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High School Baseball Tournament Thrills Nation

September 22, 1998

Yokohama High School players celebrate their national championship. (Jiji Press)

August in Japan is when baseball fans throughout the country become glued to their television sets as they follow broadcasts of a tournament pitting the best high school teams in the country against each other. The tournament, held twice a year in the spring and summer, is popular even with people who are not baseball aficionados. Tens of thousands of fans descend upon Koshien Stadium in Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture, to cheer their hometown heroes on, and millions more follow their spirited play on TV.

This year's summer tournament was particularly exciting, as Yokohama High School notched up a series of dramatic, come-from-behind victories to become just the fifth school in history--and the first in 11 years--to capture both the spring and summer titles in a single year.

Tops in Excitement
All-Japan High School Baseball Championship Tournament, commonly called the "summer Koshien," began in 1915. Temporarily suspended during World War II, the tourney marked its eightieth year in 1998, when a record 4,102 high schools competed in the qualifying rounds and 55 in the finals. Every match results in the losing team being immediately knocked from the competition. The teams that capture the regional titles gather at Koshien to vie for the national crown. To become national champions, a team would have to win around 12 consecutive wins, starting from the qualifying rounds.

Local press coverage usually starts in earnest with the first round of the qualifiers, and every match of the showdown at Koshien is broadcast live nationwide on both television and radio. It is said that the amount of excitement generated during the finals knows no rival in the world for a single high-school-level competition.

Unlike the National Invitational Senior High School Baseball Tournament held in the spring--which pits only a select number of schools--at least one team from each of Japan's 47 prefectures makes an appearance in the summer tournament. This encourages a feeling of local pride and is a major reason for the tournament's nationwide popularity. Most people start by cheering for their alma mater. If that team is eliminated, they may move on to support a team representing their prefecture. And if that, too, proves unfruitful, it is common to root for the school located nearest one's hometown.

Perhaps the biggest draw of the high school tournament is the players' devotion to the game. Players practice day in and day out, covered in sweat and mud, knowing that such efforts will ultimately end in disappointment for all but a handful of students. A loss can still be a crushing blow, though; losing players can be seen covered in tears, burying their faces in their hands, or pounding the dugout walls in dejection. By the final match, athletes are physically exhausted. Some wear supporters around their lower backs while others inject pain-killer into their arms--but they keep on throwing and hitting. The way these boys fight on despite the pain touches the hearts of many.

Gateway to the Pros
One standout of this summer's Koshien was Daisuke Matsuzaka, pitcher and clean-up hitter for Yokohama High School. Nicknamed the "Monster of the Heisei Era" (a comparison to earlier "monsters" who have gone on to professional stardom) for his amazing strength and blazing fastball, Matsuzaka not only hurled a 17-inning, 250-pitch complete game but capped his team's tournament victory with a 3-0 no-hitter in the final. Matsuzaka will be graduating in the spring, and he is sure to become one of the most highly sought-after players in this autumn's professional baseball draft.

One more reason the tournament receives so much attention is that it is where many star players of the future are discovered. Hideki Irabu, Masato Yoshii, and others now pitching for Major League clubs in the United States, as well as countless players in Japan, can trace their careers back to Koshien. Whether you are a professional scout or just an avid baseball fan, it is always fun to watch these games and try to spot promising talent.

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Trends in JapanEdited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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