Sunday, September 22, 2013

Card Of The Week September 22

On August 20, 2006, Waseda Jitsugyo took on Komadai Tomakomai in the finals of the annual Japanese High School Baseball Championship - a tournament better known simply as "Koshien".  Yuki Saitoh started for Waseda Jitsugyo against Masahiro Tanaka for Komadai Tomakomai.  Both pitchers ended up going the distance in a game that ended 1-1 after 15 innings, the first time the title game had ended in a tie since 1969.  A rematch was scheduled for the next day and Saitoh again started the game, pitching another complete game in Waseda's victory 4-3, striking out Tanaka to end the game (I don't think Tanaka started for Komadai - I think he came in in relief late in the game).  The two games made a national star out of Saitoh (and Tanaka to a lesser extent).

It was the final high school game for both pitchers and the divergence of their careers since then has been interesting.  Tanaka decided to go pro and was selected by four  teams in the first round of the 2007 NPB Draft (which was held in October of 2006) with the Eagles winning the rights to sign him.  He's gone on to win the 2007 Pacific League Rookie Of The Year and the 2011 Sawamura Award.  He's pitched for Japan in the 2008 Olympics and both the 2009 and 2013 World Baseball Classics.  His career win-loss record through yesterday is 97-35 which includes the ridiculous 26-0 streak he has dating back to August of 2012.  He's made the All Star team six of the seven years he's been in NPB.  He is rumored to be heading to the US this off season via the posting system but in the meantime he's leading his Eagles to possibly their first League title (their magic number is currently 5) and their first Nippon Series appearance.  He's probably going to win both his second Sawamura award and the PL MVP award this fall.

Saitoh, on the other hand, decided to go to Waseda University and study sociology.  He pitched for Waseda's team in the Tokyo Big Six league, leading the team to a couple league championships during his tenure there.  He pitched for Team Japan in a couple different collegiate tournaments also.  He declared for the 2011 draft (held in October 2010) and, like Tanaka, was selected by four teams in the first round (Swallows, Fighters, Marines and Hawks) with the Fighters winning the lottery.  His professional career has not been anywhere near as successful as Tanaka's.  He was the Opening Day starter for the Fighters in 2012 and made the All Star team in both 2011 and 2012, actually starting one of the games in 2012.  But he was demoted to ni-gun shortly after that All Star start, however, and has not made more than a couple appearances at the ichi-gun level since then (plus a two inning mop up stint in a blowout Fighters loss in last fall's Nippon Series).  He has not appeared for the top team at all this year.  He had an extremely poor start in the minors last Friday, giving up nine runs in 2 1/3 innings against the ni-gun Marines.  In his defense, Saitoh has had a right shoulder injury that he's been trying to work through without surgery.   But after three seasons in NPB, he's got an 11-14 record.

I've mocked Yuki Saitoh quite a bit over the years, but it's not really about him - it's about his celebrity.  He became ridiculously popular following his Koshien stardom.  I'm convinced that BBM started doing the Tokyo Big Six sets so that they print cards of him several years earlier than they would have otherwise.  His two All Star team appearances were due to the "+1" voting where fans got to vote for the final players for each roster.  Even after several years of being mediocre, he still gets a lot of fans out to see him pitch - Deanna Rubin was at the game at Kamagaya on Friday and reported (on Facebook) that the ballpark was much more crowded than normal due to him pitching.  So I think now that I will stop mocking him - it's not his fault that he's popular for something he did seven years ago and it's not really fair for him to have had to learn how to pitch professionally in a fishbowl.

Here's a card of him from the 2008 BBM Japan College Baseball National Team set (#CN24) when he was 20 years old and life was good:

No comments: