[Outlook] Baseball dreams

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[Outlook] Baseball dreams

In the recent World Baseball Classic, Korea missed the chance to win the tournament but did become the runner-up, a great achievement which moved all Koreans. The defense handled crises well, batters didn’t miss chances and both created a series of emotional scenes. The Korean team’s competence and potential inspired the people.

I’ve always been a big fan of baseball, ever since I was a little kid. Since I was born in Tokyo, I supported the Yomiuri Giants. Back then, the Giants were doing great thanks to Sadaharu Oh, Wang Chen Chih, and Shigeo Nagashima. Wang, who now holds the world record for career home runs, hit with a distinctive batting stance, standing on one leg and aiming the bat at the pitcher. When he made a hit to second or third base, no one was satisfied. He was a great batter, and we expected home runs.

Meanwhile, Nagashima was good at capitalizing on opportunities. In a match against the rival Hanshin Tigers, Wang was hit by a beanball in the head and had to be taken away for medical treatment. The players of the two teams got into a brawl and some were ordered to leave the field. Nagashima silently watched the whole incident from a distance. When the game got under way again, he gathered himself and made an incredible home run hit. The scene is still vivid in my mind.

Baseball in Japan in those days was as moving and dramatic as it is in Korea now. Thanks to those two players, the Yomiuri Giants were invincible.

When I was about to start middle school, a baseball manga comic titled the “Star of the Giants” was extremely popular. It’s about a child, the son of a former Yomiuri player, who grows up in poverty and receives intense training from his father. The kid eventually joins the Yomiuri Giants as a pitcher. The lesson is that you need to fight to overcome life’s hardships in order to become No. 1. Grown-ups liked the manga as well, because it had many moving scenes that provided valuable lessons about life. In the story, the father used to say to his son, “You should become a shining giant,” invoking the name of the Yomiuri team.

At the time, playing against a major league team was like an impossible dream. But the hero of the manga says, “I have put my life into the Yomiuri Giants. It must become the best in the world some day.” These words planted the seed of a dream in the minds of many Japanese baseball fans that Japanese baseball would one day become the best in the world. Dreams about baseball in Japan started to grow in the late 1960s.

I was one of many boys who wanted to play professional baseball. Although I was short, I was strong and I thought of myself as the best at hitting home runs in my neighborhood. I made up my mind to be a serious ball player and joined teams in middle and high school. Both times, however, I had to give up my dreams because of injuries. I attended Tokyo University, whose team was always the worst. But it was allowed to play in a tournament of six universities within the city, as it was where college baseball began in Japan. I had to cheer our team from the bench - not quite what I dreamed of in my childhood. But what I learned from those days has helped me throughout my life.

When I visit Tokyo, I still go to the Tokyo Dome to catch games. These days it is to watch Lee Seung-yeop play. Unlike Japanese baseball which has retreated over the years into so-called “small ball,” Lee is doing great and I expect him to play as well as Wang in his prime. I hope he will overcome the many difficulties and hardships in Japan and become a “shining giant.”

Not only in baseball but in all sports, I hope that Korean athletes will move to the front of the international stage and give the people of this country many moving stories. Dreams always come true.

*The writer is a professor of Japanese studies at Sejong University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Yuji Hosaka
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