It is within walking distance from the center of Roppongi. As we passed through the corridor of the white-walled building and opened the door, the owner smiled at us from behind the shiny, polished counter.
He has a huge bear-like body and wildly wavy brown hair, but his eyes are round and charming. The owner of the chanko restaurant “TANIARASHI,” Shun Yamaguchi, 35, said, “I’m a fan of Yokohama and the Giants, but I’m not a fan of the Japanese,
Fans from his Yokohama and Giants days come to the restaurant, and they say, ‘He’s totally different from my image of him,'” he laughed.
They thought I was more of a prickly person (laughs).”
Yamaguchi entered the professional ranks after being selected first in the 2005 high school draft by the Yokohama Bay Stars. Since that time, he has been known as the “son of makuuchi wrestler TANIARASHI,” and his four-legged stomping performance has become a well-known sight among fans.
TANIARASHI opened last December. It is a sister restaurant of “TANIARASHI,” a chanko restaurant that has been in Oita for 57 years. Of course, the restaurant’s name is derived from the four-way name “TANIARASHI” of his father, who passed away in 2010.
In 2006, after being transferred to the Giants as an FA player, he achieved a no-hit, no-run season. The following year, in 1919, he contributed to the Giants’ victory with a record of 15 wins and 4 losses, the most wins ever by a baseball player. When asked if he had any regrets, Yamaguchi brushed off the question.
He replied, “It doesn’t matter what my record is. In the professional game, every year is a battle. It is not you but the team that evaluates you. If you don’t get the call, that’s the end of it. That means you have no value as a baseball player.
Baseball, are you quitting?”
The deadline to decide whether or not to continue his active career was “the end of December last year. The deadline for waiting for an offer was “the end of December last year. Yamaguchi, who had always maintained the rule of “not bringing baseball into the home” during his active career, had put an end to his feelings by Christmas, as he had done at the time of the FA transfer and when he challenged for a major league contract. But then…
“At the end of the year, when I was watching YouTube at home, my children said to me: ‘Are you going to quit baseball? I was watching YouTube at home at the end of the year, and one of my kids said to me, ‘Are you quitting baseball? I want to see him pitch a little more. I didn’t tell them that I had been informed that I was out of the lineup, but I guess they must have felt something in their hearts. With those words, I decided to wait until the professional baseball camps started in February to make an offer. I don’t know how much I can get back into shape in a month, but I’ll give it a try so I won’t have any regrets.
This was the first time he had made a decision about baseball based on his family’s voice.
He took on his final challenge at a camp facility where top athletes, including Ichiro (49), have gone for initial stress training. However, his shoulder was not improving. I can’t release the ball the way I want to. He decided at the beginning of February that if he could wait until the season opener, he was confident he could improve his performance, but “I’m not in that kind of position.
I made the decision at the beginning of February. When I told my wife that I had decided to quit, she seemed a little sad and said, ‘You can go to an overseas league if you have a chance. But basically, I said, ‘Good-bye. I didn’t feel pathetic, like a TV documentary about a player’s retirement (laughs). I had no intention of telling anyone about my retirement, but a reporter close to me wrote an article saying, ‘You have to make a proper announcement. I thought, ‘I don’t have to make it clear,’ but as soon as the article was published, I got calls from people who had helped me, acquaintances, and my mother saying, ‘Good-bye. Without closure, people around you are more bothered than you are.”
The “Open Game” I will never forget
He spent 17 years of his professional baseball career with Yokohama, the Giants, and two MLB teams. Yamaguchi recalls, “I have no regrets. I’ve done my best.
What remains clearly etched in my mind’s eye is an open game at the Blue Jays’ home field in March 2008. When my name was called out in English and I took the mound, the fans gave me a standing ovation because I had not yet become a COVID-19 crisis. I’ll never forget that moment.
On the contrary, he says, “I don’t remember any hard times.
I mean,……, it was tough the whole time I was playing baseball (laughs). Every day I would worry, ‘What if this season ends after this season? Even after I started getting good results, I was always thinking, ‘I have to do better than this,’ or ‘I have to go even one millimeter higher.
However, Yamaguchi had an epiphany that helped him survive his difficult professional life. It was in his third year as a pro.
My fastball stopped reaching 140 km/h, and I had to start the second team from the first day of camp. My pitching coach at the time and I talked about starting from scratch, and we started over from catching the ball. I had the basic physical strength, so I threw 500 to 600 pitches a day to improve my technique. Nowadays, that would be impossible. But I was determined that if I got injured, I was only as good as I could be, and by June, I was able to reach 150 km/h. I thought, “If I don’t practice, I won’t gain confidence. I realized that you can’t gain confidence without practice. If you don’t have something to back it up, you start to doubt yourself half-heartedly. Then, I became confident that if I practiced this hard and got hit by a pitch, it was inevitable, and I was able to compete with a strong mental attitude. That was the first step in my professional baseball career. It was huge for me to realize that in my third year as a pro.”
Although he is a rookie as a chanko restaurant owner, he has had the idea in mind for 10 years.
When I was a professional baseball player, I ate a lot of delicious food at campsites and on tour. While researching the price range, I was convinced that the taste of “Taniarashi” and my father’s chanko would be able to compete in Tokyo. Even so, just like baseball, I am worried every day (laughs). However, I was very happy to be able to talk with baseball fans over the counter, and to enjoy the gently seasoned “Yose-nabe chanko,” “Oita toriten” and “Nakatsu karaage” with comments such as “Delicious! I’ve never seen it before! I’ve never seen them before! It makes me happy.
Will he become an ace in the world of food and drink?
Five Bldg. 103, 5-18-20 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Business hours: 17:00-23:00 (closed on Sundays)
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PHOTO： Hiroyuki Komatsu