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Waseda’s first-year sensation Kiyomiya takes center stage

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Any baseball fan, from the casual to the hardcore, who didn’t know Waseda Jitsugyo first-year player Kotaro Kiyomiya had an RBI hit in his Summer Koshien debut on Saturday, probably spent the day off the grid.

Kiyomiya was everywhere long before the tournament began. That he got a hit in his debut, one that drove in a run no less, eclipsed even the news of the day from the pro ranks — Kiyomiya even garnered a mention on the video board at Tokyo Dome, as the Hiroshima Carp warmed up for their game against the Yomiuri Giants.

All four of his at-bats were replayed on various news programs that night and again on Sunday morning. In Akihabara station, one kiosk adorned part of its newspaper section with cutouts of the teenager’s head. Nikkan Sports and Sports Nippon devoted their back pages to Kiyomiya, and they probably weren’t alone.

Not bad for a kid who was 1-for-4.

This is just the beginning. If Waseda can win a few games, Kiyomiya-fever will rocket into the stratosphere — especially if he has the game to match the hype.

“He’s not an ordinary first-year player,” former NPB pitcher Daisuke Araki said during a televised interview Saturday night.

Kiyomiya, who checks in at 184 cm and 97 kg, certainly looks the part and he definitely has a bat opponents have to be wary of facing.

Kiyomiya was installed as the star of this Summer Koshien before it even began. His face was plastered across various magazines, and media attention swelled when Waseda finally punched its ticket to Kansai.

It helped that he was hardly an unknown. He’s the son of a sporting celebrity, rugby star Katsuyuki Kiyomiya, and attends a school that counts Araki, Sadaharu Oh and Yuki Saito as alumni.

Kiyomiya was also the driving force behind the Kitasuna team from Tokyo that represented Japan in the Little League World Series in 2012. Kiyomiya wowed onlookers both at the plate and on the mound during that event, helping to lead Japan to the title.

The American media fawned over the Japanese sensation, wondering aloud what the future might hold.

His present is as the main ingredient in Japan’s ultimate kingmaker.

High school baseball has always had a special place in the hearts of many Japanese, one even the pro game doesn’t fulfill — twice a year, in fact, the high schoolers force the Hanshin Tigers into extended road trips as they take over the stadium.

The tournament is as much about the past as the present. Koshien Stadium, the oldest stadium in Japan, is so revered and full of history the losers of each contest drop to their knees to scoop handfuls of the old ballpark’s dirt into bags as souvenirs. The event is marked by pageantry, emotion, and uniforms dirtied by head-first slides into first and often wet from the tears that sometimes flow from the eyes of winner and loser alike.

Japanese fans love high school heroes and are always on the lookout for the next kaibutsu (monster), who stands above all others.

Only time will tell if Kiyomiya is that player, but if the attention he drew after his debut was any indication, this is a revolution that will most certainly be televised.