Fri, Aug 15, 2003 - Page 24 News List

Teenager throws 150km fastball for Japanese school


Yu Darvish stands out from his Japanese teammates in more ways than one.

Darvish, who is the ace pitcher for Tohoku High School at this month's national high school baseball championships, is 194cm tall.

He also represents the changing face of the tournament, which is broadcast live all day by national broadcaster NHK. For years it was a bastion of Japanese baseball homogeneity. But with more and more Japanese getting married to foreigners, it's inevitable that players like Darvish will become more common.

Darvish's father is Iranian, his mother Japanese. The two met while attending university in the US.

This year's tournament has also included players with Brazilian and Vietnamese roots.

The 17-year-old Darvish used his 150km fastball to strike out the side in the opening inning of Monday's 11-6 win over Fukuoka's Chikuyo Gakuen. He then left the game with a sore back after giving up a pair of runs in the second inning at Koshien Stadium.

"Our manager asked me if I could keep going," said Darvish, in his second year at Tohoku. "When I hesitated, he took me out."

In addition to a blistering fastball that has caught the attention of major league scouts, Darvish can throw curves and change-ups for strikes.

If he has one fault, some have questioned his grit. He clearly came unglued after committing an error in Monday's second inning and has a tendency to get flustered by umpire's calls.

"He has all the tools," said Isao Ojimi, the New York Mets' Far East scout. "If he got a good grounding in the minors, I'm confident he could play in the majors someday. But he's got to learn to deal with the umpire's calls and change his attitude on the mound."

Tohoku is famous for already producing one star major leaguer -- Kazuhiro Sasaki of the Seattle Mariners -- and the Koshien tournament is quickly becoming a breeding ground for future major league stars. Hideki Matsui, Shigetoshi Hasegawa and Kazuhisa Ishii all played in the annual tournament.

At the prefectural (state) semifinals, Darvish was so overpowering he notched 11 straight strikeouts and 13 overall to lead his team to the finals.

The high school baseball tournament, known simply as Koshien, is serious business in Japan. Teams from all 48 prefectures (states) fiercely contend for the title.

A trip to Koshien can be so rare that players from losing teams gather up little packets of dirt from the infield to keep as souvenirs.

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