The 90th National High School Baseball Invitational Tournament got underway on March 23. As the competition, commonly referred to as the Senbatsu tournament, reaches this milestone year, we look forward to seeing young players performing and providing a breath of fresh air in the world of high school baseball.
Over its long history, the Senbatsu tournament has had to weather unprecedented natural disasters and its very existence has even been threatened. The first tournament was held in 1924, seven months after the Great Kanto Earthquake, with two schools from the disaster-hit regions of Tokyo and Kanagawa playing passionately.
Soon after the end of the Pacific War, the General Headquarters of the Allied Powers suddenly announced the cancellation of the tournament. But due to the enthusiasm of those involved, it was held again in 1947 for the first time after the war, brightening conversation in public as Japan reeled from defeat in the war.
Later tournaments held after the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995 and the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami of 2011 strengthened bonds between people and gave areas affected by the disasters a boost of encouragement.
Through various endeavors, the tournament also helped to spur on high school baseball in Japan. For five years from 1927, the winning school was sent on a long-term trip to the United States -- an initiative hailed as an unparalleled move in the world of baseball.
The tournament's 21st century invitation slot, which extends a hand to schools that have overcome difficulties or have shown exemplary manners, has given many young baseball players hope that the chance of playing in the tournament at Koshien Stadium in Hyogo Prefecture is not merely a dream.
This year, three teams will appear in the tournament in the 21st century slot: Yuri Technical High School from Akita Prefecture, Zeze High School in Shiga Prefecture, and Imari High School in Saga Prefecture. These three schools, which have surmounted many obstacles, will surely give us a taste of the appeal of high school baseball.
During this tournament, a tiebreaker system will be introduced for the first time. If the scores are tied after 12 innings, runners will be placed on the field to increase opportunities for scoring.
Measures to ensure the health of players form a pressing issue for high school baseball. We hope that organizers will continue discussions on securing and expanding the scope of rest days, and establish foundations in this tournament for taking the health of the players into consideration.
This academic year, the number of high school baseball club members across Japan has topped 161,500, recovering from a range of 140,000 in the 1990s, when soccer was popular. The ratio of students who continue to play baseball from their first through third year of high school has also risen to about 90 percent, up from a level in the 70 percent range 20 years ago.
Interest in Japanese baseball players has been increasing in the U.S. major leagues, and players are increasingly being taught to enjoy the game. There is therefore still a lot of hidden potential for high school baseball.
For the first time in 25 years, the tournament this year commenced with students marching in to the song "Ima Arite." A line of this song goes, "Taking a renewed look at the present, let's open the door to the future." Keeping this thought in their hearts, we hope the participants in this tournament will show us some exciting baseball.