Over 200 people have come to this website seeking information about Yu Darvish in the past two weeks.
Welcome to Darvish-mania.
His shadow is starting to loom over ballparks and fanbases across America. Forum posters use any excuse to weave him into their commentary.
In reading some of these posts, I have found several voices questioning this blog’s stance and so-called ‘scouting report on Yu Darvish.’ They use words like ‘fawning over’ and ‘glowing.’
Yes, I am excited about Yu Darvish’s game, but let me make something clear right now: There is NO GUARANTEE that Yu Darvish will make a dominant major league pitcher.
An elite arsenal of pitches and control are strong pre-requisites of a dominant pitcher, but it is the level of a pitcher’s mental game, that separates the greats from mere hurlers. And there is no scout or statistician in the world who can put an accurate number on the level of Yu Darvish’s game going on underneath his ball cap.
Pitching greatness is a byproduct of physical execution meshed with superior mental ability. A dominant pitcher needs an inner over-confidence to pick themselves back up after any exterior momentary lapses.
A dominant pitcher needs a wild imagination to see unlikely and highly positive results in the face of highly stacked odds.
A dominant pitcher needs an unshakeable mental disposition that shrugs off errors, bad calls and all the other trappings of failure beyond their immediate control. They need a willpower to control every detail of the game they can. Pitch by pitch.
They have to shrink the whole game down to a simplistic, zen-like state, to forget about any distractions such as the score, the next batter, the fans, etc. They need a tenacious ability to channel a sharp tunnel vision on command.
There is no way to know if Yu Darvish possesses any of these mental traits. It’s entirely possible that he is an executional pitching freak, who can dominate batters in the vacuum of Japanese baseball, without ever being mentally challenged on a consistent basis.
Talent alone may be producing these otherworldly numbers that have US scouts salivating on their radar guns.
We will only know about Darvish’s mental game when he is standing on the mound at Yankee stadium, as a Yankee or a visitor. Then we will see what lies between his ears. To see if he can defiantly shut out the media circus and the temperamental and vocal New York fans. If he can shut them out and shut them down with the ferocity of his mind, then his arsenal of pitches will take care of the rest and he will destroy major league batters.
But if the distractions creep into his mind, de-rail his game plan, and amplify the small mistakes, he will be nothing special.
It is up to him to show he is not just some cool and talented dude, bred only to dominate in the northern reaches of Japan, far from the epicenter and mayhem of elite baseball. Untested. Unproven. Unvalidated.
Exam day awaits Yu Darvish.
His pencils are damn sharpened.
Now show us what your mind is made of.
It happens every August.
It’s a celebration of baseball purity in Japan.
A celebration of fundamentals and team coming first. It’s filled with bunts and squeeze plays and pitchers asked to throw 200 pitches and sometimes come back and pitch the very next day.
The dirt is black. The uniforms and hats are often crispy white. The dirt gets streaked across the chests early, creating a graphic reminder of this down to earth, nose to the grindstone style of baseball.
Many Japanese speak of this high school baseball tournament with religious sanctity. They’ll tell you with pride that it is a wholly Japanese style of the game, called ‘yakyu’, which to them, bears no resemblance to the American game of baseball.
I have lived one and seen both versions of baseball. And I will report to you, that pure, fundamental baseball is identical, on either side of the Pacific.
The Japanese Koshien enthusiast will speak with justified pride at the play and demeanor of the various competing high schools from across Japan. But it is not fair to generalize American baseball as only about steroids, chewing tobacco and video game style slugfests.
I submit that baseball at the high school level is a very similar game in both countries.
Baseball, in its pure form, and in its very nature, is a team game. For marketing purposes, sure, the American superstar talent has been vaunted and pushed at the major league level. But that same superstar gets no such special treatment from the game of baseball itself. He must still wait the same eight turns at bat until he can unleash his behemoth talent on the baseball.
And the lower the level of play, the less important the power game becomes. At the high school level, in America, every position player and pitcher MUST know how to bunt. This is not a skill that coaches are ignoring or failing to drill into their teams. America has strategy. America has the hit and run, the delayed steal, the squeeze play. No matter where baseball is played, the balance of competitive power will always be skewed to those who can use their mind to create an advantage on the diamond.
Alleged differences aside, Koshien remains a beautiful baseball tournament that any fan of baseball, or sport, can enjoy. For nearly a solid month, the games of this national high school tournament are nationally televised. The players become national conversation topics and heroes. Some of them reach an immortality that could only be compared to what sometimes happens during the month of March to collegiate basketball players in America. It is the rare moment when a young amateur can steal the spotlight from the professionals.
Conversely, because of the millions of eyes watching, Koshien can also turn into a crushing, suffocating moment, as the amply free-flowing post game tears will attest to. It’s something akin to how an entire nation once watched Chris Webber infamously call a timeout when his team had none remaining. Only with Koshien, the players don’t have the future earnings cushion that Mr. Webber had awaiting him. Only a very small percentage will ever see a substantial professional paycheck. For most players in this tournament, Koshien is the curtain call of their athletic career. The tip of their dreams that will abruptly end on national TV, before they are ushered into a competitive corporate conveyor belt that will turn their passion for sport into a distant conversation piece with future work colleagues.
But for precious few, they will be crowned eternally princes of Koshien.
This drama, the chalk white and infield black certainty of it all, keeps millions upon millions of eyes returning to this traditional tournament every summer.
It has certainly sucked me in, as I wish every youngster great success and satisfaction, in victory or in defeat at having earned themselves a wonderful athletic milestone. I know there are life lessons and inspiration to take from their passion and struggle at Koshien. I hope that they take these lessons with them, and don’t leave them behind, severed from their reality, on the tear-flooded, blackened infield dirt at Koshien stadium.
Gliding on a train out of Tokyo, watching the skyscrapers fold into rice fields, cinematically passing through the train windows. Golden sun rays, dividing the space, refracting off the humid atmosphere, tracking back into high cotton candy clouds in pastel air-brushed skies.
Eating shaved ice, syrup doused, on a loosely packed snowball, waging delicious war on summer’s oppressive regime.
Festival goers in kimonos, wrapped in tradition, illuminated by a thousand, thousand fireworks. Plastic, noise making swords in the hands of small children. The day doesn’t end, it loops from last year, it stretches time, folds generations upon each other. Shared, photocopied, morse-coded, retweeted memories, served with a side of yakisoba noodles, in plastic trays, sprayed in mayonnaise, with neon pink, fire breathing strips of ginger on top.