Star of the Giants: Junior Baseball Player Hamashima Aoi Shows Girls Have Game
The Konami Cup, Nippon Professional Baseball’s junior tournament, is a showcase of rising little-league talent. Held each year since 2005, the competition is a gateway for the pros. In its 17-year history, the tourney has featured over 10 players who went on to be top picks in the NPB draft, including the likes of Hanshin Tigers superstar Satō Teruaki.
Each of the 12 NPB teams field a junior squad for the knockout competition consisting of players in the fifth or sixth grade of elementary school. The 2021 tournament took place on December 28–30, 2021, at Tokyo’s Jingū Stadium and Yokohama Stadium, and for the first time the Tokyo Giants, considered Japan’s most popular team, included a female player on their junior roster: 12-year-old hitting and pitching sensation Hamashima Aoi.
Sixth-grader Hamashima is known for her fastball, which clocks in at sizzling 116 kilometers an hour. Giants Jr. coach Nishimura Kentarō gives her high marks for her speed and control, saying that her delivery is “crisp and accurate,” attributes that won her a spot on the team. “She regularly fans her male counterparts, so she can definitely throw heat.”
Taking the Mound
Hamashima made her debut for the team on the first day of the tournament in a game against the Hanshin Tigers. The crowd stirred when she took the mound in the third inning with one out and a runner on first base. Staring at a four-run deficit, Hamashima kept her composure, retiring the side with the help of her fastball. She stepped off the mound with two outs in the fourth inning, having held the Tigers to just three hits and one run. The Giants’ bats came alive in the middle innings, propelling the team to a 9–7 come-from-behind win.
Asked about her performance, a grinning Hamashima gave herself high marks: “I’d say 90 out of 100.” However, she is quick to credit the squad’s teamwork for enabling the Giants to climb back into the game after going behind early. “It was thrilling when we batted in the go-ahead run,” she says. “The dugout nearly exploded.”
Hamashima was shakier as a starter in her second outing, a semifinal match-up against the Rakuten Eagles, but showed her usual grit. She gave up five runs, including a homer, before stepping off the mound partway through the third inning with the team trailing by one. But the normally prodigious Giant bats were no match for the determined Eagles side, and the squad went down to defeat 7–11.
Although disappointed with the result, Hamashima says she gave it her all and has no regrets. “It was a great experience to play for the Giants.” She is now gearing up for the next stage of her baseball career, stating that she is going to continue practicing like normal to stay in form to play ball when she enters junior high in the next school year.
Baseball has been a part of Hamashima’s life for as long as she can remember. She started going to games with her father Tsubasa, who is an avid player active in the local recreational league, when still a toddler, and began playing when she entered elementary school. Father and daughter enjoy playing catch together whenever possible. “Baseball is very important to me,” Hamashima declares. “I want to keep getting better.”
The pair train at a park near their home, with Tsubasa serving as catcher. He has eagerly watched his daughter’s talents grow with each year, noting that he feels it most in the force the ball hits his glove. “I notice little changes from day to day,” he says. “With just one pitch , I can tell how focused she is on practicing. Today she was in the groove.”
Dreams of Ohtani
Playing for the Tokyo Giants junior team, Hamashima chose the same jersey, number 17, as her baseball hero Ohtani Shōhei of the Los Angeles Angels. And like Ohtani, she aims to make a splash as a two-way player.
At the plate, Hamashima is a fierce adversary as she is on the mound. She bring power to the batter’s box, and has forged a reputation for smacking tape-measure shots, including sending balls sailing over the outfield fence and into the adjacent residential area.
Eye on Kōshien
Each year, Hamashima and her family attend the summer national high school baseball championships held at Kōshien Stadium in Hyōgo Prefecture, and she says she has dreams of playing on the hallowed grounds herself one day. The annual tournament is an all-male affair, but in the summer of 2021, the girls high school baseball championships broke boundaries when it held its final at Kōshien for the first time ever.
The tournament, first held in 1997, has over its 22 years grown in scale and competitiveness. It began with just five teams, but now includes 40 squads from around the country. Kobe Kōryō High School defeated Kōchi Chūō High school 4–0 to claim the title in the historic game.
Watching the action at Kōshien has inspired Hamashima to reach for the stars. “It’s impressive to see the players give it their all,” she says. “It makes me want to pitch at Kōshien, too.” But her real dream is to suit up for the Giants again. The club recently established a women’s team, and Hamashima is determined to make the squad when she is older. Having done it once as a junior player, there is little doubt she has the drive to do it again as a pro.
(Originally published in Japanese on FNN’s Prime Online on December 31, 2021. Translated and edited by Nippon.com.)
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