Wonderful, long profile on Masahiro Tanaka by Barry Bearak in the Times yesterday. This one is worth your time, indeed:
Japan once had a popular comic book series called Kyojin no Hoshi, Star of the Giants. It was later adapted for television, movies and a video game. The stories were of a young boy who wanted to be a baseball great. He was relentlessly, even cruelly, pushed toward that goal by his father, who put his son through an onerous regimen of training. The show “was grounded in the harsh work ethic that Japan embraced” as it “clawed its way up from the ashes” of World War II, wrote Robert Whiting, author of several books about baseball in Japan. The All-Star Ichiro Suzuki, now with the Yankees, had such a father. So did many boys.
Masahiro Tanaka did not. His father, a far more restrained man who worked for a camera manufacturer, was a baseball fan but had not played the game much. He was satisfied to entrust his son to coaches.
The younger Tanaka’s introduction to organized baseball was almost happenstance. He was in the first grade, playing with his younger brother near Itami Koyanosato Elementary School. Baseball practice was going on, and Tanaka stopped to watch his schoolmates. The coach, Mitsutaka Yamasaki, asked him if he wanted to hit, and the boy looked agile as he swung the bat. Tanaka’s mother listened as the coach praised her son, and the family decided baseball might be a good way for Masahiro to make friends.
Yamasaki was extremely fortunate that year. He is 68 now and still coaching at the school, but he considers three boys from that single first grade class to be the best ballplayers he ever had. The most athletic, Hayato Sakamoto, played shortstop; the biggest, Yoshitaka Nago, pitched; Tanaka, who had the strongest arm, was deployed at catcher, the position he played until he was a teenager.
[Photo Credit: Edward Linsmier for The New York Times]