It occurs to me in watching the first inning of the Seidou-Ugumori clash play out that Diamond no Ace is really the story of two idiots. But crucially, they’re very different kinds of idiots – and I think the whole question of the “ace” role really boils down to which manner of idiot is better-suited to wear that number and shoulder the responsibilities that come with it. And I think that’s the very question Miyuki (and maybe Kataoka, though there’s no direct evidence to support it) is starting to ponder.
One could hardly ask for a better demonstration of this dynamic than the first inning of the Ugumori game. Eijun is the kind of baka who does his “Mae-Ken” exercises in the bullpen, and turns into the world’s loudest and most hilarious pitching and hitting coach as soon as the game starts. But Furuya is the kind of baka who lets an opponent’s taunts get into his head, and as a result makes a selfish and stupid mistake that puts his team in a three-run hole. Which idiot would you rather have to count on in a clutch situation? I know what my answer would be.
The game starts off pretty much in classic Furuya form – even when he’s good, he struggles to get through the first inning. Bug-eyed Gacchan is clearly the Kuramochi of Ugumori – the catalyst who gets the engine rolling. He fouls off a number of pitches and walks on a borderline pitch, then proceeds to wreak his havoc on the bases. Distracted, Furuya walks the second batter too – and then after getting the #3 after a failed sacrifice, it’s cleanup Umemiya. He’s the obvious “straw that stirs the drink” for Umemiya – not just the cleanup and ace, but the guy from whom the team takes its emotional cues.
The at-bat is certainly interesting – it occurred to me that Umemiya really should have taken a pitch and let Gacchan steal third, as he was getting a great jump off Furuya. The headline is Furuya ignoring Miyuki’s lead because he wants to face Umemiya head-on – a blatant disregard of the game plan Miyuki instructed him on before the game. It’s really starting to seem as if there’s no limit to the selfishness and vanity of this kid – and when Umemiya smacks the letter-high fastball Miyuki didn’t want over the center-field wall, it’s a 3-0 game and Ugumori (and their centenarian coach) have all the momentum.
What happens after is the really crucial stuff, though. It comes in the context of the Miyuki-Maezono feud having badly divided Seidou, and it’s no less than a gaping philosophical divide over how to be a leader. Maezono’s instinct is to coddle Furuya, to soothe his battered ego, and he’s horrified when Miyuki gives him a fiery dressing-down on the mound – so much so that it appears he’s almost ready to intervene. But the truth is, this is a situation where the merits of Miyuki’s leadership style (limited though they are) come to the fore. Furuya has already ben coddled too damn much – Kataoka has let him flaunt the team for the glorification of his own ego for far too long. Someone had to tell him off like Miyuki did – to remind him what the honor of wearing that number on his back really means. And it didn’t come a moment too soon.
Will any of this impact Furuya long-term? I have no idea. But in the moment, Miyuki’s quiet tirade – risky though it was – clearly snaps Furuya’s head back into the game. Seidou is obviously going to make a game of this, and presumably win – only a (hugely risky) kick-save by Umemiya on a Haruchin liner up the middle momentarily prevents Seidou’s first run. But the stakes for the big picture could hardly be greater, and they’re much more important – Furuya’s role on this team, and Miyuki’s viability as captain. This has become a story of team roles – that of the leader, that of the ace – and it’s some of the most interesting material of the entire series.