Since it’s Mothers Day, I’d like to share a story Akinori Otsuka told me a few years ago in Peoria, Arizona. Otsuka, who recorded the final out in the 2006 World Baseball Classic to seal Japan’s first championship, was then a Triple-A pitching coach for the Padres, his first MLB team.
We started talking about the lucky circumstances that got him to San Diego, the team he most wanted to play for. Suddenly, he started talking about the turning point in his baseball career, his mother, and why always looks at the ground during the national anthem lost in thought.
“That I was able to play baseball is quite something. When I was in elementary school, I hated the hard practice.”
“I hated it, hated it.”
“I was close to quitting, but my late mother, she couldn’t stand it when I ran away from difficulties. She supported me in many ways out of her desire to make me better at that. But still, I would hide instead of going to practice. One time she found where I was hiding, she smacked me and dragged me to practice as I cried.”
“My mother raised me all by herself. As I cried, she demanded to know whether I would keep playing baseball or quit. That was when I thought, ‘Even though mom is doing all this for me, I’m not acting at all like a man, and I should accept some responsibility.'”
“I was in elementary school, but that was the trigger that made me clean up my act. That’s why whenever the national anthem played (in the majors), and we’d be standing, I’d be looking down at the dirt, thinking back.”
“In elementary school, when my mother made me choose to quit or not. I said I’d hang in there, and she said, ‘OK. Go do it then.’ And from that point on, I was ‘bam, bam, bam,’ running to practice, listening to the manager. That’s what would come back to me.”
“When I signed with San Diego, I came here to Peoria (Arizona) for the first time, that was the first time I experienced them playing the (U.S.) national anthem at a spring training game, I took a look around, and my mother’s words came back to me.”
“I had traveled a gravel-road, from playing on scrubby rocky fields to this beautiful facility. Being blessed to be able to play baseball somewhere like this filled me once more with gratitude to my mother.”
“My mother died when I was 15, and me and my two siblings looked after each other with no parents. But our mother had already taught us the important things, so she stayed with us in that way.”