My last summer led me to the Paralympics | FRIDAY DIGITAL

My last summer led me to the Paralympics

Kouyu Yamazaki, Japan's national javelin thrower at the Tokyo Paralympics (3)

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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 their youthful days of sweat and tears 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.

Switching from bat to javelin, aiming for Paris Paralympics in 2024

The at-bat that defined the rest of my life

July 16, 2013. Third round at Ageo Municipal Baseball Stadium. The opponent was Fukaya Commercial. This game would determine the rest of my life.

The game started out as a score-settling contest, and although we were leading 6-2 until the 5th inning, our second-year ace was hit by a pitch in the top of the 6th inning, scoring five runs and leaving us behind by one run.

The scoreboard before entering the batter’s box with a one-run lead and a chance to score.


I had been swinging my bat behind the bench since the beginning of the game in preparation for a substitute hit, and the manager called out to me. That was enough for me to know that my cue had come. It seemed that the manager had already decided when to call me in as a substitute. He said, “If a player gets a chance to bat, which player will bat for Yamazaki? The timing was just right for this situation. Looking back, it was as if fate had prepared the stage for me.

Mr. Yamazaki at bat as a substitute.

I found myself feeling calm. I think I went into the batter’s box so slowly that I was rushed by the umpire. The brass band was there to cheer me on, but I didn’t hear a sound at all.

It was the summer of my junior year, and I was aiming for the game. For me, it was the ultimate moment. But why was I able to stay calm?

What I was thinking at the time was, “I absolutely had to do it, and as a man, I had to get the result. It is often said that there is a baseball god, but if there really is, I will definitely get results. That is how confident I was in my past.

The first pitch thrown by Fukaya Commercial’s right-handed pitcher was a straight ball that took one bounce, the second pitch was a slider for a strike, and the third pitch, which came from a 1-1 count, was a straight ball on the outside corner.

Without thinking about anything else, I swung with all my might, believing in myself as I had done up to that point.

I said, “Oh, no. I’ve been hit out.

I felt it. The ball was a fly ball to the back of first. However, as I was running toward first base, the first coacher

“Oh, it’s going down!”

I was so relieved to hear his voice and ran hard. The ball landed behind first and just short of the light line, scoring two runs.

I was so gutsy that my arms flew off the ground on the second base. I still vividly remember the moment when I got my first gut-pose from a manager in three years.

Mr. Yamazaki’s hit turned the game around beautifully.

Actually, after that, I was defending left field, and a liner flew by me once. It happened to be right in front of me and went completely into my glove, so I was able to save the day. However, I still remember the courage of the manager who sent me out to bat for him in the bottom of the 7th inning, and the effort I had made to earn the right to be sent out to bat for him. Everything I had done over the past three years was condensed into that one at-bat and one swing.

The game went on to win 8-7. Yamamura International advanced to the fourth round. After the game, the reaction was very loud. Articles with headlines like “One-armed high school baseball player scores timely goal” were spread around, and there were about 5,000 to 6,000 retweets on Twitter. Later, after I entered Tokyo International University, people often said to me, “That’s the kid from back then, isn’t it? This was the first time in my life that I had received attention and recognition from many people after continuing to play baseball.

The strength to believe that what we are doing now is right.

Our last summer ended in the fourth round. We lost to Kawagoe Higashi 0-9 in five innings. The timing for me to substitute myself in this game never came.

Incidentally, our two classmates, who had been working hard together with the goal of making it to the final summer, made the bench but did not play in the game.

Iizuka, as captain, was good at making everyone around him comfortable, so when he came off the bench to give a message, he thought about “intentionally mocking” the game. However, when Iizuka went to the field against Kawagoe-higashi, he made the mistake of walking in awkwardly like a robot and coming back without doing anything, and I still get teased about it (laughs).

(Laughs.) Kikuchi was a reserve. However, in the last game against Kawagoe Higashi, I had an opportunity to catch the pitcher’s ball while the catcher was putting on protective gear between innings. The game was just being broadcast live on a local TV station, and perhaps this made him more nervous, but he was unable to return the ball properly to the pitcher. He explained that he had a “cramp in his thumb,” but this too has become a story among us to this day (laughs).

I don’t know how the other two felt about the last summer, which was our goal. But I am sure that it is still a wonderful memory that will never fade away, and we remain irreplaceable friends.

After we lost a fourth-round match cold, we returned to the Tomiya field for our final meeting, but strangely enough, I didn’t cry.

It wasn’t that I felt fulfilled because I was able to play an active role in the last summer, which was my goal.

I am an athlete, and this is not the end of me. I am an athlete, but this is not the end.

I was the one who quickly switched over to the new way of thinking.

Later, in the same year that I entered university, I learned that the WBC would be held for the physically challenged, and I immediately decided to take on the challenge. I fought with the Japanese flag on my back and won the championship and MVP, but the response was surprisingly little compared to my game against Fukaya Commercial.

I still keep the ball that I hit in the bottom of the ninth inning as a substitute.

The potential and courage that Abbott once gave me, now I want to give the same to him. To do so, I must attract the attention of many people. With these thoughts in mind, I decided to throw myself into the world of the men’s javelin in the Paralympic track and field events, while having various connections and timing.

However, when I look into my mind, I think I am still pursuing the scene I saw in that last summer at bat. If that at-bat had ended with a first fly, my life would have been different from then on.

Is what I am doing now really the right thing? You will never know until the results prove it. If you are in the midst of anxiety and hesitation, but still do not slacken your efforts, you will surely see results. High school baseball, which made me believe in this possibility, is the greatest asset of all.

Unlike in high school, now as a para-athlete, competition is a part of my life. I also have the pressure of hosting the Paralympics in Tokyo, my home country, and while I was competing for the right to participate, I was scared, thinking about it while driving, and there were times when I could not sleep at night.

But I was able to reach the stage of the Tokyo Paralympics because I kept believing in myself, and I have a stronger sense of accomplishment from the growth I have achieved than from the 7th place finish. However, I am still in the middle of the road, and the competition starts from here. I will aim for the next Paris Paralympics in order to relive the experience of the summer of my third year in high school. God exists in baseball, sports, and even in life. I will prove it in Paris with this conviction.

  • Interview and text Ryo Ito

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