The origin of Sugihara’s pursuit of “baseball that makes even the brain sweat | FRIDAY DIGITAL

The origin of Sugihara’s pursuit of “baseball that makes even the brain sweat

The Story of the Meihachi Baseball Club (3)

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He is one step short of his dream. Despite the restrictions placed on him by his school, which is one of the best preparatory schools in Tokyo, there is a man who still earnestly aims to make it to the Koshien National High School Baseball Championship. He is Takafumi Sugihara, manager of the Meio Nakano Hachioji Baseball Club. This documentary follows his struggles and anguish, as well as the physical and mental growth of his students, over a period of 180 days.

Sugihara’s coaching is even more passionate

One day near the end of August, a bud sprouted.

The players were about to change under the strict daily guidance of Takafumi Sugihara, the coach of the Meio Nakano Hachioji High School baseball team, nicknamed “Meihachi” (meaning “Meihachi” in Japanese). In particular, second-year players such as captain Shuya Hosaka continued to search for answers to their problems and sufferings. Then, they took a step forward.

The first-year players are not moving because of the second-year players.

The changes in the second-year students caught Sugihara’s eye. They began to take the initiative in doing things that other people didn’t like to do, such as putting away tools and cleaning toilets. Their behavior during practice has also changed. Some players began to express their own opinions about their peers’ play.

They started to do something for the team on their own. At this time of the year, I always tell the students, ‘It’s the second-year students’ fault that the first-year students don’t move. I tell the first-year students, ‘Just do your own thing. But next year, when the first-year students come in, I’ll ask them to do something for me. This was the first time I praised the sophomores. At the same time, I realized that this team is a team of sophomores.

The regulars in last summer’s tournament were all third-year students, with only four sophomores on the bench. In last fall’s tournament, the starting lineup consisted of seven first-year students at most. However, Sugihara says that the fate of this team is in the hands of the second-year students.

The second-year students are serious but quiet and lack self-esteem, whereas the first-year students are more ‘me, me, me’ types,” he said. When they get along well, they bring out the best in each other. In the fall, the first-year students played in more matches, and I think the second-year students had some conflicts. But the team’s victory or defeat depends on the second-year students. When they bring out their individuality, there is always a chemical reaction.

Those who teach should not overlook those moments. Sugihara is constantly paying attention to their attitudes, facial expressions, and even the words they use during conversations. Even the slightest difference must be sensed. Overlooking something can be a missed opportunity for the players to grow and change. Their high school baseball lives will be very different.

I had assumed, “This year is weak.”

Still just a few. But this is the beginning. It will surely lead to growth in the future. Sugihara was happy to see the change in the second-year students from the inside.

Indoor training

However, team building was delayed, in part because the top priority was to raise the students’ awareness. Naturally, the impact of the coronary disaster was also significant. While measures to prevent infection vary from school to school, Meihachi consistently places the safety of its students first and has strict restrictions in place. The annual summer training camps and expeditions were cancelled. Not only were the students unable to practice to push themselves physically and mentally, but they also lost a valuable opportunity to sleep and eat together to bring the coach and players closer together. Practices during the summer vacation were held only in the mornings, and open games could not be organized as in previous years, so the lack of experience in actual games could not be fully compensated for.

In the limited time available, the team focused on improving their defense, including their pitching skills, and on improving their base-running, which is Sugihara’s goal of exploiting gaps in the opponent’s lineup and getting to the first base. On August 28, before the Autumn Tokyo Tournament, the first official game for the new team, they lost a complete game against Kokushikan. The first game in the block qualifying round of the tournament will be played on September 11. The team lacked everything to be ready for the tournament. Moreover, during that time, many players were injured, including Kotaro Haneda, who was one of the candidates to be the ace of the fall tournament. Still, Sugihara was looking forward to the future.

When we were deciding who to register for the tournament at the end of August, we couldn’t even decide who would be in the infield lineup,” he said. But then I thought: “I’ll have to make a decision. In a sense, it was a chance. I thought, “In a sense, this is a chance. We might discover something new. It would be interesting, so why should we be so pessimistic?

Looking back, the same was true of the new team’s first open game against Soka High School on August 6. The team’s strength was lower than that of the previous year’s team. We were prepared for a tough game and lost 1-5. Many of the students were playing in a game for the first time, so they were stressed out. However, the team was able to overcome their adversity.

“The players were playing desperately, saying, ‘Let’s do something,’ ‘Let’s do something. I felt their energy. I thought it would be fun if they grew, and above all, I reflected on the fact that I had assumed that they would be weak this year.”

Factual relationship with powerhouse Tokai University Sugo

After the game, he told the players that they would make an interesting team if they could admit that there was a difference in strength from their seniors and work hard.

That is why the slow pace of progress over the past month must have been bittersweet, but if they did not face up to it, they could not fight. We have to wrap our heads around the best we can do right now. Since we couldn’t hit, we went to Tokai University Sugo High School, the school in charge of Block 12, with a low-scoring victory in mind.

Tokai University Sugo was the school Sugihara lost to in the final of the West Tokyo Tournament in the summer of his junior year, with a ticket to Koshien on the line. Meihachi is usually the school on block duty, so they do not have to play other schools in the block qualifiers. However, last fall, due to the Corona disaster, they declined to be the school on duty. It was the first time for Sugihara to play an official match at another school since he became coach. The place was Tokai University Sugo, which had a history with us. Starting from here, we will end up in Koshien…

On the side of the uphill slope from the parking lot to the baseball stadium, there is a monument with the names of the club members for each school year engraved on it. As Sugihara led the students, he found one for the same grade as his own and checked the four letters “Naoto Isogai” on it. He was the ace of Tokai University Sugo, with whom he had pitched that summer.

Sugihara’s origin as “ace and number 4

Meio Nakano Hachioji was founded in 1984, the same year the baseball team was also founded. Although the high school is affiliated with Meiji University, a prestigious baseball school, the team did not focus on baseball from the beginning. However, former coach Takashi Ishida, who has been involved with the club since its inception and is also its current advisor, trained the players with extraordinary enthusiasm, and in the summer of 2000, the team reached the final of the West Tokyo Tournament for the first time. However, they narrowly lost 3-5 to Tokai University Sugo, who had experienced Koshien for the first time four years earlier. Sugihara was the ace and No. 4 player at that time.

In the summer of our second year, we lost in the opening round and disappeared before anyone else. There were only six of us in the same year, and three of us had been in the table tennis club in junior high school. All the games in the summer of my last third year were “nine-man baseball,” with only the same nine players. That’s how thin the roster was. But I felt we were getting stronger as we went up the ladder.

In the quarterfinals, the ace of J. Oberlin High School was Tadahiro Ogino, who later played for Lotte, and I thought, “I can’t hit a pitcher like this,” but I took my one chance and won a hard-fought 2-0 game. But I took advantage of my one chance and won a hard-fought 2-0 game.

Tokai University Sugo’s power was several levels higher, but in the finals, there is also luck. Even if there was a 0-20 difference in strength in the practice match, that gap would narrow dramatically. I thought the finals would be that kind of stage.

The first time the whole school cheered him on, he was excited, but Sugihara, who had been pitching as the absolute ace of the team, had been swinging his left arm after taking painkillers since the first game. On the day of the final, he had already reached his limit. Five goals were scored in the first half. Even so, the team persevered and caught up, and Sugihara pitched through the fifth inning and beyond without giving up a single run. We didn’t get there, but we reached for victory and for the Koshien Stadium until the very end.

I felt nothing but frustration when I saw my opponent raise his arms. I could not lift up Mr. Ishida. That was all that remained. I continued to play baseball at Meiji University with my sights set on becoming a professional baseball player, and I was determined to compete with my classmates, including Yasuhiro Ichiba (later Rakuten), all of whom had played in the Koshien, but to be honest, my body was not up to the challenge.



The basis of Sugihara’s baseball game: “seamless base running

In the early fall of his freshman year at Meiji University, he began to envision a path to becoming a teacher. However, it was not with the idea of aiming for the Koshien championship, which he had failed to achieve as a player, but rather as a coach.

I wanted to go back to the Koshien to lift up Mr. Ishida,” he said. I had no intention of becoming a coach. I just wanted to lift him up, which I couldn’t do in that final. That was all I wanted.

After graduating from Meiji University, he worked as a part-time mover and helped his alma mater’s baseball team for a year before becoming a part-time instructor and coach. 2 years later, he became a social studies teacher and worked alongside then-coach Ishida to strengthen the team. Due to Director Ishida’s extremely busy school schedule, the baton was passed to Sugihara starting with the new team in the fall of 2004.

Director Ishida and Sugihara

The first team suffered a tough loss to Hachioji Gakuen Hachioji High School in the first round of the Tokyo Metropolitan Main Tournament after winning the block qualifying round. Coincidentally, they would also lose to Hachioji in the following spring and summer tournaments. In the summer, Sugihara said, “We lost because we couldn’t do anything”. The score of 1 to 10 (in seven innings) was more damaging to Sugihara than the loss, as he was allowed to return home when the second baseman looked away from the runner on third base. At the same time, this game was a chance for Sugihara to seriously pursue “seamless baserunning”.

The basis of my baseball is to score runs with no-hitters,” he said. A good pitcher cannot hit. On the other hand, even good hitters cannot hit 70% or 80% of the time. How can we improve our chances of winning tournaments? I think it is about how many times you can get one out and three runs in a game, where the scoring rate is high. However, even if the first batter reaches base, two bunts will not score a run. Even with a single hit, three or four runs will not follow. Long balls don’t come up that often either. That is why it is essential to run the bases without overlooking mistakes or gaps in the opponent’s lineup and steal the first base. I make sure that I am thoroughly aware of this.

Sweating with the brain as well as the body

Students discuss with each other thoroughly during base-running practice.

Furthermore, what is unique about Meihachi’s base running is that in most cases the runners make their own decisions. To give just one example, a runner is at first base and a hit flies in front of the light. Since the ball flies in the opposite direction of the runner at first base and out of sight, it is common for the third base coach to decide whether the runner should take third base or not. At Meihachi, however, the batter looks back at the position of the batted ball as he runs, checks it with his own eyes, and makes his choice instantly.

If the coacher had ordered the runner to stop before the ball was jaggled or fumbled, the runner would have slowed down considerably, and it would have taken time to re-accelerate, making it difficult for the runner to reach third base. By making that decision yourself, you eliminate that loss. It is a very advanced base-running technique, including when to turn around and how to judge the situation in a split second. The students memorize in their minds the “instructional book” in which Sugihara has compiled the movements for various situations, and repeat it in practice on a daily basis to sharpen the Meihachi’s weapons, sweating not only with their bodies but also with their brains.

This Meihachi style was demonstrated everywhere in the autumn tournament.

(Continue to No.4)

  • Cooperation Fumihiko Washizaki

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