Aomori Yamada Sets Sights on First-Ever Spring Koshien Championship, Vowing to Definitely Take the Top Spot | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Aomori Yamada Sets Sights on First-Ever Spring Koshien Championship, Vowing to Definitely Take the Top Spot

First game on the 21st will be against Kyoto International.

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Seki Hirokazu (right) with jersey number 1, and Saki Sakurada (left) with jersey number 10. They initially held opposite positions when they entered school, but their rivalry will continue.

In this year’s Senbatsu, Aomori Yamada has an unwavering pair.


Wearing the ace number is Hirokazu Seki and wearing jersey number 10 is Saki Sakurada. Both of them measure a fastball speed in the mid-140 kilometers per hour range. After winning the Tohoku tournament last fall and fighting in Koshien as the “number one in Tohoku,” coach Takanori Tōmosu without hesitation designated these two right arms as the pillars of the team.

“The performance of Seki and Sakurada will greatly affect the outcome of the game. Having both of them is important. Because we’re human, if there’s only one person, attention may become concentrated or the burden may increase, making it tough. I think having two competitors who can push each other helps nourish each other’s growth.”


It was inevitable for Aomori Yamada’s two main players to meet and establish themselves. Tōmosu had envisioned their current state since their enrollment.


It all started with Sakurada.


During junior high, as the ace of Aomori Yamada Junior High’s hardball baseball team, he supported the team’s first victory in the Japanese championship in the summer of his third year. With that experience alone, he naturally possessed the determination to be the ace in high school.


His career started smoothly, joining the A team immediately after enrollment. However, in the autumn of his first year, just after his first bench appearance, an incident cast a shadow over Sakurada’s baseball life. He took the mound as a starter in the prefectural tournament final, contributing to victory with five scoreless innings, but immediately felt discomfort in his right elbow. Upon examination at the hospital, he was diagnosed with the need for cleaning surgery, and underwent the procedure. Just as he was able to pitch again in the early spring of 2023, he injured his lower back. During the period of his injury, Sakurada confessed, “It was really tough.”


“It was mentally tough to see seniors and Seki pitching while I couldn’t. Even when I was injured, I did what training I could, but sometimes I had to assist in practice, and I hated being that kind of person. There were many times when I felt like ‘I don’t want to play baseball anymore.'”


This wasn’t how it was supposed to be.


Having experienced being the best in Japan as an ace in junior high, he spent his high school days in anguish. There were many times when he became discouraged, and it wasn’t just once or twice that he called his parents and said, “I want to quit.”


“If Sakurada really wants to quit, he can quit, but he’s worked so hard up until now.”

Sakurada contributed to the first victory in the Japanese championship in the summer of his third year as the ace of Aomori Yamada Senior, the hardball baseball team of Aomori Yamada Junior High School.

Without affirming or denying, Sakurada reveals that it was his parents’ supportive words that gradually helped him regain a positive outlook.

“I’ve made my parents spend a lot of money and caused them trouble by letting me play baseball at Aomori Yamada since junior high. From here, I felt I could bounce back, thinking that if I work hard in baseball and become a pro, it wouldn’t be a waste of what I’ve done.”

Away from the mound and feeling disheartened. However, even though he couldn’t grip a ball, he dedicated himself to improving his diet and weight training, increasing his weight from 63 kilograms at enrollment to nearly 20 kilograms. When his injuries healed, his pitch speed and power increased. For Sakurada, this period wasn’t all negative; it became fuel for his leap forward.


While Sakurada was sidelined, Kan was steadily making a name for himself. Like his rival, he made it onto the bench in his first year, becoming a support for the pitching staff alongside upperclassmen.


At Aomori Toyama Senior, where he belonged during junior high, Kan was relatively unknown, and Sakurada was someone from a different world to him. While Kan modestly claims his pitch speed wasn’t that fast, Tōmosu, having seen Kan’s balls during his senior years, was excited that “he could stimulate Sakurada.”

“He was throwing balls that were hard to distinguish from Sakurada’s, and above all, I felt a strong sense of not wanting to lose. I don’t intend to favor players from Aomori Yamada Junior High, nor do I want to reassure them just because they became the best in junior high. Because there are things that are important to each player, and there must be good points. I want to nurture a winning team by competing and developing those while bringing out their strengths.”

Kan was a man who carried out Tōmosu’s policy to the letter.

Amid invitations from powerhouse schools, the reason for choosing Aomori Yamada, where Sakurada was, was due to Tōmosu’s mentioned fighting spirit.

“I felt like I was given a chance to test myself. I thought that if I work hard here, I can get closer to becoming a pro.”

In contrast to Sakurada, who relies on a lively fastball, Kan’s hallmark is his flexible pitching, weaving in effective curves, sliders, and change-ups. Being entrusted with jersey number 1 in the fall of his second year, after persevering without dropping out since his first year, was praised by the coach.



Seki (right) and manager Kabutomori (left) watch over him as he pitches out of the bullpen.

Last autumn, as the mainstay on the starting mound, Kan’s highlight was in the Tohoku Tournament semifinals. In the game against Ichinoseki Gakuin, where a win would secure their spot in the Spring Koshien, he pitched a complete game shutout with 2 hits and 12 strikeouts.

“In a game that determined our first appearance in Koshien in 8 years, we absolutely couldn’t afford to lose, so I think I was more fired up than usual, which led to the result.”

Wearing jersey number 1, Kan’s outstanding performance was witnessed from the bench by Sakurada, wearing number 10, who couldn’t genuinely celebrate.

“As a team, we were happy to win and get closer to Koshien, but personally, I felt frustrated. I couldn’t celebrate sincerely. But I think Kan’s incredible pitching contributed to the result in the final.”

In the final against their Aomori rivals, Hachinohe Gakuin Kosei, Sakurada, who regards the speed of his fastball as a barometer in the game, exuded confidence from the first inning, feeling like he wouldn’t be hit. Even as the bench began to stir around the sixth inning, he remained composed, continuing to pitch calmly, thinking, “As long as I don’t allow any runs.”

Achieving his first no-hitter in his baseball career was a moment that validated the struggles he had faced so far.

For Sakurada, there’s no concept like the pitcher standing on the mound is the ace regardless of jersey number. He sticks to being the number one.

“I’m quite competitive, so I always think, ‘I’ll definitely be number one in the Summer Koshien.’ That’s why I want to produce results in Koshien.”

Kan, who has been on the mound since his first year, understands the significance of the jersey number better than anyone else.

“I’ve been admiring the seniors who were aces up close, and I want to become such a presence myself. That’s why I’m particular about being number one.”

Watching the two of them openly express their feelings and compete, Manager Kabuto Mori hopes they maintain a relationship where they are aware of each other’s jersey numbers.

The two pillars that Aomori Yamada boasts have now grown to the point where professional scouts are watching. On the mound of Koshien that awaits them, Kan and Sakurada’s fervor will appeal to the spectators.

“I am the ace,” they declare.

  • Reporting, writing, and photography Motoyoshi Taguchi

    Born in 1977 in Fukushima Prefecture. Former high school baseball player (substitute for 3 years). After working as an editor for a lifestyle magazine, he became a freelance writer in 2003. He has worked mainly for magazines such as "Number" (Bungei Shunju). Co-author of "Senryugai Toshi Naikan: Otoko-tachi" (Men who were fired from professional baseball), "Otoko-tachi: Nigarimenai Otoko-tachi" (Men who won't give up), "Koronto Watashi" (Look at losing) (Shuwa System), and "Noshiro Kogyo Basketball Club: No defeat in 9 championships: Enthusiasm and Melancholy" (Shueisha).

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