Touching on the feud with the baseball team…Tiger legend Takashi Toritani: “The key man for the league champion Hanshin to become the number one team in Japan | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Touching on the feud with the baseball team…Tiger legend Takashi Toritani: “The key man for the league champion Hanshin to become the number one team in Japan

Tiger legend "Mr. Stoick" talks all about his mentor, manager Akifu Okada!

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In addition to being a commentator, he has also worked as a coach for Panasonic’s baseball team since last year. In August of this year, he joined the baseball division of Universal Sports Japan, to which Japan’s national soccer team member, Ko Endo, and others belong.

The team was stronger than I had imagined. We were able to win consecutive games in August and September, the most difficult months of the season, because of manager Okada’s (Akifumi Okada, 65) preparations for the year ahead. I myself thought that Yokohama DeNA would win the championship in terms of strength (laughs). That’s how unexpected Hanshin’s rapid advance was. I really learned a lot from Okada’s leadership.

The Hanshin Tigers won the league championship for the sixth time in 18 years, the fastest winning streak in the team’s history. The Tigers’ extraordinary strength has even made Tiger legend Takashi Toritani, 42, now a baseball commentator, wag his tongue.

Until now, most Hanshin managers have focused on offense. Conversely, Okada believes that the team’s strength will improve if it strengthens its defense, which requires a success rate of 90% or more, rather than its hitting, which even the best players can only hit 30% of the time. I think the results of these efforts have been reflected in the team’s performance.

Toritani himself was a member of the winning team of the first Okada administration in 2005. Toritani describes his mentor’s type as follows.

Okada has a good grasp of which players are strong in which situations and, conversely, which players are weak in which areas. This was the case when he substituted Ryo Watanabe (28) for Teruaki Sato (24) in the game against the Giants on April 13.

On the day of the game, I had a chance to talk with Manager Okada, and when I asked him why he said he was going to leave Sato out, he said, “The opponent is a left-handed pitcher, so Watanabe will hit today. He was right, and he hit a home run. Okada is a man who sees things that other people don’t see.

His foresight does not stop with the appointment of players. Okada has long described winning the league championship as “that thing,” and Toritani describes his commitment.

He has been describing the league championship as “that thing,” but Toritani says that he is very particular about it. Whenever Okada used the word ‘championship,’ he would correct the participants, saying, ‘No, it’s the thing. Once he makes up his mind, he will never change his mind. That kind of attitude may be the secret to building a strong team.

Toritani also participated in the spring camp in February as a temporary coach. He gave enthusiastic instruction to junior players such as Takumu Nakano (27) and Ryuhei Obata (23).

He said, “What I taught them in camp was not technique, but how to relax as an infielder. If you give 100% effort in every game, your body will break down. I tried to teach them how to use their bodies to perform at their best without overdoing it.

The Climax Series will begin on October 18. If they win the series and become the number one team in Japan, it will be the first time in 38 years that they have achieved such a feat.

The key is to start the first game. If we can get a good start in the first game, we will be able to take on the next game with momentum. I have high expectations for Iwasaki (Masaru Iwasaki, 32), the guardian god, who has been extremely stable throughout the season. In the Pacific League, the Orix have risen to the top. It will be interesting to see them in the Kansai Derby Japan Series.

Since joining Hanshin in 2004, Toritani has been a key defensive player for 16 years. However, there were whispers of a feud between Toritani and Hanshin following his de facto withdrawal from the team in 2007. When we asked him about the truth behind this, he responded with some surprising words.

I don’t have any special feelings. I went to work in the Kansai area, was fired because I was no longer needed, and went to Lotte because I was still able to play. I don’t dislike Hanshin at all. One thing I can say is that the way they made me quit was wrong, but I was able to play for Lotte, which made things easier for me, so looking back, I feel it was a good thing.

Having put to rest the rumors of a disagreement, the question is whether he would be interested in joining the Hanshin team as a coach. However, the man himself is not so sure.

To be honest, my current feeling is zero. But I don’t know what the situation will be like in the future. However, I am interested in being an agent for players now. Currently, even if you want to challenge yourself overseas, there are many obstacles to overcome, and choosing an agent is difficult in itself. I had a hard time in this regard myself, so I feel that I can use my experience to provide support.

Mr. Toritani responded to the interview without hesitation from start to finish, but his occasional smiles showed his joy at the victory. For the legendary alumnus, the “thing” must have been more gratifying than anything else.

It was at the team’s press conference in 2003. Okada used Toritani, a rookie, aggressively from the opening game of the season. He has made him one of the best players in Japan.
Unpublished photograph: Takashi Toritani “I thought Yokohama would win the championship this year, so I was surprised, too (laughs).
Unpublished photo: Takashi Toritani “I thought Yokohama would win the championship this year, so I was surprised, too (laughs).

From the October 6, 2023 issue of FRIDAY

  • PHOTO Kei Kato Sankei Shimbun

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