The next monster of one hundred years.
A spindly 16-year old who was born to hurl a baseball. To throw at blinding speeds. All of his long-limbed body folding and unfolding in proper timing and efficiency, to unleash a sonic boom with the snap of his right wrist. Eliciting oohs-and-ahhs with every blaze of glory. Poor high school hitters, trying to make sense of phenomenal warp speeds—fanning blindly at the gust of baseball wind rushing past them. Failing with the futility of trying to drink soup with a single chopstick. No chance in this world or any other.
It is the stuff of anime or manga lore. A Chosen Boy, rising to national prominence. The Japanese Dream. Gracing the nation’s newspapers. Dominating long segments of airtime on nightly primetime. Triggering the tweets of celebrities. A whole country in rapt attention of Sasaki’s mound exploits. If you’ve been following Japanese baseball for any amount of time, you know the cadence and intensity the country’s mainstream fervor burns with. You’ve experienced the hallowed tones used to speak of these myths who emerge from the depths of Japan. Splashing to the surface fully realized, heaven sent from the mountain top, into the spotlight of Japanese media hysteria. First there was Dice-K, then Darvish, then Ma-kun. All moving along the celestial baseball timeline. Now, here stands Roki Sasaki. Number one in your program. Number one trending topic.
There is an obvious innocence when you see Roki standing on the mound. He’s just doing what he’s done every day of his life. It’s impossible for him to know that the very axis of baseball power now spins around him like a tightly wound slider.
It’s impossible for him to know that a single speeding fastball from his fingertips, topping 100 mph cracks the earth to its very core. That it sends a tremor over land and cyber space. A single Sasaki pitch, in less than a second, travels the world. The smack of the catcher’s glove, mass broadcasting a clear message. Announcing a presence. A baseball Spector. A new man-child has awakened in Japan.
Ready your scouts.
Prepare your fanbases.
Notify your coaches. Ping the redditors. The hype is resonating. Empty your pockets and prepare your best offers. Work on your Japanese etiquette. For soon, baseball innocence will be ready for market. This innate ability is available to be bought and sold. This lively arm is ready to join the arms race immemorial between Yankees and would-be-Yankee-killers. Always just one mystical pitching arm away from tipping the balance of power in the baseball universe.
Roki knows not which chalk line he is drawing nearer every day. His moment of crossing is coming. The final inning change. Until then, the redditors are worm-holing deep into a wikipedia frenzy. The American sportswriters are firing up their mobile word processors. We’ve got a live one here boys. Hear that? That’s the sound of a thousand bloggers cueing up lofty think pieces lauding the modernity of American baseball’s reliance on science, and bashing the archaic ways of Japanese ball that would put young pitcher’s arm in danger through stoic, traditional overwork. For in Japan, pitchers throw everyday without mercy. Without rest. (And in the darkest parts of Japanese baseball, without water.) For here, pitch limits don’t exist and taking a starter out of a game is viewed as a sign of weakness.
Young Roki is sparkling culture shock in the sporting world. The presumptuous and stubborn East versus West debate. Old school versus new school. Wrong versus right. Crystalized through the lens of sport. One of the most rooted in tradition sports. Which has yielded vastly different mentalities and ballplayers on two sides of the world.
Young Roki? He’s just trying to climb to the top of Japanese baseball Mt. Everest. He stands now on a Mt. Fuji peak, ruling Japan, and looking to claim legitimate baseball immortality by powering his team all the way to the Koshien title. To win the national high school baseball tournament. For in Japan, this conquest carries a perpetual cultural royalty. It’s a deep sporting honor on par with rising to national fame during March Madness. Even millionaire Japanese MLB stars, like Dice-K and Darvish still speak in reverent tones about their time at Koshien. Considering it the crowning jewel of their careers. For better or worse, it’s all down hill from the cultural highs of Koshien.
Hence the intense burn. Hence the meteoric pitch counts. Hence the literal embrace of giving everything for the good of your team. It’s an iconic sacrifice that echoes the Japanese love of the collective. The country rallies around, imbuing itself with a self-confirmation of their national identity, holding a mirror up top who they really are, all by living vicariously through young sports stars in the national spotlight. Young icons who leave fleeting but indelible impressions on the psyche of a nation.
And so now, in this moment, the world turns to Roki Sasaki. It turns for Roki. For now he unwittingly shoulders the weight and soul of this island nation. Shoulders that are still developing, that are already capable of unusual feats of diamond magic and of turning the world’s head with the snap of a lethal, embarassment-wreaking breaking ball.
Enter Roki Sasaki.
Call it the curse of Home Alone. As Drake looked to replicate his Game 1 dominance, he made a critical error by sampling a piece of 90s pop culture. On the back of his hoodie, one of his minions had iron transferred the image of Kevin McCallister from the seminal, feel good Macauley Culkin slash Joe Pesci vehicle, Home Alone. With only the word “Kevin??!?!” appearing beneath the image—in a callout to injured MVP Kevin Durant. It appears Drake must secretly be a Warriors fan since Golden State exerted their hardcourt will, pulling off the Game 2 victory in the 6. Post game, sad Drake memes flooded the interwebs. Durant and Play Thompson roamed the hallways afterwards, shrieking echoing taunts through the foundation of the stadium directed at “Aubrey” himself. Durant, hooded and spindle legged, limped through the halls—visualizing the threat of his return haunting the Raptors like the Grim Reaper waiting in the wings. Your time is up Toronto. And Drake, er um Aubrey, there is a tombstone being etched with your visage on it as we speak. How will Drake respond to this trolling backfire? Time will tell which pop cultural reference he will try and twist to his own advantage next. With Durant set for a mid series return, Aubrey better speed things up.
Drake took control of the NBA Finals. Exerting his presence from the sidelines and executing God’s Plan. Transmitting his aura into the prehistoric spirit of the Raptors. While some refer to Drake’s actions as “antics,” the final score left no doubt as to who controls the Finals. It’s Drake. Drake controls these Finals. Not since Spike Lee has their been an uber fan willing to put a franchise on their back and carry it to Larry O’Brien glory. Drake is unstoppable. The lint picking was the shoulder shrug of these Finals. While Drake has yet to insert himself into the lineup, he has inserted himself into the storyline and central intrigue of these Finals. How will Klay Thompson respond? Will Steph’s father or mother step up? With Curry and company busy and tied up with the Raptors on the floor, Drake is free to roam like the spirit animal and “Clever Girl” Velociraptor mascot that he is. It’s like that scene in Jurassic Park where Timmy and Lex are scrambling around a kitchen trying to evade a hungry pack of velociraptors. Only in this version, the raptor picks lint from Timmy’s head and then eats whoever he damn well pleases. Perhaps Draymond Green is the Tyrannosaur in this amber encased metaphor? Only in this version, there is no stopping Drake from ruling Isla Nublar and putting Hotline Bling on blast over the park PA system. Sparing no expense. It’s gonna be electric fence wire bling if the Warriors think they have the pop cultural muscle to step to Drake’s neck-bearded swag. They’re already fenced in.
As a lifelong Portland Trailblazers fan, playoff success is usually a once a decade luxury. 1992 saw us battling Michael Jordan and the Bulls on their path toward eventual immortality. 2000 saw us on the cusp of returning to the Finals, only to experience one of the most brutal collapses in sport history in the final 12 minutes--rolling out the red carpet for Shaq and Kobe's Lakers to startup their dynasty. The next decade was filled with scandal, catastrophic injury and unending heartbreak.
I'm just going to enjoy this moment. Who knows what happens from here. But the Portland Trailblazers are heading back to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in 19 years. Being a sports fan is a relative experience--and as a Blazermaniac, this moment means something. Because in those moment, the dream is alive in Rip City.
The city of Portland has a long memory. Our basketball heroes (and villains) become local folk heroes that stay engrained in our consciousness. Each season brings another ring around the shared tree trunk of Portlandia. We mark time with the ups and downs of the Blazers. In this moment, we will wax poetic. We'll focus on the rainbow and not the rain. Because in this moment, we are one of four teams left with a chance for glory.
So here's to Dame Lillard, CJ McCollum and our entire band of merry Blazers. It sure has been a long strange trip. Next stop, the Bay to face the seemingly invincible Golden State Warriors to see who rules the West.