In the 2013 Spring Koushien, 16 year-old Saibi ace pitcher, Tomohiro Anraku, threw 772 pitches in nine days. Five games, nine days, 772 pitches. There is no need for embellishment, because those numbers say it all. He is an elusive kaibutsu – a monster in both pitching and presence – not only in the games he plays in, but over the entire Koushien tournament. Rumors, awe, and the perception of his ability affect the mindset of other teams competing for the title. Anraku’s pitch count and perceived stamina drew national reverence and international ire, with Don Nomura (now an advisor to Texas Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish) likening coaches’ treatment of Anraku to child abuse.
While discussing Ace of Diamond with a friend of mine the other day, he lauded the series for focusing on “the Yankees” of Japanese high school baseball, as opposed to another team of scrappy underdogs. For the most part – although I would more readily compare Japanese high school baseball to American college football – this analogy holds true. Eijun Sawamura leaves Nagano to attend the powerhouse baseball factory Seidou for his high school career. He himself is a scrappy underdog because Seidou is just that good, churning out highly-competitive teams year after year. With enough players to field at least three teams, if one person fails there is another waiting eagerly on the bench for their chance. For Sawamura, who yearns to be the ace pitcher of Seidou, the rookie kaibutsu, Satoru Furuya, solidly stands in his way.
Furuya arrives with one monstrous pitch in a practice game, rocketing him from the first-year squad to the first-string team. His debut outing against Yokohama in the Kanto tournament nets him six strikeouts in six batters. The game was already lost by the time Furuya takes the mound, but his composure and presence are no less impressive for it. Furuya owns that game like a true monster should. Glory lies ahead for Furuya, provided that he can stay healthy enough to carry his team. As of episode nine, his health and stamina appear to be up in the air. The amount of power required to pitch as Furuya does cannot be sustained without further training and extreme attentiveness to even the slightest of injuries, like a split nail.
Motoki Haruna of Ookiku Furikabutte is often called the worst pitcher by his former catcher, Takaya Abe. Purposefully limiting his own pitch count in order to preserve his arm for a career in baseball, Haruna is a rare pitcher in Japan as one who does not see Koushien as the end all be all of his place in baseball. He has the stuff to become a kaibutsu, but deliberately chooses his own future career over potential high school immortality, affecting every team he plays for, including his current high school team, Musashino. While Abe and Haruna also have a storied personal history, the crux of their disagreement lies in what they value in baseball. Haruna cares for his Musashino teammates, but values his future career above all. Abe sees Haruna’s pitch count limit as a selfish disregard for how hard his teammates are working towards a common goal of winning, resulting in Abe calling him “the worst.”
Currently excelling in Major League Baseball for the Texas Rangers is Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish. His success is partially due to the fact that he, like Haruna, had his pitch count limited while in high school. His high school record is no less impressive for it, having led his team to four appearances in the Koushien tournament, in spite of never winning the title while at Tohoku High. Farsad Darvish specifically sent his son, Yu, to Tohoku – a baseball powerhouse in the same vein as Ace of Diamond‘s Seidou – and kept a close watch over him the entire time. Like Haruna, Darvish did not become a kaibutsu, in spite of arguably having the presence and mechanical skill. Following high school, and his days in Japan with the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, Darvish continued to pay specific attention to his pitching style and any stress arising from specific pitches. In 2006, Darvish purposefully phased the screwball out of his pitching repertoire due to the strain it had put on his shoulder.
One can’t help but wonder where Darvish would be if he had become a kaibutsu for Tohoku, like Tomohiro Anraku for Saibi, or former Red Sox pitcher, Daisuke Matsuzaka for Yokohama. In Ace of Diamond, Coach Kataoka of Seidou has intense loyalty to the idea of the ace pitcher, even with whispers among his peers that times are changing. Although the series refrains from taking one side over another, it shows the consequences with a surprisingly deft touch. Both Furuya and Sawamura have been gifted to Coach Kataoka, and their development is now firmly in his hands.