Imagine the Boston Red Sox abandoning Fenway Park for over two straight weeks mid-season to make way for high schoolers. That's what happens every August here in Japan, as the Hanshin Tigers, the nation's second most-popular professional team, pack their bags and go on the road, giving up their home-field advantage — and their field — for high school baseball. This year, the familiar opening siren will sound to mark the start of the 96th national tournament on Saturday.

Each summer, Koshien fever spreads across the nation as professional scouts from the U.S. and Japan watch the tournament alongside legions of fans. Attendance peaks at over 40,000 for the final game. Televised live on several stations with an estimated 6 million viewers, Koshien creates national heroes, attracting a media frenzy unique in high school sports. From Hideki Matsui's infamous five at-bats, five intentional walks in the 1992 tournament and Daisuke Matsuzaka's 17-inning battle in the 1998 quarterfinal to Yuki Saito's trademark handkerchief in Waseda Jitsugyo's win over Masahiro Tanaka's Komadai Tomakomai in a final that lasted two days in 2006, baseball fans and non-fans alike thrill to the stories of the Koshien summer. Japan comes together like one community to watch the games.

How to explain Koshien's massive popularity? In short, these boys of summer represent the best qualities found in Japanese sports: a self-disciplined work ethic, teamwork, resilience — qualities valued not only in sports but in life. Players who carry home Koshien's sacred dirt, a memento for any athlete who makes it to the field, are valued in Japan by future employers and idealized by viewers.