Torao Matsukawa of Lotte Reveals Why He Was “A Man Who Exceeded Expectations” in High School | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Torao Matsukawa of Lotte Reveals Why He Was “A Man Who Exceeded Expectations” in High School

The third high school rookie in professional baseball history to start the season with a starting pitcher's mask on April 3, scoring his first professional run and standing on the plate for the first time.

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Koen (right) and Matsukawa when we interviewed them last spring at their alma mater, Municipal Wakayama. Matsukawa was born in 2003, the year Hanshin won the championship. His grandfather, a Tora Party member, named him “Torasei” (photo by Kei Kato).

On April 3, 20-year-old Roki Sasaki of the Chiba Lotte baseball team won his first game at the team’s home base. Torao Matsukawa, a first-year high school graduate, was on the receiving end of a series of fastballs over 160 km/h.” Sasaki expressed his deep trust in Matsukawa, who became the third 18-year-old to win the starting pitcher’s mask for the season opener since Gininro Sumitani (34) joined the Saitama Seibu team in 2006.

I was able to pitch exactly as Matsukawa asked. He gave me a really good lead.”

Matsukawa is a big catcher who has attracted national attention since his junior high school days at Kaizuka Young. He was recruited by a number of prestigious schools, including Osaka Toin, but he went to Wakayama City with Kenta Koenzono (18, drafted by Yokohama DeNA), with whom he played as a battery partner. In high school, he was nicknamed “Dokaben of Kishu. When I visited the school last spring, I was impressed by his naivete as he asked me many questions to get information on ball players from all over the country whom he had not yet seen. The gap between his strong body and his charming smile was endearing, and my first impression was that he was a high school student who was good at getting into the bosom of adults. Matsukawa repeatedly said these words to himself, as if in remembrance.

My goal is to be a catcher who can hit. I want to be active in professional baseball for as long as possible.

Only one year has passed since then. What kind of talent does a catcher have to have to continue to be successful in a position that requires both experience and brains? Shinichi Handa, manager of Wakayama City, recalls that when he first saw Matsukawa as a junior high school student, he saw that he had all the abilities needed to be a catcher at a high level, and that he already looked like a college student.

As a coach, I wanted to use him. For example, the day after a heavy rain, the ground is a mess with puddles. Matsukawa was the captain of the team and a player to watch, but he would come to the field before anyone else and soak up the water all by himself. That said, he never forced his juniors to do so. He is a really good and kind boy.

This kind of kindness is probably the reason why Matsukawa is loved by his seniors even in the professional world. Coach Handa continues.

Last year, before the Sembatsu tournament, I was worried about him because he was far from his best form, but in his first at-bat at the Koshien, he hit a ball in front of center off a good pitcher. In a practice game where a lot of scouts would come, I blasted, ‘You’ve got to work hard,’ and with a thud, I hit a homerun into the back screen. …… Since high school, he has been able to further exceed the originally high expectations of his instructors. I think it is because I have cleared the hurdles required of me from camp in the pros as well, that I have been used by them.

In a world where the number of pitchers and the types of pitches they throw are all different by orders of magnitude, the first thing that a high school graduate catcher will have a hard time with is pitch distribution. They must be feeling the fatigue not only in their bodies but also in their brains. Also, through the April 6 game, he had 18 hits, three walks, and one run batted in (batting average of .167), giving the impression that he is struggling a bit in the batter’s box.

He is the type of player who builds pitches by drawing out the pitcher’s strengths, rather than relying on the situation of the game or the opposing batter to set up his pitching. Right now, he is probably preoccupied with defending. Rather, hitting should become an issue for him in the future. He has softness in addition to contact power, but it may take time. I hope he will try not to neglect his job as a catcher when he becomes too focused on his inability to hit.”

Of course, Manager Handa knows better than anyone that Matsukawa has nothing to worry about.

On April 1 against Saitama Seibu, he stopped the fleet-footed Sousuke Genda from stealing a base. He showed that his strong shoulder can be used on the professional pitching stage as well.

From the April 22, 2022 issue of FRIDAY

  • Interview and text by Yuji Yanagawa (nonfiction writer) Photography Kei Kato (1st photo)

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