Why is it that baseball manga seem to come up with the most ridiculous versions of American names? You’d think as baseball fans the mangaka would have a better idea of what names are more common in the U.S. than the average Japanese, but for some reason – Major was especially good at it – they seem to come up with the most ridiculous abstractions. I can honestly say I never knew anyone named “George Animal” – the only Animal I knew was a Muppet. But at least this gives us the lowdown on Chris’ background.
Major wasn’t the only baseball series Daiya no A put me in mind of today. I also thought of Ookiku Furikabutte, which is superficially about as different from this one as any baseball series could be (yesterday’s haiku is relevant here). Oofuri did an outstanding job of depicting what it was like for a team of first-year high-school boys to try and compete with clubs consisting mostly of third-years. As I’ve said before that’s an age where two years difference is like a millennium – to the point where it probably wasn’t realistic that the peachfuzz brigade of Oofuri managed to do as well as they did. Still, it didn’t gloss over the challenges involved in being a boy trying to compete with almost-men – even getting down to the simple struggle to maintain weight when playing a sport in the sweltering Japanese summer heat.
Flash forward to Ace of Diamond, and if the moral of last week’s episode was that much can be learned by watching, I think this week’s is that much more separates first-years and third-years than simply pages on the calendar. Sawamura and Furuya both are testament to this. Eijun continues his struggle to try and win any concession from Chris, whose father is trying to keep him away from the team altogether to avoid risking further injury to his shoulder. Chris and Miyuki have a very interesting conversation about Eijun, to the effect that things will never be as easy for him as they are for Furuya, because he doesn’t have the one overwhelming weapon in his arsenal to rely on. Chris also opines that he doesn’t have the skills and knowledge to get the most out of Eijun – which I take both as a stipulation of how long the journey is going to be, and a passing of the torch to the catcher who’s going to have to finish the job.
There’s another part of that conversation that’s interesting – Miyuki’s observation that pitchers like that are the most interesting kind for catchers to work with – but for now, Furuya is Miyuki’s main concern. And with Furuya, the problem seems to be pretty much the opposite of that with Eijun – things are coming too easily to him. He does one thing exceptionally well – throw hard – so well, in fact, that it’s generally enough to get him through all by itself. But Furuya is every bit as immature as Eijun is, even if it manifests itself differently. He still has no conception of team, and seemingly no awareness of the responsibilities that being an Ace entails. He just wants to throw, hard – but there’s more to baseball and to life than that. My sense is that Furuya has a major problem on his hands in that he has no support system in place, either as a pitcher or a person. If his fastball isn’t getting outs he has no Plan B, and he’s made no connections off the diamond to help him cope with struggles down the road. He seems to be trying, tentatively, to forge one with Eijun – but he’s so bad at it that he isn’t making a whole lot of progress.
There’s a third player in this drama – Tanba, the embattled third-year who surrendered his Ace role to Furuya temporarily. He’s ready to step in when Furuya has to leave the mound after splitting a nail – which nets him a two-week ban on throwing as punishment for failing to take care of himself – but I worry whenever a coach sends a kid in to pitch two days in a row (regrettably, this is very common in Japanese high-school baseball). Tanba is at the very opposite end of the spectrum from Furuya and Sawamura – for him, as a kid who’s probably not good enough to play professionally, this year is everything – if Seidou doesn’t make the Koshien, his career probably ends in disappointment. He’s a minor player in the larger story, but the rugrats would do well to observe the way he carries himself, and he may just find himself the man on the mound when the most crucial pitches of the season are being delivered.
In the end Eijun finally does get Chris to agree to catch him – for all of one pitch, which he declares Hideki Matsui hit for a grand-slam. His challenge to Eijun is to figure out what makes him so special when he doesn’t have a great fastball or even throw a breaking pitch. It certainly isn’t control, as Eijun gets positively hammered in his first live-game (albeit with the B Squad) after misinterpreting Chris’ signals and focusing only on hitting the catcher’s mitt. His frustration is obviously building, especially as there’s a newfound sense of urgency – Horiuchi has informed him that there are two spots being help open for the Tokyo summer tournament, just waiting for second-stringers to impress and claim them. Stealing pudding and not giving up foul balls aren’t much to go on, but he’ll get there – and at least he has Furuya to share the ignominy of dragging tires around instead of throwing baseballs. I suspect sharing the experience will be good for both of them in the long run.