I never really though about it, but it’s pretty amazing that with all the baseball anime and manga out there, this is the first time I’ve ever seen the towel drill. Anyone who follows baseball closely will know it well – it’s a common sight in every spring training and minor league complex, and the constant companion of pitchers rehabbing from injuries and restricted from throwing. Even here, it wasn’t the knowledgeable and savvy Chris-sempai that showed it to Eijun, but Kataoka-sensei, during a random nighttime meeting on the practice field.
I have issues with some of Kataoka’s methods – he seems very much wedded to old-school Japanese high-school baseball thinking to me – but fundamentally, I think he’s a good coach and he seems like a fair man. It says something about how important high-school baseball is in Japan that a series could feature a player with a chance to have a pro career would bypass it to coach at his alma mater, and it would be somewhat realistic – but it is. And Diamond no Ace raised a very interesting issue this week which I’m very curious to see if they explore further – the issue of the misuse of high-school players (especially pitchers).
It’s Chris’ father who brings this up, and he’s right – schoolboy players being abused the way they are in Japan would indeed be unthinkable in the U.S.. The “kaibutsu” mentality is strong in this society that values the group over the individual, and there seems an almost sadistic element to it – the Summer Koshien games are all played during the day at the height of Osaka’s brutal heat and humidity, despite the fact that they draw huge TV audiences and would draw even more if aired at night. Pitchers throwing 150 pitches in a game and in back-to-back games aren’t rare. As an American I find this reckless and distasteful – but that might be the cultural bias talking. Look at the way the first season of Major ended, for example – with Goro destroying his shoulder as a 4th-grader in an effort to defeat Yokohama Little, and his step-mother fighting for his right to do so. There have been subtle hints that Ace of Diamond might take a step or two into this minefield – I’ll be very interested to see what path they choose if they do.
For now, though, the only concerns on Eijun’s mind are fighting his way onto one of the two open spots on the first-string roster, and on giving Chris a chance to see how far he’s progressed by forming a battery with him. Chris is torn between the wishes of his father that he quit the team – and in fact leave Seidou altogether – to protect his shoulder, and his own desire to stand with his teammates of the last three years. In his heart he knows that even if he comes back healthy enough to play Miyuki’s grip on that final spot is iron-clad (though I could imagine a scenario where Miyuki is injured during – or before – the Koshien and Chris has to play). And the other spot on the first-string appears earmarked for Hariuchi-kun, who continues to look like easily the best player on the second-string.
I’m not sure who Eijun’s true rival for that other spot is – Furuya (who also reveals himself to be a good hitter, which counts a lot for HS pitchers) is only marking time until he’s reinstated so doesn’t count. It occurs to me that it could be Chris himself, should he decide he wants to play again – which would certainly be ironic. There’s one split-squad game left for Eijun to show his stuff before the decision is made – three innings to make an impression or sit for the rest of the year, and Kataoka himself is in the dugout for this last chance to watch the second-string up close. Chris has finally given Eijun the keys to the castle – it’s his inconsistent release point which makes him incapable of throwing a straight ball that makes him special, and if he can gain enough strength to kick up his velocity some, his fastballs will be even crazier. Thus the scrolls of exercises, the towel drill from Kataoka (“build a wall with the glove hand”), etc.. But is all that enough to show results this quickly?
Sooner or later I would think Eijun is going to have to learn to throw a true breaking ball or two – or at least a change-up – if he’s going to be a serious high-school pitcher. For now I suppose that’s more than his brain could process, though (multi-tasking isn’t exactly a strong suit) so it seems best to keep him focused on simple goals. Avoid the preview if you don’t want to be considerably spoiled about next week’s episode, but it’s clear even from the cliffhanger that the focus will be – those last three innings for Eijun to make his case that he belongs with the big boys.