Why a former professional baseball player with the “most unique background in baseball” is excited about the challenge of becoming a manager. | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Why a former professional baseball player with the “most unique background in baseball” is excited about the challenge of becoming a manager.

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Hiroto Ikiyama was a member of the Chiba Lotte Marines for four years until ’12. He was never registered as a manager.

In October, professional baseball teams began to issue notices of withdrawal from the game. Although professional baseball players are bathed in the bright spotlight when they join the first team, they have a short life span, with the average tenure being 7.7 years and retirement at the age of 27.8 years. The most popular choice for their second career is coaching high school baseball (17.9%), followed by corporate management (17.2%) (all in 2010, according to the NPB survey. (Both figures were based on a 2010 survey by the Nippon Professional Baseball Baseball Association (NPB), and second career aspirations were surveyed in the Phoenix League that same year).

A former Lotte player took a new step forward as a manager this year after playing professional baseball as a sole proprietor. He is Hiroto Ikoyama, who entered the team as the fourth overall pick in the ’08 development draft and stayed with the team for four years.

He once gave up professional baseball to become a comedian.

Not many fans know his name. While right-handed pitcher Yuji Nishino and fast-footed outfielder Yukifumi Okada, who joined the team in the same year as him in the developmental draft, made their way up to the first team and went on to glamorous careers, Ikiyama quietly ended his NPB career without being registered as a member of the managerial staff.

While most of the developmental players left the baseball world unnoticed, it was a miracle that Ikiyama was able to become a professional player in the first place.

He was a member of the baseball club at Tennoji High School, Osaka’s top preparatory school, and practiced once every two days for two hours a day at a “relaxed” pace. He wanted to become a teacher because he loved children, but he was rejected by the university of his choice and became a ronin, or a student of acting in the theater and performing arts course in the department of arts and literature at Kinki University, with the aim of becoming a comedian. However, he could no longer contain his desire to play baseball, so he joined the semi-hardball club of the second division. The team had practice only three days a week, and he spent all of his free time at the batting center. He was determined to do whatever he wanted to do, turning down all invitations from his friends.

His baseball skills were not quite up to the professional level, but he was fast on his feet, and at the age of 21 he tried out for the Shikoku Island League, an independent league, and passed with a time of 5.9 seconds in the 50-meter run, measured with a stopwatch. He was thus in a position to join the Kagawa Olive Gunners, and he took a leave of absence from Kinki University in his second year to jump into his new position. ……

In an open game in March, he was sent as a substitute for the first baseman and partially tore the ligaments in his right elbow when he returned home on a ground ball. He needed Tommy John surgery to reconstruct the ligament, but in the independent league, a prolonged absence from the lineup could mean being fired. Ikiyama, with pain in his right elbow, was responsible for passing the ball around during practice on a daily basis.

I can’t use it, Ikiyama. Shall I go back to Osaka?”

Former Hiroshima manager Shinji Nishida, who was leading the Olive Gunners at the time, asked Ikiyama, “Why don’t you go back to Osaka? Ikiyama, who had aspirations of becoming a comedian, became the target of teasing in Kagawa.

Ikiyama attempts to steal second base in a game against the Giants. He had set his sights on Naohiro Suzuki (Giants’ outfield defense base running coach), who was also known for his agile footwork.

Nevertheless, when he returned to the outfield in the summer and won a regular spot in the outfield, he caught the attention of Lotte scouts with his quick feet and his attitude of always running as fast as he could when changing offensive and defensive positions. With then manager Bobby Valentine’s desire to increase the number of players on the farm, Ikiyama became the professional baseball player of his dreams with only “one talent”.

However, what awaited him was a rocky road.

I was a lonely professional baseball player,” he said. I was drafted in my second year after graduating from college, so I was in a position to be an immediate starter, but I was so bad at it ……. In the baseball world, players who are bad at baseball are treated worse and worse.

And I had too much of a “special background. One of my seniors once told me, “I don’t know if you have a high deviation score or if you are smart, but you can’t play baseball. In addition, all of my fellow players who joined the team were high school graduates, and all of them were about five years younger than me. I had no one to talk to about my problems, so in my first year, I stayed indoors except for practice.

Although he was mentally exhausted, Ikiyama did not give up because of the support of his fans. People who had supported me when I was with the Olive Gunners asked me, “Are you doing well? The voices of those who cheered me on during my time with the Olive Gunners encouraged me, and time solved my problems.

In his first year with Lotte, he played only two games for the second team, but in his fourth year, he was used in 87 games for the same team. Although he was informed that he was out of the lineup at the end of that year, it was an unforgettable experience for him to know the way of thinking of the very best in the pros, including his favorite Hanshin fan, Makoto Imaoka (now Makoto Maika).

I feel that the solitude I experienced and the experiences I had in professional baseball are very much alive after I retired,” he said. Especially now, I feel that way.”

After retiring from the Lotte team in 2012, Ikiyama worked as a wedding planner and coach for an independent league before taking on a new challenge this year: opening an after-school daycare service called “Seeds Step” in Otsu City, Shiga Prefecture, on October 2, 2012. The plan was conceived three years ago in consultation with his sister, who has a daughter with Down’s syndrome.

After-school day care services, or “Hou-Day,” are facilities that take care of and provide “rehabilitation and education” to children from first grade to third grade in high school who have disabilities. A support plan is made for each child, and the goal is to work together for better growth. Many of the children who need support are not able to use their eyes properly, so Seed Step plans to focus on vision training to build a foundation for their development.

Seeds Step, an after-school daycare service that just opened on the 2nd. From left: Mr. Ikiyama, his sister Eri Kishimoto, and Shunta Obara.

In addition, Ikiyama would like to utilize his personal connections with athletes and para-athletes to invite local residents to participate in events with him.

The idea of diversity and an inclusive society is spreading in Japan. I myself had contact with people with disabilities because my niece has Down syndrome, but for many people such opportunities are hard to come by. When they become adults, they don’t know what to do when they are told that diversity and inclusiveness are important. That’s why I want to work with people in the community to organize events, and I want to make sure that children from the free day program also participate in them. We don’t want to be ostentatious and say, ‘Let’s interact with children with disabilities,’ but we want them to be involved in the community in a natural way.

In opening Seas Step, Ikiyama hired a “student. He hired Shunta Obara, who played for the Shiga GO Blacks in 2010 when he coached the team (which ceased operations that year). When Ikiyama told Obara, a graduate of Miyagi University of Education with a teaching license at elementary, junior high, and high schools, that he would open an open-air day care center in the future, Obara responded, “That sounds great! The encounter in the independent league had a major impact on one’s career.

Including Obara, we employ three full-time and five part-time workers, but this is the first time for me to hire someone,” he said. How can I make their careers interesting? When I was in professional baseball, I had to compensate for my weaknesses myself, but now I have members who can compensate for me. This means that it is okay to admit that you are weak. On the contrary, I have to show my strengths in the company. It is often said that a manager is lonely, but in this project, I have friends who are willing to climb the mountain with me, and I am really looking forward to the challenge.

Not many professional baseball fans know the name Hiroto Ikiyama, who had a “special career” that is said to be the best in the world of baseball and played a total of six years in the independent league and for Lotte. However, his new challenge deserves to be known by many.

  • 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 Jyosetsu Jiken wo Kaeru Jutsu" (Shincho-Shinsho).

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