By KEIICHIRO INOUE/ Staff Writer
March 29, 2023 at 07:00 JST
On a recent national holiday, female junior high school baseball players were firing a ball around in a “twin killing” double play practice at a ballpark in Fuchu, western Tokyo,
They play for the Pink Panthers, who were established in 2010 as a baseball club of sixth-grade elementary school girls who wanted to keep playing with their teammates even after moving onto junior high.
Their parents assisted in the team’s formation. The players are from junior high schools in Fuchu and surrounding areas.
“Playing baseball is part of my daily life and abandoning the sport in junior high was not an option for me,” said Haruyo Mushiga, 14, the captain of the Pink Panthers, who has been playing the sport since her first year in elementary school.
A growing number of girls are pursuing a similar path to continuing playing baseball, with more teams forming in Tokyo and elsewhere.
Seeing that, local municipalities are giving the momentum an additional boost.
Female athletes previously were frequently forced to give up on committing themselves to the sport because there used to be few opportunities for junior high school girls.
Daita Sato, 57, representative of the Pink Panthers, who devoted himself to setting up the club, said there had been only a few teams for female junior high school players in Tokyo around the time the team formed.
“We organized friendly games with boys’ teams in the initial stages of our team,” Sato said.
Many girls’ teams have since emerged in the capital’s 23 wards and other areas in Tokyo.
“We currently have many teams to play against in the capital,” Sato said. “The environment has improved dramatically.”
Hidenobu Nishimura, 49, the Pink Panthers’ manager, said the improved playing conditions have helped players hone their skills.
“We are now expected to provide increasingly advanced training programs for them,” Nishimura said.
The Pink Panthers won the female freshmen's division of Tokyo’s junior high baseball championships in December.
That marked a good start toward the team’s long-held dream of taking the No. 1 spot for the first time in the prestigious Elleair Tournament, which covers all female junior high baseball players in the capital.
Fuchu city started efforts to revitalize the local community via women’s baseball, including signing a cooperation agreement with the Yomiuri Giants professional baseball team, which has lately incorporated an all-female amateur club, for promotional purposes.
Fuchu in May last year became the first municipality in Tokyo that has been recognized by the Women’s Baseball Federation of Japan for its support activities.
“It is time for our city to promote it (women’s baseball) given the trend of the times,” said Fuchu Mayor Norio Takano.
The municipality likewise earmarked 160 million yen ($1.2 million) in the draft budget for fiscal 2023 with an eye on refurbishing a ballfield for residents.
The establishment will be made friendlier to women under the plan by converting its restroom for use by both sexes into those separated by gender.
Masayo Kobayashi, 56, secretary-general of the Kanto Women’s Baseball Association, said she believes female teams have been popping up in succession in the Tokyo metropolitan area in recent years.
According to her accounts, the number of junior high school girls teams had increased largely because more teams were introduced for players in primary schools.
An increasing number of tournaments is another major contributing factor, said Kobayashi, who added that a particularly strong spark was provided by a national competition begun in 2016 for female junior high schoolers.
The tournament is organized by the Japan Rubber Baseball Association in the hopes of allowing female athletes to continue playing baseball. As many as 45 teams from across the country competed in the seventh staging last summer in Kyoto Prefecture.
To decide which team should represent Tokyo in the national competition, the Elleair Tournament, sponsored by Daio Paper Corp., was started in 2015. A total of 16 teams participated last year.
Daio Paper said the competition is part of the corporation’s women empowerment program via sports.
“We will be offering a place for athletes who work earnestly toward their goal of winning tournaments to fully show off their skills,” said a company public relations representative.
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