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Yosuke Shimabukuro

Yosuke Shimabukuro [Profile]

Rookie of the year in his first Spring League. To set his sights on the pros, first he needs to build up his body

Yosuke Shimabukuro
Chuo University Baseball Club (1st year student in the Faculty of Commerce)

He was awarded with rookie of the year in the Tohto University Baseball League spring league. His record in 5 appearances was 1 win against 3 losses with an ERA of 0.99. His second in the league ERA put him ahead of Tohto star pitches Takahiro Fujioka (4th year student, Toyo University) and Nao Higashihama (3rd year student, Asia University). This is an outstanding record for a rookie.

"I wanted to win a few more"

But there is an air of dissatisfaction in his expression when he says, "Honestly, I wanted to win a few more games. It's really disappointing that we lost in games that we could have won. My low ERA is due to the fact that I had pitched fewer innings than other pitchers, so I thought; do I really deserve the rookie award?"

Expectations around him are high. That is because as a high school student last year (2010) he was the ace pitcher for Konan Senior High School (Okinawa), and became a "Koshien Star" when they became just the sixth school to achieve the remarkable feat of winner the Koshien national high school tournament spring / summer double. He had a record of 11 wins and 130 strikeouts at Koshien and entered Chuo University with much fanfare. Since entering the baseball dormitory on February 2, every move he makes has attracted the attention of the media. But it was a bumpy road to his first victory at university level, and a long one.

Loss on debut in the season opener

On April 5 against Komazawa University, he became the first rookie in 48 years since Coach Yoshimasa Takahashi to take the mound in the season opener. He learnt of his first start two days earlier by Coach Takahashi and approached the game with a desire to control the flow of the game. But he left the game during the fourth inning after 5 hits and 4 runs (one earned) and finished with a regrettable loss on debut. After that, including the opening game, he compiled a record of three straight losses as starter. On April 21, in his third appearance, he had pitched strongly until two outs in the ninth inning with no runs on the board when he allowed the tying run and let his first victory slip away.

Hating to lose, he said, "When I lost on opening day I was really depressed." What he strongly felt was the complete difference in power between high school and university baseball. He told us the challenges he confronted after he just entered the baseball club. "The metal bats we used in high school became wooden ones in university so I thought the ball wouldn't fly that far. But I was wrong. The course I pitched for strikes in high school ended up as fouls or hits."

Getting advice from seniors after feeling down

He got this advice from roommate and Vice-captain Seigo Nishime (3rd year student in the Faculty of Law) before the opening game. "Be prepared because you will definitely be hit. Even if you were said to be a great player at high school, when you come to university, you will definitely be hit at the start. Everyone starts from the bottom."

After feeling down after his loss on debut, Shimabukuro was cheered up by these words, again from Nishime. "I told you so. But putting it behind you now is important. The game will continue, so put it behind you." These words from his senior, Nishime, captain of the 2008 spring Koshien champions Okinawa Shogaku Senior High School, stayed deep inside him.

While getting support over the phone from his family in Okinawa, Shimabukuro overcame the pain of straight losses and finally grabbed his eagerly awaited first victory on May 13th against Asia University. In a tight match against 2008 spring Koshien winning pitcher Higashihama (Okinawa Shogaku Senior High School), Shimabukuro took a 1-0 lead into the ninth inning and with one down he surrendered straight hits to leave him in a tight spot with runners on first and second bases. Shimabukuro had the terrible thought in his head, "if I give up a hit here, they will get a tying run like the last time."

Overcoming the torment and getting my first victory

Coach Takahashi went straight to the mound and berated, "you are going to decide the outcome of this game, even if it goes to extra innings, I'm not going to replace you. So throw your heart out." These tactics succeeded and Shimabukuro struck out the next two batters to finally get his first university victory.

He showed true pleasure in saying, "I was relieved to win. I was truly getting impatient so I was really very happy." After interviews from each media outlet, a while later when Shimabukuro left Jingu Stadium and boarded the team bus, his waiting teammates showered him with congratulatory messages of "well done" and "nice pitching." "I really appreciated it. I got the winning ball from Nishime who had retrieved it."

Shimabukuro, who kept his commemorative winning ball from his first university victory in his dorm room said "it was special and I didn't want to lose it," so he took it to Okinawa in June on his first trip back in three months for safekeeping at his home as a lifetime memento.

Choosing Chuo University to be under the tutelage of Coach Takahashi

Shimabukuro, the High School Baseball Ace, had many choices of university to go to. He selected Chuo because, "I wanted to play a game in the Tohto Baseball League. And of those, I wanted to hone my skills under Coach Takahashi who was active as a pitcher in professional baseball and also spent a long time as a pitching coach."

He started using his unique left-arm tornado action when "my primary school coach told me to 'throw it from your hip!'" He became conscious of his style when he was at Koshien as a second year student and those around him were saying "tornado."

"My throwing style is a little strange. I open up and lean over," he says in giving a self analysis. He adds that his advice from Coach Takahashi, who can "only talk about control," is "keep a straight (and still) axis, and then throw."

Konchiwa spirit cultivated at high school

Coach Takahashi has devised a four year plan for Shimabukuro's development. High school mentor and Okinawa Konan Senior High School coach, Masaru Gakiya, also sent him off with the words, "Don't think you have to perform wonders in one year. You have four years, so be patient. Go and develop yourself over the four years."

Shimabukuro, who says he changed his way of thinking in three years at high school, was taught not only baseball skills, but also human nature, by Coach Gakiya, who is also known as an educator. In the courtyard of Konan Senior High School is a monument which reads Konchiwa. It means, "Fill yourself with spirit (kon), expand your knowledge (chi), have harmony among friends (wa), value teamwork."

He was especially told repeatedly by Coach Gakiya to "use all five senses and create a sixth," and was also taught to raise a "scoreboard of life" to enhance the power of life.

The Konan Senior High School baseball team had a daily morning walk, which was followed by a customary one minute speech.

Nobody knew who the coach would pick out, so the players would prepare for their speech during the walk, drawing on all five senses by touching roadside flowers, smelling the air and listening to the sounds. At first glimpse, this would seem unrelated to baseball, but Shimabukuro had this to say.

"We were taught that by turning our eyes toward small things we will work our sixth senses, and then we can notice larger things. During games, I became able to notice what our opponents were aiming to do."

Build up my lower body and develop strength

Shimabukuro stands at 173cm, weighs 71kg and has a fastest pitch of 148kph. He doesn't hesitate in saying that he respects the Yakult Swallows' Masanori Ishikawa in the pro leagues for which he aspires. His reasoning is clear, "it's not because Ishikawa is small (167cm). I respect the speed of his pitches and the composition of his in-course pitching."

Since entering university, Shimabukuro is putting effort into building his body. Especially in order to strengthen his lower body, he has voluntarily taken to weight training. He realizes that he cannot neglect personal management by saying, "the biggest difference from high school is that you must train independently. If I slack off I will fall behind, so I train by myself in order to win."

His target for this year is to "throw strongly for one season", and to achieve that Shimabukuro has set himself the task of "building up my body and being able to get strikes with my breaking balls."

"Tokyo has a lot of people and everyone is in a hurry. I like Okinawa. The sea is beautiful, it's an easy place to live, and I really like the atmosphere of people trying to help each other out." When the topic changes to Okinawa, a smile comes across his face and he becomes naturally friendly. That is where the freshness of the rookie thinking of his homeland lay.

Hakumon Chuo 2011 Summer Issue Student Reporter:Riko Miyadera (2nd year student in the Faculty of Law)

Yosuke Shimabukuro
Born in 1992 in Ginowan City, Okinawa Prefecture. Graduated from Konan Senior High School. Belonged to the baseball club, and as pitcher led them to becoming the first team from Okinawa to win the summer edition of Koshien, and the sixth team nationwide to capture both the spring and summer titles. Entered the Faculty of Commerce, Chuo University, in April 2011. Joined the baseball team and was selected as opening day pitcher in the spring of his first year. On May 13 of the same year against fellow Okinawa native Nao Higashihama, he pitched a complete game for a 1-0 victory to register his first win in league play.