“‘It’s kind of like March Madness,’ Mikolas said, referring to the men’s college basketball tournament that grips America each spring. ‘The whole country is enthralled with these kids playing high school baseball. Fifty thousand people attend the games, and they’re on TV everywhere, even in our locker room and our food room.’
“[Japan’s high school baseball tournament was] created in 1915, 15 years before Uruguay won soccer’s first World Cup.
“From Hokkaido to Okinawa, the tournament begins regionally in each of Japan’s 47 prefectures. Every high school with a baseball program throughout the archipelago participates — 3,871 of them this year. Earning the crown for best team in the region is nice, but it is merely passage to the ultimate prize, a berth in the single-elimination tournament at Koshien that runs through Tuesday this year.
“… Another cultural aspect revealed is the significance of baseball’s amateur roots in Japan. The professional game did not exist in 1915. Koshien Stadium was constructed as the tournament’s permanent home in 1924, 12 years before a pro league was established and the Osaka Tigers, a charter member, were housed there.
“Now known as the Hanshin Tigers, they still have second-class status at their home park. Each August, they are essentially evicted, banished to an unthinkable stretch of away games known as “the death road” just as the pennant race heats up. This year, Hanshin had 25 straight games scheduled away from Koshien.
“… Teenagers become national heroes on Koshien’s diamond. Even when they ascend to the professional ranks, they are still defined by their performance in the tournament.”
– “In Japan, 100 Years of Glory Days for High School Baseball”, by Brad Lefton, New York Times, August 16, 2018