This year’s Japan Series was a series of great games. In the residential area of Roppongi (Minato-ku), about a 20-minute drive from the frenzied Tokyo Dome, I saw an unexpected man. It was Takehiro Norimoto, 30, the ace of Rakuten, with his short cropped head of hair and fearless looks.
This season, he struck out 1,500 batters in 1,448 innings, the fastest ever by a right-handed pitcher, two-thirds of the way through the season. But on this day, Norimoto was a different person from his majestic appearance on the mound. He scampered around anxiously and disappeared into the alleyway, lost in thought.
About ten minutes later, a cab pulled up at the entrance of the alley where Norimoto had disappeared, and another big macho man got out. This time it was Tomoyuki Sugano, 32, the ace of the Giants.
Dressed in a relaxed parka and slim pants, Sugano, in contrast to Norimoto, walked into the alleyway with a relaxed air.
Both of them played for Samurai Japan, and are representative of the Central and Pacific League. Although they did not advance to the Japan Series, they were absolute aces who showed their presence in the climax of the series. Was the near miss in a back alley in Roppongi a coincidence?
We were both sitting at the counter of a sushi restaurant.
We were both sitting at the counter of a sushi restaurant,” said a customer who happened to be there.
Both of us are very strong, so we really stood out (laughs). (laughs) However, since this is a restaurant known only to those in the know, with no signboard, there were no tactful customers talking to us or asking for our autographs. It seems that Mr. Sugano knows the owner. I wondered why Norimoto, who was supposed to be in Sendai, was in Roppongi, but it seems that Mr. Sugano called him up and introduced him to the owner when he came to Tokyo for an overhaul.
The restaurant didn’t have a TV, so we couldn’t watch the Japan Series, but the two of us enjoyed excellent sushi while passing sake back and forth with our proud arms.
The dinner time ended after 9:30 p.m., three hours after we entered the restaurant. Norimoto came out first and was stretching and shaking his legs on the street (photo below). I guess he was stretching like an athlete.
A little later, after paying the bill, Sugano came out and started walking shoulder to shoulder with me. It would have been best if he had walked with a beautiful woman, but the total annual salary of the two is estimated at 1.1 billion yen. In a way, it was a gorgeous shot. Under the cold weather, they headed for a small building that housed a quiet bar.
Sugano looked back on his disappointing season and vowed to turn things around, while Norimoto was ashamed of himself for not being able to lead the team to victory despite winning by double digits. I guess it was a review meeting for the big ace. Both of them are the leaders of the team. They are the leaders of the team, and it is very important for them to have someone they can talk to about their problems. They have meals whenever they get a chance. I heard that Norimoto was encouraged by Sugano, whom he respects, saying, ‘You’re a rare pitcher who can carry a lot of expectations, pressure, and responsibility,’ and that Norimoto returned to Sendai with a lot of energy.
I’d like to see them face off in the Japan Series next season.
From the December 24, 2021 issue of FRIDAY
Photo by： Takahiro Kagawa, Ichiro Takatsuka