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The hot baseball season has come again this year. The 93rd Intercity Baseball Championship will be held at Tokyo Dome from July 18 to determine the No. 1 team.
Hitachi, Ltd. won the Kita-Kanto Tournament with no losses, and qualified for the 40th Inter-city Baseball tournament for 4 consecutive years as a member of the First Team.
At Tokyo Dome, the third match on the fourth day of the tournament against Nippon Shinyaku (representating Kyoto City) was decided, and the heated contest to go for the top of the Intercity Baseball Championship began.
Among Hitachi's players, there is a player who has contributed greatly to the team's victory for many years. His name is Masanori Tanaka, as known as "Mr. Hitachi". He saved the team many times. In this article, we will focuse on his history as a baseball player as well as his attitude and passion to win the game.
As a member of Hitachifs corporate baseball team, Masanori Tanaka ( Safety and MONOZUKURI Division, Energy Affairs Department, Hitachi Ltd. ) has earned the moniker gMr. Hitachih at the Intercity Baseball Tournament, where corporate baseball teams compete to become the best in Japan. As a mainstay power hitter, he has contributed to the team's runner-up finish in the 2016 Intercity Baseball Tournament and a top-four finish in 2019. Born in 1983, he will turn 39 years old in 2022, and although he says that hefs reached his glimit,h Mister Hitachi is still continuing to evolve. The thing that has sustained him for so long in his work as a baseball player has been his single-minded effort and belief that gif you never give up, you can always find a way.
Corporate baseball teams are said to be guided by three basic principles. Inside the company, they serve to unify the feelings of employees, while outside the company, they raise the companyfs profile as well as supporting the local sports activities. While the hiring and working conditions for players vary from company to company, the Hitachi Baseball Club has no mandatory retirement age for players and allows its players to focus on baseball. Essentially, their work is that of a semi-professional baseball player.
Formed in 1917 the Hitachi Baseball Club celebrates its 105th anniversary in 2022, boasting one of the longest histories of any corporate baseball team in Japan. During that time, out of the teamfs thirty-nine appearances at the Intercity Baseball Tournament, it has finished in the top eight or better on thirteen occasions. Tanaka, dubbed gMr. Hitachi,h has contributed to four of those appearances, and has been honored for participating in the Tournament a total of ten times. Although the Hitachi Baseball Club has produced many professional baseball players, Tanaka, who is still active at age 39, is in a league of his own.
In the view of his manager and teammates, one of Tanaka's strengths is that he always delivers when they want him to hit. After joining the active roster in his third year at Hitachi, Tanaka has been a regular at bat, batting fourth, fifth, or sixth, solidly in the center of the starting lineup. Out on the field, he plays first base.
When the Hitachi Baseball Club finished as runner-up in the 2016 Intercity Baseball Tournament, the 100th anniversary of the club's founding, he was already a team veteran with fifteen years under his belt. Even so, he hit a two-run home runs in the quarterfinals to secure a big win and give the club momentum to advance to the finals. In 2021, his twentieth year as a player, he continued batting fifth in the lineup and won the top batter's award (with a batting average of .454) in the North Kanto Finals of the Intercity Baseball Tournament.
Noting that geven the youngest player closest to me is six years younger than me,h Tanaka is very much a legend in his own right. Even though he admits that things are gtough, to be sureh as he approaches his fortieth birthday, he never misses his morning ten-kilometer run, a tradition he began at the age of 19 in his second year as a working adult with the idea that gIf my legs stop moving, I won't be able to play baseball anymore.h Laughing that, gI am also an employee, so if Ifm ordered to do something, then thatfs what Ifve got to do,h he nevertheless brims with energy as he continues his current position, and his words palpably convey his fervent desire to contribute to the team.
Tanaka started playing baseball during his first year of elementary school. Following in the footsteps of his two older brothers, respectively six and five years older than him, both of whom played baseball, he soon became obsessed with the sport as well. With practice hitting balls pitched by his older brothers, he could handily hit the pitches thrown by his classmates by the time he was in his third year of elementary school, already starting to show early glimpses of his innate talent.
In many senses, it was when he was a student at Mito Commercial High School, an institution with a prestigious high school baseball team, that his life as a baseball player began to take on color and direction. During his tenure at the school, Tanaka walked on to the field of the Koshien Stadium three years in a row - in the Japanese High School Baseball Championship in the summers of his first and second years, and at the Japanese High School Baseball Invitational Tournament in the spring of his final year. But for Tanaka, it was not these experiences that mattered most.
gEven though I was invited to attend Mito Commercial and keep playing baseball, it was a really high-level school even for high school baseball, and the players there were performing a at a level one or two notches above me. But there was no point in holding back. I just kept practicing diligently day after day, until suddenly there came a moment when things opened up before me and I thought, eAh, I can do a little more!h With this single-minded effort, new possibilities opened up to him in that moment. From that point forward, this realization became a powerful driving force in Tanaka's life.
That was not the only important lesson he learned during his high school baseball career. Minoru Hashimoto, the teamfs manager at that time, was always saying that gBaseball is a sport that is played using your head.h Even so, most of the members of his baseball team at that time did not understand the meaning of their gGreat Commanderfsh words, believing that they could get to the Koshien National Championships simply by following their coachfs advice.
gIt wasnft until I encountered corporate baseball, until I had gained ten, maybe fifteen years of experience that I began to understand the brilliance of our coachfs words. That is, baseball is not just about the techniques of hitting and running; it's about bringing ingenuity to how you hit the ball, reading the combination of pitches, boosting team morale, and sensing when the other team is upset. Only when you take various factors like these into consideration you can start to play a winning game of baseball.h
gBefore I graduated from high school,h Tanaka says, gI felt like Ifd done all I could with baseball and thought that Ifd like to try to become an itamae [a Japanese chef specializing in high-end cuisine].h But Coach Hashimoto encouraged Tanaka to try his hand at corporate baseball. gFirst, work as hard as you can for three years. If that doesnft work out, then you can transfer to a university,h he said. gAnd since Mito and Hitachi are close to one another I can also provide you with advice.h Emboldened by Coach Hashimotofs supporting words, Tanaka decided that he would join Hitachi.
gEven though Ifd gone to the Koshien Championship several times with my high school baseball team, I found that the level of baseball played by corporate teams is the real deal. Their degree of focus on baseball is completely different.h
But he felt that this must have been why Coach Hashimoto wanted Tanaka to keep challenging himself. Or rather, Coach Hashimoto must have discerned in Tanaka's temperament, a willingness to expand his potential on his own, and it was likely that this convinced him that Tanaka was up to the job. And indeed, it is evident that Tanaka has grown into the player that Coach Hashimoto envisioned.
For his first three years at the company, the rigors of corporate baseball and the high level of play left Tanaka reeling. Even so, in his third year, Tanaka joined the starting lineup and became the fourth hitter. gBy my fifth year,h he says, gI began to feel confident that I would be able to make it.h And as though in step with Tanakafs development, it was around this time that the team also began to make consecutive appearances in the main Intercity Baseball Tournament.
With a characteristically outstanding bat control and ability to hit in harmony with the ball, Tanaka says that he is not concerned with batting order or hitting home runs. gI just want runs batted in. Baseball is a game of scoring points, and the team that scores more points wins.h In Tanakafs view, gThe secret of baseball lies in getting runners around the bases efficiently.h
Over the past twenty years, Tanaka has appeared in countless official and unofficial baseball games. These matches have had varied outcomes, some happy, some frustrating, and some exciting. His most memorable game was the runner-up finish at the 2016 Intercity Baseball Tournament. gI was gutted when we lost the game,h he admits. gBut that's baseball. Even so, I think we can be appreciated for making it to the finals for the first time.h
A happy memory for Tanaka was having captained the 2019 team to a win in the North Kanto Finals of the Intercity Baseball Tournament and then making it to the final four at the main tournament. In fact, that was the year that he told Coach Hayato Wakui that he felt he was getting close to his limit, to which the coach replied, gI understand.h And yet, a month later, he was selected as captain.
gI was in my late thirties, and my baseball was certainly changing. Finding out how I could contribute to the team became the most important thing for me. I would do anything, even sacrifice bunts. It was then that I began to understand Coach Hashimotofs saying that eBaseball is a sport that is played using your head,fh says Tanaka, gand I think that also came across to Coach Wakui, too.h
The second game of the main tournament in 2021 was against Toho Gas. In the first inning, with two outs and runners on first and third, Tanaka was standing ready to bat left-handed and read that the second pitch would be a straight outside pitch. His instinct was right, and the ball bounced cleanly through the gap between the shortstop and third baseman, allowing the runner on third base to run home. Tanakafs comment at the time was, gI know I donft have the power I used to, but I can still hold my own against the young guys when it comes to technique.h It was a hit that demonstrated how baseball is played with the head.
By honing his technique of catching the ball cleanly at the core of the bat, the ball will fly farther. Sometimes, instead of trying for a base hit, he switches to a batting strategy that will allow runners to move around the bases securely. He acts flexibly to take the best possible action in any given moment.
gI think about whatfs coming up, and then make the play,h he says. gAs captain, Ifve actually come to realize that itfs also about creating an environment that makes it easier for the players to compete. The saying efor the teamf is not simply about dedication, but rather a kind of interaction - a way of encouraging the creation of more active movement.h
Reflecting once again on his career in baseball, Tanaka remarks that he has been truly fortunate to have been a member of the Hitachi Baseball Club.
gThe environment in which I have been able to devote myself to baseball - the playing field, the training facilities, and the dormitories - is unparalleled even among other corporate teams. Hitachi encourages its full-time employees to watch and support not only baseball but also other company sports. It is a company with a real passion for sports. Therefs as much pleasure in competing with the support of so many employees as there is in winning, and it also encourages the athletes. Theyfre showing us an ideal model for what corporate sports should be.h
Tanaka has taken great care in this environment to avoid injury. The fact that he has never sustained a serious injury is one reason why he has been able to stay so successful. Running every morning, a steady practice routine, and the mental stamina he has honed through these activities have all contributed to a sturdy body. It has also been a part of his effort to gcontinue being someone dependable.h
Tanaka has reached the final stages of his active career. Although he can give hands-on advice to his younger teammates, he is diffident about his skills at making plans or teaching strategy and tactics as a leader. However, this too, may allow Tanaka to carve out a new niche for himself by taking on this challenge with his distinctive single-mindedness.
When we are young, we worry and are unsure as to what kind of work we might be suited for. However, Tanaka's professional journey as a baseball player offers a powerful lesson, teaching us that gyour calling in life is not something that is given to you, but something that you create for yourself.h
Tanaka embodies a spirit that thinks carefully about what is needed to respond to changes in the environment and the challenges we face, as well as on how to find solutions and put them into practice, and then carrying them out without giving up. That this is no easy feat is what earned Tanaka the name gMister Hitachi.h