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Tokyo, 1890. High school can be brutal, even in turn-of-the-century Japan.From his first day at boarding school, Toyo Shimada sees how upperclassmen make a sport out of terrorizing the first-years. Still, he’s taken aback when the seniors keep him from trying out for the baseball team–especially after he sees their current shortstop. Toyo isn’t afraid to prove himself; He’s more troubled by his uncle’s recent suicide. Although Uncle Koji’s defiant death was supposedly heroic, it has made Toyo question many things...
Tokyo, 1890. High school can be brutal, even in turn-of-the-century Japan.From his first day at boarding school, Toyo Shimada sees how upperclassmen make a sport out of terrorizing the first-years. Still, he’s taken aback when the seniors keep him from trying out for the baseball team–especially after he sees their current shortstop. Toyo isn’t afraid to prove himself; He’s more troubled by his uncle’s recent suicide. Although Uncle Koji’s defiant death was supposedly heroic, it has made Toyo question many things about his family’s samurai background. And worse, Toyo fears that his father may be next.It all has something to do with –the way of the warrior–but Toyo doesn’t understand even after his father agrees to teach it to him. As the gulf between them grows wider, Toyo searches desperately for a way to prove there is a place for his family’s samurai values in modern Japan. Baseball might just be the answer, but will his father ever accept a “Western” game that stands for everything he despises?
"All right," Junzo said. "So Mt. Fuji can catch. How is he with a bat?"
"What's a bat?" Fuji asked.
Toyo grimaced and waved off the question for later. "He's a quick learner," Toyo explained. "He'll be fine."
"He better be," Moriyama said. "We've got three games coming up soon."
The Ichiko fielders took their positions, and Toyo handed Fuji a bat and ball. Fuji tested the weight of the bat in his massive hands.
"What we need you to do," Toyo told him, "is to stand here and hit the ball to the fielders so they can practice. You toss the ball in the air and hit it. Got it?"
Toyo demonstrated, then went to his position at short. "Okay, Fuji. Just hit the ball on the ground like I showed you."
Fuji tossed the ball in the air and took a swing, missing the ball by a foot.
"It's okay," Toyo said, getting ready again. "You'll get the hang of it."
Fuji took another bad swing. And another. He wasn't anywhere close to the ball. He finally made contact on his next swing, knocking the ball a whole yard and a half in front of him, where it died meekly in the grass.
"Experiment over," Junzo said.
Fuji set the bat down on the ground and bowed. "Thank you for the opportunity."
"Wait, wait, wait." Toyo ran in from short. "All right, so hitting is a little harder than catching. You need a few pointers is all."
"Great," Junzo sneered. "Now Mt. Fuji is going to get batting lessons from a girl who can't hit the ball out of the infield."
"Don't worry," Toyo told Fuji. "He's like that to everybody. Now here, watch. You're wasting too much swing. It's all about economy of movement."
Toyo took the bat and mimicked Fuji's swing.
"You're also not using your hips. You must swing with your arms and your body. Like this."
After five hundred swings of the bokkoto, Toyo was able to imitate the stance from his bushido practice without even thinking about it. He stepped forward into a downward swing, slicing the air while his hips and arms moved together. Though his arms ached, he felt a power he had never experienced before.
"Moriyama, throw me a ball."
"Come on, this isn't batting practice," Junzo complained.
"He needs to see how to hit," Kennichi argued.
Moriyama went into his windup and delivered a fastball down the heart of the plate. Toyo marshaled his strength for one good swing. In his mind, the bat became a bokkoto and the ball was his father.
Thwack! Toyo drove the ball well into right field.
"Wow, when did you learn to hit?" Moriyama asked.
Toyo stared at his bat.
"Let's see him do it twice before we give him a medal," said Junzo.
Moriyama got the ball back and Toyo got set again. "Elbows in, step forward, swing with the body," Toyo muttered to himself, trying to remember everything his father had taught him. "Keep your arms tight, stay focused, and . . ."
The ball zipped over the plate.
"Swing through," Toyo said, whacking the ball back up the middle. Katsuya dove, but the ball rocketed through into center field.
Wearily giddy, Toyo laughed. He suddenly understood what had drawn him to baseball in the first place-why he and the others loved the game so much. At its heart, baseball was Japanese. How else to explain the samurai nature of this game? It was at the same time both modern and ancient, mental and physical.