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In Japan baseball is an embodiment of the work ethic. Personality and individuality are subordinated to wa—a sort of spirit of group harmony. To screw up is to bring shame to the team. Ballplayers are supposed to practice unceasingly, and practice is valued for its own sake. Even Little Leaguers train throughout the year. The Little Tigers work out every Sunday from sunrise to sunset, and their spring training begins in September. "Through endless repetition we build consistency and perfection of form," says Takahashi. "It took Joey a while to get used to our rhythms."
Takahashi believes you can accomplish anything with constant work and unflagging will. He conducts marathon conditioning drills with crisp precision. To improve Joey's fielding, he puts him through shadow practice with shortstop Akimoto Ryou. Over and over Joey simulates the act of scooping up grounders and making the throw to first. Mostly Takahashi has Joey run. And run. And run.
Running is something Joey dislikes. But films and baseball books are his passion. Joey prepped for the team by watching Godzilla 1985 over and over. "I saw it 15 or 20 times," he says, "until it got boring." He has turned in book reports in his sixth-grade class at Sullivan Elementary School on The Kid Who Only Hit Homers, Catcher with a Glass Arm and How to Be a Superstar in Baseball.
"His favorite was Rabbit Ears," says his dad.
"It taught me to not let words make me cry," says Joey.
Takahashi says that when Joey tried out for the team at a weeklong camp, he was a bit of a nakimushi—a crybaby. "He complained that he hated the food, that his back hurt, that he had headaches and needed to rest," Takahashi says. "He couldn't meet his father's expectations. I sensed he didn't want to play. Every day I wondered when he was going to quit. I'd tell him, 'Ganbare'—Keep trying."
"I didn't really like it," says Joey, pounding his mitt, "but I kind of got used to it."
"I told Joey if he hung in, it would be easy," says Steven. "And I was right, wasn't I, Joey?"
"Did it get easier?"