Baseball Rookie Matsukawa’s Unexpected Past Revealed by Mentor | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Baseball Rookie Matsukawa’s Unexpected Past Revealed by Mentor

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Torao Matsukawa talks about Roki Sasaki. He is already on the verge of becoming a regular catcher with his imposing lead, which is hard to believe for a rookie (Photo: Jiji Press)

“I was surprised that he was the first pick in the draft, and to be the catcher for Roki Sasaki’s perfect pitching, he’s going to do a great job,” said Matsugawa.

 Yoshi Kawabata, 68, who coached Chiba Lotte catcher Torao Matsukawa when he was in middle school with the Kaizuka Young team in Osaka, is the father of infielder Shingo Kawabata, who was the Central League’s top hitter in 2015 and is still active with the Yakult baseball team.


He wasn’t a catcher in Little League.

Matsukawa joined the Chiba Lotte team after graduating from Kaizuka Young and City Wakayama High School, and made his debut as a starter in the season opener this year despite being a high school graduate rookie. He was an unusual choice for the catcher position.

Kawabata was a teammate of Kenta Kozono, a pitcher from Kaizuka Young and Wakayama High School, who was highly regarded as the No. 1 pitcher of his generation. It was natural that Matsukawa was selected first by DeNA, but I had not imagined that he would be selected first.

April 10. The youngest pitcher in history at the age of 20, Roki Sasaki became the first pitcher in 28 years to pitch a perfect game against the Orix, and the skills and tactics of Matsukawa, the catcher who played his wife’s role, contributed greatly to his success.


A perfect game is a game in which three outs are made in nine innings, and 27 batters are struck out in a regular fashion. If the catcher spills or fails to catch the pitcher’s throws, the pitcher’s rhythm will be off. That is how great Matsukawa’s catching was.

“When I played in Little League, I played third and pitcher.”

Kawabata testified, “I played third and pitcher when I was in Little League, so you never know.”

“When I joined the team, I said I wanted to play catcher because it looked like fun. I saw him play third defense and he was good with the glove, so I thought I’d like to play catcher, too.”

Their vectors matched, and the catcher Matsukawa was born.

He joined the team in June of his first year of junior high school, and immediately afterward played in the first and second grade tournament, starting from the first game as the catcher and 4th position, and suddenly won the championship. Matsukawa’s latent ability and his own self-reliant spirit were the driving forces behind his growth in junior high and high school. Kawabata says this was the driving force behind his growth in junior high and high school.

“I have a laissez-faire attitude toward children because they have their own personalities,” he says. For example, the form. If it makes sense and is easy for them to do, then that form is fine. On the other hand, on days when the team is not practicing as a whole, how motivated they are and how much they can practice on their own without forgetting their ambition. This is where the difference in the players’ level of growth comes into play.” Matsukawa was aware of this.

He even rented an indoor practice facility after practice to work on his batting and swinging to improve his hitting. In addition, he had the good fortune of being able to continue receiving the ball from his teammate Kozono, the No. 1 pitcher of his generation, who had been selected by DeNA with a commanding No. 1 ranking.

Torao Matsukawa (right) and Kozono in junior high school (courtesy of manager Kawabata)

He did not let his blessed talent get the better of him, and he did not slacken in his efforts. However, the pros are not so lenient as to allow a player to achieve results just by continuing to work hard. Matsukawa now has both “insecurity” and “confidence,” which are contradictory elements. When he is anxious about his play, he is very careful and cautious, but if he plays well after making various preparations for that, it is a positive experience for him. The accumulation of such experiences leads to self-confidence. With confidence comes boldness and boldness is amplified. Such a synergistic effect may be occurring much faster than expected.


Kawabata sensed from Matsukawa that he was having anxious days. The day after watching the video of the perfect game, he sent a congratulatory message to Matsukawa on line.

<Yesterday, you were amazing. Congratulations.>

<Thank you very much. I was desperate. I will do my best again next time.>

He received another message and thought, “This is going to be tough.”

He once wrote, “I am nervous to work with pitcher Sasaki. He looks tough and strong. But in fact, he is a kind boy.” There were times when he said, “It’s hard.”

He felt “full”. He must have said this to his mentor.

On the other hand, Chiba Lotte’s team officials have sensed that he has grown into a solid player.

“The first year is usually a bit intimidating,” he said. But Matsukawa doesn’t seem to be nervous at all. I feel that he is not being misled by his surroundings. He may be nervous or feel pressure in his true feelings, but he doesn’t show it to the pitchers, and I think that’s what’s great about him.”

This led to the pitcher’s trust in him. There was a moment behind the bench like this.

“The same thing happened behind the benches. I was able to lead the team in open games with 9th-year pro pitcher Ayumu Ishikawa and 12th-year pro pitcher Manabu Mima, and that gave me confidence. Ishikawa, our mainstay, has rarely worked with catchers other than Tamura (Tatsuhiro), who was our regular catcher until last year, but Ishikawa himself said to Matsukawa, “Nice lead,” so I thought he trusted him a lot.”


He took Sasaki’s 160-kilometer straight and 140-kilometer-plus fork without any trouble. He never deflects Sasaki’s fork, which professional hitters have described as “dangerous,” behind his back.

His straight was 120 km/h in junior high school and 140 km/h in high school. Then came the pros. The level of the pitcher changes, but the catcher himself does not change at all from junior high school. It’s a wonder.

And in addition to his technique, his sense as a catcher shines through. Now a baseball team official explains.

On April 26th ZOZO Marine on April 26. Marine was a game with the anemometer reading 19 meters. The wind gauge showed 19 meters. I think Matsukawa’s sensitivity came out in the lead of Kojima (Kazuya), a left-handed pitcher who pitched against Rakuten’s Masahiro Tanaka.

Kojima’s slider, one of his best pitches, was too crooked, and his straighter pitches were not getting strikes due to the strong wind. So Matsukawa reassembled his lead with a vertical curve from the middle of the inning. The Rakuten batting line was unable to beat this. This was a glimpse of Matsukawa’s true potential as a catcher. A source praised Matsukawa’s performance.

Matsukawa has very good insight and observation skills. That is why he can bring out the best in pitchers depending on the situation.

Kawabata said that there was a promise he made to him before he became a pro.

He said, “At the beginning, I told him, ‘There are peaks and valleys, and everything is an experience. I said that I’ll work hard and become a regular catcher in four or five years.”

That promise may be fulfilled a little sooner than expected.

Kawabata (left), manager of the Kaizuka Young team who coached Matsukawa and Kozono, is the father of Kawabata of the Yakult team.
  • Interview and text by Takeshi Shimizu

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