High school baseball is important to the Japanese because it’s the last bastion of amateurism: kids playing for the pure love of the game, for the glory of their school, for the honor of their home district. I think the people here in Japan really like that amateur side of the game. There’s no money involved, there [are] no huge rights fees for broadcast, there’s not a lot of licensing of product or anything: It’s really for the pure love of the game.
I think the high school playing in Koshien [started in] 1924. So, it’s got a long history, and it’s got this history of these kids giving their all for the glory and honor of the school. [They dive] into first base even when it’s not called for, because that’s expected of them — there’s honor and pride involved here. The Japanese people all love this aspect of the game.
When Japanese people look at Koshien, they look at more than just baseball. It’s a coming of age, a rite of passage from boyhood to adulthood. It’s almost a religion in the way that people look at it. It’s pure: The uniforms are still all white, the heads are still all cropped, there’s no back-talking to umpires, kids take off their caps and bow to the umpire, even if the umpire’s made bad calls. The coach is God. What he says, it’s the rule. So it’s not just a game. It’s almost a religious rite, in some respects, for these kids to go to Koshien. It’s the dream of any amateur baseball player in the country [who are high school age or younger] to go to Koshien. And if they win, it’s the greatest glory there ever could possibly be. If they lose, you rarely see a kid that doesn’t cry his heart out. They [also] have this ritual of taking a bit of the dirt from the infield of Koshien and putting it in a bag, and you better believe that they are going to treasure that their entire life. Because getting there is very hard to do, since it’s so competitive; out of almost four thousand-some high schools, the chances of going to Koshien are not that great for the average school. Some of the powerhouses may get to go again and again, but [for most players] it’s a lifetime dream. If they get there, every win is cherished, and if they lose, they’ll never forget the fact that they got there, and treasure that dirt from even a losing game.