Baseball / Japanese Baseball | Sac Bunts

Koshien officials need to be mindful of heat

by Jason Coskrey

The temperature in Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture, got as high as 34 degrees Celsius (93 Fahrenheit) on Sunday, the opening day of this year’s edition of Summer Koshien. According to AccuWeather RealFeel, which measures in things such as humidity, cloud cover, intensity of the sun and other factors, it felt like 39. It’s not forecasted to be below 32 for at least the next week.

So while much of the focus at Koshien Stadium over the next few weeks will be on winning and losing, officials had better also keep a close eye on the temperatures in the area.

The summer heat in Kansai may be as much of a staple of Koshien as sacrifice bunts, but it’s a little more intense than usual this year.

“Because we want high school baseball to be safe, physical therapists will check more than usual to see if the player’s movements are unusual during games,” Masahiko Takenaka, secretary general of the Japan High School Baseball Federation, said on Saturday, according to NHK.

Officials stopped Saturday’s rehearsal for the opening ceremony to allow the players to drink water they’d been given beforehand. On Sunday, the opening day of the tournament, the players were given time to hydrate during games.

In the stands, television cameras caught thousands combating the heat with fans, hats and other things. In the school cheering sections, bottles of water and sports drinks were passed around before games.

Still, officials will have to remain vigilant for the entirety of the event, which is scheduled to end Aug. 21.

It’s dangerously hot in parts of Japan right now. The last three months have seen over 57,000 people taken to the hospital as result of the current heat wave, according to a Kyodo News report last week citing government data.

Nearby Osaka Prefecture saw 4,345 hospitalizations according to the report.

That’s not a good mix when you have high schoolers running around a baseball field for over two hours.

Koshien is often about sacrifice, and players are encouraged to show “guts” and “fighting spirit.” They also need to be taken care of, and not pushed to the brink of heatstroke or exhaustion. So it’s incumbent on the schools and the baseball federation to manage the players in this heat.

Especially the pitchers. Herculean pitch counts have often gone hand-in-hand with the Koshien experience. It’s not uncommon to see a pitcher, upon whose shoulder rests the hopes of an entire prefecture, take on a workload even the pros would balk at for fear of injury. That’s bad enough normally, but it could be even more of a hazard this year.

In the stands, the athletes who don’t get to play stand and cheer in full uniform. Many of their fellow students stand behind them and perform coordinated cheers, with some even playing instruments.

For those supporters, according to the Mainichi Shimbun, the federation has installed electric fans around the stadium and will also increase the number of shops selling portable fans and cold drinks. There will also be mist machines that will spray the cheering sections during the third, fifth and seventh innings.

“We want to do everything we can,” Takenaka said.

Other than packing up and moving to Kyocera Dome, there’s only so much cooler things can be, especially during the middle of the day. As usual, the competition on the field will be hot and heavy. You could also say the same for the heat and humidity.