The present day of the famous general who returned to Koshien as the manager of Soshigakuen. | FRIDAY DIGITAL

The present day of the famous general who returned to Koshien as the manager of Soshigakuen.

The 32 high school baseball teams for the 2012 Sembatsu tournament, which opens in March, have been announced.

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on LINE
Keiji Monma (right) shakes hands with his coach after leading Soshigakuen to its first Koshien appearance.

Keiji Monma, 54, who led his alma mater, the prestigious Tokai University Sagami of Kanagawa, to four Koshien championships in spring and summer over a 23-year period, will return to the holy land again to lead Soshigakuen of Okayama.

After leaving Tokai University Sagami, he chose Okayama as his new home, saying, “I had no connection with the place and had never been there before. What was the deciding factor?

What was the deciding factor? I will do my utmost to protect you, so let’s give it our all. Human beings are weak creatures. Because we are weak, there are times when we feel as if we are about to collapse. I think it is very important to have someone to support you in such situations. Having someone to support you in difficult, tough, and painful situations gives you a sense of security. I think this “security, not stability,” is the most important thing for human beings.

This “I will protect you” is synonymous with “I will support you. If you are looking for “stability,” it is probably safer to live in the Kanto area, where you can make use of your local knowledge and personal connections. However, Monma felt a greater sense of “security,” and was attracted to the environment in which he would be able to once again aim for a national championship under the guidance of a person who was willing to cooperate with him.

The official appointment of the new manager came on August 10, 2010. The Soshigakuen Baseball Club was founded on August 10, 2010, right after the team led by the former coach finished its first appearance in the summer tournament in four years at the Koshien Stadium.

The Soshigakuen baseball team was founded when the school opened in 2010, and under the leadership of its first manager, Hiroyuki Nagasawa (now manager of Sasayama Sangyo High School), the team grew rapidly. Starting with the “fastest ever” appearance in the Spring ’11 Senbatsu tournament, the team had by this point made the leap to become a regular participant in the Koshien tournament, boasting a total of six appearances in the spring and summer.

Without taking this background into consideration, it would be wild to use words like “strengthened from scratch,” but Monma’s skill shone through immediately after he took over.

In the summer of 2010, three sophomores were on the bench at Koshien. The pitching staff was completely replaced. In the Okayama Tournament in the fall of that year, their first official game in their new home, they fended off their opponents’ attacks by pitching in succession and suddenly came in second place. In the following tournament in Chugoku, a fielder who had been placed on the bench after a registration change just before the start of the tournament hit a homerun to tie the game.

Last summer, however, the team had to endure the ordeal of losing its first game, something it had never experienced when it was Tokai University Sagami. In the summer of 2011, 57 teams participated in the Okayama tournament, while his predecessor in Kanagawa had 167, the second highest number in Japan.

I think the fact that there are not as many teams means that there are more opportunities to play against strong schools in the early stages of the tournament. I have only been here for a short time, but I have heard that there are many traditional public schools and strong schools, so it is scary to have to play against those teams early on.

In their first game in the summer, the team lost 5-8 to Okayama Minami. Coincidentally, it was a “traditional public school.

Soshigakuen baseball team members bursting with smiles after making their fourth appearance in Koshien in seven years.

After the disappointment of the summer, Soshigakuen has now reached the top of the prefectural tournament for the first time since taking over the post. Prior to the opening of the tournament, the overwhelming majority of the predictions were for Kurashiki Sho and Oyama Sanyo to win the tournament. Soshigakuen’s batting lineup, which was changed in every game, including the middle lineup, functioned well, scoring 26 runs in the four games of the prefectural tournament and overturning the previous reputation of the team.

There was one memorable moment in the Chugoku Tournament, where Soshigakuen clinched their first appearance in the Koshien Tournament since taking over the post. In the semifinals, a win would guarantee the team’s first appearance in the tournament since taking over the post. In the semifinal game against Takagawa Gakuen (Yamaguchi), the No. 1 batter, who had two long balls on the day, had a cramp in his leg on the basepaths.

It is common for a player at the center of an attack to have an accident, and it is customary to wait for him to recover after intermission for treatment. However, Monma decided to replace him immediately. Immediately after the win over Takagawa Gakuen, I asked him about his intentions.

He replied, “I really didn’t want to pull out. But I didn’t like the pause (caused by the interruption in treatment). Baseball changes in that time.

Guided by the tact of a coach who knew the subtleties of baseball, the team went on to win the second place in the China Tournament. A little more than a year after his arrival, the team decided to return to the Koshien Stadium.

When he first arrived in Okayama, there were whispers that he would use his personal connections to bring in a strong player from a team in the Kanto area with which he had ties. In fact, when I greeted officials of junior high school teams in the Chugoku region, I was often told, “We don’t have any players who can compete with the kids from the Kanto region. How do you envision finding players in the future?

I don’t actively seek out players from the Kanto region. For me, the best players are those who say, ‘I want to play at Soshigakuen. If I had to name an area, I would say the Chugoku region, where the school is located, is the most important. However, since the school is located in Okayama, I want to take care of players from Okayama. After all, the hometown is important, isn’t it? If we go to the Koshien, we will be representing Okayama Prefecture. We want to be a team that the people of Okayama Prefecture will recognize as the representative of Okayama and cheer us on.

When he was at Tokai University Sagami, players from Hiroshima such as Taishi Ota (DeNA) and players from the hardball team in Shimane had joined the team, but many teams in China have not yet been explored.

Even when I was in Kanagawa, I went to places that were new to me, like Okinawa and Hokkaido, and made my way there. I believe the only way to make a path where there is no path is to move on your own.”

In between training at Soshigakuen and teaching as a social studies teacher, he drives around to observe junior high school student competitions and practices. Last year, he was in hot pursuit of a left-handed pitcher from the Chugoku region, whom he had his eye on as a “potential pro.” At a tournament in May of last year, he sat in the stands and watched the game, even in the pouring rain. The manager of a hardball team in the Chugoku region, which was the first team to send a player to Soshigakuen after Monma took over, had this to say.

Monma-san came to see us many times. We felt something, too.

Not because he was a famous coach, but because he was the most enthusiastic. Monma’s enthusiasm and seriousness are spreading throughout China.

Manager Monma surrounded by the press

When he was at Tokai University Sagami, he lived with his wife Nanamie and other family members at their home adjacent to the baseball field while chasing the white ball. However, since being transferred to Soshigakuen, he has been living alone in Okayama City. 54 years old and working alone, he has been cleaning and doing laundry without a care in the world. He said he has been doing the cleaning and laundry without a hitch, but when the conversation turned to his diet, he became a bit brusque.

I’ve eaten strawberries, yellow chives, and shrimp rice,” he said. But the hardest thing for me is to eat every day. I don’t even know if you can call it cooking for myself. I only did things to the extent of ‘Can you even call it cooking for yourself? Like frying eggs. But I want to eat freshly cooked food, and then I have to clean up afterwards…. I realize that my wife used to do it for me. Eating alone is no fun.

That is why it was so special to return to his hometown for the year-end and New Year’s holidays and enjoy a meal with his family for the first time in a long while.

When I returned home at the end of the year and ate with my family, I thought, ‘Ah…’ I couldn’t tell my family this, but I burst into tears. I couldn’t tell my family, but I almost cried. I was so happy. When everyone was together, no matter what I was eating, I thought, ‘Oh, I’m so happy. I could think, ‘Let’s work hard again. I was able to reconfirm that even though we were apart, we were still fighting as a family.

In about two months, the team will finally compete in the Koshien Stadium for the first time in three years. What was the view like from the top of the sacred ground where he had competed four times, including in the summer? Monma’s answer was curt.

I’ve forgotten. I try to forget about the past.

But this is the kind of answer that only someone who knows the top of the mountain can give. Monma continued.

Mr. Watanabe, the former manager of Yokohama, once told me, ‘When you win a championship at Koshien, you have to get off the mountain called “championship” as soon as possible. When we won the championship for the first time (in the spring of 2000), I did not understand those words at all. I had climbed the mountain after all the hard work, and I didn’t want to go back down. I had a strange illusion that I could jump over the mountain in the summer. That is why we did not make it to Koshien that summer (lost in the quarterfinals of the Kanagawa tournament).

Because we had to climb a completely different mountain in summer than in spring, of course we had to start from scratch. So we had to have the courage to come down. But this is what I was afraid of. If I descended, I would lose all the strength I had built up so far, and I would wonder if I would be able to climb again. I am afraid that if I go down, I will lose all the strength I have built up so far.

So after winning the Koshien finals, when I go down from first base after the interview, I have to forget everything. You have to move on to the next. I have to get ready to go down the aisle. That’s why I don’t really remember the games I won.

Monma had long ago descended the “Kanagawa Mountain,” which he had climbed to the highest peak. That is why he was able to stand at the top of a new mountain, Okayama, less than two years after taking office.

And now, instead of Tategima, he is standing at the top of the “Spring Mountain,” which he had climbed three times before, in his ivory uniform. He analyzes himself by saying, “We may have the ability to persevere, but we don’t have the real strength,” but his attitude toward the competition is the same as when he entered the competition with the top of his mind.

He said, “We will put everything we have into this tournament. I will put everything I have into this tournament. There is no other way. I always believe that only a serious challenge can become an asset.

How will he climb to the top as “Keiji Monma of Soshigakuen”? How will he climb to the top as “Keiji Monma of Soshigakuen”? Many people will be watching his path. (Honorifics omitted in the text)

Soar as high as you can. …… How far will the players who threw their hats up in the air be able to leap at Koshien?
When he led his former team, Tokai University Sagami High School, to the championship in 2009, the year after the tournament had to be cancelled due to the new coronavirus. How far can coach Monma, who knows the taste of “winning,” take Soshigakuen?
  • Interview and text Kota Inoue

    Born in Shimane Prefecture in 1991. After graduating from university, he spent about two and a half years as a company employee unrelated to the publishing industry before becoming a writer in October 2005. Currently, he mainly covers amateur baseball in the Chugoku region, with a focus on high school baseball in Shimane Prefecture, where he lives. He is the author of "Kando: Shimonoseki Kokusai High School Baseball Club Manager Hidetaka Sakahara and the Nine's Struggle to Win the Koshien Championship" and the writer of "From Africa to the World and to Koshien: The Steps Taken by an Outstandard High School Baseball Manager to Spread Baseball in the World" (both from Tokyo News).

Photo Gallery5 total

Photo Selection

Check out the best photos for you.

Related Articles