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Never underestimate Japanese amateur league baseball
AUGUST 01, 2014 08:03  
"A fish cake vendor from Nagoya hit a walk-off home run off Oh Seung-hwan."

In the Doha Asian Games in 2006, the Japanese national team consisting of amateur players had a 10-7 victory over the South Korean team, which put top professional pitchers such as Ryu Hyun-jin and Oh Seung-hwan. Then, a mischievous Internet user posted on the Internet a fiction that someone of the Japanese team was a fish cake vendor and that another was a truck driver. Of course, it is far from the fact. Hisayoshi Chono, who the Internet user called was a fish cake vendor, is now an outfielder of the Yomiuri Giants of Japan`s pro baseball league. Chono was then a student at Nihon University. After graduation in 2007, he played for Honda in the Industrial League.

His late pro debut does not mean that he was a mediocre player. In his last year of university, the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters tried to draft him in the fourth round but he refused it because his dream since childhood was to play for the Giants. Finally, Chono was drafted by the Giants in late 2009. In 2010, he won the Rookie of the Year award, hitting .288 with 19 home runs and 52 runs batted in. In 2011, he became the leading hitter with a batting average of .316, securing his position as a key player.

In fact, Lee Seung-yup and Lee Dae-ho would be the only hitters from the Korean pro baseball whose performances can match Chono`s. Had South Korean had proper knowledge about Japanese amateur league players, no one would be able to mock them as "fish cake vendors."

Chung Kyu-shik, a catcher of the Goyang Wonders who played for the Hakuwa Victories, a Japanese Industrial League team, said that the Victories had exercise matches with farm teams of the Japanese professional baseball league and that his team won more often than not. Chung noted that Industrial League teams are very good at defense. "In the Industrial League, two national tournaments are nearly all there is. As mistakes are not allowed in tournaments, players play desperately amid higher tension than in the Koshien high school championship."

With so many players with solid fundamentals, prestigious pro teams such as the Yomiuri Giants sometimes recruit players from Industrial League teams. Seiji Kobayashi, who is called the successor of pitcher Shinoske Abe, played for the Nippon Life of the Industrial League last year. When he graduated from Doshisha University, he raised many eyebrows by declaring that he would not go to pro baseball if he is not on the top draft priority. Then, he honed his skills for two years in the Industrial League to win the top priority nomination. Such players play in Japan`s Industrial League.

The situation is the same for pitchers, too. Tomoya Mikami, a Yokohama Bay Stars closer who used to play for the JX-Eneos in the Industrial League, recorded an earned run average (ERA) of 1.74 this year until Thursday, compared with 2.08 recorded by Oh Seung-hwan, one of South Korea`s top closers. Ayumu Ishikawa, who recorded an ERA of .50 in 54 innings he threw with the Industrial League team Tokyo Gas, emerged as the ace of the Chiba Lotte Marines of the pro league.

Therefore, it will be no surprise if some Japanese baseball players playing against the South Korean team in the Incheon Asian Games emerge as Japan`s big league stars. If you ask if I think South Korean players will be outperformed by Japanese players in the Asian Games, I would say "no." South Korea has never lost to Japan, except for the Doha Asian Games. But if you ask me if it is possible for South Korean players to be outperformed by the Japanese, it would be right to say, "It is possible." In the World Baseball Classic, the United States lost to South Korea in its home turf. That is baseball.

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