Unlikely Underdog Inside the Hawks’ Camp, Where Amateurs Coach and Pros Take Notes | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Unlikely Underdog Inside the Hawks’ Camp, Where Amateurs Coach and Pros Take Notes

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Suddenly, an unexpected request from SoftBank Hawks’ player Takuya Kai.

With the start of the professional baseball season approaching, there is now more and more news related to baseball. In the baseball world, where technological innovation is progressing year by year, especially in Major League Baseball and professional baseball, the span of updating theories on techniques and tactics is shortening due to new theories and motion analysis software. Under such circumstances, players and baseball teams have had much more opportunities to learn techniques and theories from people who have not only professional experience in the past few years.

Hiromu Midorikawa, who normally works as a catcher coach for elementary and junior high school students, also taught catcher skills to Takuya Kai of the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks by accompanying him on his voluntary training sessions, even though he had no professional experience. He was invited to the Hawks’ fall training camp in 2023 and spring training camp in 2024 as the catching coordinator.

It is a unique environment for an amateur coach to teach in a professional baseball team’s camp. When Mr. Midorikawa actually coached there, he experienced firsthand the high level of awareness and technical skills of the players as they practiced, but he also had an unexpectedly intense experience, which made his debut as a professional coach quite memorable. We asked him about his experience as such an amateur coach.

Mr. Hiromu Midorikawa. Born in Nagoya in 1991. He played on the baseball teams of Okayama and Kansai High Schools and Rissho University. No professional experience, but has extensive coaching experience from amateur to professional players in researching and teaching framing, a catcher’s technique.

The team staff has taken notice of Kai’s greatly improved framing index.

Why was an amateur coach invited to a professional baseball team’s camp? The story is as follows.

“The opportunity arose when in December 2022, Takuya Kai contacted me saying, ‘I want to receive catching advice during my voluntary training sessions for myself and young players,'” says Hiromu Midorikawa.

Mr. Midorikawa is particularly interested in studying a catching technique called framing, and is well known in the amateur baseball community for his technical skills and teaching ability. He usually coaches elementary and junior high school students, but also coaches catchers at strong high schools and universities.


Framing is a technique that has been gaining attention in recent years, and is described on the MLB official website as a technique for catching pitches to increase the probability that the umpire will call a strike. In other words, one of the main purposes of framing is to have pitches that pass just short of the strike zone called strikes through catching techniques, and it has been widely adopted not only in MLB but also in Japanese professional baseball and amateur baseball, including college and high school baseball.

However, framing is a relatively new technique, and there are few coaches, even among professionals, who can teach it in earnest. Therefore, Mr. Midorikawa actually plays as a catcher for a softball team, and he has made his skill known by publicizing his performance on YouTube and social networking services to attract attention. Nevertheless, he was very surprised by the request from a professional player.


“When I received the initial contact from Kai, I was trembling. It was a request from a place I hadn’t imagined or expected. So, one month later, in January 2023, I participated in voluntary training sessions in Oita and provided instruction on framing.”

At the time, news reported on Kai, the regular catcher for the Hawks, receiving guidance from an amateur coach. While some praised Kai’s attitude of seeking guidance regardless of professional or amateur status if it meant acquiring good technique, there were also views that framing is an act of deceiving the umpire, leading to criticism of learning it altogether. Nevertheless, Kai sought instruction from me and continued practicing diligently.

“After the voluntary training sessions, Kai entered spring camp and worked on improving the techniques we practiced together. It wasn’t smooth sailing from the start, and he faced criticism from former players, leading to trial and error as he struggled through practice.

However, I believe the turning point came with the World Baseball Classic (WBC). After returning home from the WBC, I contacted him immediately, and it seemed that seeing the techniques of top catchers up close abroad made him realize that what he had been doing in voluntary training was not a mistake.”

Takuya Kai participated in the 2023 WBC as a member of the Japanese national team. He is working on improving his catching technique under Mr. Midorikawa’s guidance (PHOTO:AFLO).

Thus, in the 2023 season, it was proven from the team’s proprietary data that Kai’s framing index had improved compared to the past 2-3 years, and his catching, which had been identified as an issue, had significantly improved. In response to these results, the Hawks’ team analyst then approached Midorikawa.

“In September 2023, the analyst asked me to come to the camp and provide instruction not only to Kai but also to other catchers. At that time, they said, ‘This is unprecedented, so we’re not sure how it will go, but we want you to give it your all. We hope to have you by (the) spring camp of 2024 at the latest.’ However, I ended up participating from the November autumn camp of that year. I was also amazed by the speed at which the Hawks acted in this regard.””

Decisive presentation in front of the coaches, all of whom were former professional players

Thus, Midorikawa was invited as the catching coordinator for the Hawks’ autumn camp. While he had experience coaching professional players during Kai’s voluntary training, dealing with the Hawks’ coaching staff became a significant source of pressure. Amidst former professional baseball players on the coaching staff, an amateur like himself was tasked with providing instruction.

It was undoubtedly a pressure-filled situation, but what added to the weight was having to explain the overview, intentions, approach, and practice content of framing to the coaching staff before participating in the camp.

“Wait, there too!? (wry smile) I’ve been coaching players who have shown interest in framing so far. However, I believe there are some coaches within the staff who are opposed to or not interested in framing. Moreover, facing individuals like Takaya (Yusuke Takatani, former SoftBank Hawks, current battery coach), Shimizu (Shoma Shimizu, former Lotte and others, current minor league battery coach), and Matayama (Tetsuya Matoyama, former Kintetsu and others, current fourth team battery coach) was daunting. Presenting to individuals with incomparable backgrounds, achievements, and older than me was simply pressure-inducing.”

Moreover, what was previously communicated was supposed to take place in the hotel’s conference room after arriving and exchanging greetings to settle down, but it happened immediately in a room at the stadium on the very day of arrival.

“As I was preparing in the room, all the coaches entered with tremendous tension. Well, it’s understandable. A greenhorn without any pro experience coming in and trying to say something among seasoned coaches? It’s natural for them to wonder. Anyway, I realized that without respect, I wouldn’t be accepted.

I also have respect for all the coaches, so I wanted to honestly convey what I love and what I’m passionate about. For days before, instead of practicing baseball, I practiced speaking (laughs).”

Whether it was through Midorikawa’s desperate presentation or the transmission of his passion for framing, the atmosphere changed after the presentation, compared to before it started.

“After the lecture, it seemed like everyone thought, ‘Ah, I see what you mean,’ and there was an atmosphere where my efforts and coaching were somewhat acknowledged. They made the atmosphere more relaxed.

The real change in atmosphere came the next day during the practical session. When it was time for practice, they simply said, ‘Here’s Midorikawa-san, who joined us today. Alright, let’s begin,’ without any prior discussion (laughs).

So, I started by explaining what I had been doing, and then we immediately moved into the practical session. We covered stance, movements, explanation of practice drills, changing the perspective as a catcher, what it looks like from behind (the umpire’s perspective), how to move with respect to the ball, how to use the body effectively, and so on, all packed into two hours of intense instruction.

I was giving it my all to the point where my head was spinning, so I hardly remember anything.”

After conveying the entire series of technical instructions and practice methods, the coaching staff started asking questions like ‘What should we do in this situation?’ or ‘What about this practice drill?’ This led to a flow where they expressed their intention to continue with my guidance. Seeing and experiencing the explanations from the previous day and the practical sessions and practice methods on this day further enhanced their trust. On one hand, Midorikawa was surprised by the intuition and eagerness of the coaching staff to incorporate new techniques from an amateur coach.

“Afterward, I had the opportunity to have a meal with Coach Takaya, and during that conversation, he said, ‘After seeing yesterday’s explanation and today’s practical session, we realized there were aspects that resonated with our active years. We could also adopt new perspectives, and I came to believe that framing is indeed a necessary skill.’ Hearing that, I couldn’t sleep that night.”


While I was impressed by the depth of the coaching staff’s understanding, I also had the chance to witness the skill of former professional baseball players up close. After the explanation and practical sessions for framing concluded, I encountered Coach Shimizu quietly receiving balls from the machine alone in the indoor training facility that night.


“It seemed like he was trying out the techniques I had taught to the catchers, but he appeared puzzled and not quite getting it. So, I offered some advice, saying, ‘Try adjusting it like this,’ and from the next ball, he nailed it! Coach Shimizu also exclaimed, ‘Ah, that’s it!’ It amazed me how professional baseball players can grasp a concept with just a few words and immediately execute it. 


While we were tidying up the balls after catching a few, Coach Shimizu expressed, ‘I want to learn techniques and teach them to players. It’s not about stopping the ball with the mitt, it’s about the mitt stopping. By putting the mitt on the trajectory of the ball, it stops in the right place. I want to return to play in this state. I feel I could continue for another three years.’ Hearing that was truly heartwarming.”

“Seeing the players enjoy practicing so much that people around would say, ‘I’ve never seen catchers having so much fun,’ was what made me happiest about coaching them.” – Midorikawa

Witnessing professional players enjoying practice like children

He gained the trust of the coaches, and was able to smoothly instruct them. He says it was also a pleasant harvest to see the unexpected appearance of active players as he conveyed the techniques and theories he had developed to professional baseball players.

“What brought me joy in coaching the players was how they enthusiastically approached practice to the extent that people around would say, ‘I’ve never seen catchers having so much fun.’ 

The players became very studious, started thinking about catching from perspectives they hadn’t considered before, and began watching their own videos attentively.

They practiced with excitement, reminiscent of when you’re a child and you get engrossed in something new. It made me realize that even professional players experience that feeling. 

Typically, catcher drills are considered dull, but they approached them with enthusiasm, and I heard a lot of ‘first time’ or ‘first accomplishment’ from them.”

Through participating in the professional baseball team’s camp and gaining significant satisfaction from coaching, I experienced an unexpected change in my mindset.

“Until now, I’ve often been misunderstood as someone from the online world, perceived superficially as someone who appears in videos.

Even so, I was proud that what I was doing was right, but I was also worried about how far I could go when dealing with actual professional athletes and coaches.

This time, I realized the importance of actually meeting and talking with them, and my self-confidence became even stronger as I crossed one more mountain. I was also able to greet Manager Hiroki Kokubo and Chairman Sadaharu Oh, and I thought to myself, ‘I must be in a great place’ (laughs).”

The amateur coach who had the extraordinary experience of not only coaching professional players but also lecturing and presenting to professional coaches was recognized for his performance at the autumn camp and was invited to the spring camp as well.

However, at this spring camp, he would encounter an even greater challenge. That was to “explain the approach to framing to NPB umpires.” In a situation where framing can sometimes be seen as a conflicting structure between catchers striving to earn strikes through framing and umpires who are vigilant not to miss calls, what exactly happened to Mr. Midorikawa?

In the second part, we pick up on the exchange between Mr. Midorikawa and the NPB umpires that unexpectedly resulted from the spring training camp. Is the framing controversy that has been causing a stir settled?

  • Interview and text by Diceke Takahashi

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