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.