The Wide, Wide World Of Sports
On Monday, my co-homeroom teacher and I drove an hour to the outskirts of Nakanida for an event I was actually really psyched about watching. Only a few years ago TGH's softball team didn't have enough members to compete in an actual game, but then they got a new coach- Kana, who works in our office and is an ex-JSDF (Japan Self Defence Force) officer. She whipped the girls in to shape and the club's enrollment leapt. They may not be champions yet but I'd say they're the overall most-improved sports club at TGH in the last 5 years. Also, I've personally found them to be some of the politest, friendliest, funniest and most cheerful girls around school; which is what made watching what happened in the game that much tougher.
Tokiwagi was playing a seasoned and disciplined Rifu team that are annual favorites to win and were no doubt eager to put our upstart squad in its place. They even brought what appeared to be half the school, as well as their boy's team with horns and huge drums to bash away the school songs. Our supporting side consisted of the team's family members, 3 teachers, our school custodians and 1 student.
Unphased by the drums and chants, our girls got on base on the 1st swing and got a run in the 1st inning! The teams exchanged chances back and forth- singles, doubles, pop flys, grounders, walks, slides, strikes... out after out, inning after inning, eventually scoring one more run each before the final inning. This is where I wondered to myself if this might be the greatest game of softball ever played anywhere at any time, and yes- I undoubtedly believed it was.
It was 2-1 for us. Tokiwagi was up last, so Rifu was at bat. The first girl grounded out to first and we were two outs away from winning. The second girl popped up to shallow outfield and we were now one out away from Tokiwagi's greatest ever softball victory. The opposing army of supporters had fallen silent. What everyone believed to be the last opponent stepped up to bat. I'm not sure what the count was but she eventually hit it to the deep outfield, gaining a double. And that is when our pitching suddenly disappeared completely. Walk, Walk, Walk. 2-2 with the bases loaded. The pitcher was changed but to say our relief pitcher struggled to find the strike zone would be an understatement. After 4 or 5 more walks, a Rifu girl was eventually given a pitch good enough to hit. She grounded out and the agony stopped.
Then something happened that I would compare to the Grinch's revelation on Mount Crumpet when his heart grew 3 sizes in reaction to. Even though Tokiwagi had one more at bat, everyone watching knew the game was over: their families, the teary-eyed custodians, we three sunburned teachers and most certainly everyone on the opposition's side- who had gone from cricket-chirping silence to boisterous revelry in the past 20 minutes.
Everyone that is, except Tokiwagi's baseball team itself. As they ran in from the field I could not see one ounce of disappointment in their faces. They shouted encouragement to each other, made jokes and cheerfully warmed up for their final chance. Without a doubt, their hearts were breaking and everyone knew it, but they refused to crack. Anyone who happened to be dropping in on the game at that moment could be forgiven for thinking it was the top of the 1st inning, 0-0.
They didn't get any more runs, and lost, officially. They politely saluted the opposition and the officials, came over and bowed to us and thanked us for our support, and THEN, collapsed in a cloud of dirt and tears and bawling and wailing. I hate watching my students whimper and whine after a defeat at the hands of a better opponent. Almost every year I see it happen and I think to myself- "You were ranked 4th, you came in 4th- what's the deal?" But this time I wholeheartedly agreed with their reaction. They were the slighty better team through the course of the entire game and, aside from the pitchers, even as they were helplessly watching the game slowly melt away from them. But they played a great game. It was no longer the greatest game but IT WAS A GREAT GAME! So cry girls- its justified. But hold your heads high as well- and that's justified too.
Like I wrote before- they lost the game, officially... officially.