Koshien is possibly the last remnant of pure amateurism on earth, where future millions are worth risking for high school sports immortality. Yuki Saito once threw 948 pitches in the 2006 tournament--a 16-year old kid in 14 days equaling what a Major League starter throws in 70 days. When asked if he had regrets, Saito, now injured, responded, "No. I won koshien, remember?"
Pedro Okado, the Brazilian-Japanese hitter of the sayonara home run was in 2009 picked up by the Seattle Mariners. He will likely have a few more years of baseball in his life. He may win battling titles and earn filthy amounts of cash. Okada may hit a walk-off home run in game seven of the World Series, but nothing he ever does in baseball will near the exuberant joy of that sayanora home run.
A March Madness buzzer beater, a Super Bowl Hail Mary, a Sunday Masters birdie putt, a Champs L'Elysée triumph, a sayonara home run--these are sporting moments of "near-genital levels of pleasure."
Near genital levels of pleasure--David Foster Wallace used the phrase to describe when he was able to write abundantly, profoundly, effortlessly, joyously. Into middle age, Wallace's genius grew but the sensation of joy vanished--accomplishment, but no sense of accomplishment. He ended up preferring non-existence to joyless mastery. At 46, he hung himself, an intentional sayonara strikout.
Koshien's peculiar fervor is Pentecostal-like, emotionally explosive. The players naturally feel passion about it; they are boys, after all, wanting glory, and they often devote their existence to baseball (as this year's koshien hero, Yoshi Anraku stated, "I am a high school student. My only job is to win Koshien."). Who wouldn't weep after failing at their one job?
Less easily understood is the devotion of cheerleaders, parents, managers, and the girls who rise at 4 to truck water to the batting cages--they also believe. It would be one thing if they could commit to supporting their team, believing in the possibility of winning, but they don't. Defeat is a certainty for all but one of the 49 teams in the tournament, and all but one team in all of Japan. The fans' devotion comes despite--or perhaps because--it is bound to end in tears.
The 45,000 fans pack Koshien Stadium and 60% of Japanese television sets tune to the games. The nation looks to a high school baseball tournament as the object of attention and devotion: one team caught up in near-genital level joy, the rest of the nation weeping and piteous, in both cases a sayonara to youth, baseball, and koshien.