Japan’s baseball culture in crisis

Yoshitomo Tsutsugo is hoping to go to the major leagues next year, but his focus Friday was on a perceived crisis in his homeland’s youth baseball culture.


In a press conference at Tokyo’s Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan, the DeNA BayStars captain and cleanup hitter said Japanese youth baseball prioritizes winning competitions at the expense of education.


The result, he said, is a population of young baseball players that is decreasing six to 10 times faster than the decline in Japan’s birth rate.


photo credit to: https://www.japantimes.co.jp


In Japan’s baseball culture, players are expected to say the right things and not talk out of turn. Thus it was no surprise that Tsutsugo repeatedly declined to talk about playing in the major leagues. But on the subject of youth sports, he is defying the stereotype to become an outspoken activist.


The catalyst was a brief time in the Dominican Republic in 2015, where he was  infected not only by the Dominicans passion for the game, but the positive atmosphere in youth baseball games.


Tsutsugo spoke of his childhood, how he played different sports and wasn’t expected to play hurt so he could recover and grow, and how the attitude at Sakai Big Boys was more positive than what he’d seen elsewhere.


Tsutsugo referred to research conducted by Dr. Kozo Furushima, the chief of Keiyu Orthopaedic Hospital’s Sports Medical Center. Furushima looked at test data from three groups of players and compared the frequency of types of elbow injury.


Youth players from the Dominican Republic were much less likely to have an injury than the youngsters tested at his hospital. The players who suffered the most frequent injuries were those from Japan’s national Under-12 team.


In year 2017, Tsutsugo had batted a cleanup for Japan’s senior national team in the World Baseball Classic. Although the tournament’s pitch limits, meant to protect pro pitchers’ arms in the spring, had no impact on him as a hitter, the idea itself made an impression.


Reference: Baseball: BayStars’ Tsutsugo slugs Japan’s youth baseball culture


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