiming to hit 30 runs with a .200 batting average, but rather to be a hitter with a .300 batting average who can maintain 20 runs at all times. If I get a good first pitch, I can hit it hard and make it a home run. I want to be the kind of hitter who, when he is cornered, does not take the same swing, but hits the pitcher’s winning shot and hits it back. I don’t want to aim for a home run, but rather to catch a sweet pitch without mis-hitting it, and if I catch it, it will go in. That is the kind of feeling I want to emphasize.

There are only a handful of hitters who can hit .300, so you can only become an active player for a long time if you can do it consistently, not just for a year. Of course, I want to make it my goal from my first year to become a consistent player who can hit consistently.

Speaking of distractions, what does Yoshida like to do?

“I have YouTube, so I watch professional and major league baseball all the time. I don’t have any other interests. I’m not interested in comic books or video games. I go out for fun, but I have no hobbies. For me, baseball is also a distraction.”

Finally, when asked if he aspires to play in the majors in the future, he responded, “Of course, I aspire to play in the majors.

Of course, I have aspirations to play in the majors. I was allowed to go to the Texas Rangers camp this year, and the scale was too big…. The speed of the ball. The speed of the bat swing. It was totally different. I was amazed at the impact, just like I felt when I was a child. What I am now is nothing like that.

Yoshida’s record so far in the WBC is .474 batting average, two home runs, and 13 runs batted in, which puts him at the top of the batting order. Yoshida’s powerful batting has certainly brought him closer to the world’s number one position for the first time in 14 years.

His batting form has hardly changed.
When the photographer asked him to smile, Yoshida beamed, saying, “I didn’t get much attention as a student, so I’m not used to it.
Yoshida’s well-trained arms are as thick as an ice skater’s thighs.’ (Photo taken February 2005)
Yoshida’s quintessential man-swinging full swing. Taken in February ’17.
  • PHOTO. Shinji Hamasaki, Hiroyuki Komatsu

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