Clark Memorial International Manager Keiji Sasaki’s Determination to “Aim for the Triple Crown Victory | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Clark Memorial International Manager Keiji Sasaki’s Determination to “Aim for the Triple Crown Victory

Timeless "Showa High School Baseball" (1)

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With the advent of the 2021 season, high school baseball has undergone a dramatic evolution in terms of tactics, practices, and training methods. In the midst of all this, the “ Showa-era high school baseball.” There are great generals who continue to stick to the At first glance, their ideas may seem anachronistic, but they have firm convictions that are still relevant today.

Manager Keiji Sasaki takes charge of the first game of the Senbatsu Tournament against Kyushu International University.

Youth coach and tsuppari captain

There are many things I feel and understand now that I’ve been allowed to play baseball for so long. After all, there are things that can go wrong after playing for so long, but there are also things you don’t understand unless you play for a long time.”

These are the words of Keiji Sasaki, manager of the Clark Memorial International High School baseball team.

Now in his 45th season as a high school baseball coach, the fighter is already moving into the summer. It has been 35 years at Komadai Iwamizawa, known for its “brown bear lineup,” and soon to be eight years at Clark Memorial International, a wide-area correspondence school whose main campus is located in Fukagawa City. Three wins in the Showa era and six wins in the Heisei era; 39 years have passed since his first victory at Koshien, which he won at the age of 27.

When I was at Komazawa University, I helped the players practice at Komadai Iwamizawa, my alma mater, whenever I went back home, but the moment I was appointed coach, I went from being a senior to an enemy to the players (laughs). (Laughs.) I was inexperienced as a person and had no leadership skills at the time, so naturally I was rebuffed by the players. I went to Kanto Daiichi High School to study. I adopted weight training, which was still a rarity at that time, and spent my days thoroughly devoting myself to it. The players were rebellious, but in other words, they were rebellious. I think they were strong in mind and body.

The young coach grew up sweating it out with his players, and in 1982, his fifth year in the position, he secured his first victory in the autumn Hokkaido Tournament and his first appearance in the Koshien (the National High School Baseball Championship).

The team, which boasts that it has never exceeded the physical fitness test results from its first Koshien appearance every year since he took over, made the top eight in the 1983 Centennial Tournament, the first time in 18 years for a Hokkaido team, defeating Imabari-nishi (Ehime) and Kurume-sho (Fukuoka). In the summer, the team lost to Minoshima (Wakayama) 3-5, but came back strong in the final inning, pounding out 11 hits against Rito Yoshii (formerly of Kintetsu and others). The “brown bear batting line” became a national sensation.

The team lost its first game in the Senbatsu Tournament. The team is already moving toward the summer.

It’s true that everyone was very athletic, but the biggest thing was the captain, Kazuya Sato. He is the “leader” of his hometown, Iwamizawa, and is what we call a “hard man” (laughs). For some reason, people gather around him, and he has the ability to lead. He has a great energy. When I decided to make him captain and have him direct that energy toward baseball and have the players look to him for guidance, Sato was enthusiastic about the idea. He pulled me along as a captain with his chutzpah.”

A tsuppari captain with strenuous practice by a young, passionate leader in his twenties. If the “Showa-era high school baseball” built by Coach Sasaki was based on close human relationships and trust, it seems to be what is most needed in this day and age.

First try” is no longer acceptable.

The rugged-looking young coach barked loudly from the bench and expressed his joy, anger, sorrow, and pleasure, earning him the nickname “Brown Bear Battalion,” and as players began to flock to Sasaki, expectations from the school grew.

He has been living with the players in the dormitory since the beginning. By living together, I was able to understand the players’ inner selves, and through this I was able to clarify my own coaching style. High school students don’t listen to what the coach says. Of course they say, ‘Hi! But they don’t listen to me at first. But they listen to their seniors. So, the seniors tell the juniors, “The coach is telling you this because he wants you to become this way. This is the “A-Un” way of working together. Once that kind of culture was established within the team, it became a team that could be left alone.

Sasaki’s coaching came to fruition in 1993 at the Senbatsu Tournament. The team defeated Obu (Aichi), Setagaya Gakuen (Tokyo), and Yawata Sho (Shiga) to become the first Hokkaido team in 30 years to make the top four. Hokkaido was on a roll.

At the same time, however, some of the team’s weaknesses began to show.

The harsh words of the seniors sometimes had the opposite effect, and problems in the dormitories began to increase. I experienced many times the frustration of not being able to convey my sense of duty and passion to the students. Even though baseball itself has not changed, training has evolved and there is an overabundance of information. The saying, ‘Try it first,’ doesn’t work anymore. I think high school baseball was in a transitional period after the middle of the Heisei era.

Dormitory life, which used to be hell, has been transformed.

Coach Sasaki is also known as an idea man who proactively introduces new ideas. He has taken the initiative to enhance the atmosphere of the team by changing the “K” in the cap to “KOMAZAWA” written horizontally and by wrapping the buses for the team’s tours with an illustration of a brown bear. One such example is the dormitory life that the team has stubbornly continued. The dormitory is a dormitory in a renovated building of a closed junior high school, which the team shares with more than 40 other team members.

He is now living with more than 40 members in the dormitory, which was renovated from a closed junior high school building. The students, both senior and junior, get along with each other surprisingly well, and they seem to be enjoying themselves on a daily basis. I do have a few complaints, though (laughs). Dormitory life in the Showa and Heisei eras must have been hell, right? There is always a mentor. There are also the eyes of the seniors. You are always worried that your rivals might be swinging a bat while you are sleeping. I can’t see that.

There is nothing around the current dormitory, and the only thing to look forward to is going shopping a few times a week. On the other hand, there is Wi-Fi equipped with smart phones. It is easy to access information, so you feel like you know what you are talking about without having to ask anyone. Somehow, they think they can do it, that they can win.

After the Komadai Iwamizawa Baseball Club’s last game in 2013

He is honest and speaks frankly about everything with a hint of Showa-era parental love. He is deeply scarred by the loss of the baseball team of his alma mater to which he devoted his life. He hopes that the current players will create a tradition of the Clark Memorial International Baseball Club.

Medals were awarded to the players who ensured the team’s participation in the Senbatsu Tournament at the 2009 Fall Tournament

Lost the Senbatsu this spring after an extra inning game against a strong opponent

July 18 last summer. When the third-year students lost on the first day, and the new team was inaugurated, I gave them thorough instruction on how to bunt for the first time in a long time. The position of the hands, the direction of the bat, how to use the knees, etc. In the past, all of us could have done this normally with guidance from our seniors or by watching and learning. There is certainly a point to such a trend that a strong attack is better than a bunt in terms of probability. Still, this fall, we were able to win the championship by persistently sending them in and sticking with them. I realized once again that high school baseball cannot be won on efficiency, probability, or skill alone.

In the first round of the Senbatsu Tournament, the first for Clark Memorial International and the ninth for coach Sasaki in 14 years, the team lost in extra innings against a strong Kyushu Kokusai University team by a score of 2-3. However, they made two sacrifice hits. It was as good a game as we won,” he said. I will go back to Hokkaido and train again.

Experience as a coach at Komadai Iwamizawa is being put to good use at Clark Memorial International

There was one last question I wanted to ask.

If the current coach Sasaki had coached the team that made its first appearance at Koshien in 1983, what kind of team would it have been?

I think about that a lot,” he said. I often wonder what kind of team they would have become if they had been given level swings and full swings from a little lower down. But they wouldn’t have listened to me at that time, because I was 66 years old (laughs). They would have said, “Shut up.

At the time, I was 26 years old. Perhaps it was the relationship between Keiji Sasaki, the 6-year-old, and the players that brought about such a result, and my own sense of repentance that I wanted them to win more games gave me strength. I think it would be just fine if I apologized to them and regretted what I would have done now (laughs).

Sasaki continues to bark into the summer in his quest for a trifecta victory as a coach.

  • Interview and text Akira Nagakabe

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