Osaka Toin, the “overwhelming winner of the Senbatsu Tournament,” the reason for its strength, as revealed through more than 20 years of coverage.
Inside report on the "2022 Senbatsu
Compared to past teams: ……
Osaka Toin came out on top in the 2022 Senbatsu Tournament with an impressive performance. Two or three days have passed since the tournament closed, and while the Internet is praising the team’s strength, it is also beginning to be mixed with criticism for being too strong and concern for the future of high school baseball.
The three games after the quarterfinals were won by scores of 17-0, 13-4, and 18-1, as if they were the early rounds of a regional tournament, and the batting lineup hit 11 homers, setting a tournament record, in the four games excluding the non-winning games. The batting lineup hit 11 homeruns, setting a tournament record in the four games played, excluding the non-winning games. The ace pitcher, sophomore Yugo Maeda, pitched only 13 innings. The pitching staff was also able to win the game with plenty of energy. The team’s lineup, individual physical strength, technique, and determination to win. In every aspect, the team outperformed the others to win the first Japanese Spring Championship in four years.
On the day of the final match, while I was watching the game from behind the net, an old friend of mine, an editor, asked me about it.
If things continue as they are, we will win the spring championship for the fourth time in four years. The first time to win the championship. In the past, we have won the spring and summer championships twice in a row. How do you compare to the teams of the past?
Could they be one of the strongest teams of all time, perhaps even the strongest? Such were the nuances. The times and the opponents were different, and there was no comparison to be made, but when he said that, I thought of the memorable teams of the past.
Takeya Nakamura and Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Shintaro Fujinami and Tomoya Mori.
I first visited the Osaka Toin baseball ground in 2001, when I covered Takeya Nakamura, known as the “Cabrera of Naniwa. This summer’s team also had a powerful batting lineup, with sophomore Tsuyoshi Nishioka and junior Nakamura lining up in the third and fourth positions. In the end, however, they failed to reach Koshien, losing in the final of the Osaka tournament after extra innings. Ace pitcher Minoru Iwata developed type 1 diabetes and was unable to pitch. Had the team’s strength been at full strength, it would have been capable of playing a leading role in the Koshien Tournament.
In 2012, the team won back-to-back spring and summer titles with a strong pitching lineup of Shintaro Fujinami and Keisuke Sawada, and sophomore Tomoya Mori as their battery. 2018, another consecutive championship year, with four fall draft picks in Kou Neo, Kyohiro Fujiwara, Ren Kakiki, and Guy Yokogawa. The summer of 2005 was full of scale, with the super high school duo of Takanobu Tsujiuchi and Ryosuke Hirata and super freshman Sho Nakata. The 2007 team still wonders how much of a monster pitcher Sho Nakata would have been had he not injured his right elbow. Of course, we must not forget the strength of the 1991 team, which made consecutive appearances in spring and summer and won the national championship in the summer, all within its first four years of existence.
When talking about PL Gakuen, the champion of the Showa era, the “strongest team” argument often comes up. The main question is which team was stronger: the 1985 team with Kazuhiro Kiyohara and Masumi Kuwata in their junior year, or the 1987 team with Kazuyoshi Tachinami, Atsushi Kataoka, and Hiroki Nomura, who won consecutive spring and summer titles. Once, I visited a coach who knew both teams at the time, imagined an imaginary matchup, and asked him to talk about it, but no conclusion was reached.
Borrowing from last year’s humiliation
Who is the strongest team in Osaka Toin history?
What kind of response would I get if I directed this topic to coach Koichi Nishitani? Strong,” “great,” “as expected,” and so on. He is the kind of person who does not take to these kinds of invitations. He also does not like to talk about teams or players in terms of superiority or inferiority. He will probably say, “Please give me a break,” with a wry smile on his face, and let the conversation drift away. As for this year’s team, he has been repeating this consistently since the fall.
We all know we are not as strong as the teams of our seniors up until the summer, so we have come this far by trying harder and harder.”
Last summer’s third-year students were all powerful players, including Ryoma Ikeda (Orix) and Keito Matsuura (Nippon Ham), who went on to play professionally. Indeed, Nishitani’s words are true.
Even a team with such power could not win. Last year, Osaka Toin lost their first game at Koshien for the first time in the spring, the 17th time Nishitani had led the team. In the summer, when the team worked together to make up for it, they lost in the second round of the tournament. Moreover, they lost to Chiben Gakuen and Omi. It was also the first time that Osaka Toin lost to a Kinki team in Koshien.
Furthermore, in the summer before last, Osaka lost to Rusho-sha, which had won 11 straight games in the summer, for the first time in 21 years (since 1999), although the tournament was an alternate tournament not connected to Koshien. The team had never seen anything like this happen so many times before, and there was a sense that something was beginning to change.
Last fall, the team was facing a new challenge. The only player with summer experience was Shion Matsuo (this spring’s No. 3 catcher). If they had lost in an “unlikeable battle,” the team would have been in the dark at once. However, that did not happen. They won the Osaka and Kinki tournaments, and even the Jingu tournament for the first time, and won the Senbatsu tournament as their reputation as the big favourites.
Still more, still more.”
What does this team have? Nishitani said in the winning interview that was broadcast to the audience after the game.
This year’s team is a good team with many kids who work hard. That good team is slowly turning into a strong team.”
The top level players in junior high school baseball are gathered here, and they keep asking for more and more, and they devote themselves to baseball as hard as they can. They also have heart-felt coaches who are skilled in technical coaching. This is reason enough for the team’s strength, but I would like to add one more thing: the team’s cheerfulness. Both players and coaches are cheerful. This is one of the reasons for the team’s strength, which I have felt especially over the past ten years. Although the team is destined to win and constantly fights against the pressure of not being allowed to lose, I don’t feel any sense of heaviness.
This was the topic of conversation when I asked Tomonaga Iwashita, who played second base with Nishioka and was also an active member of Nippon Seimei, a prestigious working-class baseball team, about five years ago.
He said, “Of course practice is still tough, but the atmosphere on the field is much brighter than it was when we were playing, and each player is more active than the last. one by one The people are also cheerful. When I was allowed to join the practice sometimes, I really felt that. Since our days, Mr. Nishitani has often said, ‘Be a group of baseball enthusiasts,’ and his words have taken shape year by year, and I think we really are a group of baseball enthusiasts.
The lively atmosphere in this area is the result of the Nishitani effect over the past 30 years since he was a coach. He loves to talk and laugh. He always has a joke to add to his banter, and he loves to tease the players with his affection. His cheerfulness, which seems to be favored by the Goddess of Victory, is a source of inspiration from the coach, and it creates a great atmosphere that embraces the team.
Koichi Nishitani, the famous general: “My unlucky high school days.
To begin with, the players of Osaka Toin are expressive and full of energy. Many of them are what you would call “baseball kids. This is no accident. When I once asked Nishitani what he looks for in a scouting assignment, he replied, “I look for players who have a lot of energy.
I want the players I want to work with the most.
In other words?
I want to work with players who, when I watch them play and practice, give off the vibe that they love baseball more than eating three times a day.”
Nishitani himself was a genuine baseball kid. I once asked a classmate from my days at Houtoku Gakuen what his impression of the team was. He replied, “I really can only remember the way he was practicing. He left the field earlier than the other players and returned home later than anyone else. A message written by a classmate remains below Nishitani’s portrait in his high school graduation album. All day long, he played baseball, and he is still a healthy lesson machine. A true practice bug.
Nishitani’s only record in high school was an appearance in the Kinki Tournament in the fall of his sophomore year (losing in the first round), but in his freshman and junior years he had to withdraw from the tournament in his final summer due to a series of scandals involving members of the team. His high school baseball career ended on the opening day of the prefectural tournament, when the team played a red-and-white game. Although things did not go as smoothly as he had hoped, the time he devoted to baseball became the support for the rest of his life. He spent his three years of high school playing baseball, which he loved, as hard as he could. This is what I want most for my children.
In recent years, Coach Hisaya Ishida (mainly in charge of pitching) has taken on more of the scouting duties, but he still maintains the perspective of looking for baseball players who would fit the Osaka Toin colors.
3 Winning back-to-back spring and summer championships for the second time
Strength beyond strength, built up day by day, by players with power, working brightly and hard. The results of this spring’s competition will continue into the summer. Two of the past three Senbatsu champions have won the spring and summer championships in succession.
Just after watching the final game, I wondered how this team could lose, and my head was about to turn in that direction when the announcer on the field asked the captain, Tenma Hoshiko, one last question.
The announcer asked the captain, Tenma Hoshiko, one last question: “What are your goals for the summer?
The captain, who was as naive as his name, but tougher than anyone else when it came to competition, responded in a strong voice.
I want to win the top three places in the summer. We are determined to win the spring and summer championships for the second time in a row!”
It was a magnificent declaration, showing no signs of slackness or weakness in the face of continued overwhelming victories. Osaka Toin’s coaches and players know what they are doing. The opposing pitchers had been tired since the quarterfinals and had been unable to produce their true potential, but they were still able to hit the ball hard. In the first game against Naruto, in which the opposing ace threw as hard as he could, they struggled because they could not hit as hard as they wanted. That’s why we still have a lot more to learn.
On the other hand, the results of the Senbatsu tournament, which had a great impact, may further strengthen the view that Osaka Toin should have gathered as many players as they did. However, what the opposing team and the players who lost this spring are probably acutely aware of is not that they have gathered such a large number of players, but that they have done such a good job. Again, they are strong because those who have the power are conscious and doing what they need to do.
The spring champions, who by now have already started a new competition in the Ikoma mountains, will be even stronger and climb the summer mountains with even more strength. No one can stop a baseball kid from wanting to get better and stronger.
Interview and text： Shiro Tanigami Photography： Yoshihiro Koike