I had a pretty good training this last week, but I hate talking shop. Instead, let me tell you something I’m sure I’ll never forget. Fair warning, this is a long post, and I apologize for that. I didn’t have enough time to make a short one.
So, a week ago on Thursday, July 19, there was a baseball game between one of my schools, which is a vocational high school, and a college prep school.
The students and teachers (except for the skeleton crew still at the school) had all day for cheer practice and the game itself. There were no classes all day, even though the game started at 12:30. It was the same on Tuesday. of that week At first, I was pretty miffed I’d lost two days of class to something as trivial as Sportsball ™ , especially since sports have been such a financial drain on my old college. But then I thought, “Wait a minute, Lauren, these poor people shouldn’t even be in school right now. If they had baseball cheering every day this month, that would be better than class.”
Baseball is the only sport, as far as I know, that they do this for, and the reason why is really quite interesting. As Penguin-sensei told me (he’s the teacher in charge of baseball), the baseball team is expected to be models of etiquette and citizenship. So, I gather the school’s baseball game is like a display of the best behavior the school can offer. The whole school has to show support for the same reason.
The day of this game really started out well for me because a vice principal had invited me that previous Tuesday. This makes me happy for obvious reasons, but it was also the only way I could go to the game. You see, on weekdays, an NS is like a vampire in that they can only go to out-of-school school events if they are invited. Otherwise, they have to use a vacation day.
Anyway, I was touched to be invited. One of the things I want the most now is to fully be part of the school. Not necessarily “内 「うち、uchi」,” but I want to be confident that I’m not really just a sort of appendage to the schools, which I technically am. There’s also the fact that because I was going with the other teachers on the day of this game, I wouldn’t have to deal with buses or trains, and I could interact with everyone more.
I had gone to our game the previous Sunday, and getting to the game there was extremely difficult on my own. I had a hell of a time finding the thrice-revised rainy season schedule that weekend. Then, the day of, I tried to take a train. It pulled into the station just as I bought a ticket, and it pulled away as I was running up the stairs. If I walked back to my apartment to get my car, I would be late to the game. So I hailed a taxi. That ride cost me about nine dollars, or ¥900. On top of that, the toll roads were about ¥2000 there and back (Siri sent me to an unnecessary booth as well). I also got sunburned, but that’s beside the point. Let’s say I probably gave most of my luck to our team, because we won handily.
Right, the Thursday game.
So I showed up in my normal work clothes, but I brought my Niigata soccer jersey and ratty old sweatpants. I asked if I could wear them, like a good citizen, but I knew that I really didn’t have to. When I used the female sensei’s changing room (which has some sort of tatami area with a full length mirror—fancy), I was surprised to see that I had my own locker. I had expected to use a guest locker. It shouldn't have surprised me, but it did.
I am a shy person. My students are also shy, for the most part, as are a lot of the teachers. As you can imagine, not as much conversation happens as the ideal. The day of the Thursday game, however, I was able to get two actual conversations out of two teachers in the locker room, five students and three or four teachers at the game, and exchange words beyond “Hello,” and “How are you?” with more. I also sat next to some female teachers whom I hadn’t talked to much in the bleachers.
Now, a word of warning—I’m trying to remember the game as best I can, but my memory is as weak as arthritic sloth, just like most people’s, so take most details with a grain of salt. There’s a recording of the game somewhere online from a local TV channel, but I won't post it here, because then it would be easy to find these people's names.
So, we have an excellent pitcher. I don’t know if this is normal in baseball, but he pitched the whole game both on Sunday and on this day. The college prep school we were up against is very strong, so I imagine we didn’t want to risk using another pitcher. Well, or he didn’t. The other team tried hard, but they were having a hard time managing to hit the ball. When we were at bat, though, it was the same, except when we got a hit, the opponents’ catchers got us out before we got the first base. So their score gradually went up, while ours stayed at one or two.
Our batters started slowing down when they got a hit. Our pitcher was throwing slower pitches. He even accidentally hit the opposing batter a couple of times—three times, actually. This, of course allowed them more chances at batting. I saw some of the other players ask him if he wanted to switch, but he still didn’t want to give up his spot. The other team had to a score of about ten, then. As if they needed it, their students and teachers brought out some American-style (but less immodest) cheerleaders, plus a boy in a sparkly stars-and-stripes tracksuit, to help them cheer. Yeah, I know. I cringed, too.
On our side of the bleachers, the kids and teachers’ minds were wandering when it was our time to cheer. Some kids were acting cool and aloof about it, but I saw that most were actually disappointed. I remember feeling quite apathetic myself as I got water and listened to the cicadas in the woods outside of the stadium. Those things are as loud as birds here.
“Are we really going to drag this out, or are we getting a cold loss?” I thought. “Will the coach tell the team to do that? Probably not.” (Note: In Japanese baseball, a cold loss is when the other team is so far ahead that the referees just end the game. A cold victory is the same situation, but from the other side.)
Here’s where my story gets theological, so brace yourself if you’re not used to that sort of thing. Ready? Okay.
I tried praying for us to win in a nice, close game where each side could have fun, or at least have a close, intense loss. Whichever was better, as long as it wasn’t a cold loss. The prayer didn’t really feel sincere to me, however, because was more on a whim than real desire for the kids to be happy or anything. The feeling of loss doesn't feel so bad for me, after all, especially after such a trivial thing as a sports game. Plus, with my limited knowledge of baseball, I didn’t think it was mathematically possible for us to win at that point.
Well, as I was praying this time, I became very aware of the fact that it wasn’t going to work, especially since I tend to pray using my hopes in the merit of my own sincerity or the possible advantages to my particular cause. It doesn’t work. I’m certain our pitcher was at the bat at that moment, getting balls and strikes.
So I asked myself, “Well, Lauren, I think there’s some scenario in which this prayer might work. What could it be?” Then, it occurred to me: “As an exercise to teach you how to pray better.” That was also the moment our pitcher finally got a hit. I watched to see if he would get caught. The opponent catchers ran after the ball, but it bounced on the ground. The first catcher picked it up and tried to pass it, but the second catcher dropped it. Our pitcher got to second base. That gave us two points? Three? Something like that.
The kids in the stands were suddenly playing very close attention. They were barely chatting anymore because they were looking at the field. The pitcher’s victory switched everyone on like a light. The other team, for their part, were starting to get tense. I was more thrilled than anyone, because here was evidence I was doing something right. The irony of me, a person who despises sports movies, especially ones with some sort of mediocre spiritual message, being so involved in the game isn't lost on me, by the way.
The next of our batters to step up to the plate also got a hit, and the next one. Three of our kids were on the plates. Then, our last batter walked up.
So I’m praying really hard at this point. My prayers had never in my life had such an immediate and apparent effect, so I was dying for the result to be the best one possible. It was really the crucible of chances then, though, so I was faltering. “I know it’s just a game, God, but it’ll make everyone happy. They might even learn something about ‘all things being possible.' Please let me be wrong about a win being impossible, I don’t know all the rules.’”
The kid was getting strikes and balls. He was having a real hard time of it, and he was on his last chance. Previously, when our team was batting, some of the teachers remained seated even though the kids were standing to cheer. Not so now. Everyone was standing in perfect attention.
When the opponent pitcher threw the ball, I closed my eyes. Our kid hit the ball. While I was watching their catchers desperately run after the thing, I realized everyone on our side was either gasping or screaming. I could barely see the ball in the air, but I could see it lazily slow down and go behind the scoreboard. Suddenly, our points kept ticking up, and all the boys on the bases were running to home base. The other team was standing back and watching them. A home run. Somehow, we had a score of twelve to their ten, where before is was three or four. I basically left my body.
The teams didn’t switch over for a while because everyone in the bleachers (well, on our side) was screaming and dancing. The teachers beside me were holding hands and swinging their arms together. After they stopped, the one right beside me thought a bit and did that with me, too. God, I was so happy. It was summer, there was cotton candy and soda on the breeze, I was where I belonged, and my prayers were actually working for once. I was doing something nice for my kids, or rather God was. Our people didn’t sit down in the bleachers even when the other team eventually stepped up to bat.
I wanted to relax, but we were only two points ahead. So, I kept praying. “Not because of myself, God, but because you are good,” I decided to say. It started to be like the beginning of the game, which is to say our pitcher wouldn’t let the other team get in a good hit. When they did manage something, our catchers stopped them a few times.
But then we started dropping the ball. Our pitcher started slowing down again. We still had a few good plays, like tagging (?) an opposing batter out at the last second before he got the first base, or one of our boys sliding about a foot or so to safety. I was so caught up in it all that I was only praying for our victory. I was thinking, “It’s okay, I did pray for a nice, close game. We can still win if they don’t score any more points.” And so on.
When it came to the last innings, there was no way we could win, mathematically speaking, unless the opposing pitcher hit our batter several times. That didn’t happen, though shamefully I half-hoped for that. Instead, the other team ended up with two boys on the bases. There was another high-flying ball (though it wasn’t a home run), and our boy in the outfield had to chase after it. He passed it, but the teammate dropped it. Then, he managed to pass it to our pitcher.
See, at this point the other team’s boys were moving bases. They didn’t stop when our pitcher got the ball, either. The catchers were yelling at the pitcher to tag them out, but he was tired. He’d been carrying the game all day, and it was close to 35 degrees Celsius (about 90 or 95 degrees Fahrenheit). He looked behind him to second base, while the other player was running past him to home base.
As soon as that boy touched home base, the other players on his team streamed onto the field. They’d won, and there wasn’t any reason to continue with the game. Our pitcher broke down crying, the sort of crying where you stumble around and wave your wands like you’re having an argument. Our players ran out to comfort him and each other. As I sat down, it really surprised me how affectionate the boys were, hugging each other and touching heads. Some of the kids in the stands were doing the same thing.
This is another thing I shouldn't be surprised about, because Japanese school kids are very platonically touchy with the same sex. Outside of that, I’d witnessed one catcher spot another one way in the outfield looking faint earlier in the game. One or two others helped him walk to the dugout. These boys were quite clearly close. Our pitcher was still distraught, though, when the teams met to shake hands and tidied up the field afterwards. I was worried about him, though I knew there was no way I could somehow find him and talk to him without horribly embarrassing him and myself. His coach would take care of him, not to mention Penguin-sensei, who’d basically sprinted out to meet the boy who almost fainted on the field before.
The other team got to sing their school song first, since they won. Then, they bowed to us, and we bowed back. I had seen the same exchange during the Sunday game, but I paid less attention because we were on the winning side. We sang our school song after them. It had a lot more feeling in it than when we sang it before, I promise you. The other team, I’m pleased to say, clapped for it and sang along as best they could. I don’t think that happened on Sunday.
I was happy because I saw God make a spectacular game. We were all a lot happier than we would have been with a cold loss. Despite that, however, I felt I had failed in my final goal. I couldn’t help but feel the loss was partially or all due to me not praying purely enough at the end. I left, commented on the shocking game to anyone who seeming like they wanted to talk, and left.
After the game, I talked with some other sensei. The conversation was mostly about the game, but then it turned to someone involved in the baseball team management. Specifically, how they thought he was taking on too many responsibilities at work, including managing the baseball team, and it was starting to wear him down.
I understood something, then. Winning the game would have made the baseball team work into the preciously short summer break, which is full of homework and club activities anyway. Our victory would’ve hurt more people than it helped, and God knew it. He'd answered the second option of my prayer, which I had forgotten.
After the game, even people in my hairdresser’s were talking about it. Everyone in my other school knew about it the next day, too. Even though they hadn’t been involved, they had obvious enthusiasm in their voices when they discussed it with each other.
I do live right behind (and I mean right behind) one of the baseball kids’ exercise shacks on the school campus. I heard a group of them talking somberly the night after, but I’ve heard them practicing only twice in the week we’ve had of summer vacation. Usually, they practiced every day and every weekend, and in the days leading up to the baseball games I could hear their synchronized running an chanting until close to dusk. Now, even though I hear the kids practice on the fields for long hours every day and see lights on in the school every night, it’s mostly peaceful from the baseball field.
Just the other day I saw the whole team (or at least half of it) hanging around the workout area. Usually it’s just a group of younger players, but this time some of the third years were there, too. This included the pitcher, surprisingly, who looked happy in a dazed sort of way. They were even in a good enough mood that a first year said hello to me.
He also asked me for my number, the little imp, but nothing can be perfect.
The team that beat us went on to place in the top ten schools in the national tournament.
In fact, the opposing team usually doesn’t sing the loser’s school anthem. That usually only happens when very good, well-funded schools that are basically assured to win face off against a weaker school and the weaker school gets to the later innings of the game. The stronger school does that to honor the schools that got that far.
Kanji of the Day:
野 kun: no, no- On: ya, sho
field, rustic, civilian life
Word of the Day:
感動的 「かんどうてき, kandouteki」Moving, stirring, touching (emotionally)
Thought of the Day: