From no experience at Koshien to No.1 in college…Aoyama Gakuin’s Hanyato Tsunehiro: “I want to pitch on the pro stage until I am 40 years old. | FRIDAY DIGITAL

From no experience at Koshien to No.1 in college…Aoyama Gakuin’s Hanyato Tsunehiro: “I want to pitch on the pro stage until I am 40 years old.

Interview with the "2023 Draft's Standouts"] After competing with the Hiroshima Carp for the right to negotiate, the No. 1 right-handed pitcher in the college ranks reveals his thoughts on the draft. The No. 1 college right fielder reveals the humiliation of being a nobody and the player of his dreams.

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He is 180 cm tall and weighs 73 kg. His fork, which falls sharply in front of the batter, is also a weapon. His classmate Kaisho Shimomura, 21, was selected first by Hanshin.

On this day, third-year high school students who will enter the university next spring were participating in practice at the Aoyama Gakuin University ground. Some of the ballplayers were the captains of prestigious high schools, and others wowed the Koshien Stadium this summer.

Hayato Tsunehiro (22), a junior at Oita Maizuru High School, came to Tokyo from Oita four years ago and participated in the same way. However, unlike the elite students who enter the school with sports recommendations, Tsunehiro, who had no experience at the Koshien, was the only one who participated. Still, he had one thing on his mind: to go pro four years later as the top pick in the draft.

His wish was fulfilled when the Hiroshima Toyo Carp won the right to negotiate with him after a competitive bidding war.

Manager Takahiro Arai (46) was just as cheerful and kind as I had seen on YouTube. The Carp has the image of fans being crazy passionate. I have never played baseball with anyone as my target, but I like pitchers like Nobuhito Morishita (26) and Takayuki Kishi (38) of Rakuten, who can strike out with a straight ball. I am not at the stage where I can compare them yet, but I would like to pursue a straight ball that extends in the batter’s hands.

Tsunehiro, who throws a fastball with a maximum velocity of 155 km/h with a lively form, has only been a pitcher who has been making noise on the draft front for the past year.

He was too thin and weak to throw a quality ball consistently. My pitching form was what you would call a fielder’s throw that relied on my upper body, and no matter how fast the ball was, it was easy for hitters to get the timing right and hit the ball easily.

In his search for the ideal pitch, he also experienced a humiliating moment. It was during the opening round of the spring league tournament of his junior year, held in his hometown of Oita. Tsunehiro had his sights set on pitching on that day, when his parents would be there to watch the game, but he was not even allowed on the bench and had to help organize the parking lot.

I was really frustrated,……, but after that game, I was able to get my head out of the clouds and move on to the next game. I was able to use my lower half of my body by incorporating more jumping training in consultation with the pitching coach, and I was able to transmit the force coming from the ground to my fingertips, which was big.”

He pitched in two games in this year’s University Championship, winning MVP honors with a complete game shutout in the final against Meiji University. If he wins the Jingu Tournament in November, he will have won four university titles.

I had no experience in national-level tournaments in high school, so I’m looking forward to playing baseball on the big stage, but I’m nervous and anxious about pitching in front of the cheering crowd. But I want to finish on a high note.”

Tsunehiro practices in the morning at a field in Sagamihara (Kanagawa Prefecture), and on days when he has classes, he commutes two hours to and from the Aoyama campus in Tokyo.

In the dormitory, I am either eating or sleeping. Basically, I stay up until after midnight every day practicing and studying, and wake up at 5:00 a.m. the next morning to participate in morning practice, so I don’t get much sleep during the week. That’s why I try to get all the sleep I need on my days off.

Tsunehiro laughs, saying he has no hobbies. Is baseball, which he began playing in the third grade, not a hobby?

I played baseball to become a professional player and earn money. I think I was in a preparatory stage for that until college. Now that baseball is finally going to be my career, I want to be successful, and I want to continue until I am about 40 years old.

Because of his long period of obscurity, one cannot help but feel that Tsunehiro still has unfathomable potential.

He says he is the type of person who cares more about the win in front of him than the big goal. First of all, he will be responsible for his first professional win.
Unpublished photograph of Hayato Tsunehiro, Aoyama Gakuin University: “I want to pitch on the professional pitching stage until I am 40 years old.
Unpublished cut from the magazine: “I want to pitch on the professional pitching stage until I am 40 years old.

From the November 24, 2023 issue of FRIDAY

  • Interview and text by Yuji Yanagawa (nonfiction) Yuji Yanagawa (nonfiction writer) PHOTO Shinji Hamasaki

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