“The first Japanese baseball club, the Shinbashi Athletic Club Athletics, was formed in 1878 by railway engineer Hiroshi Hiraoka, a former U.S. student who was a fan of the Boston Red Sox. By 1896, the skill of the still amateur players was demonstrated during the first international baseball game played between the ‘Ichiko’ team from Tokyo’s First High School and an American team organized at the Yokohama Country and Athletic Club. The Japanese had challenged the Americans to the game but were not taken seriously. The Japanese team soundly defeated the Americans, 29-4.
“During the years between 1903 and 1934, amateur baseball in Japan was wildly popular at the high school and university levels. Teams from Waseda University and Keio University vied with each other at the annual Sokeisen. The National High School Baseball Invitational Tournament or Spring Koshien began in 1924. The tournament was named after Koshien Stadium, built in 1922 and the oldest of the Japanese stadiums still in existence. Koshien seats 55,000 people and, unlike most other modern stadiums in the country which have astro-turf, still uses natural grass in the infield and outfield.
“The rivalry of the Waseda-Keio university competitions contributed much to the overall rise of baseball in Japan. It was on November 5, 1903, the Keio University baseball club received a defiant letter from the Waseda University baseball club challenging them to a game. Sixteen days later, on a clear day on November 21 at 1:30pm, the first Waseda-Keio Baseball Game commenced on Keio University grounds in Mitatsuna-machi, with Keio University outscoring Waseda University 11-9, marking the beginning of the long-standing rivalry that continues today.
“Students would flood the stands to see the two rivals duke it out and the rivalry – both on the field and in the spectator stands – grew more and more intense every year. In the autumn of 1906, after two games, spectators grew out of control. The two university presidents met and agreed to suspend the Sokeisen in order to avoid any unfortunate incidents among the over-enthusiastic spectators. No games between the two teams were allowed for the next 19 years.
“It was not until 1925, after the Big 6 Tokyo Baseball League was formed, that the Waseda-Keio game was revived as a stand-alone competition and held as part of the Big 6 Tokyo Baseball League schedule.”
“But the calm and quiet that seemed to be prevailing features of Japanese life were wholly absent from the ball games where the visiting [U.S. major league] teams met the nines of Keio and Waseda Universities [in 1914].
“The [New York] Giants were to play the first named team, while later on the All-Americans were slated to tackle the Waseda men.
“In the first game the contrast was laughable between the sturdy Giant players and their diminutive opponents. ‘What are we playing against?’ laughed Larry to Denton. ‘A bunch of kids?’
“‘It would take two of them to make a mouthful,’ grinned Denton.
“‘I feel almost ashamed of myself,’ chimed in Burkett. ‘We ought to tackle fellows of our own size.’
“‘You don’t find many of that kind in Japan,’ said Joe. ‘But don’t you hold these fellows too cheap. They may have a surprise in store for us.’
“The snap and vim that the Japs put into their practice before the game seemed to add point to his prophecy They shot the ball around the bases with a speed and precision that would have done credit to seasoned veterans and made McRae, who watched them keenly, give his men a word of caution.
“‘Don’t get too gay, boys,’ he warned.
“The game that followed was ‘for blood.’ The universities had poured out their crowds to a man to cheer their players on to victory .
“And for the first five innings the scales hung in the balance. The Keio pitcher had a world of speed and a tantalizing drop, and only two safe hits were made off him. Behind him his team mates fielded like demons. No ball seemed too hard for them to get, and even when a Giant got to first base he found it difficult to advance against the accurate throwing to second of the Jap catcher.
“At the bat the home players were less fortunate They hit the ball often enough but they couldn’t ‘lean against it’ with the power of their sturdier rivals.
“They were skillful bunters, however, and had the Giant players ‘standing on their heads’ in trying to field the balls that the clever Jap players laid deftly in front of the plate.
“By these tactics they scored a run in the sixth inning, against which the Giants had only a string of goose eggs.
“‘It’s like a bear against a wildcat,’ muttered Robbie to McRae.
“‘And it looks as if the wildcat might win,’ grunted the Giant manager, not at all pleased at the possibility.
“… [T]he Giants, stung by the taunts of their manager, really woke up and got into action. A perfect storm of hits broke from their bats and had the Japanese players running after the ball until their tongues hung out.
“Five runs came in and it was ‘all over but the shouting’ … But though the Giants won handily in the end by a score of six to two, it had been a red-hot game, and had taken some of the conceit out of the major leaguers.
“It was a tip, too, to the All-Americans, who, when they played the Waseda team a little later, went in with determination to win the game from the start and trimmed their opponents handsomely.”
– Baseball Joe Around the World, by Lester Chadwick, 1918