National body shoots down Japan’s 1st high school baseball pitch limit

On Wednesday the Japan High School Baseball Federation asked Niigata Prefecture’s high school federation to reconsider the pitch limit it announced for this year’s spring prefectural tournament.

The rule, announced unilaterally by the Niigata body in December without consulting the national federation, would have prevented pitchers from working in another inning after they had thrown 100 pitches.

Niigata’s decision sent shockwaves through Japan, where the two iconic high school tournaments at historic Koshien Stadium outside of Osaka are the nation’s biggest spectacle, and marathon pitching efforts part of the lore.

In making its announcement in Osaka, the national federation said it would convene a panel of experts in April to study how to prevent pitching injuries. Although there had been some words of condemnation for Niigata acting on its own, the national federation’s decision should not be seen as an effort to turn back the clock. This month, Daichi Suzuki, the chief of Japan’s Sports Agency praised the bravery of Niigata’s authorities and called on the national high school federation to act.

Osamu Shimada, a high school vice principal in Niigata Prefecture who was the project leader behind the plan to curb injuries to baseball players, said by telephone, “We have pushed the hands of the clock forward.”

Shimada, who became a teacher and a high school baseball coach after his own playing career ended in university, said Niigata was uniquely situated to upset high school baseball’s apple cart.

“We were able to put together a committee of elementary, junior and senior high school baseball authorities. Because we are weak (in national tournaments) we could find common cause at all levels,” he said. “This is something other prefectures with strong local bodies couldn’t do.”

“We are a small prefecture in terms of population and the number of kids who want to play baseball is dwindling. We want to change that. but there are so many other sports one could play, so why would a young athlete choose a sport where a lot of players get hurt?”

“We don’t know that 100 pitches is the best solution, but our plan is to collect data, learn and move forward. We felt if we didn’t act it would be too late. There was a sense of urgency.”

Jim Allen

sports editor for a wire service in Tokyo

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