In the "Sekibetsu" (Farewell) section of The Asahi Shimbun's Jan. 4 Tokyo evening edition, I learned that Shunsuke Kawabata had taught at an elementary school before his death at age 56 last year.

I hope the name will ring a bell if I mention that he was the high school baseball pitcher who was the subject of nonfiction author Junji Yamagiwa's (1948-1995) work titled "Suro Kaabu wo Mo Ikkyu" (Give me another slow curveball).

Slow curveballs, which arced high as if thrown by a small child and bewildered batters, were the trademark "weapon" of this ace pitcher at Gunma Prefectural Takasaki High School.

Combining them with decent-enough fastballs, Kawabata led the team to the "Spring Koshien" (short for the National High School Baseball Invitational Tournament) in 1981.

Kawabata told Yamagiwa that he just didn't have it in him to keep throwing powerful fastballs. In admitting this, he effectively voiced his personal feelings about slow curveballs.

Yamagiwa quoted him as saying, "I felt as if those slow pitches that sailed leisurely toward home plate were my own self, and for some reason I really liked them."

Kawabata also admitted he didn't like training and practicing. He even went so far as to state, "I continue playing baseball only from sheer force of habit."

Still, he was totally focused on playing "mind games" from the pitcher's mound.

I remember being mesmerized by the book's portrayal of Kawabata as the welcome antithesis of everything held "sacred" about high school baseball in Japan--"konjo" (guts), "doryoku" (effort) and "ase" (sweat).

To this day, the book is on my list of the most inspirational literature.

Reading about Kawabata's curveballs has taught me that there are many ways of competing in a game or doing one's job.

As a newspaper reporter, it means that I don't have to get multiple scoops to survive in my profession.

Late in his life, Kawabata collapsed while teaching an elementary school class, and had to undergo physical therapy. During rehab, he reportedly expressed his desire to hear his pupils’ voices.

Wondering what he taught the youngsters and how his faced looked, I pray for the repose of his soul.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 8

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.