( the pitcher who was a member of Yomiuri Giants from 1986 to 2006,
and a member of Pittsburgh Pirates in 2007.
In his high-scool days, he made a spectacular showing at the National High School Baseball Championship.He entered Giants and attracted many people by his soulful pitching.)
I wish everyone can become happy.Mr. Sasaki says so.
But there are some people who won’t become happy easily.
Tsuneo Horiuchi, who was a key pitcher that supported Giants’ golden age and also an ex-manager, always seems very earnest and expresses his happiness very rarely.
He is a tender person but not as expressive, I guess. He writes few autographs, but when he does, they are for children.He seems not to want to write it for a cheerful adult like Mr. Sasaki.
One day, Mr. Sasaki wanted Horiuchi’s autograph and went again to the said < Dream Baseball >.
A Little League Team had just arrived and children were getting coached by Horiuchi.
Mr. Sasaki prowled around, but as expected from Horiuchi, he didn’t allow Mr.Sasaki any opportunity.
After prowling for a terribly long time, Mr.Sasaki happened to discover a person who won Horiuchi’s autograph in the lottery.Mr. Sasaki tried negotiating him.”Well, I want a signed ball of Horiuchi.Will you trade with one by ～ which I won?”
To tell the truth, he wanted a signature directly, but sometimes he tries making such a deal.
He held out this and that until the other was satisfied and Mr. Sasaki parted with an autograph by Horiuchi somehow.
The other side is happy. Mr. Sasaki is happy, too.Of course Horiuchi will be happier than if he is run after by an outgoing adult like Mr. Sasaki.
Mr. Sasaki says that when nobody feels unpleasant, it’s good.
Nobody is unhappy.It is a wonderful way to get an autograph.
Mr. Sasaki had been unrelated to baseball until he became an adult.As a child, he played by chasing after dragonflies near the Tonegawa River.When he grew up, he loved to play with girls.
One girl who he was going out with was a Yomiuri-Giants fan. She invited him to go to Tokyo Dome to watch a baseball game together.She said “When watching a baseball game, it’s more interesting in the outfield seats.”As he was told, he began to go see games in the outfield seats.It was around the late 90s.
Seeing a baseball game live for the first time was very impressive,but what in particular attracted Mr. Sasaki’s attention was the throw-in balls.
Giants players who took up defensive positions at the top of the first inning threw their signed balls into the seats. Many people competed and tried to catch the balls.
Seeing those that caught the balls, Mr. Sasaki became seriously envious.
It was difficult to catch a thrown-in ball. Mr. Sasaki was exceptionally poor at catching them.
Rose, a center fielder, always threw his signed balls to the same position of near the 54th passage.Mr. Sasaki sat at that seat and managed to get a signed ball somehow.That was the beginning for him to get an autograph in his hand.
Hiromi Makihara:a perfect game picther
After some time, Mr. Sasaki came to want an autographed baseball card. It was in about 2000.
A baseball card has a photograph of each player on it.So everyone enjoys seeing them.
Such being the case, he asked an experienced autograph-hunter about the know-how.
For example, it’s to wait for players in their pathway and ask for their autograph. “Please sign!”.
It is difficult to do such a thing only by oneself. Coordination and cooperation among companions was required.
The rare ability of Mr. Sasaki was the speed in making such relationships.He asked friends and made such a network in a flash.
“I won’t do something stingy,” said Mr. Sasaki.”I don’t intend to make a profit alone. Some want to attract other’s attention to themselves, but I don’t intend to make my existence stand out.”
It’s by far smarter to do something by relationship, instead of piling up money, Mr. Sasaki says.
“From the beginning, I didn’t think that I would buy a signature and a ticket at a high price.”
・・・It’s boring if I clear this game with money.I use my brains, I spend time and effort, and then, I will splendidly capture it in return.With the hurdle of making sure it is happy for everyone.
The scene to get autographs are full of troubles.
Quarrels are nothing out of the ordinary.They often almost become riots.
Some show offs try to squeeze their way into the row once they get to be a little known.
Some say “I am a Giants-fan” but want to get signatures both for collection and for sale.Some claim that he is a Giants-fan, but put autographs up on Yahoo Auctions.
Sometimes a line is not even established in the first place.
There is no guardsman.It is full of trouble. And players are completely in their private time. They often will refuse, and some players won’t give signatures unless for a girl.
Nothing advances on schedule.
Thus Mr.Sasaki cooperates there, reads the situation, and watches for a good chance.
“The player who we had been eagerly looking forward to came over. But we must not force ourselves at him.This player always goes to put his baggage down and comes back to buy a drink. We wait until then to talk to him.”
Have a sharp eye. Behave politely. And suppress the situation.
To understand the atmosphere, and to hold it.
The one in control is myself.
In the wild wasteland with no guarantee, his arm is tried.Mr.Sasaki was hooked on to the powerful charm and fell further and further into the depth.
Let’s talk about something personal now.
I became acquainted with Mr. Sasaki at an advance ticket office of Tokyo Dome.My family had been going to the baseball stadium as a Yomiuri-Giants fan for many years.Let’s talk about something personal now.
I became acquainted with Mr. Sasaki at an advance ticket office of Tokyo Dome.My family had been going to the baseball stadium as a Yomiuri-Giants fan for many years.
In around 2000, when Mr. Sasaki’s craze about autographs began, the situation surrounding the Giants was shaken violently.
Giants had remained low in the late 90s, but they finally won the Central League championship in 2000.
In 2002,the year after the next,they beat Seibu-Lions at the Japan series, defeating them four games in a row. The outfield stand went wild, but behind the scenes, various struggles for power were intensifying.
In 2003, Tokyo Dome abolished outfield non-reserved seats and cut the rudder towards fully reserved seating.
As for cheering, as for how to get seats, the outfield changed completely.
Our group lined up at the ticket agency of Ginza to get outfield reserved seat tickets, but did not succeed because we had so adapted ourselves to the unreserved seating system.
We tried there for several years in vain, and finally, decided to line up at Tokyo Dome on an advance sale day.
Mr. Sasaki was already organizing groups at that time.The members of the group were corps of an elite troop.They showed guts when lining up. Besides, they were very particular about
their seat number.
Mr. Sasaki, at a glance, seemed to be a showy person that we couldn’t approach easily.But once we got to know him, he was honest and talkative and sincerely showed admiration and appreciation for people.
A characteristic of his was his ability to involve others in his enthusiasm. Mr. Sasaki was always the center of the group.
While the outfield seats and the supporters were changing, Mr. Sasaki’s autograph collecting obsession deepened year after year.
“I won’t go to a discount ticket store. I won’t depend on auctions.” Mr. Sasaki says.”I don’t want what they have.”
He keeps on going to line up and waits persistently.
“You need to be diligent,” Mr. Sasaki said.
．．．We must not be selfish. We should value communication.
We should labor without stint and must not cut corners.
With that in mind, we will gain something appropriate to that effort.
From the beginning, Mr. Sasaki instinctively knew the logic of the place that we learned in the days of the unreserved outfield seating.
Move yourself.Stay in the place by yourself.You must be modest, and you should cooperate with people.
You must not choose the easy way out.If you depend on others, you will be controlled, and your right will fall into others’ hands.
And this is what was in his bag on the day when we spoke to Mr. Sasaki for the first time.
Signed cards of all the Giants players of 2008.
2008 season… It was an intense one.
The Giants lost three games in succession at the opening games of Jingu Stadium.Afterwards, they were separated from Hanshin Tigers by a wide margin.
On July 22, the magic number for Hanshin lit up early.
But in the latter half of the summer, with the return of players who had seceded with injuries, Giants rapidly gained vigor.
They decided victory after victory with irresistible force in September.
At last, they turned the 13 victory difference with Hanshin on its head and won the league championship.
It was the first time in the history of the Central League for a team to have reversed such a wide gap.The catchword “Make Legend” was often said; the upsurge of the support rose toward the season-end.
With that momentum, Giants defeated Chunichi-Dragons in the climax series.They confronted Seibu-Lions in the Japan series at last.
He joined Yomiuri-Giants in 2007.
In 2008, he appeared as a starting player of the opening game at the young age of teens.
November 2008, the Japan Series.
As for the first game in Tokyo Dome, Seibu won, and for the second game, Giants won and kept up the competition.The third match that changed place and took place at Seibu Dome was concluded by the victory of the Giants. Though the Giants lost the fourth match, they won the fifth game 7-3, and came within one game of becoming the Japan Series champion.All the Giants fans were convinced of victory.
But in the sixth match once again at Tokyo Dome, Seibu’s pitcher Kishi who shut out the Giants in the fourth game overwhelmed the Giants again.The two teams tied at three games each.Air of gloomy prospects drifted, but we still believed in the completion of “Make Legend.”
The seventh and last game on November 10th.
Giants scored the first two points that day, and an air of restlessness had already surrounded us.
Seibu got back one point in the fifth inning.But it’s all right. No additional points being added by the Giants in the middle phase weighted our minds. But we sang Giants’ official song “With Fighting Spirits” loudly at the bottom of the seventh inning.
Members of the Giants cheering squad began to distribute orange paper streamers to fans in neighboring seats. Fans were to throw them at the ground the moment of victory.Giants pitcher Ochi came to mound and began throwing preparations for the top of the eighth inning.It’s impossible to forget that atmosphere that was almost too heavy to endure.Our friend who rarely leaves his seat midgame told me that he was going to go smoke, turned his back, and went up the stairs.
In that inning, Seibu’s first batter Kataoka was awarded first base by a hit by pitch, and miraculously reached home plate by base running, bringing the score to a two to two tie.
Then, with 2 outs and runners on first and second base, Hirao who drove in four runs in the previous game made a hit.
Simultaneously with the end of the game, Seibu’s players flooded the ground all together.With orange paper streamers still wrapped around our fingers, we blankly watched them toss their manager Watanabe into the air, full of joy.
By the way, after this Japan series, Giants fans who thirsted for revenge at a game with Seibu increased remarkably, but in another sense, it was an unforgettable year for Mr. Sasaki, too.
In the latter half of the season,the Giants’ popularity heated rapidly and the autgraphs gathering scenes became rough and got out of hand.
How rowdy and difficult the situation was!
In this fierce season, he conquered them all.
When he looks back on 2008, he concludes:・・・Mr.Ochi took very good care of me.
He was one of the most dependable pitcher in 2008.
I often hear about people who cannot ask players for their autographs because once they face the player, their mind goes blank and can’t say anything.
・・・Have you ever experienced such a condition? I asked Mr. Sasaki.
“Nope, never.” He said plainly.
Some may attribute it to Mr. Sasaki not being a baseball fan from childhood.They say that is why he can be calm in front of a player.
It may be so. But that’s not the only reason.For example, Mr. Sasaki likes idols too. But his mind does not go blank in front of the idol he supports so ardently either.
“On seeing a player, you people always fidget with your smartphone and try to take a photo, don’t you?I won’t do such a thing.I always look straight at the player and ask him with all my strength to give me an autograph.”
“If the player comes this way, I should do this and that….It’s no use imaging so.It’s important that you understand what you want clearly.”
Is it a photo?
Is it a handshake?
Is it to have them remember you?
No. An autograph.
Mr. Sasaki is consistent.He is absorbed in getting an autograph.He gathers all his abilities and concentrates his attention just to obtain autographs.
And then, he doesn’t cling to the thing in itself .He enjoys the process of getting an autograph.He likes the moment of obtaining it.
(a very popular player and a manager of Yomiuri-Giants.
He served on a manager of Giants in 2008)
I hear there is a player that even Mr. Sasaki cannot capture
“If I’m refused after asking twice, I won’t go anymore. I don’t want an autograph of a player who doesn’t give it.” He says.
To tell the truth, in all the player cards of 2008, there is just one piece without the autograph・・ ・ Shinnosuke Abe.
・・・Well, you have a lot of signatures of Shinnosuke, don’t you?
“For various adult circumstances.”
My. Sasaki put on a look as if to say he couldn’t reveal that.
“I presume Shinnosuke might not have been able to afford writing autograph because he was under strong pressure as a catcher.”
Mr, Sasaki said so gently, even though he had just said he didn’t want the autograph so flatly.
“・・Then, is there a player who is particular about writing his signature ? “I asked.
“I guess that would be Kisanuki, I think ” Mr. Sasaki answered.
The pitcher Kisanuki was registered at Giants for 2003 through 2009. After that he transferred to Orix-Buffaloes, and then to Nippon ham-Fighters, and has been a scout man of Giants since 2016.
“Because he collected baseball cards in his childhood, he signs neatly. He is also kind to fans. That is because he was from the upbringing system, I guess”
Mr. Sasaki says.
All players are provided with their special distribution cards by Giants at the time of the spring Miyazaki camp.
Kisanuki distributed them not only to his fans but also to children at elementary school lunch events.
He always would write his signature on all the cards by himself, and numbered them from 1 to 1000-plus.
Well, a familiar smell … I feel that Kisanuki understands the key point of card enthusiasts….
“He must like cards himself,” Mr. Sasaki said.
Therefore, as for the card of Kisanuki, they are handwritten and serial numbered, and they are put in card sleeves carefully.