Choking Part Two

(click here for Part One)

Last week we examined some of the situations where baseball players “choke”, and found that “pressing” usually results in “choking”.

Now we’re going to learn how not to press and therefore not choke.

Prepare – Physically, and Visually

Preparation is the key to success in any sport (or business, for that matter). When you practice, you are prepared, and when you are prepared, you are confident. When you’re confident, the worries go away. Without worries, you won’t feel the need to “press”, or otherwise attempt to go above and beyond your capabilities.

Naturally you will practice your skills before a “big” game — you should be practicing all the time, regardless of the “importance” of a particular contest. As with a “regular” game, you should be thinking about what, specifically, you need to address. For example, your opponent may be adept at stealing bases and bunting; in preparation, you (as a coach) would want to provide extra drills in those areas. As a batter, you may know that the opposition’s starting pitcher has a blazing fastball; therefore, you’ll want to dial up the pitching machine to acquaint yourself with the velocity. As a pitcher, you may be going into a park with unusually short fences; as a result, your plan might be to spend extra time in bullpens pounding the bottom half of the plate.

In addition to your physical practice, mix in visualization. See yourself in various situations and moments in the “big” game. Close your eyes and picture the field, smell the grass, hear the crowd cheering. Always “feel” like it’s a 1-1 game, bottom of the ninth, two outs — so that when and if that situation does come up, you’ve already been there (sort of).

Stay Within Yourself

I think I heard this cliche about ten thousand times during my high school career (this and “Keep It Simple Stupid” were the catch-phrases in sports during the 1980s). But unlike many buzz words, this one has some validity.

If you’ve never heard it, or numbed yourself from its meaning, “stay within yourself” means to to understand your skills and limitations and perform within them. Some people confuse this idea with a lack of effort, but that would be misunderstanding the concept. For example, if you’ve never thrown a baseball more than 82 MPH, don’t go out and try to crack 90. Instead, do all that you can do with that 82 — thread a needle, make it dance, change locations, work something offspeed from it. Similarly, if you are a contact hitter with 3 career homers in 10 years of competition, and you find yourself at the plate with the bases-loaded, two outs, and your team down by three, don’t swing for the fence. Stay within your limitations — as you would in any other at-bat — and do your best to put the bat on the ball. Focus on the pitch, find the ball, get the barrel out to it — from there, whatever happens, happens.

We used Alex Rodriguez as an example of someone in the big leagues who presses in the postseason. He’s arguably the best hitter in all MLB, yet once the playoff start he (admittedly) has a tendency to get away from the best use of his talents by expanding the strike zone (swinging at pitches that are not strikes). That’s a prime example of not staying within one’s self — because part of A-Rod’s success is his ability to recognize and demolish pitches in certain areas of the strike zone, and the moment he changed the approach of waiting for those pitches, he was no longer the future Hall of Famer named Alex Rodriguez. After all, not even A-Rod can hit everything.


Put Things Into Proper Perspective

This can be the hardest part, and really is the root of pressing and choking: perspective. The reason athletes press is because they place undeserving importance on an event. Yes, a particular game may seem to mean everything to you, but stand back from the situation for a moment and look at game for what it is in grand scheme of life and the world — it’s a game.

I’ve used quotation marks in this article when talking about “big” games and “important” games because they’re only “big” if someone thinks they’re “big”. Realistically, how truly “important” can a baseball game be? This isn’t a bullfight or an encounter with a black bear — it’s a baseball game, and no one dies at the end. Even at the big league level, if A-Rod hits a homerun to help the Yankees win a playoff game, it’s not like cancer will be cured. At the end of the game, when the final score is burned into the scoreboard, it’s still a game — one relatively meaningless pin in the haystack of life.

One of my semipro coaches from a long time ago addressed it this way:

“You think there’s pressure in getting a squeeze down in the bottom of the ninth down one run? That’s not pressure, that’s fun. Pressure is when you have a wife, a kid, another on the way, a mortgage to pay, and you’ve just lost your job — THAT is pressure, son, not something that happens in a baseball game.”

Look, we all know that people wouldn’t play baseball if it wasn’t important to them. Of course there is importance, and there are “big” games in our lives. But the point is, if you can feel that apple swelling in your throat just from thinking about the “big” game, the easiest way to reduce the swelling is to reduce its importance — think about where it truly fits into the grand scheme of things, and you’ll likely begin to feel the tension subsiding.


Focus and Control

There may be some folks who don’t buy into the reduction of importance. For some, to quote Vince Lombardi, “winning isn’t everything — it’s the only thing”.

Problem is, few people know the rest of that famous quote. It goes like this:

Winning is not a sometime thing; it’s an all time thing. You don’t win once in a while, you don’t do things right once in a while, you do them right all the time. Winning is habit.

People mistake Lombardi’s “winning” as being defined by final scores and team records. In fact, what Lombardi meant was that “winning” was a way of life, the way you conducted yourself — and if you always conducted yourself as a winner, and fostered winning habits, then in the end you had the best chance of being on the winning side of a final score.

During the course of a baseball game, yes, you absolutely must know the score (and the outs). But it doesn’t help your cause to worry about the score, or to concern yourself with what the final score will be — because it’s out of your control. You may think that you can directly impact the final score with a solo homer — and you can — but you can’t control what the pitcher is going to throw, nor where he will throw it. You can think “if the pitcher throws me a first-pitch fastball, chest high, inside part of the plate, I’m going to hammer it”, but you can’t think, “I’m going to hit a homerun”. There are simply too many factors out of your control (the wind, a leaping outfielder, an intentional walk, etc.).

Playing baseball is difficult enough when you have intense focus — the minute you allow other things to enter your mind (such as the final score), you’re taking away from that focus. For example, much is said about players’ batting averages with men in scoring position. When there are men on second and third, and it’s a tight ballgame, of course you want to get a hit. But if you think that broadly, and think about something out of your control (the hit itself), then you are not applying your best focus to the task at hand.

Instead of thinking about “getting a hit”, narrow your focus to what is in your control: seeing the ball, recognizing the pitch speed and location, deciphering whether you can get good wood on it, and then telling your hands to get the sweet spot of the barrel through the middle of the baseball. Remember you need to think about all this in a few tenths of a second — so that last thing you want to do is cloud your focus with useless thoughts (such as “getting a hit” or the final score). If you are intensely, narrowly focused on a specific task, you won’t have to worry about pressing or choking — your brain won’t have room for it.

Conclusion

Again, it’s easier said than done, but perhaps if you understand why players choke, and how to combat the “pressure” of a baseball game, you will have a head start on playing to your peak performance — regardless of the “importance” (or “unimportance”) of a specific game.

Why Players Choke

(This is the first of a two-part article)

Unfortunately, I’m a Mets fan, and if you’ve followed their 2007 season, you may have heard about “the greatest collapse in baseball history” — their loss of the NL Eastern Division title despite being in first place by seven games with only 17 to play. There have been many excuses given for their demise, but to lose that many games in such a short span has more to do than what’s happening on the field — it’s something in their minds.

Interestingly, the “other” team in New York — the Yankees — also had a disappointing end to their season, albeit in the playoffs. One player in particular that everyone has focused on is Alex Rodriguez, who is perhaps the greatest baseball player of all-time, yet cannot duplicate his regular season production in the postseason. His playoff malaise has reached epic proportions: in his last 59 postseason at-bats as a Yankee, he accumulated only 8 hits (.136 average). Among those 59 ABs, 27 came with runners on base — and he was 0-for-27 with 11 strikeouts.

How could the most talented man in baseball be so horrific? Yes, players go through slumps but are we to believe that A-Rod coincidentally hits a slump in the first week of every October? Or could have have an issue that it theorized about the Mets — that it’s something in his head?

In short, did these players choke?

Regardless of what you want to believe about Alex Rodriguez and the New York Mets, the fact remains: athletes DO choke. Many players when the “pressure” is on, play at less than their ability. It’s a mental thing. But why does it happen, and how can it be avoided?

Rising to the Occasion – Myth?

Some players have no problem with “pressure”; in fact, they thrive on it. Reggie Jackson — particularly after his 5-HR World Series in 1977 — was nicknamed “Mr. October” for his ability to hit well in the postseason. Current Yankee Derek Jeter has been identified as a “clutch” player, and his teammates Bernie Williams, Mariano Rivera, and Paul O’Neill could “rise to the occasion”. Jack Morris was known as a “big game” pitcher, as was Curt Schilling and Bob Gibson. Why are some players seemingly able to “elevate” their game in “important” situations while others fail?

First, you have to take “clutch” performance for what it really is: a player achieving his potential in what is perceived as an “important” situation. The aforementioned players — Jeter, Jackson, Schilling, etc. — were all very good to outstanding players in the regular season. If you look at their career postseason numbers, they’re not significantly different from their career regular season numbers (generally speaking). So they didn’t necessarily “elevate” their game as much as they maintained it. An example: Reggie Jackson had a career .262 average and hit one homer every 17.5 ABs in regular season; in the postseason, he hit .278 with one homer every 15.6 ABs. Considering that he came to bat nearly 10,000 times in 21 MLB regular seasons, and his postseason numbers cover a comparatively measly 281 at-bats, I think it’s safe to say that “Mr. October” wasn’t significantly better than “Mr. April”, “Mr. May”, etc.

And yes, there are some cases of players who played remarkably better in the postseason, but their stats are based on a small sample of work — and could have been affected more by a hot streak than a mental elevation. The bottom line is, players who routinely “come through in the clutch” are the same players who regularly out-perform their peers.

Identifying and Defining Pressure

So if a Reggie Jackson was great in October because he was great from April to September as well, what is the problem with A-Rod? Why can’t he maintain his extremely high level of performance when “it counts”?

It’s simple, really: he, like nearly everyone else, identifies the games in October as being “more important”. As a result, he buys into the theory that he must “elevate his game”, when in fact all he needs to do is continue doing the same things he always does. The minute a person tries to go above and beyond what he or she is capable of doing — in any sport, and nearly any activity — that person is doomed to failure. For example, how would a featherweight boxer do against a heavyweight? Can you trust an auto mechanic to fix the space shuttle? Do you think a poet can ace a CPA exam?

This is also called “pressing” — putting more pressure on oneself than is necessary to complete a task. Many players look at a particular ballgame, and believe they have to “step it up”. Unless they’ve been dogging it, nothing could be further from the truth. You can’t do more than you’re capable of doing, and if you haven’t been performing at your peak level, that’s a problem with the past, not the future. For example, Alex Rodriguez had just completed one of the greatest offensive seasons in New York history — whatever he did to swat 54 HRs and drive in 156 RBI from April to September would have been more than acceptable in October. Just because it’s the ALDS doesn’t mean Paul Byrd will suddenly gain 10 MPH on his fastball. C.C. Sabathia won’t suddenly discover two new devastating pitches. The ball doesn’t change its size, and the fences aren’t moved back. It’s the same game, and requires the same approach, the same technique, and the same execution that had been repeated for the past six months.

Of course, it’s easy to say — much harder to overcome (for some).

In the second part of this article, we’ll dive straight into the anatomy of what causes players to choke, and how to avoid it (or, “maintain” your game).

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How To Break In Your Baseball Glove

LEXOL CONDITIONER 200ML 12For much of North America — particularly in the colder climates — the baseball season is right around the corner. That means it’s time to pull your baseball glove out of the closet and get it ready for the upcoming season — or buy a new one and start breaking it in.

There are at least a dozen ways to break in your baseball mitt, some of them bordering on insanity. Players have been known to soak their gloves in a bucket of water, bake them in ovens and microwaves, and drive over them with their cars. In addition, there are many opinions regarding what to use to help condition the leather; just a few prescribed substances over the years have included neatsfoot oil, mink oil, shaving cream, and saddle soap.

Today we’re going to learn the correct way to break in a glove. Correct as in the time-honored method that has been most successful in breaking in a baseball mitt for the long haul. Unfortunately, you won’t be dazzled by the process — it’s pretty simple and straightforward.

Are you sitting down? Are you ready? Here it goes:

Play catch with it.

That’s it — put the glove on your hand and play catch with it. Most of the gloves you buy today are “presoftened”; in other words, they’re made with a softer type of leather or the leather has been processed in such a way that they’re ready to use within just a few sessions of playing catch. The more you use it, the more it will form to your hand and become comfortable. Today’s presoftened gloves do not need to have any oils, creams, or other additives applied to it.

On the other hand, if you have purchased one of the “old school” mitts — meaning the type that is not presoftened — then the process is slightly different. Before you use it, you may want to treat the entire surface, most importantly the strings, to a very light coat of Lexol. No water, no shaving cream, no oils — just a bit of Lexol.

Water will dry out a leather glove. Would you go out into the rain in your leather jacket? Of course not. Would you treat leather boots with something before wearing? Yes, and you should treat a leather glove no differently — keep it away from water. The only time your glove should see water is when you are playing a game or practice, and it just happens to rain. But rainfall won’t do too much damage to your glove if you first treat it with a good conditioner such as Lexol.

Additionally, stay away from “glove oils” (such as Rawlings’ Glovolium), mineral oil, neat’s foot oil, mink oil, and all other oils. Putting oil in your glove will soften it, but it will also make your glove heavy. It will also darken the color of your glove, which may or may not be a big deal to you. Plus, if you put too much oil on your glove, it will not only become heavy but it will also get too flimsy. If you like a flimsy, heavy glove, then go ahead and oil away, but most players prefer their glove to be lighter and stiffer. Pliable is probably a better word — but pliable is stiffer than flimsy.

Although many swear by shaving cream — myself included, for many years — nearly all the shaving creams and foams you find on the market today include a good dose of alcohol, which is a definite no-no for leather. Alcohol will dry out the leather in your glove, and in time weaken the strings. Many years ago most shaving creams included lanolin, which is a nice, light grease that by itself is a good choice as a leather conditioner. However even the modern shaving creams that do include lanolin have so little of it, it doesn’t help your glove, and any amount it does have is erased by the damaging alcohol content.

Which brings us to Lexol. At this point you might be wondering if I sell the stuff, or if I own stock in the company. Well, neither is true (though if you click on the picture and end up buying a bottle from Amazon, you’ll help pay the server fees to keep this site running!). The fact is, you must look at your baseball glove as not just baseball equipment, but as an investment in leather. In other words, your mitt should be placed in the same category as a pair of fine leather shoes, leather gloves, leather hat, leather jacket, or leather bag. You want to treat all your leather belongings with a conditioner that will keep it pliable and protected, without adding too much weight. That said, it makes sense to trust a company that has invested millions of dollars researching the best conditioner of leather — and one of those companies is Lexol.

Unlike Rawlings, Lexol has nothing to do with baseball equipment. In fact, they do not sell any items made from leather. Their company exists for the express purpose of developing and selling the best treatments, softeners and conditioners for leather goods. There’s great value in a company that has such a focused, and passionate niche. Think about it — does Rawlings (or Wilson, or any other glove company, for that matter) have any motivation to sell you a product that will prolong the use of your glove? Of course not. If they had their druthers, they’d like for you to buy a brand new glove from them every year. So why would they spend much effort or money to develop a glove oil that will prevent you from buying a new glove for several years?

That’s not to say that Glovolium or other “glove oils” are purposely made to rot your glove out faster. But the fact is, glove companies are in the business of making and selling gloves — not in preserving them. So it makes more sense to buy a glove treatment from someone who is in the business of preserving leather, doesn’t it?

Believe me, Lexol isn’t the only trustworthy leather treatment company out there. But it’s the one that I know, and have used, for the last ten years. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been playing baseball for over 25 years, and yes I’ve tried shaving cream, mink oil, the water bucket, Rawlings Glovolium, olive oil, and just about every other material that you’ve heard of. Trust me on this one: the best thing for your glove is a substance made by a company focused on keeping leather looking and feeling new.

So, what you do is get the smallest bottle of Lexol you can find, because you only need to use maybe 1/8 of a cup or less at a time. They’re often sold by independent shoemakers / shoe repair stores, but if you can’t find it you can click on the image to the right of this article and get it from Amazon. Again, I’m not a salesman, so if you want to learn more about its ingredients and why Lexol is a better alternative for your glove, you can read about it here. You may notice there is a spray bottle, which I don’t recommend because you have less control of how much of the stuff is going onto the glove. You’re better off pouring a little at a time onto a clean rag and then rubbing it all over the glove and the lacing. Remember, a LIGHT coat, applied once. (You can apply it again halfway through the season or more often if you live in a hotter, drier climate.)

After you’ve applied the Lexol, go out and play catch. When you’re not playing catch, ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS store your mitt with a baseball in the pocket — otherwise your glove will take the shape of a pancake. While you’re breaking it in, you may want to keep it closed with a rubber band or something — I use a folded-up bandana and tie it around with the ball inside. Some people also put the glove under their mattress at night, but I’m not sure that does anything more than give you a backache. As long as it’s tied up with the ball inside, the pocket should take form without any compression applied.
Akadema Mitt Masher
If it’s too cold out to play catch, and/or you’re in a hurry to get your glove broken in, you can always slam a ball into the pocket, over and over. Similarly you can also buy one of these nifty devices, called a Mitt Masher. As you might guess, you simply slam the ball part of the masher into the glove to help form the pocket.

So that’s it — no ovens, car tires, water buckets, or exotic animal oils. Just a little bit of Lexol and lots of playing catch. A presoftened mitt should be ready for game use in three or four days, and an “old school” baseball glove will take about 2-3 weeks — unless it’s a catcher’s glove, which could take the bulk of a season (for that reason, a catcher should always have one “game” glove, and a newer “practice” glove that’s used for bullpens) — but more on that in a future post.

Baseball Offseason: Read, Watch, Participate

For many, the baseball offseason is not only long, but dormant. While there are some areas of the USA where baseball is played year-round, the rest of us have been suffering from cabin fever since mid-November, waiting for the snow to melt and/or the weather to warm up.

However, just because you can’t get outside, doesn’t mean you have to go into total hibernation. There are several ways for both players and coaches to continue progressing. Following are a few ideas.

Read Baseball Books

There are many, many worthwhile baseball books that are focused on improving your game as a player or coach. Perhaps the most important reading for anyone involved in the game is the Official Baseball Rules 2006 Edition (Official Baseball Rules)Official Baseball Rule Book. Iím amazed every time I find out a player or coach does not own a rule book, and has never read it. If you are serious about succeeding at anything – be it a driving test, chess match, board game, or an athletic competition – you have an immediate advantage over your opponent by knowing the rules inside and out. Those who donít believe this statement are people who have never read the rules, because you need only peruse 2-3 pages before you find something that could either win or lose a game for you. Itís also good for your case to actually know a specific rule before arguing it over with an umpire.

Further, if you compete in a league that does not abide by the MLB Official Rules (i.e., Little League, NCAA, Babe Ruth, Stan Musial, menís leagues, etc.), then by all means get a copy of your leagueís rule book ASAP and read it from cover to cover. There will definitely be rules that can adversely affect the outcome of a game — for example, player substitutions, speed-up rules, and bat dimensions are just a few.

After reading your leagueís rule book, you can move on to any of a number of books focused on improving your game. The first serious book ever written on hitting a baseball remains fundamental to any batterís success: The Science of Hitting by Ted Williams. Likewise, Tom Seaverís The Art of Pitching was one of the first of its kind and remains a classic. However, there have been dozens of valuable books published on both subjects since these timeless titles, written from different perspectives and with varying degrees of detail. Some are packed with full-color photographs demonstrating proper form, and others are more textual, delving more into philosophy than mechanics. All types are worthwhile, in my opinion — in fact any opportunity to learn is valuable toward becoming a better ballplayer or coach.

See a collection of books I recommend on Pitching, Hitting, and General Baseball.

Watch a Baseball Video

Since not everyone is a bookworm, and you canít always learn certain things by reading and/or looking at a still photograph, a baseball video is worth passing time in the cold offseason.

Generally, Iíd stay away from intensive examination of slo-mo video of MLB hitters and pitchers — an exercise that has become an obsession in the last 5-10 years among some dads and youth league coaches. Though it can be helpful to study the swing of Albert Pujols or the mechanics of Roger Clemensí windup, for the most part it is an exercise in futility to try and impart a specific professionalís style on an amateur player. Everyone is different, and due to their physical makeup will have their own individual path to success. But more on that in another post.

Rather, try to get your hands on instructional videos from respected sources. Cal Ripken, Jr. and his brother Billy have put together three excellent videos that demonstrate the absolute fundamentals of playing the game. There are plenty of other good videos out there – all you need to do is make a quick Google or Amazon search on baseball videos, check a baseball forum for suggestions, or speak to your friends in baseball for suggestions. Youíll find some hard to locate, or prohibitively expensive, but most are affordable, many can be rented from a video store, and a surprising number can be accessed for free. For example, I watched all the Ripken Way videos on my PC for free via download from the New York Public Library website, and have watched a few other videos through my cable companyís ďon-demandĒ free titles.

Participate

In the northern sections of the USA and in Canada, it can be next-to-impossible to get outside for any kind of baseball activity from late November through early March. However, most areas have indoor facilities of some sort — at the very least a basketball gym or fitness center. While itís true that any available indoor facilities can be difficult to use while other sports (basketball, wrestling, gymnastics, volleyball, etc.) are in season, sometimes you can get access at an unusual hour (early in the morning or late at night) if only you ask. If not, the next best thing (and perhaps most obvious) is to follow a cardio and/or weight training program. Swimming and martial arts are also excellent activities that will keep you in shape. Finally, there is the old “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” option — by joining an in-season sport. Join the wrestling or swim team to build up your core muscles while also enjoying the rush of competition. Many schools have a “winter track” team, which in essence is a daily two-hour license to use the weight room and gym for conditioning.

In addition, the winter is usually the time (in the northeast, anyway) when baseball clinics and indoor camps are in full swing. Though not everyone can afford private lessons with an instructor, most areas have a local facility that holds weekend mini-camps and clinics. At the very least, youíll get a few swings or throws in, and maybe learn something along the way. Not to be left out, coaches can also attend coaching clinics. If you can travel to it, a number are available at the annual baseball convention, but there are also clinics held by colleges. There are even some available online.

Some places to start looking include:

Clinics section of the Baseball Links website

America’s Baseball Camps

Baseball Corner

Baseball Tips – Resource Directory – Baseball Camps

You will also find camps and clinics by asking friends and coaches, checking your local newspaper, or searching the internet.

Kokoyakyu: High School Baseball in Japan

Last week (on July 4th) I watched the premiere of Kokoyakyu: High School Baseball on PBS. It is a documentary covering high school baseball in Japan, and specifically, “Koshien”.

Koshien Stadium is the home field of the Hanshin Tigers, except for two weeks in August when it hosts Japan’s national high school baseball tournament. Koshien, therefore, is the symbolic name of the tournament itself, and the mere mention of the word to a high school baseball player may very well elicit a smile, tears, or both.

I highly recommend this film to anyone who coaches or plays baseball (at any level), for several reasons. First, it’s a well-done, entertaining, and human account of the Koshien experience (and an insight into Japanese culture), from the perspective of the players, the coaches, and the fans; the director does a wonderful job of making the movie personal by capturing the emotions of each individual featured / interviewed. Secondly, the film exposes the remarkable passion exhibited by the people involved in baseball in Japan — be it a player, a coach, or a cheering squad member (yes, there are baseball cheerleaders in Japan, and they take their role VERY seriously). Unlike in the US, where the passion to win can be confused with the notion of “winning at any cost” and poor sportsmanship, the Japanese coaches and players hold a high respect for the game, playing it correctly, and honoring their opponent. How serious are the Japanese in regard to sportsmanship? As an example, at the end of one game, the losing team and their cheering squad sang a congratulatory song to the winning team.

In addition to passion and respect, there’s another virtue of Japanese baseball demonstrated in this documentary: dedication. Any US high schooler who thinks he works hard at baseball might have a different view after seeing this movie. In Kokoyakyu, there are several examples of players who have team practice for 6-8 hours per day, then practice another 2-3 hours when they get home. Now I don’t necessarily believe that 16-year-olds should be practicing baseball to those excesses, but I think this drives home the point that you will get out of baseball, what you put into it. Anyone who is trying to eschew the “instant gratification” fix plaguing many of today’s youth can point to this film and the quite opposite Japanese philosophy. While the Japanese want to win as much as anyone else, gratification comes more from the dedication, commitment, and hard work than the win itself. When a team loses (in Koshien, it is single elimination), the coach and the players commonly believe that they did not work hard enough to earn the win — as opposed to blaming a loss due to an umpire’s call, a bad day, or a “lucky” hit.

An interesting tidbit from one of the coaches: “When the team loses, it is the coach’s fault, not the players’ fault. It is the coach who prepares the players to win, and if the game is lost, the coach has failed.”

There’s nothing similar to Koshien in the USA — which is probably a good thing. The single-elimination tournament begins with about 4000 high schools throughout the country, and the final two weeks (held at Koshien Stadium) attract more attention than the Japanese professional version of the World Series ÔŅĹ partly because the tournament has been around longer, since 1915. The only amateur series that compares in scope would be the Little League World Series; however, that corrupted travesty of a tournament has a long way to go in terms of respect and honor. The cheating and mishandling of youngsters that has gone on in the LLWS gives some idea of what could happen if the US had a countrywide high school tourney; the notion of winning here seems to operate on the philosophy of “the ends justify the means” — not at all what Koshien is about.

If you haven’t seen this documentary, keep an eye on your PBS station’s schedule; it’s a film you don’t want to miss. There is more information available on the PBS home page for Kokoyakyu .