Japan loves baseball and it can be seen in how their local talents have, on several occasions, reached the top tier of competition in the form of the MLB. It has been decades since the posting system between the NPB and the MLB was established and throughout all those years, Japanese players have been consistently drafted by the MLB teams for their skill and mastery of this sport. Each player that makes the MLB has an amazing story to how they got there. They all are inspiring in their own way and a perfect example of such a story is Masahiro Tanaka’s.
The Early Stages of Masahiro Tanaka’s Career and Other Details
Masahiro Tanaka was born in Itami, Hyogo, Japan, on November 1, 1988. Like most professional athletes, he got introduced to the game of baseball early on in his life. It was specifically when he was in first grade that he put on a glove and played the sport for the very first time. Back then, he played as a catcher for a Little League team named Koyanosato Tigers and coincidentally, this would also be the first time he ever played with another great baseball player who is currently the Yomiuri Giants shortstop, Hayato Sakamoto. During their Little League days though, Hayato didn’t play shortstop yet. Instead, he was the ace pitcher on Tanaka’s team as well as Tanaka’s batterymate.
It was all fun and games for them then but this period in their childhoods was vital in developing the strengths and skills they soon possessed by the time they got to high school. In high school, Tanaka ended up playing for a team called the Takarazuka Boys while he was a student in the Itami Municipal Matsuzaki Junior High School. Because of his uniquely strong arm, it was an easy decision for his coach to make him play as both their pitcher and their catcher. He continued to get better and received an honorable recognition in his 3rd year as he was chosen to join the Junior All-south Kansai team.
Tanaka eventually moved from Itami Municipal to the Komazama University Tomakomai High School in the year of 2004, which was located in Hokkaido. During this time in his career, he solely played the position of pitcher and he was killing his competition. With his fastballs that were constantly hitting the high 80’s in speed and a hard slider throw at his disposal, he would successfully lead his team to the championship during the 87th National High School Baseball Tournament that was then held in the Koshien Stadium. In that championship run, the last pitch he threw was poetic because it was the pitch that gave him the title of being the first junior pitcher in the history of the tourney to throw a pitch at a speed of 150 km/h.
He would continue to dominate soon after that as he was chosen to be a part of the Japanese team that would participate in the Under-18 World Baseball Championships that same year. In this competition, he contributed tremendously to the title won by his team. These tournaments clearly did not satisfy Tanaka because, later on in that year, he led his Tomakomai High to another title during the regional tournament. In addition to this, he also led them to take home the championship during the Meiji Jingu Tournament during the fall of that year. In that Meiji Jingu Tournament alone, he made his presences in the game felt by hitting home runs in a span of 4 consecutive games. There was another tournament that they joined during the springtime of that year but, unfortunately, due to the misconduct of some of his teammates, they lost the eligibility to continue to compete in the 78th National High School Baseball Invitational Tournament.
The year of 2006 was also a special one for Masahiro Tanaka because during the summer time of that year, his team, Tomakomai High, earned a berth in the 88th National High School Baseball Championship. Their arrival in the tournament finals marked the 3rd straight time that Tanaka was able to bring his team to this point in the tournament but this particular time was a little harder because Tanaka had been battling with an illness prior to the tourney so he was under certain playing restrictions for his own good.
With the situation being the way it was, Tanaka’s team coach decided to not start Tanaka in the finals as they played against Waseda Jitsugyo High School. He made this decision because, despite the illness, Tanaka had pitched an excessive amount of innings for his team to get to the finals so his coach wanted to rest him a bit. This strategy didn’t work so well as midway through the 3rd inning, his coach sent Tanaka to the mound to save his struggling team. It proved to be the right move because Tanaka held Waseda Jitsugyo to just one run for the remainder of the game while also striking out 10 hitters along the way. Sadly, Waseda Jitsugyo’s ace, Yuki Saito, matched and rivaled the heroics of Tanaka and forced the game to end in a 1-1 tie after 15 innings.
It was definitely anticlimactic to see just a great game end with a tie. Luckily, the regulations of this particular tournament stated that if a game ended with a tie, there would be a rematch to determine the rightful winner of the championship. This happened in 2006 and prior to this event, the last time a rematch happened was in the year of 1969 when Matsuyama Commercial High School played against Misawa High School in the finals. In the rematch, Tanaka’s coach still worried about his player’s status so he sat out Tanaka once again. This time around, he couldn’t wait until the 3rd inning to bring him in so during the bottom of the first inning, he was sent in as a relief.
Saito and Tanaka went head to head with each other in this match and it was what made it one of the most memorable and inspiring shows of competition in Japan that year. Tanaka would ultimately lose to Saito but it wasn’t for nothing as this loss did nothing for Tanaka but to motivate him more to be better as a player and as a leader. Coincidentally, it would also be these two ace pitchers that would be chosen to play for Japan in a tournament organized by the Japanese Educational Resource Center with the help of the Major League Baseball Urban Youth Academy. Basically, it was a development league made by the MLB to nurture potential talents and ease them into the MLB level of competition.
How Masahiro Tanaka Made His Fantasy into a Reality and the Salary That Came with It
Tanaka ended his high school career holding the national high school record of batters struck out as he accumulated 458 strikeouts during the 3-year span of his high school career. His losses to Yuki Saito hurt his stock value but, luckily, at the end of 2006, Yuki Saito decided to not make himself eligible for the upcoming draft which was also the draft class that Tanaka was going to be in. With Tanaka’s obvious rival unavailable for drafting, all eyes turned to Tanaka as he became the most wanted high school player for the 2006 NPB high school draft. He immediately had 4 amazing teams waiting on him as the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, the Yokohama BayStars, the Orix Buffaloes, and the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles all chose Tanaka as their first-round pick. In the end, it was the Eagles that got the player that they wanted and they paid a hefty amount for him as they spent a total of 115 million on his which was exclusive of the additional performance-based incentives also given to him in his contract. His amount of money matched what a college or industrial league player would make and with this said, it was obvious that these teams saw great potential in Tanaka and was willing to do whatever it took to secure him on their team.
It was in 2007 that Tanaka official started his rookie year and it was during their spring training that he was officially added to the roster. He made his debut on March 29 of that year and it was a brutal one. He started as a pitcher on his debut and he, unfortunately, gave up six runs on six hits as well as a walk in 1 2/3 innings. There was a bright side to this as his team didn’t lose the game but he was taken out because of his poor performance and he was seen in tears in the dugout after being subbed out.
These types of events test a person in multiple ways and in the case of Masahiro Tanaka, the failure didn’t break him but made him stronger. This growth was seen on April 18 of that 2007 when he struck out 13 in a complete game win in which he held the team to only two runs. It was the first professional career win for his and it was made all the sweeter because it happened during a home game against the Hawks. If that wasn’t enough to make a believer out of doubters, he easily gave them another reason to on June 13 when he became the first pitcher since Yu Darvish to accomplish a complete game shutout as a player straight out of high school.
He would continue to master his craft as his career in the NPB progressed through the years of 2007 until 2013. Within that time, Tanaka was able to win awards like the Pacific League Rookie of the Year in 2007, the Pacific League MVP in 2013. He was also recognized as an NPB All-Star 6 times, won the Eiji Sawamura Award twice, won the NPB championship twice, and many other accolades that he earned through his dominant play of baseball. He even won the Japan Series in the year of 2013.
All the success coming his way made more people notice Tanaka and by the 2013 season, he was constantly being offered a spot on multiple MLB teams like the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago White Sox, Chicago Cubs, and a couple of others. On January 22, 2014, though, it was made official by Tanaka that he would join the Yankees as he signed a seven-year deal with them worth $155 million. Any athlete would love to reach the top tier of the sport that they love and Masahiro Tanaka was able to make that fantasy a reality for him when he reached this point.
The Most Recent News about Masahiro Tanaka
Tanaka debuted in the MLB in 2014 and he was also voted as an All-Star that year too. Presently, he has been in the MLB for about 4 years and although his name isn’t as spoken off as before, he has clearly being a dependable vet for the Yankees. He continues to play as their ace pitcher and despite the lack of highlights from him, he has consistently contributed to the wins that the Yankees have earned during his lengthening time there. For example, he started off this year by retiring 13 batters in a row while striking out eight of them. He didn’t do anything extreme spectacular but it was enough to give his team the desired win.
It wasn’t mentioned earlier but he is actually married to Mai Satoda, who was a former member of the idol group “Country Musume” and is currently the supervisor of the said idol group. They tied the knot in the year of 2012. In the year of 2016, news reached the media and it led to the announcement that Tanaka’s wife gave him a son on February 15 of that year. It wasn’t stated if they wanted a boy or a girl but nevertheless, having a boy may mean that there is another MLB ace pitcher that is coming your way a couple of decades from now.
To be able to watch something like that is inspiring and that is one of the many things that Masahiro Tanaka something special in the world of baseball as well as the world in general.