David Waldstein of the NY Times has an incredible profile on Hiroki Kuroda‘s baseball upbringing in Japan, and…wow! You have to read this thing. If you think your coaches in high school were bad, you haven’t seen anything yet. The treatment of these players is something that would make Steinbrenner in his “prime” blush.
- Summer practices in sweltering heat and humidity lasted from 6 a.m. until 9 p.m. or later. Most times the players were forbidden to drink water, forcing Hirok to drink from a nasty river and other players to slurp from a puddle.
- Players were forced to kneel barelegged on hot pavement for hours.
Kuroda’s first formal introduction to the old-school culture of Japanese baseball came when he was in first grade. After he had made a mistake, the coach administered a punishment known as ketsu batto. He got whacked with a bat on his backside.
Starting in elementary school, it was like the military almost. If you did something wrong in a game, you’ll get a certain number of spanks with a bat. The next day, you couldn’t even sit in a chair in school.
When I gave up a hit, ketsu batto. That was my first experience in baseball with a team. In first grade to fourth grade.
He also said that in high school the punishments got worse; he recalls having to run from foul pole to foul pole from 6 a.m. until 9 p.m. Crazy, crazy stuff.
The article goes on to mention how in college the upperclassmen also doled out punishments and hazing. Kuroda declined to mention what went on, saying it was “too grotesque,” but did say that that’s where the kneeling on hot pavement was administered.
Hirok also said that in college the players lived in four-man dorms and the freshmen had to do the upperclassmen’s laundry, and stack and fold it before placing it in a proper order before the roommates woke up. He said the freshmen “were basically slaves.” That’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg regarding how old-school Japanese ballplayers were brought up. I can’t imagine any of that stuff happening in this day and age.
After dealing with that treatment from such an early age, I don’t think having to endure the New York media is a big deal at all to Hirok.
It’s really interesting to learn about the hardships these players endured. What’s even crazier is to think about the players who never made it to the pros (on either shore), they endured all that stuff pretty much for nothing; no big-time contracts, just doing it for the love of the game.
Do yourself a favor and read the article, or else suffer some ketsu batto.