A career in baseball
(graduated in 2002/Faculty of Law)
Any visit to the Soka University Baseball Team
makes me feel refreshed.
My days there 'nurtured my mind'
and shaped my future
Eiichi Koyano was a successful baseball player and is from the same generation as the famous baseball player, Daisuke Matsuzaka. As soon as he retired, he became a batting coach of the first-string team of the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, which was an unusual career move. In this interview, he talks about his new second career.
If my desperate and reckless plays remain in people’s memories, then it was worth it that I was a professional baseball player.
My foundation as a professional baseball player is based on the words of Soka’s founder as engraved on a stone monument at the Soka University’s World Ground (baseball stadium): “First, win with your mind, then win with your skills. Therefore, practice is an actual game and an actual game is practice.” Every time before I entered the ground, I took these words to heart and reminded myself of a grateful mind. I continued this ritual even after becoming a professional player, so I think these words are my foundation.
I joined the Nippon Ham Fighters when the team was still based in Tokyo. The team gave me the impression that matches the words of my former teacher and baseball manager at Soka University, who said: “While there may be many professional players who play spectacularly, only a few play simply yet tenaciously.” He also said, “If you can leave your desperate and reckless plays in people’s memories, it will be worth it that you became a professional baseball player.” I am proud of myself that I kept going as a professional for 16 years with these words in mind.
Without meeting the Soka University Baseball Team, I wouldn't have learned ‘how to nurture my mind,’ which is an important skill for everyone.
The practice at the university’s baseball team was really hard. If I am told to go back, my answer will be: Absolutely no!
In the sense that you must take responsibility for yourself, the expectations for professionals are at another level, compared to those for amateurs. Still, the amount of practice at the Soka University Baseball Team was incredible to the point that it was known among other universities. I think I was able to do it only because I was younger. We probably did extensive running drills more than professional players. Additionally, the campus had lots of uphills. But it was a significant advantage for me that I acquired the basic fitness level required of a professional when I was still a university student. Compared to my time when we had to devise training methods ourselves, Soka University nowadays has a great environment, equipped with weight training equipment and an indoor practice field.
Practical skills and fitness were what I acquired in the Soka University Baseball Team, as expected. However, the words “nurture my mind” pop into my mind when I think about what I really learned there. The most-valuable thing I learned during my time with the Soka University Baseball Team was probably humanity. The team helped a self-centered boy grow into a mature grown-up in four years. There is no doubt that “meeting” up with the Soka University Baseball Team was the most-important milestone in my life. Our manager taught us not only baseball skills but also what a path should be for a human being. I think such teaching enabled me to advance to another level as a player.
“It is okay to expose my vulnerabilities to others. I have learned something new by doing that.”
Life is not always good. One day, I suddenly suffered from a panic disorder. Maybe I had been under a lot of pressure in my professional life. But it was this panic order that broke the “spell” that kept me going even under lots of pressure. It made me realize that it was okay to expose my vulnerabilities to others. Since then I have become able to perceive all events positively by thinking, “I am the best version of myself today (so everything is fine),” even when I struggle physically or mentally. When I started to have this mindset at the preparation stage for a game, only positive results followed. In this sense, I wonder if I had been able to continue my professional career this long without that panic disorder.
Even though I have experienced various injuries, none were very serious. So I am also grateful to my parents to give me a robust body. One complex I had was that I was not particularly big and tall as a baseball player. However, I felt that I would not survive as a professional unless I always made my utmost effort as a minimum requirement.
Aiming for new growth together with his team, as a coach having hands-on knowledge about the latest in baseball.
I actually wanted to become a baseball coach so that I could stay involved in baseball even after I retired. When I moved from Hokkaido Nippon Ham to Orix, one of my motives was to meet various instructors. I got an offer from Rakuten Eagles as soon as I retired, so I decided to face the challenge. However, I actually had no experience as a batting coach. I think the aim of Orix was to play “fresh” baseball, and they probably valued my experience as a player that had been on the frontlines of the latest in baseball. They ask me to build this new, developing team with them. In my opinion, coaching differs from teaching. There is nothing that I need to force players to do simply because I am their coach. Currently, I am making relentless efforts every day to find approaches using my unique strength.
On the other hand, baseball is a team sport, and everything, including administration, involves the teamwork of the manager, coaches, and the team. With the hope that I can be a person that my team always needs, I plan to strive while keeping a smile.
※ Interview article from SUN issue No. 100
Koyano graduated from the Faculty of Law in March 2003. He was a core player in the university’s baseball team and then joined the Nippon Ham Fighters after being nominated as the fifth pick in the 2002 pro baseball entry draft. He won the RBI crown and Golden Glove Award three times (third baseman). In 2015, he was traded to the Orix Buffaloes. He retired in 2018 and became the batting coach of the first-string team of the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.
- Soka University Baseball Team
The team belongs to the New Tokyo University Baseball League and has posted the highest wins in the league—at 45 wins. In the national tournament, the team advanced to the semifinals 10 times. Professional baseball players from Soka University Baseball Team include Yasuhiro Ogawa (pitcher for the Tokyo Yakult Swallows), Toshihiko Kuramoto (infielder for the Yokohama DeNA BayStars), Shuta Ishikawa and Seigi Tanaka (pitchers for the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks), and Takahide Ikeda (pitcher for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles).