Young Japanese Baseball Players Take Home Special Prize: Dirt
High school baseball players in Japan, some in their final year, missed their 2020 play season because of COVID-19 cancellations.
But the players have not been forgotten, at least not by Japanese professional baseball. The famed Hanshin Tigers team is honoring about 50,000 young baseball players with a gift to remember their lost season: a small amount of dirt.
But, that dirt comes from Koshien Stadium, a beloved playing field in a country that is filled with fans of the nation's most popular sport.
Koshien is in Nishinomiya, Hyogo state. Every year, more than 3,000 teams battle through local and state competitions in an effort that ends at Koshien, the championship of high school baseball. Many famous Japanese professionals have played on the field there, including Ichiro Suzuki, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Matsui.
Losing at Koshien hurts, of course. But, there is a great tradition that helps ease the pain. Every time a team loses, each member gathers a handful of dirt from the field to take back home and keep forever.
On a recent day, however, it was a few Hanshin Tigers players digging up dirt at Koshien, which is also home to that professional team.
The Tigers are putting the dirt into clear balls to be attached to key chains. Then, the team will send them to the thousands of high school baseball players.
Across the ball, are the words: "2020 102nd Koshien" and images of a ball, bats and the sports center. The key chains are set to ship in August, when the championship usually begins.
Hibiki Kawamato is a player for Iwamichisuikan High School in the western state of Shimane. He told the Associated Press he was excited about getting the gift, as The Tigers are his favorite team.
The game means so much to him. "When I get a hit when the team really needs it, I get praised by everyone," he said. "I'm going to play baseball till I die."
Akihiko Tanimoto is a social studies teacher who works with the team. He said the players were still working out hard, and the cancellation served as a lesson to not quit in the face of difficulties.
"Koshien was our goal, but it was not the purpose of why we play high school baseball, which is about not giving up until it's over," he said in a telephone interview.
The school has made it to the Koshien summer tournament 10 times.
The history of the dirt-gathering tradition is not fully known. But it dates back many years.
The winning team also gathers dirt, but later, after the final award ceremony.
Many Tigers players have come through the Koshien championship series. They understood the pain when the dream of play there was stolen.
"We all pondered what we could do for them, and I think it holds special meaning that we did this for them together as a team," said outfielder Kosuke Fukudome. He took part in the Koshien tournament while at PL Gakuen high school.
"I want them all to stay optimistic," said Fukudome, formerly of the Chicago Cubs, Cleveland Indians and the Chicago White Sox.
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但这些球员并没有被遗忘，至少没有被日本职业棒球遗忘 。著名的阪神虎队向大约5万名年轻棒球选手赠送了一份纪念错失赛季的礼物：一撮泥土 。
甲子园体育场位于兵库县的西宫市 。每年都有超过3000支球队通过地方和州的比赛入围在甲子园举行的冠军争夺赛 。包括铃木一郎、松坂大辅和松井秀喜在内的许多著名的日本职业球员都曾在这个球场上拼搏过 。
无缘甲子园体育场固然令人惋惜 。但是，一项伟大的传统或许有助于弥补这份遗憾 。每当一支队伍淘汰，队员们都会从地上捧起一撮泥土带回家，并永远保存下来 。
阪神虎队的队员把土放进透明球内，以便拴在钥匙链上 。然后，球队将把这个礼物送给了数千名高中棒球运动员 。
球上写有一行字：“2020 102nd Koshien”，以及一个棒球、球棒和甲子园的图像 。 钥匙链将于8月份分发出去，也就是锦标赛开赛的时间 。
川内喜彦是西部岛根县岩井町高中的一名球员 。 他对美联社表示，受到这份礼物他十分激动，因为阪神虎队是他最喜欢的球队 。
比赛对他来说意义重大 。 他说：“当团队需要击球时，我击中了，大家都来祝贺 。”“棒球于我，至死方休 。”
田本秋彦是一名社会研究教师，他与球队一起工作 。 他说，选手们仍在努力训练，取消比赛是一个教训，告诉我们要迎难而上 。
他在电话采访中表示，“甲子园是我们的目标，但却不是我们高中棒球的目的，我们的目的是不到最后一刻，绝不言弃 。 ”
收集泥土的传统可能大多数人不太了解 。但这一传统已经延续很多年了 。
许多阪神虎队的球员都赢过甲子园锦标赛 。 他们深谙在甲子园比赛的梦想被偷走的痛苦 。
“我们都思考能为他们做些什么，我觉得，作为一个团队，为他们做这件事有着特殊的意义 。”外野手福堂康介说道 。在PL学园高中时，他参加过甲子园锦标赛 。