A man who returned to the professional baseball world and pitched against the Giants on October 8 tells high school students, “If I retire at 24, I will regret it… | FRIDAY DIGITAL

A man who returned to the professional baseball world and pitched against the Giants on October 8 tells high school students, “If I retire at 24, I will regret it…

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Nonaka joined Hankyu as the first overall pick in the ’83 draft and retired at the age of 24. He joined Chunichi on a trial basis after playing in Taiwan after his shoulder pain healed (Photo: Baseball Magazine)

No matter what kind of world you are in, it is important to remember to be humble and do exactly what you are given in front of you. I want them to be able to be a good member of society even after they stop playing baseball.”

The man with a beard like Mito Komon was holding a baseball bat at Izumo Nishi High School, a private school located about 20 minutes by car from Izumo Taisha Shrine in Izumo City, Shimane Prefecture, which is known as the god of marriage. It was Tetsuhiro Nonaka, 58, the ace of Chukyo High School, who made high school baseball history exactly 40 years ago in the summer of 1983, when he challenged Ikeda High School, where future Giants ace pitcher Yuji Mizuno played, in the quarterfinals of the Koshien Tournament.

The previous year, Ikeda High School had crushed Daisuke Araki, the ace of Waseda High School who later played for the Yakult baseball team, and was considered the frontrunner to win the tournament. The game against Chukyo, which was regarded as a rivalry game, was dubbed “practically a final,” and many fans stayed up all night to get tickets the night before. The game was so exciting that the entire house was packed right after the start of the match.

Currently, the Izumo Nishi High School baseball team, which Nonaka teaches, has 20 members: nine juniors, eight sophomores, and three freshmen. 20 members per team are registered for the Shimane Prefecture Summer Koshien Tournament, a regional qualifying tournament that begins in mid-July, and all members are on the bench. While the players practice with a small number of players, “I tell the kids, ‘Ikeda High School once went to Koshien with 11 players and won second place.

Nonaka pitched against Mizuno in the aforementioned Ikeda High School game and lost 1-3, but after making three appearances in the Koshien Tournament in spring and summer (10 wins and 3 losses), he was drafted first overall by the professional baseball team Hankyu Braves in the fall of 1983. In 1985, he was given the opportunity to pitch in the first team, mainly as a starting pitcher, but due to injury and illness, he was unable to play an active role, and in 1988, he switched to fielding.

He became a free agent in 1989, the first year the team’s name was changed to Orix after it sold itself. That year, he played mainly at third base for the second team and hit well over .300. Just when he was confident that he could do it, he received a heartless notice that he was out of the game.

When the team informed him that his contract was terminated, they said, “We will talk with you about transferring to another team,” but Nonaka asked, “Is there any guarantee that you will be transferred? Nonaka asked back, “Is there any guarantee that you will be transferred? When the team failed to answer, Nonaka said, “If that’s the case, I’ll quit,” and played the retirement card himself. He was only 24 years old.

Later, when he was 27 years old, he met an old acquaintance, a newspaper reporter, for the first time in several years.

He said, “For a TV project, I tried throwing a softball. I threw a softball for a TV project, and it hit 138 kilograms.

The reporter did not let this story go by unheard, and replied, “Hardball would be in the mid-140s.

If it were a hardball, it would have been in the mid-140s. I think he could come back as a professional pitcher.

The reporter further promised Nonaka that he would think of a way to return to Japan if he could make an impact in professional baseball overseas, where there were few routes even then. This led to his success as a pitcher in Taiwan the following year and his return to the Japanese baseball world. This was three years before Hideo Nomo made his way to the big leagues.

Press conference for joining the Hankyu Braves after being selected in the ’83 draft. Nonaka (front row, right), who carried the number 18 on his back. Among his teammates was Nobuyuki Hoshino (third from right in back row), who later became the ace of the Orix (Photo: Sankei Shimbun).

It took 14 years from his first draft pick to his first win.

In ’93, four years after retiring from active baseball, Nonaka joined the Taiwanese professional baseball team “Shunkoku Bears” as a pitcher and won 15 games. The following year, he passed a test with Chunichi and returned to Japanese professional baseball. That year, he pitched the last two innings as the fourth pitcher in the ’94 “10-8” game against the Giants, the final and decisive game in the history of professional baseball.

In the 9th inning, Masahiro Kawaso hit a ball to put me in a pinch with no outs, but I was able to hold him off. But I was able to hold them off the rest of the way.”

The next batters were Hideki Matsui, Iku Okazaki, and Tatsunori Hara. In a desperate pinch, he struck out these three pitchers and got out of it without allowing a run.

It was in the middle of the March open game of the same year. After several appearances due to sleeping on the wrong side of the bed and other problems, Nonaka was informed by the leaders that if he could not pitch today, he would be sent to the second team. For Nonaka, who had joined the team on a trial basis, this was in effect an ultimatum.

It was under such circumstances when he pitched in a game against the Orix at Nishinomiya Stadium, the Hankyu’s home field. Nonaka took the mound in the late innings of the game and allowed Ichiro to hit a ball to right field, which left the bases loaded with no outs. However, he was able to get out of the jam without giving up any runs.

If I had collapsed there, I don’t know what would have happened to me after that.

He was unfazed by the last-minute pinch-hit situation in his baseball career that might have thrown away the opportunity he had finally seized, and he displayed the last-minute concentration that had been latent in him since his high school days, when he had wowed the Koshien Stadium. This was also true in the opening game against the Orix, and in the “10-8” game, which changed the course of his baseball career.

At that time, I wanted to win the championship more than I cared about myself. That was my sole intention. I couldn’t give up any more points.”

In the off-season of 1996, he was released from Chunichi and joined Yakult on a trial basis in 1997. At the time, Yakult was managed by Katsuya Nomura and the regular catcher was Atsuya Furuta, who was the same age as Nonaka.

Furuta hardly ever gave me a sign. He left me in charge of pitching. I think manager Nomura told Furuta that Nonaka could think of his own pitches.

In May of the same year, he won his first professional game. Incidentally, it took 14 years from his first draft pick to his first win, the longest time for an NPB pitcher. In a post-game interview at the time, he was said to have lost some of his words, perhaps because he was overcome with emotion. When asked about this, he surprisingly replied, “I don’t remember how it happened.

For Nonaka, who had not been a part of the championship scene since high school, the team’s victories had become more important than his own. And that year, thanks in part to Nonaka’s efforts, Yakult won the championship. Being in the circle at the moment of the decision made Nonaka’s professional baseball career complete.

After the 1998 season, he retired for the second time and worked for a sewage survey company. He worked for a long time for an advertising sign maker until just before he became the coach at Izumo Nishi High School. After becoming the coach at his current high school, he continued to work for a construction-related company during the weekdays.

When I first retired at the age of 24,” he said, “I was young in many ways looking back. I didn’t realize how painful it was for me to not be able to play baseball. After I retired, I began to feel a kind of regret, or ……”

His way of life, with a professional win total of two, was recognized by Hisashi Yamada, who won 284 games

In the first World Baseball Classic (WBC) in ’06, he was asked to be a hitting pitcher. Eight years had already passed since his second retirement.

I was called up to be a hitting pitcher along with Hiroshi Tsuno (former Nippon Ham, etc. = current professional golfer) and Hirofumi Kono (former Giants, etc. = current businessman),” he said. I asked the office where I was working at the time if I could take a month and a half off. They said, ‘No, you can’t.’ So I chose the job of hitting pitcher. So I chose the job of hitting pitcher. Of course, I knew I would have to find a job after the WBC was over.

Why did he make such a choice?

I retired and left baseball once, and ever since I was able to pitch in Taiwan again, I have felt ‘happy to be able to play baseball. So, if I can be involved in baseball, even just a little, I have listened to what they have to say. In the professional baseball world, I have seen many professional players spend their time complaining about their coaches and managers. I thought it was a waste of time to spend time on such things, considering how happy they are to be able to play baseball.

It has been 35 years since the Hankyu, which drafted Nonaka, ceased to exist. The team had a strong alumni connection, and until a few years before the COVID-19 crisis, an alumni meeting was held every December. Nonaka, who attended the meeting several times, said that Hisashi Yamada, who is one of the most famous players in the world and has won a total of 284 games, and Yutaka Fukumoto, who is known as the world’s stolen base king, would say to him, “You did a good job.

They treated me as if they were taking a glance at me, who had won only two games as a Japanese professional.”

Nonaka’s return to baseball after retiring at the age of 24 and recovering from his injury, and his return to the toughest stage in the first base game, was recognized by the Meikyu-kai warriors.

Nonaka as he is today (Photo by Toshinori Tanigawa)

When I went to Izumo Nishi High School to watch practice in June before the summer tournament, I found Nonaka swinging the bat by himself and also serving as the hitting pitcher. Nonaka is the only person involved in coaching the baseball team who has a driver’s license, so he is also the sole person responsible for maintaining the field after practice and driving the microbus when the team goes on field trips. Despite these circumstances, Nonaka is rather happy.

Most of these kids won’t play baseball after they leave here,” he says. But no matter what world they go into, they have to act and think for themselves in order to grow. That’s what I tell them.”

Such is the depth of Nonaka’s words. I am sure that Nonaka’s happiness at being able to face the baseball he loves and taking the initiative to move with a smile has fully touched the hearts of the high school students who are watching him.

The Shimane Prefecture Tournament begins on July 12. Nonaka has yet to participate in the Koshien Tournament as a leader. However, Izumo Nishi High School lost in the first round for five consecutive years, including the first year Nonaka coached the team from 2003 to 2007, but since then, his coaching has clearly paid off, as the team has twice advanced to the Chugoku Tournament, which leads to the Spring Invitational Tournament.

In Shimane Prefecture, any of the 38 teams competing in the prefectural tournament could go to Koshien. The coaches of other high schools have told me that I have to shave off my beard because beards are not allowed in Koshien.

He began growing his beard in the spring of this year, saying, “A high school baseball coach should have dignity. Of course, I’ll shave it off when I get there,” Nonaka says, looking forward to the day when his students’ hard work will make their participation in the Koshien National Championships a reality.

He will turn 60 in two years. Even so, when he holds the ball and the glove, he looks like a boy again.
When I went to watch practice in June, I did not see him forming a circle and giving instructions to the club members. No matter what world you end up in, you have to act and think for yourself in order to grow up.
In the summer of 1983, he pitched at Koshien against Yujin Mizuno, then ace of Ikeda High School and later a member of the Giants. Will he be able to go there again this summer as a coach?
  • Interview and text by Toshinori Tanikawa

    Former Daily Sports reporter, editorial board member of Jiji Press

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