Boat racer who roomed with former Hanshin player Shintaro Yokota, who passed away suddenly in July, reveals his “magnificent secret story. | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Boat racer who roomed with former Hanshin player Shintaro Yokota, who passed away suddenly in July, reveals his “magnificent secret story.

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A memorial ceremony for Shintaro Yokota was held on July 25 at the Hanshin-Giants game (photo: Sankei Shimbun).

He taught me that you can do it if you put your mind to it.

Shogo Noda, the second professional baseball player in history to make the transition from baseball to boat racing, and the first to win in his 101st race this July, spoke of Shintaro Yokota, a former Hanshin player who died of brain cancer in July of the same year.

I thought it wasn’t something I should say out loud,” Noda said.

Noda, who prefaces his speech with this, reveals that he had special feelings for his younger colleague behind his decision to continue competing in the world of competition in his second career.

For Noda, Mr. Yokota was two grades below him on the Kagoshima Jitsugyo High School baseball team, and was a junior who lived in the same room with him.

Yokota-san, who had been assigned to play fourth on the team since the fall of his first year in high school, had entered Shikanashi with a bang about six months earlier.

He came in like a superstar,” he said. We were both left-handed throwers, and I think the coach and head of the department (who put Noda and Yokota in the same room) wanted us to learn a lot.

Noda, who took the mound at Koshien in the summer of his sophomore year and the spring of his junior year, was the ace of a prestigious school. He was a small man, standing only 167 cm tall, but he had practiced as hard as anyone else and had emerged as a left-handed pitcher.

At that time, practice at Shikami went on until around 10 or 11 p.m., and it was after that that they returned to their dormitories to eat dinner. After a few hours of stretching and other physical care, he would go to bed after 2 a.m. He would wake up at 5:30 a.m. the next morning. The next morning, he woke up at 5:30 a.m. to complete his morning workout.

For three years, I slept about three hours a night. I devoted that much time to taking care of my body because my instructors would get angry if I didn’t practice in proportion to the amount of practice I did. I emphasized the stretching system more than sleep. I was short, but I was aware that I could fight with that. Since I didn’t get much sleep anyway, I tried to take care of myself so I wouldn’t get injured.”

Noda accompanied Yokota on almost all of his menus. Noda felt bad that he had to go to bed late every night, but the bond between the senior and junior staff in the same room was that strong.

Yokota probably liked me a lot. He even took the pants I was wearing and put them under his pillow while he slept (laughs). I think it was something he admired.

In the summer of his senior year in high school, Noda lost in the semifinals of the Kagoshima Tournament and failed to make it to Koshien, but he represented Japan at the AAA Asian Championships and was selected as an all-star member of the tournament. After graduation, he decided to go on to Sino Unyu, a prestigious baseball team for working adults.

He said, “I will definitely go to Seino, too. I will follow them all the way!”

As a first-year high school student, Yokota vowed to follow Noda’s lead. Two years later, however, he was far ahead. As a pitcher, he hit over 140 km/h, and as a hitter, he hit 29 home runs in high school, and was selected by the Hanshin baseball team as the second overall pick in the 2013 draft.

Noda, who was honing his skills in the adult baseball world at the time, recalls that he was greatly inspired by his juniors.

I thought he was going to come to Seino, but he turned out to be an extraordinary player (laughs). (Laughs.) I thought I was in trouble when Yokota went pro first. On the contrary, it was an event that accelerated my desire to become a pro.

Boat racer Shogo Noda talks about his memories of Mr. Yokota.

After spending four years honing his skills in adult baseball, Noda was selected by Seibu in the third round of the 2015 draft, two years behind his juniors. After pitching in 22 games in his first year with the team, he was selected as a member of the Samurai Japan team for the Asian Professional Baseball Championship in his second offseason.

The following year, in 2018, he pitched in 58 games, second on the team. As a “lefty killer,” he recorded one win, one loss, one save, and 19 holds, contributing greatly to the team’s first league championship in 10 years.

However, in 2019, he made 23 fewer appearances, and in 2020, he made only 3 appearances. He had been suffering from pain in his left shoulder due to the fatigue of preparing every day as a relay pitcher.

After the season ended, he was informed that he was out of the lineup.

I have seen people get knocked out of the lineup every year, so I have always worked hard so that I would not regret it. So I felt strongly that I had done all I could do.

The day after he was told that he would be removed from the team, Noda began to think about changing his career to become a boat racer. In his first year with Seibu, he was invited by his senior Eito Asamura (now with Rakuten) to watch and was fascinated by the men fighting on the water. While he was completely burned out as a baseball player, he still had a strong desire to continue fighting in the competitive world.

Shintaro got that kind of disease, and of course I kept thinking that I had to continue as a professional baseball player for him for a long time,” he said. But that didn’t work out as well as I wanted it to, and when it came to ……, I wanted to be at the forefront again and continue to be a professional athlete, of course.

Noda decided to become a boat racer and dropped his weight from 75 kg to 52 kg in order to fulfill the requirements to apply for the training school exam. Life at the training school was tough, but he made it through with the support of his family and the thoughts of his junior colleague, Yokota-san.

He made his debut as a boat racer last November, and on July 9 of this year, he won his first victory, which he had longed for. Nine days later, his junior colleague, with whom he had a special bond, passed away.

The memories of him will stay with me forever.

If you do it, you can do it.

With what Mr. Yokota taught him, Noda continues to compete in his second career.

On September 26, 2019, Shintaro Yokota, who ended his six-year active career, received a bouquet of flowers from his family and was overcome with emotion. On the far left is his father, Masayuki Yokota, a former professional baseball player who played for Lotte, Chunichi, and Seibu (PHOTO: Sankei Shimbun).
Noda adjusts the movement of his boat, motor, and steering wheel (PHOTO: HIROYUKI KOMATSU)
Noda, who was removed from the Seibu team but chose boat racing as his second life (PHOTO: Hiroyuki Komatsu)
  • Interview and text by Daisuke Nakajima

    Born in Saitama Prefecture in 1979. Sports nonfiction writer. He covers all aspects of baseball, from professional to amateur. His book "Why Is Central and South American Baseball So Strong? His other works include "Yakyuu Natsuki" (Shincho-Shinsho), "Puroyakyu: FA Sengen no Yami" (Aki Shobo), and "Yoshinobu Yamamoto Jyoshiki wo Kaeru Jutsu" (Shincho-Shinsho).

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