TOKOROZAWA, Saitama Pref. — Japanese baseball historian and author Robert Whiting titled his most famous work “You Gotta Have Wa.”
Seems the Chiba Lotte Marines were listening.
Having moved on from a tumultuous 2009 season, the Marines are all on the same page, seemingly thinking with one mind and winning as a team. After a pair of ninth-inning rallies that led to 11th-inning victories on consecutive days, it’s hard not to think there’s something special going on with this group.
“This Lotte team is the ‘Miracle Marines,’ catcher Tomoya Satozaki proclaimed after the Marines rallied past the Seibu Lions 5-4 on Sunday. We have wa (harmony) and are believing that we can win by scoring one run at a time.”
Who wouldn’t believe after the way the Marines swept the Lions out of the first-stage of the Pacific League Climax Series?
Lotte trailed by four runs in the ninth inning of Game 1 and responded by pushing four across to send the game into extra innings. Kazuya Fukuura later led off the 11th with a solo homer to give Lotte a 6-5 win.
In Game 2 on Sunday, Satozaki led off the ninth with a game-tying homer and Tadahito Iguchi hit a go-ahead RBI single in the 11th.
“Our team slogan this year was ‘wa’ ” Iguchi said. “So we have to stick together and maintain the confidence and momentum we have built up by winning this series.”
The concept of wa is one of harmony and cohesiveness. It compels everyone to do his best not just for personal gain, but for the team’s benefit. Wa leaves little wiggle room for egos and it’s a concept that has permeated the Japanese game for years.
Many Japanese players, managers and coaches believe upsetting a team’s wa can be disastrous. One look at last year’s Marines reveals some merit to that belief.
The story of the 2009 Marines was a sordid tale of infighting, backstabbing and the eventual, controversial, ousting of manager Bobby Valentine despite a vehement protest by the team’s supporters.
The soap opera-like atmosphere was like a cancer to the team and it showed on the field as Lotte slumped to a fifth-place finish in the PL.
Rightly or wrongly, depending on who you ask, the Marines front office wiped the slate clean after the season, calling time on the Valentine-era which had been flush with success, including a victory in the 2005 Japan Series.
The task of rebuilding fell to Norifumi Nishimura, who with a steady hand, pieced together a fractured clubhouse and got the players all pointed in the same direction.
Nishimura, left with a mess of the Lotte front office’s making, made a point of restoring harmony and order to the club. He used “wa” as his rallying cry and got the team to buy into the concept.
“We’ve been playing with wa, which was the suggestion of the manager, throughout the season,” team captain Tsuyoshi Nishioka said.
Not surprisingly, most of the team said their new togetherness is what helped bring them to this point.
“It’s paid off,” Iguchi said.
Watching his team’s spirit shine through in a pair of come-from-behind victories, Nishimura was pleased, but quick to put the situation in perspective.
“There is still a ways to go to our final goal,” the manager said. “We’re not going to lose ourselves and we’ll just keep doing what we’ve been doing.”