Can you imagine the annual National High School Baseball Tournament being played somewhere else besides Koshien Stadium? A fan has suggested, because of the intense heat earlier this summer and the likelihood global warming and climate change will make it even hotter in the coming years, the tournament site should be shifted indoors to Kyocera Osaka Dome.
Another idea is to keep the action at Koshien but play the games at night, beginning at 5 or 6 p.m., even if there are four games per day at the beginning and the last game might not end until long after midnight.
High schoolers who play in the national championship need only say the word “Koshien,” and it is well understood as to what they are referring. Somehow saying, “I played at Kyocera” would not have the same meaning since the tournament has always been played at Koshien, often referred to as the “shrine of Japanese baseball.”
It is a concern, however, that rising summertime temperatures, combined with high humidity, produce a blast furnace-type heat that jeopardizes the health and safety of players, student cheering sections, regular fans and others out there under the blazing sun.
This year, even before Koshien, at least three people were rushed to hospitals in an ambulance after being overcome by heat exhaustion in the stands at Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium during the Tokyo Prefecture finals. Even a pro player, Hiroshima Carp outfielder Nate Schierholtz, suffered heatstroke in Hiroshima on Aug. 13.
The student players may have water and sports drinks to keep them hydrated, and they can find some shade in the dugouts while their own team is batting, but most at risk might be the oendan cheerleaders and other spectators beneath that scorching mid-day sun at Koshien where most seats are not covered.
I asked some old-time pro players if they remember it being as hot, as it is now, when they played high school ball.
Former Yomiuri Giants second baseman and Central League batting champion Toshio Shinozuka, now 58, played for Choshi Shogyo High School of Chiba Prefecture, which won the Koshien summer championship in 1974.
“I remember it being hot but not nearly as bad as it was at the start of the tournament this year. It has gotten to the point where it might be dangerous,” Shinozuka said.
Ex-Hiroshima Carp and Yakult Swallows infielder Takehiko Kobayakawa, now 53, played at Koshien for Osaka’s PL Gakuin in 1979 and agreed with Shinozuka.
“There is no doubt it is much worse today,” Kobayakawa said.
Yukinobu Kuroe, now 76, was the Giants shortstop during their V-9 years winning consecutive Japan Series between 1965 and 1973. He played for Kagoshima High School in Kyushu but never made it to Koshien with that team, as it lost in its prefectural finals in 1956.
“We had electric fans to circulate the air in the dugouts, and we sucked on ice cubes to help cool us,” Kuroe said of his time playing high school ball almost 60 years ago. “Still, it is so much hotter today than during those days.”
Kozo “Popeye” Kawato played 16 years with the Hanshin Tigers, mostly as a pinch hitter. Now 66, Kawato played high school ball at the famous ballpark in 1967, though his team, Wakasa High School of Fukui Prefecture, lost in the first round of play. He too said it was hot then but much hotter now and, in those days, there were no coolers with cold drinks in the dugouts.
“We used to go in the bathroom and scoop water from the sink with our hands,” he said. “Today, if the players did not have drinks, they would soon become dehydrated. We did not think much then about heatstroke or heat exhaustion, but it is a huge concern today.”
Of course, the fact these retired players are much older means their tolerance for the heat and humidity is much lower now than when they were 17 or 18 years old but, still, there is no denying it was extremely hot when this year’s Koshien games began. Temperatures in the 35-to-37-degree (Celsius) range proved that but, moving the high school showcase indoors?
They will probably put grass on the Koshien Stadium infield before the national high school championships are moved to Kyocera Dome.
Diamond Dust: How many out there remember that Torey Lovullo, currently the interim manager of the Boston Red Sox, once played in Japan? Lovullo was a switch-hitting infielder with the Yakult Swallows in 2000 but did not play much, due to injuries. In just 29 games, he hit .197 with a homer and two RBIs.
However, Lovullo joins a bunch of guys who played or managed in Japan and then went on to manage, either on a full-time or interim basis, a major league club. These include Jim Marshall, Frank Howard, Tony Muser, Davey Johnson, Jim Lefebvre, Charlie Manuel, Ken Macha, Larry Parrish, Sam Perlozzo, Jim Tracy, Bobby Valentine, Trey Hillman and Terry Collins,
Lovullo is filling in for Boston skipper John Farrell, undergoing treatment for lymphoma, in what amounts to a Japanese-style kyuyo or rest period whereby a stumbling team’s manager steps aside (in this case due to illness), and a coach takes over. When it works, the coach turns around the fortunes of the team, inspiring the players to victories for the “resting” manager.
In his first two games guiding the Red Sox, Lovullo saw the team score 37 runs during 15-1 and 22-10 victories over the Seattle Mariners on Aug. 14-15, but the BoSox are still last in the AL East.
Contact Wayne Graczyk at: Wayne@JapanBall.com
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