Seniors can still make Koshien dream come true

by Kento Iwamura

Kyodo

Makoto Chogahara, 48, is making it possible for former high school baseball players to once again chase their dream of playing in Koshien Stadium, home of the national tournament.

Chogahara, an associate professor at Kobe University’s Graduate School of Human Development and Environment, founded the Masters Baseball tournament in Koshien in 2004. It has since grown into a major event that brings together as many as 20,000 participants from 33 prefectures.

“Even though we have gotten to be old men, we still have the blood and passion to compete with one another and feel the sting (when losing a game),” Chogahara said.

Author Kiyoshi Shigematsu wrote a novel based on Masters Baseball, titled “Again,” that Toei Co. is making into a movie scheduled for release next fall.

Back in the day, Chogahara was a pitcher at Kagoshima Prefectural Tsurumaru High School, but his team never made it to the big stage in Koshien.

He came up with the idea of Masters Baseball when he was studying at the University of Alberta in Canada. In 1998 he competed in the 400-meter dash in the World Masters Games in the United States, an international multisport event for middle-aged people and older.

He thought Japan should have a sports event of its own for people past the bloom of youth, and that the sport absolutely had to be baseball.

Chogahara phoned Koshien Stadium to ask if it was possible to organize a Masters event and got nowhere.

Refusing to give up, he visited scores of companies in search of a sponsor while scouring Japan for high school baseball alumni associations.

In the decade since he finally got the event off the ground, Chogahara has encountered a wide range of players and teams. In one game, he saw a woman shedding tears as she watched her 88-year-old husband step into the batter’s box.

As a professor, Chogahara studies ways to help middle-aged and elderly people stay healthy and revitalize society and communities through sports. As part of his research, he manages Masters Baseball along with his students.

Chogahara said many participants have told him they recognized afresh the depth of baseball. “Their comments made me think it isn’t so bad getting old,” he said.