[From October Issue 2012]
This July Ichiro, the Japanese star player for the Seattle Mariners, was suddenly traded to the New York Yankees. Baseball evolved in the USA, but, together with soccer, it is the most popular sport in Japan. So this news surprised Japanese.
Ichiro won seven consecutive batting titles in professional Japanese baseball. After moving to the Seattle Mariners, he did extremely well, scoring 200 hits a season for ten consecutive years, a record number in the history of major league baseball. He hasn’t been on top form these past couple of years, but is still a big star in the major league. Besides Ichiro, a few other Japanese players, such as pitcher DARVISH Yu, who joined the Texas Rangers this year, are doing well.
In Professional Japanese baseball there is the Central League and the Pacific League with six teams in each league. From around April to around October there are 144 matches in both leagues; the winning team becomes the league champion. Besides that the top three teams in each league compete against each other in a separate round of matches (the Climax Series) and the winner from each league qualifies for the Japan Series. The team that wins four games out of seven games in the series becomes the Japan Series Champion.
In Japanese baseball the Central League, in particular the Yomiuri Giants, has been popular for a long time. Thanks to superstar players NAGASHIMA Shigeo and OH Sadaharu, the Giants once won the Japan Series nine consecutive years in a row. However, in recent years the teams are more evenly matched and the franchise system has been widely accepted, so that each team enjoys its own popularity.
Baseball is enjoyed by both children and adults. Come spring and summer, NHK broadcasts the National High School Baseball Championships and the whole nation gets caught up in the excitement. In addition to this, baseball matches between universities or cities are also held. The standard of Japanese baseball is high; in the World Baseball Classic held once every four years, Japan has won twice in a row.
Baseball fields are fan shaped. The outfield zone is covered with turf and the infield zone bare dirt, which marks out a square shape with a base placed at each corner. Nine players in a team are selected for a match. Teams play offence and defense nine times each and the team scoring the most amount of points wins. For offence, players go up to the batting box and hit the ball the pitcher throws.
If a player hits a ball that cannot be caught by the defense, it becomes a “hit” and that player goes to first base. If the ball is hit well, players can advance to second or third base. Points are scored when a player returns to home base. Points are also scored if the ball goes over the fence into the spectator’s stand and becomes a home run. If the ball is a “grounder” (the batted ball rolls or bounces along the ground) the player runs to first base. If the player can reach the base before a defensive fielder can arrive there with the ball, this constitutes a hit and the player is able to stay at first base.
Offence play continues till three players are out. When the batted ball goes out of the field, the player takes his turn again. When the pitcher’s balls do not fly over the home base four times, the batter walks to the first base. If the batter doesn’t take a swing at balls passing over the strike zone, or fails to connect with the ball even if he swings three times, he is out.