BASEBALL/ Slugger Sasaki can't wait to join loaded Stanford Cardinal team

字号+ 作者: 来源: 2024-07-25 11:21:22 我要评论(0)

BASEBALL/ Slugger Sasaki can't wait to join loaded Stanford Cardinal team By SHINJIRO OM

BASEBALL/ Slugger Sasaki can't wait to join loaded Stanford Cardinal team

By SHINJIRO OMIYA/ Staff Writer

March 6, 2024 at 18:37 JST

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Photo/IllutrationRintaro Sasaki says he is excited for a new chapter of his life at Stanford University and is ready to join the Cardinal baseball program soon, on Feb. 29 in Hanamaki, Iwate Prefecture. (Shinjiro Omiya)

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HANAMAKI, Iwate Prefecture--Like his idol Shohei Ohtani, Rintaro Sasaki aims to be a two-way great.

He wants to excel both on the field and in the classroom at Stanford University in the United States. 

Sasaki, 18, the all-time high school home run king, graduated from Hanamaki Higashi High School here on March 1.

Now, he is preparing for his new life at Stanford University with the dream of becoming a professional baseball player while receiving one of the top educations in the world.

GROWING UP WITH KOSHIEN

Sasaki has emphasized that he has been nurtured by the people around him.

His father, Hiroshi Sasaki, is the coach of Hanamaki Higashi High School’s baseball team.

Former players there include Ohtani, now of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and pitcher Yusei Kikuchi of the Toronto Blue Jays.

“When I think of family vacations, I think of Koshien,” Sasaki said, referring to Hanshin Koshien Stadium in Hyogo Prefecture where the Japanese national high school baseball tournaments are held every spring and summer. 

“Even before I can remember, I went to Koshien many times as well as the practice fields where Yusei and Shohei played.”

Sasaki grew up close to both Kikuchi and Ohtani, admiring them.

“They are like dream players and have been a great inspiration to me. My practice uniforms when I was little were hand-me-downs from Yusei.”

In high school, Sasaki played in the Koshien tourneys twice--once in the spring tournament and once in the summer tournament.

He was a key hitter of his team, and during his two and a half years on it, he clubbed 140 home runs, the most for a high school player ever.

Sasaki revealed that his father once encouraged him to play rugby when he was in elementary school.

“Looking back, I think he was testing me to see if I was really ready (to play baseball),” he said.

By the end of the summer of his senior year, Japanese professional baseball teams coveted Sasaki's services.

He was torn between declaring his desire to become a pro player and waiting for to be drafted or continuing his education at an American university.

What made him decide to go for the latter was the awareness of how much the people around him helped, Sasaki said.

“I am who I am today because of the support of many people, including my parents,” he said.

Sasaki said he has not matured enough as a person, nor as a baseball player.

“I thought that in an environment like at Stanford University, I could build new thoughts by meeting various people,” he said.

On its website on Feb. 13, the university announced that the Japanese teen sensation will join the Cardinal baseball program for the 2025 season.

In the announcement, David Esquer, Stanford's director of baseball, praised Sasaki as one of the “most high-profile international prospects to play college baseball in the United States in a long time.

"His powerful bat plays right into our style of play, and we look forward to him contributing immediately to help us achieve our goals of competing for and winning a national title,” Esquer said. 

Tuition and dormitory fees will be fully covered by the university under the scholarship program.

CHALLENGE ACCEPTED

Sasaki is well aware that Stanford is one of the top universities in the world.

“I am also prepared for the (high) level of academics,” he said. “Taking into account what will happen after my baseball career, I chose a lifetime’s pleasure over a moment’s pleasure.”

During his three years of high school, he was injured and did not reach his goal of winning the Koshien championship title for Iwate Prefecture.

Nevertheless, he looked back and said the experience “laid the foundations of my life.”

Sasaki said his high school coach (his father) used to say that playing in the Koshien high school tournament requires more “professionalism” than playing professional baseball games.

Unlike professional baseball’s regular season games, every game at the tournament is a “make-or-break game,” he said.

“One mistake, one hit or one home run can decide the game,” Sasaki said. “So, I learned to hone my skills to the finer points on every play.”

His final at-bat in the Koshien tournament last summer came in the quarterfinals against Sendai Ikuei Gakuen Senior High School. Sasaki grounded out to second base and dove headfirst onto first base, becoming covered in dirt.

“I can’t remember what I was thinking at the time anymore,” he said. “But neither I nor my team gave up anyway. I’m still disappointed that we lost.”

Sasaki has also been pondering what baseball will be like in the United States.

He said Kikuchi once told him that in Japan, players tend to be evaluated on a point-deduction system, but in the United States, players tend to be evaluated on a point-addition system.

“I observed practice sessions at Stanford, and I sensed that kind of atmosphere," Sasaki said. "I thought it would suit me.” 

Sasaki’s strength is his ability to hit for extra bases. He hopes to develop that strength further and become a player of a larger scale.

“I am not trying to deny Japanese baseball,” he said. “Like Yusei and Shohei, I want to be a person and a player who incorporates both the best of Japan and the best of the United States.”

Sasaki is scheduled to move to the United States later in March and will join Stanford’s baseball team in April.

He will start taking classes from April and will formally enroll in Stanford in September.

Sasaki said he started studying English in earnest from October and is currently taking online conversation classes three times a week.

“My English isn’t at a level where I can speak it at all yet,” he said. “I think it is best to go to an environment where there is no Japanese spoken. So, I can’t wait to go there. I’m very excited.

“Everything is a challenge.”

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