Having a Tsutsugo at Japan’s adult-centered youth ball

Yoshitomo Tsutsugo” class=”wp-image-2501″/>
Yoshitomo Tsutsugo is the prototypical Japanese ball player in most respects, but he is now breaking the mold and speaking out on the ills of his nation’s youth baseball culture.

DeNA BayStars cleanup hitter Yoshitomo Tsutsugo asked Friday why Japan even has youth baseball if its culture values winning over teaching kids and helping them grow.

Japanese baseball is realizing there is a problem as the population shrinks but the baseball-playing population shrinks even faster. When Niigata Prefecture’s High School Baseball Federation recently took steps to protect high school pitchers’ arms in their local tournament, it was ridiculed from some quarters by those who worry that protecting kids will ruin competition.

Some people in Japan seem to think that the glory of sacrificing one’s body for the sake of their school’s victory is a good thing. One wonders if such people would be just as happy if the national high school tournament at Koshien Stadium were replaced by gladiatorial combat.

Read my story for Kyodo News here.

At his Tokyo press conference, Tsutsugo, the BayStars cleanup hitter and captain took aim at the youth sports authorities for their failure to institute rules and at coaches who forget that the game is for the kids.

“People in the baseball community are pushing for a resurgence in the sport at the youth level, but if you don’t make it fun, if you don’t protect the children, there is no point in having baseball at all,” he said.

Tsutsugo presented the results of some research by Japan’s leading Tommy John surgeon, Kozo Furushima, who has studied youth baseball injuries. One is particularly interesting, although it does involve a small group of student athletes (60) at a high school that frequently reaches the most prestigious national tournament finals at Koshien Stadium.

Of those 60, 39 had experienced elbow pain in junior high school, and 18 of those had relapses in high school. Those 18 relapses accounted for 90 percent of the elbow-pain sufferers, as only two of the 21 players felt elbow pain for the first time in high school. This suggests that fewer high school kids would be hurt if more injuries were prevented at a younger age.

Elbow pain graphic
Graphic from Dr. Kozo Furushima indicating that among 60 new high school students, only two who had not suffered elbow pain before high school had those injuries in high school.

Jim Allen

sports editor for a wire service in Tokyo

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