Chapter 8 - Part 1: Let’s Play Baseball!
~Let’s Have a Breakfast!~
“Run, run! Consider this your warm-up!”
“Argh, I’m hungry. I can’t run on an empty stomach…”
Chako-sensei and Kino were running up the slope toward the school.
Kino was in school-issue sweats and a pair of running shoes, with her gun belt around her waist and Hermes hanging from it. And, as per Chako-sensei’s orders, she was carrying a small cloth bag containing towels.
The sky was beautiful and clear that November morning. The sun had already risen and was shining a bright white.
There was a bit of a chill in the air. But Kino grew up in the colds of Hokkaido—the sweats were enough to keep her warm.
“Now, now! Run faster!”
Chako-sensei, who was not from Hokkaido, was wearing a windbreaker over her sweats. She cut in front of Kino and began to run backwards, spurring her on—
“C’mon! Run! Hah… wheeze…”
—and quickly ran short of breath. What in the world was this person trying to do?
“I don’t believe this.”
Kino was forced to stop.
“I hate getting old.” Chako-sensei grumbled like a grandmother. She took off her windbreaker and began walking with it under her arm.
Kino kept pace with Chako-sensei and climbed up the cherry blossom hill, where the leaves were beginning to fall. Because the school was on top of a slope, it felt like she had to climb a mountain every day.
They passed through the gates and stepped onto the grounds.
It was before 7 in the morning on a Sunday. There could be no one else there. At least, that was what Kino thought.
Her shock wasn’t very surprising.
There was a large carpet spread out in the middle of the vast grounds, and on top of it was a long table and rows of chairs. Young waiters were going back and forth as they prepared breakfast.
Next to the table was a truck with the logo of a famous restaurant painted on the side. The back was probably equipped with kitchen facilities.
Waiters came out of the back of the truck one after another, expertly placing steaming dishes—specifically, fluffy omelets, cooked sausages, freshly-made hot sandwiches, piping-hot tea, and fresh-squeezed orange juice—on the table.
Kino snapped out of her daze and mumbled solemnly.
She was so shocked she forgot to put spaces between her words.
The fancy breakfast table set up out of nowhere in the middle of the deserted school grounds under the autumn sky was nothing short of unbelievable. Like surrealist art.
“Now, take a seat. We’ll talk over breakfast. You guys too.”
‘You guys’? Kino turned around—
There stood Shizu-senpai, Inuyama, and Sara and Elias. They must have just arrived themselves.
Normally, Kino would have sensed them coming. But she must have been too distracted by the food.
Hi. Hello. Her fellow students greeted her. All four of them were dressed like they were born to play sports.
Like Kino, Sara and Elias were in school-issue sweats.
For some reason, Shizu was decked out in white P*m*-brand clothes. Suddenly, a single dove flew past. In slow motion, at that.
Inuyama was also in brand-name clothes. Ad***as, to be specific. In contrast to Shizu, he was dressed entirely in black.
As many of you may know, *u*a and **did** are companies that sprang up in the wake of a feud between two brothers. They are sworn rivals.
“Sit! Sit! Let’s have breakfast!”
Chako-sensei pushed the members(and temporary members) of the Take Action Now Club into their seats. On one side sat the ladies and on the other side sat the gentlemen.
The uniformed waiters seemed to have no questions about this questionable scene as they asked the members if they wanted milk and sugar in their coffee. That’s a professional for you.
Because the students also knew that being shocked at every surprising thing Chako-sensei did was a waste of effort, they decided to play along and enjoy their breakfasts.
Chako-sensei suddenly stood.
“Let’s eat! Thank you for the meal!”
It was a short but sweet speech—the world would be a happier place if all pre-meal speeches were about this long. Everyone repeated after her in unison and dug into their meals.
Happily, and without a shred of suspicion about why she was eating breakfast in the middle of the grounds on a Sunday, Kino savored her meal.
Not a single thought went through her head.
Sunlight glinted off her silver spoon and fork as they drew a marvelous arc of light through the air.
It was like the brushstrokes of a master painter, or perhaps the swing of a baton at the fingertips of a seasoned maestro. Ah… beautiful.
Elias, sitting across from Kino, was almost a match for her in speed. Sara seemed to already be used to his pace, and was not particularly shocked.
A short while later.
“Naturally, there’s a reason I gathered everyone here today!” Chako-sensei said as they continued to eat.
At that point, Kino had finished nine omelets and had ordered a tenth with a side of veggies and was chugging a glass of milk. More, huh?
Finishing the glass, Kino ordered for another. Then,
“You said something about baseball.” She finally said.
“Yes! Today, we’re going to play baseball together. That’s today’s club activity! We’re going to win for sure!”
Hm. Oh? Oh my. Et cetera. Seeing as the members other than Shizu were a little surprised, it seemed that Chako-sensei had said nothing about the plans to them.
And yet all the members had come out to school so early. Such good children.
Shizu elegantly wiped a corner of his mouth on a napkin, then slightly raised his hand and spoke.
“May I ask a question?”
“Go ahead, Shizu!”
“Who will we be playing against?”
Right. Since Chako-sensei mentioned winning, there must have been an opponent prepared for them. Shizu had an acute eye for challenges.
“They’ll be here in the afternoon. I’ll tell you then.”
Shizu backed off for the time being.
Then, Inuyama asked a question. He was also enthusiastic about challenges.
“What do we do until then? And why do you have to keep their identity a secret?”
It wasn’t even eight in the morning. Inuyama’s question was understandable. The other members, including Kino, all turned to Chako-sensei.
“What else? Practice! Have any of you played baseball before?”
Shizu raised his hand.
“I’ve dabbled in it a little for experience’s sake, but I can play any position, including umpire.”
That’s not what you call ‘dabbling’. In this guy’s case, it might be easier to ask what he hasn’t done before.
“All right. Anyone else?”
No one said anything. Zero exp.
Chako-sensei nodded, satisfied.
“Then I’ll turn you all into usable baseball players! That’s what this practice session will be all about!”
She’d answered Inuyama’s first question, but her planning was a mess. They only had four hours to practice. Was the game really planned on such late notice?
“FYI, I scheduled the game a week ago. I wouldn’t have been able to reserve all your meals otherwise.”
Why didn’t you just tell us then?! Kino cried via telepathy, but Chako-sensei ignored her and answered the second question.
“Your opponents are a secret because I want you to keep your guard up! If I told you, you’ll end up thinking, ‘Hah! We can take ‘em, no problem!’. Who can say if overconfidence won’t end up bringing down our team?”
What are you talking about? You’re the one who gathered a bunch of newbies and gave them a measly four hours to practice!
Ignoring Kino’s telepathy again, Chako-sensei looked around and asked for more questions.
“Umm… do we have to play baseball too?” Elias asked the obvious question, a mountain of sausages piled on his plate.
Elias and Sara were only first-years. Their builds and personalities weren’t exactly suited for competition. But Chako-sensei replied,
“Absolutely. But standing around is all defense does! Now, eat lots and fight hard!”
“Oh. Okay.” Elias mumbled, downcast.
“Baseball, huh.” Sara breathed a sigh.
“More ketchup on the omelet, please.” Kino said, returning to her breakfast.
“Let’s eat to our heart’s content and put all our effort into practice. A healthy breakfast brings out quality performance in the athlete. Glucose, the brain’s energy source, is critical to improving memory and concentration.” Shizu recited, as tranquil as ever.
And Inuyama glowered at Shizu out of the corner of his eye.
Without a care for the varied reactions of the people around the table in the middle of the grounds, the waiter served Kino her omelet with an extra helping of ketchup.
After breakfast. It was past eight.
“All right, it’s practice time! First!”
First? Chako-sensei said loudly, out of the blue. What was she planning to tell the students, whose eyes were on her?
“First, we take a 30-minute break! It’s not good to exercise right after you eat.”
The students stood from their chairs and plopped down on the grounds, which were still wet with dew.
That’s a half-hour cut of practice time.
Thirty minutes later. It was a little before nine.
“We’re the unbeatable Take Action Now Club~♪”
<We’re the unbeatable Take Action Now Club~♪>
The members of the Take Action Now Club were running laps around the grounds as part of their warm-up. The restaurant employees had already left on the truck.
“Chako-sensei’s the hot supervisor~♪”
Chako-sensei, jogging in the lead, was singing. She was also completely tone-deaf, but let’s set that aside for now.
<Chako-sensei’s the hot supervisor~♪>
The students, running in a line behind her, repeated after Chako-sensei.
It was like a scene out of a US Marines boot camp(also known as recruit training). Songs like this are known as military cadences. That was another morsel of useless information courtesy of the author.
“No matter who’s in the way~♪”
<No matter who’s in the way~♪>
“They can’t beat sensei’s charm~♪”
<They can’t beat sensei’s charm~♪>
“Don’t tell the missus~♪”
<Don’t tell the missus~♪>
“That there’s a beauty like her around~♪”
<That there’s a beauty like her around~♪>
“Oh my! Oh my! Oh my!”
<Oh my! Oh my! Oh my!>
Chako-sensei’s lyrics are full of self-praise.
Kino was already mindlessly repeating after Chako-sensei, but it’s a little sad to see Elias giving his all and Sara singing with her lovely voice.
“We’ve got a long way to go! Five more laps around the field!” Chako-sensei ordered. “Let’s get mo—I’m getting tired.”
Four seconds later, she collapsed. They sat her down on the concrete steps next to the school building, and Shizu took over as drill sergeant.
“Let’s give it our best shot. Don’t pressure yourselves to run too fast.”
And without singing a single strange song, they silently jogged around the field five more times and finished.
At that point, Elias was already exhausted. His face was dripping with sweat.
No one noticed that Hermes, hanging from Kino’s belt, was silently, stealthily, and discreetly observing him.
It would be weird if someone did.
Shizu, Kino, and Inuyama were only about as tired as they would be if they’d gone to the door to grab the morning paper. In other words, they were just fine. Not a drop of sweat on their brows.
“Are you okay, Elias?”
Sara, who worriedly looked at Elias’s sweaty face under his mop of golden hair—
“Don’t worry about me. If you’re tired, you should get some rest.”
—did not look very tired. That’s a real singer for you. She must be in excellent shape. She’s probably got abs of steel.
Maybe he was already used to her fretting; Elias thought he should do as she said. But at that moment,
“There’s no time for rest! We’re playing catch!” Chako-sensei commanded, having been revived. It looks like she’s only got two modes—on or off. Elias’s eyes grew moist.
“Here’s your gear!”
No one could explain how or when, but a cart had appeared at Chako-sensei’s feet, laden with gloves, bats, and helmets and baseball caps emblazoned with the club initials. In other words, baseball gear.
The students took up their things. Frankly, this was the first time Kino had ever touched a baseball glove. She placed it on her head for the moment to try and figure out how to use it, but that probably wasn’t the answer.
The hat was what went on her head. Everyone donned light green baseball caps. Ah, yes. Much lighter than the gloves, and they even had bills to shade their eyes. Perfect.
“Let me teach you how to use a glove.”
The multitalented Shizu taught Kino, Elias, and Sara how to put on and use a glove. Meanwhile, Inuyama—
—kept silent, knowing it was not yet the time to strike.
As Shizu instructed, everyone put their gloves tightly on their non-throwing hands. Elias, being left-handed, put his on his right hand. Chako-sensei was prepared.
As for the ball, all they had to do was curl the glove in the shape of a pouch and stick it in their hands. Such simplicity.
They began playing catch.
Sara and Elias were a pair, standing about five meters apart as they practiced.
“Here goes, Sara. Hah!”
“Oh! Oh no, oh no… Ah! I caught it! Look!”
Ah, this looks fun.
Sara smiled much more often in recent days, probably thanks to that huge burden being lifted from her shoulders.
No, this was probably what she was really like. Elias’s eyes curled into a smile at the sight.
Sara and Elias, having not played catch before, had no technique and threw without a shred of accuracy, but that didn’t matter.
The important thing was that they liked each other and were having fun. How could they not enjoy practice?
Sometimes, the ball would fly off in strange directions.
“Oh! Sorry, Sara!”
“It’s okay. I’ll get it. Hyah!”
“Ah, I’m sorry.”
They giggled and shouted, a lovey-dovey couple—
The very single author is in agony just by writing all this, and the single readers must feel the same reading, but I must go on.
“Wow! You’re getting better, Sara.”
“Hee hee. You too, Elias.”
Let’s leave the lovebirds alone for now.
Now, for the protagonist.
“Give it your best shot, Sensei!”
“Then here goes!”
She was facing Chako-sensei. They were just getting started, so they stood about ten meters apart.
Chako-sensei suddenly threw, her form polished. The clean white ball flew at Kino in a straight line, low near the ground.
Kino’s sense of motion perception grunted(Editorial dept.: What’s happening here?).
She’d never played things like baseball, but throws like this were a walk in the park. Kino kept her eyes trained on the ball to the end as it sped toward her. And,
Now! Here’s your chance! Go!
With perfect form, Kino raised her left hand and reached for Chako-sensei’s ball.
And struck it.
The glove on her hand was soft, but for someone as athletic as Kino, sending a ball flying was a walk in the park.
As Chako-sensei watched, baffled, the ball flew overhead, crossed the grounds, and landed in the swimming pool with a loud splash.
And she nails it! A home run, folks! She hits it straight out of the park!
Kino looked very satisfied. She was glowing.
“I did it, Sensei! I just hit it! What do you think?” She asked proudly.
“You did it, Kino! Now go get the ball.” Chako-sensei replied angrily.
“What the heck? I hit the ball, didn’t I?”
Kino sighed as she ran across the grounds, not understanding why she had been scolded.
“Kino, do you know what baseball is?” Hermes asked tentatively, hanging from her belt.
“I hit the ball. The person with the pitching mission throws, and I hit.”
“Mission? Anyway, you’re not exactly wrong. But that’s what a batter does. Right now, you’re just throwing and catching balls to prepare for defense. You’re playing catch.”
“I get it now! Mystery solved.”
“So when the game starts, I have to be the batter and hit the ball when the other team’s pitcher throws.”
“You could say that.”
“With this glove.”
“…Kino, be quiet for a second and listen to me.”
Hermes gave Kino a lengthy lecture about the basics of baseball, but let’s omit that for length.
As she listened, Kino paddled at the pool water to coax the ball floating in the middle of the pool toward her. She eventually got it to the edge and scooped it out.
“—and they take turns until the bottom of the ninth inning, at which point the team with more runs wins. That’s about the gist of it.” Hermes finished.
“Okay. I’ve got it. Thanks, Hermes. Tell me more if I need details.” Kino said, heading back to the grounds.
Running back, Kino frowned slightly.
“But baseball isn’t what I imagined at all. I thought there’d be more running, slashing, getting eaten, or killing.”
“Hm? Where’d you get that idea, Kino?”
“Well, I read a popular baseball manga the other day. It was really good.”
“What’s the title?”
“Sh*ngeki no Kyojin.”
“That’s not a baseball manga, Kino. Wrong giants(1).”
A little earlier—when Kino had just hit her home run.
“Let’s take things easy for now.”
“Not at all. Show no mercy, please.”
Shizu and Inuyama stood about twenty meters apart as they began to practice.
Shizu, dressed in sweats with his katana still at his side, was a comical sight. But he doesn’t care, so oh well.
And as he threw with all the tension of a warm-up, the ball flew at terrifying speeds—
—and landed directly in the middle of Inuyama’s glove.
Inuyama’s expressionless throw was also a blazer. The ball sang as it cut a straight line through the air.
Shizu swung his hand without an ounce of effort and caught the throw.
Inuyama was feigning discipline, but he was actually quite irritated. Damn it.
Shizu threw again. He stepped back slightly, then ran forward as he threw for an additional burst of force. But Inuyama had little difficulty in catching the ball.
He could never let himself stoop to being a dog picking up dropped sticks from the ground. That was defeat and humiliation.
Inuyama also stepped back and ran forward as he hurled a powerful pitch at Shizu’s face. Shizu again caught the ball with nonchalance.
Take this! Catch.
Take that! Catch.
As they continued, the distance between them began to grow wider.
“I’m back, Sensei.”
By the time Kino returned from the pool,
Shizu and Inuyama were focused entirely on their game of long-distance catch.
Shizu was at the very end of the school grounds. With all the momentum he could muster, he launched a frightening throw at Inuyama, dozens of meters away. Like Ichiro throwing to home plate.
Fumbling is humiliation! Inuyama desperately caught the ball, and as though lobbing a live grenade, threw it back immediately.
But as he only ever aimed at Shizu’s face, it was nothing short of a cakewalk for Shizu to catch it. Look, he’s even humming to himself.
“What’re they doing?” Kino asked, standing next to Chako-sensei. The latter grinned.
“I’m sure it’s just like playing fetch with a dog. On Expert difficulty.”
After the warm-ups, they started the next stage of training.
“Now, we’ll all be practicing our pitching!”
No one noticed when, but Chako-sensei had put on protective gear and was dressed like a genuine catcher. There’s no ball she can’t catch.
“I’ll catch your throws, so think of yourselves as the pitcher and throw as hard as you can, but to somewhere I can catch! I’ll judge who gets to be the pitcher.”
Of course. She was trying to see who was most suitable for the role.
“Then if I may demonstrate.”
Shizu quietly stepped onto the mound. The combination of katana, sweats, baseball cap, and glove was suspicious to be sure. It was awkward to anyone’s eyes, but I’m sure they’ll get used to it.
Then, he swung his throwing arm forward. His arms and legs cut the air as the first pitch hurled toward Chako-sensei—
Kino, who was standing next to him, also pitched at the same time. Uh-oh.
Chako-sensei was taken by surprise.
Shizu’s bull’s-eye strike and Kino’s sling flew toward the same point. There was nothing to be done now.
Chako-sensei may be a weirdo and a freak, but even she couldn’t catch two pitches at once.
All she could do was roll for cover to the side.
The two balls passed over Chako-sensei’s legs as she hugged the ground, collided in midair, and flew off in different directions.
The students other than Kino and the lone cell phone strap stared blankly.
“Look! A strike!” Kino whooped, her fists clenched triumphantly.
Soon, in the midst of a resounding silence, Chako-sensei returned to home base with a look of utter vexation.
“KINO! WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING?!”
Kino was scolded again.
Following Shizu was Inuyama.
“You stay on standby there, Kino.” Chako-sensei ordered.
Kino squatted about fifteen meters behind the mound.
“Hermes, did you know that there’s only supposed to be one pitcher on the field at one time? Means you can’t have two or more people throwing at the same time. Even though there’s eight other people on the team who’re doing nothing.”
Hermes said nothing. It seems like he sort of wants to say, “Sure, I didn’t say that you couldn’t have two pitchers on the field, but—”.
Kino’s grumbling continued.
“This is stupid. If you’re throwing the ball to take out the batter, the best strategy would be to deploy as many pitchers as possible at once. Every soldier knows that you have to synchronize fire so the enemy can’t even raise his head.”
No comment, thought Hermes.
The test to pick the pitcher of the Take Action Now Club continued.
Shizu’s pitches howled across the field, but Inuyama matched him for speed and force.
There was no clear victor. Both were deadly serious, and Inuyama especially was desperately giving his all into his throws.
Sara and Elias took the test as well. Well, hmm. Hopefully their throws actually reach the catcher before bouncing off the ground first.
And finally, it was Kino’s turn. She was permitted to stand.
“All right. Only one pitcher on the field at a time. I got that memorized!”
Fixing her cap and taking the mound, Kino stood. Shizu gave her the ball and a piece of advice.
“Kino. This plate under you is the rubber. You have to begin your throw with your foot on it. I’ll teach you all the details later, but keep that in mind for now.”
If the pitcher could throw from anywhere, someone might end up standing just three meters from the batter. It made sense.
As Shizu instructed, and as he had done, Kino raised her arm and leg—in other words, used her entire body—to throw the first pitch.
The ball shot across the field and into Chako-sensei’s glove. It had flown in a straight line into the very middle of the glove. A perfect strike.
“You’re doing well.” Shizu praised Kino from behind. Kino chuckled, embarrassed. She caught the ball Chako-sensei threw back and prepared to pitch again.
Oh? Chako-sensei smiled confidently and slightly lowered her glove. Shizu noticed, but he said nothing to Kino.
Just like before, the ball flew at Chako-sensei. And with a pleasant thud, it shot into the glove.
Chako-sensei grinned and threw back the ball. Then,
“That was pretty good, Kino. Try throwing like that again.”
Kino’s third, fourth, and fifth pitches were drawn like magnets into Chako-sensei’s glove, even as she moved slightly between throws.
“Man, throwing is fun!”
Kino grinned proudly.
Without a hint of fatigue or stress, Kino happily continued pitching.
At some point, Inuyama stood by Shizu to watched Kino pitch.
“Can you tell?” Shizu asked without turning to him.
“Yes.” Inuyama replied immediately, a look of fear in his eyes.
For once they were in agreement.
Kin’s eighth pitch landed right in Chako-sensei’s glove, which she had purposely held out quite far from her body. Chako-sensei caught it without moving her arm in the least.
“All done. Everyone, gather!”
The students all went to home plate.
“I will now announce the results of our auditions! The glorious position of pitcher goes to… Kino!”
“Who, me?” Kino asked, pointing at herself. She was taken completely by surprise.
“Yes. We need you on the mound, Kino. It’s a very important job, so do your best.”
“Why me? Shizu-senpai’s pitches were way faster.”
“True, but it feels like you’d be a better pick for this job. Call it a woman’s intuition!”
Kino didn’t feel like questioning such illogical reasoning. In any case, having realized that a pitcher was something like the most important and coolest position—
“Leave it to me!”
—Kino thumped her chest proudly. Then she coughed. Must’ve hit too hard.
“Then we’ll take a short break. Let’s not get dehydrated—there are sports drinks in the basket.”
As Chako-sensei instructed,
“Let’s go, you two.”
Kino pulled Sara and Elias to the basket by the school building.
Shizu and Inuyama were left behind.
“I’m surprised I didn’t get any reactions from our two non-aces.” Chako-sensei commented.
“Not at all.” “Not at all.”
They replied simultaneously.
“I suppose. Her control was so good she managed to throw the ball into the glove without a single mistake. Where does she get such mechanically good accuracy? Is it because she’s so talented with firearms?” Chako-sensei wondered.
The clock on the school building indicated that it was ten in the morning. The autumn sky was a perfectly clear blue. And underneath,
With an unusually terse command, batting practice began.
“All right! I’mma hit it!”
Standing at home plate in a helmet and holding an aluminum bat was Kino.
This time, she did not confuse which side of the bat to hold. She was probably considering the weight balance of the bat as a weapon.
Chako-sensei was again the catcher. Shizu was the pitcher this time.
The other three had scattered across the field to practice defense and picking up the ball. Naturally, they instructed Sara and Elias to run away from the faster hits.
“Kino, do you know what a batter is supposed to do?” Asked Chako-sensei, who had personally seen what Kino had done over the course of morning practice.
“Yes! When our team’s on the offensive, one person comes up here at a time with the club—I mean, bat—and hit the ball that the enemy pitcher throws, without letting their feet leave the square here.”
“That’s right. You’ve got it.”
“And if the ball hits the pitcher, we score a point!”
Please wait while Chako-sensei explains things to Kino.
“All right! I’mma hit it!”
After the explanation, Kino repeated herself at the plate.
Shizu raised his arm and threw the first pitch.
The ball flew at Kino in a straight line. It was a perfect throw to the center, neither too fast nor slow.
“Yeah! Awesome pitch!”
Aren’t you gonna hit it?
With a battle cry, Kino swung. Her form was pretty good.
The bat loudly struck the ball, which flew into the air.
Which then shattered a window on the second floor of the school and disappeared inside.
“Take that! Home run!”
No, that’s a foul.
The home plate was placed in front of the school building to prevent such a thing. So how did the ball end up breaking a window? It had suddenly made a right-angle turn in midair.
Chako-sensei raised her mask and asked quietly,
“Why’d the ball veer off like that?”
“I thought I’d give it a bit of a curve.”
“Oh? You did that on purpose?”
“Yeah. That way, it’ll be harder for the defense to catch. I added a bit of force to the bat, like I was slicing off the bottom left of the ball. I’m really good at billiards, you know!” Kino grinned.
Chako-sensei put a hand on her shoulder.
“All I know is that you’re a genius of some sort, Kino.”
They switched pitchers to Kino, with her excellent control.
It was determined that Shizu and Inuyama had no trouble with batting. And—
—it was determined that, in contrast, Elias and Sara were completely useless. That was pretty much expected.
And finally, Shizu took the mound again with Chako-sensei batting.
“You’re all dead!”
“That’s strange. Maybe I’m not in tip-top shape today? Could you throw me a couple more, Shizu?”
“Hmm. I don’t like the feel of this bat. Ah, there. This one’s got a nice weight to it.”
“That was a little slow. I couldn’t get the timing straight. Could you make a little faster, Shizu? That’ll be easier to hit.”
“Curve balls! I need that bit of curve. Could you do that, Shizu?”
“It’s the sun! The sun keeps getting in my eyes. Can someone just move it aside a bit?”
“Sensei, we should start practicing for defense.”
Good on you, Inuyama.
It was nearly 11 when they began defense practice.
What were they doing? Catching the balls Chako-sensei hit and getting them as fast as they could to Shizu at first base.
“I see. So we pick up the ball and send it to first base, which takes the batter out of play.”
First off was Kino the pitcher, who finally had begun to understand baseball.
“Here goes! Hyah!”
Chako-sensei tossed the ball into the air with her left hand and swung.
As she intended, the ball rolled in front of Kino. For someone who couldn’t get a single hit on Shizu’s pitches, Chako-sensei was doing quite well. Talk about selective talents.
“Leave it to me!”
Kino charged like a bull.
Picking up the ball in her gloved left hand, she quickly threw it to first base with her right.
Thud. The ball landed in Shizu’s glove. Excellent. After Kino grabbed several balls rolling on the ground, Chako-sensei sent a rather fast one flying at her. Kino stretched her arm and snatched it out of the air.
“That was great, Kino. Your eyes are always on the ball, and you’re very quick.”
After noting that Kino had no problems, they switched out.
Up this time was Inuyama, who would be the shortstop.
Chako-sensei hit a fast one toward third base.
Inuyama lunged like a dog.
Then, he leapt into the air and passed to Shizu. It was a very difficult move, but he was quick about it. But the ball seems to be flying quite low.
It was a hard one to catch, rather quick and aimed to bounce off the ground right in front of Shizu.
But without so much as a blink, Shizu kept one of his long legs on the base as he reached forward. And as though scooping it out of the air, he caught it on the rebound with ease.
Inuyama and Shizu both had pulled off an excellent play, but the former seemed vexed. It was almost as though he wanted Shizu to fumble and look bad in front of everyone.
“Excellent throw. Keep it up.”
Shizu was completely nonchalant. Inuyama ground his teeth.
Inuyama continued to catch Chako-sensei’s difficult hits with ease and throw them to Shizu like a demon. Shizu caught them all.
Even from places the third baseman should be covering.
As though sensing the angle of the ball against Chako-sensei’s bat, Inuyama ran for the balls and easily caught them.
At this rate, they wouldn’t need anyone on third base. We’re firing all the third basemen, folks. A mass restructuring.
Following Inuyama was Shizu.
Shizu also showcased incredible speed as he caught everything that flew between first and second base. Look at the size of his defensive zone.
Inuyama and Shizu alone were probably enough to take care of the infield. Although it wasn’t certain how they’d deal with even a single successful run.
“Hmm…” Chako-sensei intoned. “I knew they’d be good, but this is even better than I’d expected.”
The team practiced lazily until noon. That was because Chako-sensei had said,
“You’ll tire yourself out if you work too hard. Let’s take it easy.”
Elias and Sara could catch anything that rolled slowly in their direction, but their throws were abysmal and they ran from anything that flew at them. Maybe Chako-sensei realized that practice was meaningless with these people.
That was why they probably spent more time listening to Shizu’s lectures than practicing on the field.
Kindly and considerately, Shizu explained the essential rules and plays.
Thanks to him, even a baseball newbie like Kino finally had a basic grasp of the rules. Afterwards, she mumbled to herself,
“I see. So there’s no such thing as runner knock-out in Japanese baseball.”
There’s no such thing in any country’s baseball. This ain’t MMA.
“Oh. But sometimes when I’m listening to baseball matches, I hear stuff like ‘strike’, ‘taking out the second baseman’, ‘WHIP’, and ‘he gets picked off!’. Whoops.”
Where do I start?
The hands on the clock tilted into afternoon.
As Kino’s excitement surged, lunchtime approached.
A terrifying cry of exuberance shook the grounds. That’s understandable.
After all, they received box lunches from a famous place where lunch hour reservations were packed solid for the next three months.
Large boxed lunches—all fifty of them—were delivered on the back of a small truck. Along with hot tea and miso soup in thermos bottles.
Kino and the others laid out a mat on the concrete platform between the school building and the grounds and prepared for lunch—a picnic overlooking the vast grounds.
“Well, let’s prepare for the game and eat to our heart’s content! The enemy will be here at 1:30, and the game will begin at 2. So take your time and relax until then. Let’s eat!” Said Chako-sensei.
With that, Kino moved like a monster.
“Mm! This Kyoto-style gindara sashimi! The koshihikari rice from Uonuma! The unagi egg rolls! The Kyoto-style tsukemono! YESSSSSS!”
She was certainly eating, but she was so quick her hands were a blur.
And yet she didn’t spill a single crumb. What incredible balance. Like an industrial robot wiring integrated circuits.
Kino had just finished her first box, without leaving a single grain of rice. The box was pretty hefty, you know.
This technique was only possible because Kino is a trained gourmand. Normal readers, please eat at a normal pace and chew your food before swallowing.
The second box was opened. And finished. And then the third. What speed.
“It’s very good.”
Shizu and Inuyama were eating at a normal pace, but with supreme elegance. But one just didn’t seem to be enough for them, as they both reached for seconds. They could probably eat more than three boxes.
“Ah… that was good.”
Sara, who had a healthy appetite, cleaned out her own box. And—
“Um… can I have another one?” Elias asked hesitantly.
“Go right ahead!”
Chako-sensei, who was on her second box, handed Elias his fifth. Although he was still behind Kino(who was on her eighth), he was still wolfing it down. And he had room for more.
Elias took the box and went back to chewing.
Sara did not comment, already knowing about Elias’s enormous appetite. He’d also eaten a lot for breakfast, too.
Elias, who was busy eating—
—noticed the smiling diva watch him eat.
And from behind the happy couple—
“Sensei! Pass me another box?”
—cried the protagonist.
It looks like spring is still far away for one student.
It was after lunch, but before the opponents arrived.
“Man. The sky’s beautiful today.”
Kino lay on the mat on the school grounds and stared up at the blue sky.
Next to her lay Sara and Elias, their adorable faces deep in sleep.
Across from them lay Shizu, Chako-sensei, and Inuyama, their eyes listlessly closed.
“Me too…” Kino mumbled. 0.05 seconds later, she fell into sleep mode.
The Take Action Now Club was taking a nap.
It looked like six sticks had been lined up together.
“It definitely looked a little strange, but I saw them all moving until a little earlier. And anything could happen at that school, really, so I ignored it.”
—is what the housewife(Female, age 35) who had been watching from a nearby apartment went on to say on the interview.
And at last, the fated hour and a half was upon them. (Note: Japanese Standard Time, +9 GMT).
Though there was no alarm, Chako-sensei sat up like a machine. Inuyama’s body, which she had been hugging from behind like a pillow, also rose.
Still half-asleep, Chako-sensei threw him. Inuyama rolled.
And he woke up.
Incidentally, when Chako-sensei was hugging him, he had a very sweet expression on his face. Just like the face a dog makes when you pet him. Although I’m not sure why.
Soon, Shizu opened his eyes.
One by one, the chosen warriors of the Take Action Now Club rose to face the moment of truth.
“Zzz… I can eat more… yeah… a world made of curry bread…”
Someone please wake up that protagonist.
(1) A reference to the Yomiuri Giants, a baseball team in Tokyo.