Shogo Noda: How a Pitcher who was Removed from the Seibu Lions Won His First Victory in Boat Racing | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Shogo Noda: How a Pitcher who was Removed from the Seibu Lions Won His First Victory in Boat Racing

After being fired from a baseball team after five years, he lost 18 kg and went to a training school. His wife's words supported him through his grueling days. "It was more difficult than professional baseball. ......

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The pit where boats are lined up for the real race. Just by stepping into the pit, you can feel the water shaking and a sense of tension in the air.

Winning a professional baseball game is totally different from winning a race.

Shogo Noda, 30, made the unusual transition from being a left-handed relay pitcher for the Seibu team to a boat racer. The expression on the face of this unique racer, who won his long-awaited first victory in his 101st race this past July, was surprisingly hard.

There are many racers in the world who have won 1,500 or 2,000 races. I don’t think you can be happy with just one win.

In professional baseball, a 200-win season qualifies a player to be inducted into the “Famous Baseball Club,” but in boat racing, the number of wins is one order of magnitude higher.

Noda was drafted third overall by Seibu in 2003 and pitched in 144 games over a five-year period, winning four games with one save and 26 holds. In 2006, he pitched in 58 games and contributed to the league championship. He was selected for the Samurai Japan team, but a shoulder injury forced him out of the lineup in 2008.

I still wanted to use my body to compete as a professional athlete, so the day after I got the notice, I started thinking about becoming a boat racer,” he said.

His first encounter with boat racing was in his first year at Seibu. His senior Eito Asamura (32, now Rakuten) invited him to Boat Race Tamagawa, where he was fascinated by the intensity of the races.

One of his allies in becoming a racer was his height of 167 cm, the smallest in the baseball world for a pitcher at the time. This was because one of the conditions for applying to the boat racer training school was that applicants had to be 175 cm or taller. However, there was also a standard of “weighing no more than 57 kg,” so he was forced to lose a massive 18 kg.

For about six months, he lived on one meal a day. He could only eat salad, tofu, and nuts. In preparation for his early morning life at the training institute, he started working part-time at a supermarket at 5:00 a.m. He ran 10 kilometers every day from noon to noon. He ran 10 km every day from noon, sweated it out in the sauna, and at one point lost 52 kg, passing the exam with flying colors.

At the training center, the students woke up every morning at the sound of a buzzer at 6:00 a.m. They had to fold the bedding and sheets within three minutes and assemble in the courtyard ten minutes later. The boys do dry rubbing even in winter. From this point until lights out at 10:00 p.m., activities were determined on a minute-by-minute basis.

I lost weight so rapidly that it was hard to maintain it,” he said. There was a lot to learn, including how to run a motorboat race, and in the first month I felt like I might not be able to do it anymore. Those were the hardest days of my life.”

After falling into the water during boat training, a boat passed in front of him in the water at a high rate of speed. There were many times when I thought, ‘I’m dead. One after another, people dropped out of the class, and of the 52 students in the class, only 25 were able to graduate.

I was always saying, ‘I want to go home,’ and I was sure I was going to fail at some point.

His wife, voice actress Haruka Kamura (37), whom he married in 2008, the same year he was released from the Seibu team, was a great support to him in his trying times.

It took me a month to convince my wife that I wanted to become a boat racer. She also worked in the boating business, so she knew the risks involved and ……. Before we got married, when I told her I was worried about my shoulder and that my life as a baseball player might not be that long, she said, ‘Don’t worry, I can support you for two or three years. Those words were my emotional support.

He made his professional debut last November. She is the second professional baseball player in history to make the switch. However, what is required in boat racing is complicated: “The first thing is the ability to adjust the propeller, and the second is mentality. The world of boat racing is one in which 70-year-old racers are active.

I’ve been confident in baseball since I was little, but I still don’t know if rowing is right for me. ……

His annual salary, which used to top 30 million yen when he was a professional baseball player, has gone down significantly. Although prize money in general boat racing is only awarded to the third-place finisher, even the sixth-place finisher at the bottom of the table receives a daily allowance of approximately 20,000 yen per day, so he can manage to make a living. However, from the fourth year onward, if a boat does not finish in the top four on average over the two-year period, it is effectively fired, and if it does not hone its skills over the next three years, it will be out of the race after the fifth year at the earliest. Therefore, the second win is a long way off, which is more frustrating than the first.

It is not a place like professional baseball where you can win the rookie of the year in your first year. You have to work hard until you get the chance to compete.

He continues to eat one meal a day in order to maintain his weight in the 50kg range. He is trying to make his family as comfortable as possible. Noda is desperately fighting to make it in a world that is even tougher than professional baseball.

He weighed 75 kg when he was at Seibu, and his clothing size, which used to be a large or medium, has gone down to a small. All of his suits were ruined.
Part of his boat was damaged in a collision during a race, so a motor was installed in a replacement boat. He became accustomed to handling the driver.
Shogo Noda, Boat Racer Pitcher who was released from the Seibu Lions, wins his first victory in a boat race.
Shogo Noda, Boat Racer, a Seibu Lions pitcher who was removed from the team, wins his first victory in a boat race.
Shogo Noda, Boat Racer, Pitcher who was removed from the Seibu Lions’ lineup, wins his first victory in a boat race.

From the September 29, 2023 issue of FRIDAY

  • Interview and text by Daisuke Nakajima PHOTO Hiroyuki Komatsu

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