Admiring Jim Abbott, who has the same handicap… A Para athlete’s recollection | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Admiring Jim Abbott, who has the same handicap… A Para athlete’s recollection

Kouyu Yamazaki, Japan's national javelin thrower at the Tokyo Paralympics, in "My Baseball Club Days" (2)

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<The professional baseball players and celebrities who love baseball had a tough and painful time in the baseball team. In this installment of our series of articles on celebrities looking back on the sweat and tears of their youth on the baseball field, Akihiro Yamazaki, the Japanese Paralympic javelin thrower who was born without the tip of his right wrist but spent his days immersed in baseball despite his disadvantage, talks about his life.

Mr. Yamazaki, on the mound as a pitcher, swings his left arm with all his might.

First and last official high school baseball game pitched

My desired position in high school was pitcher. I had always admired Jim Abbott, a great left fielder who overcame the same handicap of having a congenital right hand deficiency as myself and won 87 games in the Major Leagues.

I wanted to be an ace on the high school baseball field.

That was my goal when I first joined the club. However, pitching in high school baseball is not easy, and when I pitched in a practice game as a freshman, I suddenly gave up two home runs. I was like, “Why am I getting hit so many times?” I was thinking about it when the coach called me in.

Try a set position.”

When I was pitching, I would hold my glove on my right hand first like Abbott, but my grip was completely visible. Since I throw left-handed, my grip is visible to the opposing first coacher. Then, the hitter would be able to tell the type of pitch by sign. This was a countermeasure that had never been used until junior high school. Also, the most difficult thing was the bunt defense. There were games in which we were attacked by bunts, so we practiced bunt handling incessantly.

I was told, “Since you are trying to do something that others cannot do, you have to practice more than others, and you have to use your head more than others.

The director told me so, and even though practice was already tough, plus I had to do more and more things by myself. This was motivating, but the barriers I had to overcome became higher and higher.

In the fall of my sophomore year of high school, when it was my turn to take over. I was going to the fall tournament with the ace number “1” on my back. Perhaps it was because I was in good shape right up to the time of the tournament. However, the coach was of the opinion that baseball should not be played by number, so I was in effect the second pitcher.

The first round of the Saitama Prefecture Western Regional Qualifying Tournament. We won 5-4 against Sayama Seiryo, but I did not get a chance to pitch. Then came the game to decide the representative against Tokorozawa Kita. This game was the first and last time I pitched in an official high school baseball game.

I was really beaten to a pulp. The result was a 0-17 defeat. I also hit a dead ball to the head against a left-handed hitter in that game. Since then, I developed a fear of throwing inside pitches. As a pitcher, I could not overcome the wall, and my fear of throwing to the inside pitch also took root. How could I shine in my last summer? Later that winter, he made a direct appeal to his coach.

I would like to bat in my last summer, either in the field or as a substitute.”

It was an idea that came from the fact that his batting was in very good shape during this period, and he had continued to produce results as a substitute hitter.

Mr. Yamazaki batting right.

I throw left-handed and hit right-handed. Abbott batted left-handed and used the so-called “tennis stroke,” but after much trial and error, I decided to bat right-handed, taking advantage of being able to swing the bat and also push the bat down with my right hand at impact. As I repeated the tire-hitting swing thousands of times in order to strengthen the force of pushing in with my right hand, my punching power increased, and I was able to climb over the fence at the Tomiya Ground, Yamamura International’s training base, even though the left field was a bit narrow.

Think about it for a week.

The coach told me so, but I was surprisingly unmotivated to pitch, and I had already decided on my motive. Since then, I have been part of the fielding menu and will be aiming for my last summer as a substitute hitter.

In a baseball-centered school life

Sharp and clean swing is still alive and well

As I mentioned earlier, baseball was everything to me back then, so I have very few memories of school life. Even though Yamakoku was within biking distance from my parents’ house, it was early in the morning. And it was not “morning practice,” but “morning cleaning. At Yamamura International, in those days, the students of the kendo and baton clubs, as well as the baseball team, began each morning by cleaning the school building.

Some students might not have liked that, and indeed there were some, but they were in the minority. The school was probably characterized by the fact that many students came every morning because they knew they had no choice but to do it.

On the other hand, because the mornings were early, classes tended to be neglected. What I tried to do was to “study without getting red marks. If I got a red mark, I would not be able to go to practice due to retests and so on. I could never tell the director that. So, I would focus on the points that would definitely appear on the test and memorize them desperately. As for how I studied, I would like to say that the baseball practice methods I had been devising since elementary school helped me ……, but I actually got a red mark …… (laughs).

In the baton club, there was a female student who had her heart set on me at the time. I have heard that the baseball team of a strong school is admired and popular, but at that time, the baseball team was not special in Yamakoku. The baseball and kendo teams had shaved heads, so I used that as an excuse (laughs).

I became interested in this baton club girl on a school trip in my second year of high school, and we exchanged e-mail addresses through a friend from the kendo club who was a good friend of mine. And we exchanged e-mails frequently, but when we passed each other in the hallway at school, I couldn’t speak to her. We graduated without ever being able to exchange a single word, even though we were able to e-mail each other. The other person was a little conscious of me, but we couldn’t reach out to each other and passed each other. It is a sweet and sour memory of my adolescence or …… sweet and sour adolescence (laugh).

What I felt was typical of high school students was the food. The school lunch that I had until junior high school was gone, and I started nibbling on things like melon bread, which made me realize that I was living in high school.

“Eat at least two bowls of white rice for lunch.”

This was a complete change in my eating habits. At the time, I weighed 58 kg and was skinny. And I ate very little. If I wanted to increase the speed of my pitches as a pitcher, I needed to get bigger and gain weight. After a game, the manager told my mother about this, and I had to bring a large lunch box.

Every day there were two large Tupperware containers with rice and side dishes. Since I have a very small appetite, it took me a long time to eat them. The moment the bell rang for the end of morning classes, I opened the Tupperware and shoveled in the rice. When I think back to what I ate back then, it was rice, rice, rice. And eggs. I think my mother put this in because she wanted me to have protein as well as rice, but it was so dry that I couldn’t get it down my throat. Still, I did not want to compromise, so I ate all the rice I could before practice.

Perhaps as a result of these efforts, I gained about 15 kg during my high school years. Perhaps I had always been prone to weight gain. The experience I gained at that time has been utilized in my subsequent eating habits as an athlete. Still, it was hard to eat out of two Tupperware containers every day. It no longer felt like a meal, but more like practice. The baseball team was never considered special, but I think I attracted a lot of attention in class when it came to food (laughs).

At the Tokyo Paralympics, he finished in 7th place in an impressive manner

The excitement of getting there in the summer of my senior year of high school

It was difficult to overcome the rigorous daily practice, but I also had a hard time keeping the team together with three of my classmates. When I was a freshman, there were only four third-year students who were seniors – the first class of the Yamamura International High School baseball team. On the other hand, the second-year students were numerous, and we first-year students were also few in number, making for a slightly awkward balance. I saw at that time how the seniors had a hard time organizing the juniors with a small number of students, and we had to go through the same hardship.

In my final year, the baseball team had about 50 members, and three third-year students had to look after more than 40 juniors. We went home and had dinner together, and I am sure that we were closer than at other schools. On the other hand, the baseball team started scouting players from the generation just one year below their own, and talented players joined the team. Moreover, they were all unique individuals.

The summer after we retired, we had a big win over the powerhouse Hanasaki-Tokuei in the opening game of the season. With such outstanding juniors, there were times when the three of us wondered how we could unite the team as seniors and what we could do as upperclassmen.

Iizuka was called “Banchou,” or “the leader of the watchdog. He is by no means a rough character. He is the kind of person who would mistake me for a senior when we first met and greet me. It is said that he came to be called “Bancho” from the fact that he was originally a group leader. Kikuchi is “Kikuchi” as it is, but in contrast to “Banchcho,” he has an oragaic appearance. Kikuchi, on the other hand, has an oraganic appearance, but in fact he is a complex character who is a petulant little fellow. By the way, I was also called “Yamazaki” as it is, but my seniors called me “Hey Zakiyama! I was called “the one who is the best.

There were times when Iizuka and Kikuchi would get into a bitter fight over team matters. I would come in between them and mediate between them, and the three of us somehow managed to get through each day with a good balance.

Just before the Koshien qualifying rounds in the summer of our junior year, Iizuka made a passionate speech in front of everyone, with tears streaming down his face. I think he was explaining the importance of fighting as a team, and I was convinced that his tears brought the team together as one.

Finally, the summer of my junior year in high school arrived. This was the last summer that the three of us had focused on together. It would seem that we would be nervous about the stage on which we had put so much effort, but there was no unnecessary pressure at all, and all we could feel was the excitement of having made it this far.

My number was 7, but my role was as a substitute batter, and Yamamura Kokusai’s first game was against Okegawa Nishi, who had appeared in the second round. The preliminary speculation was overwhelmingly in favor of Okegawa Nishi. I believe they had a strong left-handed pitcher. However, the game turned out to be a 9-0, 7-inning cold win. I was prepared as a substitute batter, but had no chance to play. But it was the first summer qualifying victory in the history of the Yamamura International Baseball Club. I was extremely happy that my wish to “make history,” which was my motivation for joining the club, had come true.

(Continued in Part 3)

  • Interview and text Ryo Ito

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