Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Thoughts on Koushien - Then and now...

When I first found out about Koushien, I didn't think there was anything more spectacular or honest than high school boys playing a game they love in the hopes of getting to Koushien, playing on the hallowed grounds for a chance to be champions of the country.  And it was the reason why in 2006 I made my 3rd trip to Japan to watch the entire Natsu Koushien for myself.

Having stayed in Tenri during prior trips to the Kansai region, and seeing how dominant they were in-prefecture I wanted them to do well (they didn't).  I thought Fukuchiyama Seibi was a powerhouse team and should be upset by someone (they weren't, they were).  I rooted for Kanzei because of the disasters Dass Romash faced (and faced again when they lost to Bunsei Geidai Fuzoku), and for the underdog Teikyou to defeat Chiben Wakayama (they weren't underdogs, and they lost in spectacular - in a Hindenberg way - fashion).

And I rooted hard for Komadai Tomakomai when they played the history of Waseda Jitsugyou trying to make history themselves because perhaps they may never get this chance again (at least I was right about that - sadly).

I've seen many more Koushiens after that. From the bitter pill when Saga Kita hit that grand slam in the bottom of the 8th to defeat Kouryou, to the joy when Imamura and Seihou won it all, to the Risshoudai Shounan squad who played in the memory of their coach and won several games despite their squad decimated by the flu, to the improbable rally that just fell short by Nihon Bunri against Chuukyoudai Chuukyou in the bottom of the 9th that left me (and the entire Niigata region crushed).

I've learned more about the path to Koushien, the schools that make it there...

...and it has unfortunately taken the luster off what I once saw as an great sport...

Because while at last count 3,957 schools started the journey to Natsu Koushien, I bet that not even 10% of those schools had a realistic chance of getting there.  Now some of that's to be expected, not every school can field a contender.  But then look at these stats:
  • 15 of the 32 schools in this field have been to senbatsu in the last 5 years.
  • The year before that, 18 of the expanded 36 were.  That's half of the field.
  • Last summer 26 of the 49 participants fit that criteria.
  • And the year before that, a whopping 32 teams.  That's almost 2/3rds of the field!!
So while we know that the Gonohe's, the Ikoma's, the Chatan's of the world will probably never get as close to a whiff of Koushien because they just aren't good, you have schools like Engaru, Kakunodate, Komatsu Meihou and Misato who field decent squads, but continuously bump their heads into schools like Hokushou, Akita Shougyou, Yuugakukan and Okinawa Shougaku.

Much like other things in life, the established guard generally get the spoils.  And most of the time, these schools are private, which makes it all the more frustrating because if you're a private school chances are you are getting more funding and can therefore can field better teams than a public school.

And so nowadays my allegiances have changed...

It's the reason why I do not generally root for the established guard.  It's the reason why I dislike schools like Nichidai-san, Yokohama, Teikyou, Sendai Ikuei, Waseda Jitsugyou, Osaka Touin, Chiben Wakayama - because they have been here more than enough times and someone else should have a turn.  Even newly formed Waseda Saga (established 2010) I know will become one of those schools.  The Waseda name has made the school already a contender in the weak Saga prefecture.

It's the reason why I root for schools from places that are not successful at Koushien - despite being private schools, if Nihon Bunri or Hachinohe Gakuen Kousei (fka Kousei Gakuin) make the final I will root for them to defeat the old guard (like Chuukyoudai Chuukyou or Osaka Touin/Nichidai-san).

It's the reason why I root for the underdog - like Engaru (though they did get a nod a year later, but much too late to show their potential IMO), or Kakunodate (who just missed out last summer and was passed over in the 21st century selection which admittedly would have been a year late), or Ise (who also got passed over in the 21st century selection).

And sure, some of my allegiances nowadays don't fall into those rules - perhaps Narashino for instance who is a public school, but one of the more successful public schools.  Or Kanzei, who is definitely an above-average private school out of Okayama, because I think they've been snake-bitten more than I think a school deserves.  Or Mie, despite being a private school just because they're a blue-collar gritty from a weaker prefecture.  Or Aikoudai Meiden just because of Ichiro.  Or my real irrational likes of Kasukabe Kyouei and Nishinomiya Kita just because they were the home for anime series.

And if I had the ability to, I would be an English teacher at a public school helping a team get to Koushien, to break through that ceiling of established teams and give that opportunity to kids that perhaps may not get otherwise.

So that's where I stand on things at Koushien now.  I'm sure that most of you who read the blog have your favorite school, and so do I to some extent.  But when someone like Ooshima makes it for instance, I will root hard for them to win a game or two, even if the odds are against them.


JH said...

If I pick my favorites for each summer championships since 2006:

2006: Shizuoka Shougyou (Their always-smiling ace Ono Kensuke was a joy to watch) and Kagoshima Koukou (Hollering, yelling Imayoshi Koichi!)

2007: Saga Kita (Public school drama! Also, I generally like the teams that utilize multiple pitchers rather than depending on a single ace....)

2008: Keio and Urasoesho (Why did they have to face each other?!? I so much wanted one of them to win it all, and instead, the giant Toin comes in and stomps over everything)

2009: Jyosuikan (Damned by rain - twice) and Nihon Bunri (Their 5-run rally is still a memorable moment) and Meihou (Imamiya!)

2010: Konan (Shimabukuro!) and Sendai Ikuei (They are generally not my type, but their 9th inning comeback-and Sanpei's last diving catch- against Kaisei was dazzling. Plus, I kind of have an affection for the teams that use more than one pitchers.....)

2011: Chiben Gakuen (Their 9th inning rampage against Yokohama was a moment to remember.) and Kanzei (Ever since the tragedy of Dass Romash, I swore allegiance to Kanzei. They deserve better.) and Noshirosho (It was a joy to watch a squad that was massacred the previous year to come back to Koushien and rise up.)

2012: Toko Gakuen (Matsui!!!) and Kousei (Seriously, three runner ups in three competitions?!?! Damn you Yoshinaga and Fujinami)

2013: Maebashi Ikuei (Not just because of Takahashi Kouna, but I really liked their gritty fighting style which they displyed vs. Jyousou and vs. Nobeoka. Plus, they avenged my man Matsui by beating Yokohama. Ha ha.) and Nobeoka (Who could not like Shigemoto-Kantoku?) and Setouchi (They were ousted in the first round versus Meitoku, but ace Yamaoka's 24-inning pitching epic in the Hiroshima Finals reminded me of 2006 Finals)

JH said...

For heaven's sake, why did I leave out 2009 Risshoudai Shounan and ace Sakita?