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Ginoza High School Baseball Team Surprises in Koshien

Date Posted: 2001-04-06

The baseball team of the tiny Okinawan village of Ginoza, surprised everyone, and certainly not most of all themselves by priceeding all the way to the semifinals at the prestigious annual Sring High School Baseball Championship Tournament played at Koshien Stadium in Hyogo Prefecture over the past week.

Ginoza defeated Gifu Dai-ichi from Gifu prefecture 7 to 2 in the first round on Saturday. They then defeated Toko Gakuen from Kanagawa 4 - 3 in second round game on Sunday, and finally Naniwa from Osaka 4 - 2 at quarterfinals on Monday. The team’s semi-final was against Sendai Ikuei from Miyagi Tuesday, in which Ginoza was defeated by 7 to 1.

Every year, both spring and summer, Koshien stadium in Hyogo prefecture holds a National High School Baseball Tournament. “Koshien” is something that every student who plays baseball at a school team dreams of. In ’99 Okinawa Shogakuen high school became the first Okinawan team to win the spring tournament.

The spring tournament is invitational and the teams are chosen from those who win the prefectural and regional tournaments played in the fall the year before. The summer tournament played among teams representing each prefecture. Those teams have to win all games in the qualifying tournaments that are held in each prefecture. Then they finally get the great honor of proceeding to Koshien, where they play the tournament over two weeks in mid-August heat to be the No. 1 in Japan. While the summer tournament has one team from each prefecture, the teams participating in the spring tournament represent a region. Since Okinawan teams do not always win the Kyushu-Okinawa regional tournament, they have not been able to proceed to Koshien every year.

Ginoza High School from Okinawa was chosen this time because of so called “21st century spot” made specially and for the first time for this tournament, although the team did not win the Kyushu-Okinawa regional tournament last autumn. The criterion for selecting a team for this new spot is not only the team’s strength but also the teams playing environment and facilities. The players’ academic performance counts as well. This time each prefecture recommended one team and only two teams were chosen from the entire country. The other participants were regional winners.

This new spot was created because of recent trends of high school baseball. Strong and well-known private schools collect talented junior high students from all over the country, and can afford buying baseball equipment, have a complete gym and even their own baseball field. Talented players, most of who want to play in the professional leagues in the future, are trying to get into strong schools because Koshien attracts many pro-scouts. If there is no strong teams in their prefecture, they go elsewhere, even out of their prefecture.

So the recently, the high school baseball has become nearly a business. There has been seldom any chance for those small local teams even though the players work hard. Azumi high school from Fukushima prefecture was chosen this time for its working style on both sports and study. Okinawa’s Ginoza was chosen because of great ability they possessed regardless of their small field and a small number of team members.

There has been some criticism concerning the new plan. Some have said that there would be no need to give weak teams a big chance, and it would be taken as a kind of sympathy vote on teams with no possibility for winning.

Ginoza team’s big jump in this tournament has given all high school players courage and created a new stream in a current stagnant high school baseball world. They were said to be best rewarded if they won the first round but surprisingly went all the way to semi-finals. It is no wonder Okinawan people went crazy like the team had won the whole tournament.

The reason why Okinawan people like high school baseball so much in general is that people see themselves representing the teams that are increasingly getting better every year. Presently baseball in Okinawa is said to be one of the top level in the whole country. But what is the greatest in the Okinawan teams is that the players truly enjoy the game rather than care winning so much.

30 yeas ago, Okinawa was under American occupation and people could not go mainland without a passport. When one of Okinawa’s schools was invited to Koshien for the first time after the war, the level of baseball in Okinawa was very low. According to a time-honored custom in Koshien, the team members scoop some soil from the playing field and bring it back home even though it is prohibited in principle. The Okinawan players actually started this custom. Before Okinawa was reunited with Japan, Okinawan players who finally got to play at Koshien after traveling to Kobe by ship with their passports, were totally beaten by stronger mainland teams. Then they tried to bring back secretly some soil as a memento, but the American military government did not allow them to bring soil without special permission. As a result, all soil was confiscated at the port and thrown away into the sea.

Ginoza High School was established in 1946. The number of students is currently 430 (213 boys). The baseball team was established the same year as the school. The team’s head coach, when heard that his team had been chosen to play at the tournament said that “When we encounter power and wealth, we have to be ourselves in order to break through.

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