DeNA’s Yoshitomo Tsutsugo Confesses that Adversity Always Strengthens Him | FRIDAY DIGITAL

DeNA’s Yoshitomo Tsutsugo Confesses that Adversity Always Strengthens Him

After experiencing life at the bottom of the heap in the U.S. minor leagues, Yoshitomo Tsutsuka returned to DeNA after a five-year absence. He returned to DeNA after five years in the U.S. and hit a home run that brought tears to Hamasuta!

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Tsutsugo returns to Yokohama Stadium. His April comeback announcement was made at 2:25 p.m., timed with his jersey number ‘225.’

“In the majors, I accepted everything and lost sight of myself.”

The stands were filled with fans standing and some shedding tears. After hitting, he raised his right hand toward the right-field seats. It was DeNA’s Yoshitomo Tsutsugo (32), who hit a decisive three-run home run in his first game back in Japan against Yakult on May 6. It happened at their home ground, Yokohama Stadium. He reflects:

“I was encouraged by the tremendous cheers. I don’t remember much. It was a special time as I circled the diamond.” 

Challenging Major League Baseball at the end of 2019 and returning to the Japanese baseball world after five years, Tsutsugo’s baseball life has never been smooth. Reflecting on a lifetime of overcoming adversity in his own words.

Tsutsugo grew up in a baseball-loving family in Hashimoto City, Wakayama Prefecture. During junior high school, he belonged to Osaka’s ‘Sakai Big Boys,’ where every day was immersed in baseball, with barely any memories of playing with friends. However, even then, he faced trials.

“I couldn’t play baseball for about a year and a half due to growing pains caused by a sudden growth spurt. Initially, it was tough, but my brother, who coached me in baseball, advised me to think about what I could do to improve. So, I focused on training my body.

What proved effective was a set of exercises devised by a physiotherapist at the clinic where I watched Sakai Big Boys’ practices. These exercises, like rotating sideways while bridging, taught me efficient ways to move my body with less strain. As my growing pains subsided, my swing speed increased dramatically, and I saw a significant boost in my hitting distance.”

“I brought only books about Ichiro-san.”

When Tsutsugo, who had advanced to the powerhouse Yokohama High School, was selected as the first pick in the draft by the BayStars in October 2009, he was determined to become a top-notch player from the moment he moved into the dormitory.

“I brought only books about my respected Ichiro-san, aside from daily necessities. Even as a pro, I wanted a life immersed in baseball.”

However, Tsutsugo was plagued by repeated injuries. It wasn’t until his fifth year with the team, in the 2014 season, that he finally established himself in the top team. Two years later, in 2016, he achieved the home run and RBI titles (44 home runs, 110 RBIs). Recognized as one of Japan’s leading sluggers, he was entrusted with the cleanup spot for ‘Samurai Japan’ and realized his dream of moving to the majors at the end of 2019. 

In his first year with the Rays, he disappointed with a batting average of .197, 8 home runs, and 24 RBIs, falling far short of expectations.

“In Japan, I used to swing the bat with a slightly upward motion, but with the Rays, I was asked to swing more downward to hit ground balls. It was my first time in the majors, so I accepted it as part of the experience, but gradually, I lost sight of myself. Even when stepping into the batter’s box, I didn’t feel like myself.I couldn’t stick to my own style and ended up accepting everything. It made me realize my own weaknesses.”

He also experienced life at rock bottom in the minor leagues after being demoted. His meals were simple, consisting of bread and potatoes. When he sent out his laundry, socks frequently didn’t come back. If he stayed in a hotel, only water came out of the shower. He traveled on budget airlines, often facing delays of nearly a day. Despite being able to upgrade if he paid himself, Tsutsugo didn’t change his lifestyle.

“I told them that there’s no point in me living well alone. Please don’t treat me specially. I believed experiencing everything was important.”

Tsutsugo, who signed a minor league contract with the Giants in August 2023, became a free agent this March. Shortly after, he received a phone call from DeNA’s manager Daisuke Miura.

“I think I was at a hotel in Arizona doing training. It was a short call, about 15 seconds, but it was typical of Manager Miura, like ‘Hey, come back. See you soon,’ he said. DeNA has been looking after me since I went to the U.S. I couldn’t organize my thoughts after leaving the Giants, but Manager Miura’s words gave me high motivation to aim for victory again in Yokohama.”

Returning to his former team after five years, Tsutsugo began using his experiences in the U.S. to encourage younger players. After making an error in the May 8th game against Yakult, he advised rookie draft pick Ryuki Watarai, saying, “It’s a waste to dwell on mistakes. Even Ichiro-san makes errors.”

“I’m just passing on what I’ve learned. Personally, since returning to Japan, I’m still not quite in my groove. I’m grappling with differences between Japanese and American pitchers, like their pitching distance and ball quality. However, adversity has always made me stronger. I believe that overcoming challenges will inevitably make me a better baseball player.”

In the brochure introducing the new stadium built in his hometown of Hashimoto City, which he financed with approximately 200 million yen last August, Tsutsugo wrote:

“Failure is proof that you have attempted something. Only those who challenge are given the opportunity to achieve success.”

Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, born in November 1991 in Wakayama Prefecture. Throws right, bats left. Height 185 cm, weight 97 kg. As of last season, a total of 223 home runs and 688 RBIs between Japan and the U.S.
Tsutsugo’s thick hands. It’s said he sands down calluses, fitting for a slugger who shone with home run and RBI titles in 2016.
Unpublished photo from this magazine: Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, the returning slugger. “Adversity has always made me stronger.”
Unpublished photo from this magazine: Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, the returning slugger. “Adversity has always made me stronger.”

From the June 21, 2024 issue of FRIDAY

  • PHOTO Hiroyuki Komatsu

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