02/11/2019 - 17/11/2019

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Sadaharu Oh: Q & A with the one and only Home Run King

11/12/2019

Sadaharu Oh will celebrate his 80th birthday on 20 May 2020. The approaching milestone doesn't make the legendary Home Run King, 868 home runs over 2,831 NPB games, feel he needs some rest.

Oh was one of the guests at WBSC Congress in Osaka. He took the floor to speak about his World Children's Baseball Fair foundation and the newest initiative: a baseball clinic dedicated to girls. The city of Chiba will host 50 girl-baseball players from 10 different countries and regions (Canada, France, Chinese Taipei, Australia, Japan, Peru, Ireland, Indonesia, USA and Korea) that will work head-to-head with 30 players from Japan.

WBSC had the chance to seat with Oh for athe following Question and Answer session. The former player and manager spoke through an interpreter.

WBSC: How did you first start playing baseball.
Sadaharu Oh: "I started playing baseball in 1945. I enjoyed it very much, even if we struggled finding bats and balls and had to adapt."

WBSC: This is the origin of your desire to help children approach the game in the proper way. How did you involve Hank Aaron?
SO: "I met Hank Aaron seven or eight years before I retired. We did a home run contest." (Sadaharu Oh omitted to say that Aaron, at the time the All-Time MLB Home Run leader, won the contest.) "We featured in a coffee commercial together and became good friends.
"After I retired, I explained to Hank my idea of the World Children's Baseball Fair and he thought it was a good one. So he told me that he would take care of developing it in the USA, while I was taking care of it in Japan. This way it was really going to be a World Fair."

WBSC: Did the World Children's Baseball Fair develop in what you had envisioned?
SO: "When you deal with children, you don't really think about the goals and results. The point is how much fun they have while playing. We are also trying to have them understand how healthy they can be playing baseball. Sport can teach children that they have to respect rules, to comply with the rules.
"Thanks to the World Children's Baseball Fair boys and girls come to Japan from various places all over the globe. They end up sleeping on a very big Japanese style tatami together with people they never met before. They experience the Japanese style bath. They experience all this for the first time. This will help them realize that their country, the place where they leave, it's not the whole world. They start to learn there are different worlds. Participating in the World Children's Baseball Fair they also have a chance to make friendships that may last for life."

WBSC: The World Children's Baseball Fair is also an excellent experience for the coaches that come to Japan with their players.
SO: "We invite coaches through WBSC. We offer them the opportunity to see how we teach baseball. Hopefully, they will then use this knowledge to teach baseball in their countries."

WBSC: You played from 1959 to 1980 and nobody will ever match your accomplishments. You won five batting titles, led the league in RBIs 13 times; you were also named nine times the MVP and during your time as a player the Yomiuri Giants won 11 Japan Series, nine in a row from 1965 to 1973. Ichiro Suzuki said during a press conference at the end of the World Baseball Classic 2006 that the first lesson you gave to the star-studded Samurai Japan was that baseball was never easy for you.
SO: "Playing baseball means you go, play after play, through a face to face competition. When I stepped into the box as a hitter, I knew that the pitcher was going to try his best to get me out. This is one of the reasons why it's very difficult to enjoy a 100% success in baseball. It required a lot of effort to increase the batting average of a mere 5, 10%. In this sense, baseball is really difficult."

WBSC: You also enjoyed huge success as a coach, leading the Yomiuri Giants to a Central League pennant in 1987, the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks to the Japan Series in 1999 and 2003 and Samurai Japan to win the inaugural World Baseball Classic in 2006. How do you approach teaching kids?
SO: "Talking about the World Children's Baseball Fair, you cannot possibly know if 10-11-year-old kids will become players in the future. You want them to develop a passion for the game. If this happens, in the future they may have a chance to go to the next level and become professional players. When they are 10 or 11 we need to think about their mental and physical strength. The only competition children should think of is getting better than their friends. I am not the owner of the Fair. The children are the owners.

SO: "Since it's not a competition, we cannot expect a lot of media coverage. Still, we get the support of a lot of sponsors. I want to thank these sponsors from the bottom of my heart. Their support shows me that they perfectly understand the mission of the Fair."

WBSC: What do you prefer, professional baseball or youth baseball?
SO: "I like both. Watching high level, professional baseball still thrills me. I think I will be watching it until the very last day of my life. At the same time, I want to be as close as possible to children playing baseball. I love to see how happy they are when they make good plays. It makes me emotional to see tears on their faces when they don't do so good. I think I will be involved in children's baseball until the end of my life. I'm the type of person that loses interest very quickly in things. The only exception in my life has been baseball."



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