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The Golden Egg Hatches

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Well the Japanese media has finally taken notice of my son, and after about 4 reporters and 8 Japanese stories on sports sites we are no longer obscure. It certainly helps motivate Rafe to work harder.

Unfortunately for the senior team members, in their last tournament, they had to sit by and watch as the journalists huddled around the switch pitcher. Despite the Seijo team winning the opening round, via the seniors efforts, Rafe got all the attention while he sat on the bench. One female reporter gave him the Japanese metaphor of the golden egg to represent something special hatching soon.

Freshmen are unlikely to break into the line-up with only a handful of months under their belt. It is not a rule, but it might as well be one. Teams with a bench, in depth, can have rookie players jump the queue, but when the lineup is thin and seniors/ juniors can walk away from the team disgruntled, if they watch a rookie go on before them, the coach has a real juggling act on his hands. Seniors who have had their time on the bench for years are not keen to have a rookie jump the queue. Still things have fallen into place as one junior pitcher has over used his arm, and is in pain with his doctor telling him no more pitching. This leaves a battle for first reliever, or even the doubleheader starter, more open. Rafe is in the running as one can see the coach wants to use him, but under pressure from the conventions here he is moving slow on this. Rafe is not much of a pinch hitter as we have found in his Dodgers days as he is too excited and need to get more mature for such a role.

Comments on the articles covering his story ranged far and wide with the number of views in Japan being in the tens of thousands. The goal for us is to get his name known so as to have the Japan National Under 18 take a look at him. He offers super speed on the bases, a solid bat on either side of the plate and then of course his size and pitching.

His fluency in his English ability might help too. After watching the U18 World Championship in Thunder Bay, Canada the odds are good for Rafe being attractive to the Japanese scouts. The American U18 team had a couple of players who pitched over 150 km an hour, or 93 mph. This pretty much shut down all the other teams batting, including the Japanese. I expected the Japanese team to do much better, but it seems the Koshien participants weren’t as prepared as I thought they were for international play.

Rafe lacks Seijo Ace’s skills of control to date, while the present starting ace lacks the top fitness and pitch speed of Rafe. So says coach Asano, who is wanting to motivate them both in the areas they lack. With Rafe breathing down his neck the ace is surely feeling the heat and will work harder on his conditioning.

The level of Rafe’s focus during team practices and games has shifted my gauging of his abilities, as he can certainly do much better to date, once in the limelight is on him. Many Japanese youth are known to go down a notch or two when under pressure, but Rafe has gone up a bunch. This has made me relax more when having weaker practices with him, as I know he can do better under the gun.

By the autumn I will finally buy a speed gun so that we can officially see what he is firing. I will tell him only the average speed and work on slowing down his change-up, as he tries to throw it too fast, which defeats the whole purpose. At present his 4-seams and 2-seams are solid and given more confidence with these pitches he will work more on his change-ups and his knucklers. Yes the nouns are plural, as he has to throw each pitch with both arms.

I have also just received a King of the Hill pitching apparatus, which is used to focus on legs. I will write more on that later once we use this and other tools, as his game pitching time increases to warrant more interest nationally, and later internationally.

In his last game he gave up no runs in 3 innings and had 5 strike outs. He hit an inside-the-park homerun. Of lesser note he used his switch pitching ability on a bunt along the 1st base line. He was pitching with the left arm and when he went to field the bunt he quickly took off the glove and then threw with his right, avoiding the risk of turning around to throw. The play was good and brought some smiles from the coaches of both teams as his reputation as a switch pitcher gains credence. At present he is not using both arms in each game, but using one per game. Our plan is not to have his ability be a gimmick, but to have arms that can pitch by themselves, therefore saving the switching to a time and place where it helps. The team has many exhibition double headers, and Rafe could be using both arms in the same day by next year. For now working on one arm each game allows for better focus, and avoids the flipping back & forth to find the arm that is working better in the rush to do better now at the loss of building of both arms. Until next time.

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Never Say Never

It is a bit of a back to the future moment for us as we have had a breakthrough with Seijo High School and a new head coach there. Our plans to change schools ran into the system here in Japan where a student gives up his present school spot if he merely takes a test for another school. So in other words one loses his safe spot, with no assurance of his success in writing any new exams to enter other more difficult ones. Added to this the sports entrance procedure, which I will refrain from calling a scholarship (as it involved no financial support), asked for paperwork that was beyond our control. We had no Japanese game sheets, in which Rafe played in going back for a few years in nationally recognized tournaments. So out of luck and we were not interested in asking for special circumstance in such a by the numbers culture. Team meritocracy is fair, if all are in the system, but a great player can play for a weak team, no? This was all very Japanese, as in the West a player is evaluated on his own merits. Rafe had played on our international team in exhibitions as we put together an older team in the last few years. I guess I could filled out sheets instead of coaching and organizing league duties, but I only have so much time.

At the next university level in the future this transfer system does not apply and a student can apply to any school he wants to and not lose his spot in his present school. The escalator system allows a student to level up within a single school group, if his marks are reasonable. Rafe’s marks were all above average and were either a 4 or 5 ranking out of 5. In fact he has one of the top, or the top, marks on his Seijio Junior High Team. This has been no small effort on Rafe’s part, as private schools and public schools in Japan are much tougher in math and science verse Western ones generally, let alone in Japanese language classes in the amount of Chinese Characters one must memorize and be able to write exactingly.

So we were faced with a dangerous risk of changing schools, and Rafe had let it be known he wanted out. His best athlete award in the national evaluation test for the school, added with being top scorer in the intramural programs of basketball, soccer and handball combined; with an 11th place finish in the full student base school marathon meant they had their best athlete sitting out of all their Seijo clubs. We had the schools rugby coach trying to get Rafe to join their club and of course the basketball coach quietly wanting him to join with Rafe’s intramural basketball top points in scoring and assists scores. Doubling his best player’s numbers.

Further adding pressure on the sport program was the junior high’s baseball team’s problems having not ended with Rafe’s departure. The bad leadership in the coaching & captains had led to more boys leaving, as the gang leaders simply targeted other boys. The loss record of the team showed that this chemistry was not working.

So we were happy to hear the bad coaches have quit, as our loud stink, and loss of others, made them lose face. Thus to all forked tongue should justice be made. For us this only helped open the way to the high school team. There the coach was getting wind of the shortage of players coming up from the junior team and no doubt was aware of Rafe’s situation. So my wife and I inquired as to whether Rafe would be allowed on the high school team, as there are no private competitive systems in Japan as all want to be in Koshien Structure. If he stayed with the school and they would not have him suffer any water boy punishment, would we be able to play on the high school team? The answer came back positive, and so we went to work warming Rafe to a return. He was not keen to restart with Seijo, but added to the issues covered in this blog I didn’t want to encourage him to run away from these kind of obstacles, but overcome them with more kinds of skills. With the bad coaches gone we had a solid chance to renew our efforts.

Joining the Seijo High School Baseball Team

I returned to the sidelines and was quite happy there as my workload with the West Tokyo Dodgers left me yearning to watch Rafe only. Our plan to train on the side was to fill in where need be in his switch pitching if the new coach had him only use one arm. For in his case he had made no such promises to that effect, as the bad ones had done years before bringing us to the school. My job would still be easier as I would only need to fill in the gaps over doing everything to keep both arms progressing.

The new high school coach had both a leveled up in difficulty of skills training that was a happy surprise to me and Rafe. The toughness of the practice allowed me to relax as Rafe could now push it and not be slowed down by the lazier players. He started immediately to outpace seniors. As I watched I began to see the high school team lacked both pitching and batting, yet had good fielding.

This made things promising and then the coach tried out Rafe right away as a pitcher to see if his reported switch pitching short comings were true, as is likely the story he got from the bad coaches. Yet Rafe failed to deliver the gossiped view and worked his focus and deliver a above average performance. I will cover our breakthroughs in this area in the next report, but he showed both control and power with both arms. The coach likely thought to himself, “why on earth would they not want a 6’ 3” switch pitcher like this helping the junior high team?” You could see the head coach’s movement from his chair to different angles of view as a suppressed excitement. Here was a big fat solution to his pitching woes. Rafe switch hitting ability will have to wait to be shown with more practices as no one has expressed doubts with his heavy hitting.

So in the end this coach will likely have both arms in his bullpen and likely have Rafe start as a brand new freshman. It is still early, so I will keep you all up to date, but so far things are finally working out as they were envisioned with our Japanese school. Now Rafe must just work hard and deliver, instead of dealing with the politics that comes from insecure in the clique boys and dishonest men.