The devastation following the massive earthquake and tsunami in Japan has been front page news across the globe since the disaster struck on March 11. While concerns over nuclear reactor leaks and getting aid to affected victims may still be the most important Japanese news, another more positive Japanese story hit front pages in Tulare, Calif., this week.
According to Damian Marquez of the Tulare Advance-Register, exchange student Kyohei Hayakawa, a native of Toyota City, Japan, threw a no-hitter for the Tulare (Calif.) Union High baseball team. The 18-year-old pulled off the feat against Porterville (Calif.) High March 17, less than a week after the tsunami struck his homeland.
In fact, Hayakawa's inspired performance went beyond tossing a simple no-hitter as well. The Union exchange student was one pitch away from a perfect game -- he issued a sixth-inning walk on what both his coach and the umpire later agreed should have been a third strike -- and didn't even use a traditional fastball in the outing. He also added two hits, two runs and one of his team's two steals.
"I was upset at the moment," Tulare Union coach Kevin Brown told the Advance-Register. "There aren't too many times you are associated with a perfect game. The umpire had called a good game up to that point. I believe our kid was perfect that night and the umpire was close to perfect."
"[The umpire] told me 'I'm sorry' after the game," Hayakawa told the Advance-Register. "I don't care [about the perfect game]. I'm glad to win."
He wanted to win, in part, to honor his homeland. Hayakawa said he has been feverishly following the media's coverage of the tsunami and nuclear reactor leaks in his homeland, with slight comfort from the knowledge that his family in Toyota City is currently safe. The teenager said that it took days for him to get in touch with his family, and that he begged them to stock up on dry goods in case an earthquake hit closer to home.
Hayakawa's coach said that he was sure that his star pupil carried significant concern with him constantly about the struggles of his homeland.
"He's only 18 years old, but he has a great deal of composure for being that age," Brown told the Advance-Register. "He carries it with himself all the time. I'm sure there is a lot built up underneath that he doesn't show us."
The young pitcher also has plenty of things he doesn't show the batters he faces. He pitches solely from the stretch with an abnormally high leg kick, both of which throw off opponent's timing. Rather than adjust the speed of his pitches significantly, Hayakawa pauses his leg kick at its peak on some offerings, tossing another wrench into any timing mechanisms batters may have developed against him.
With pinpoint control and the natural deception of his delivery, the Japanese teenager is quickly becoming a sensation, even though he and his coach usually communicate only through an iPhone translator app.
"He has great control and puts the ball where he wants," Brown said. "He won't leave a ball over the middle of the plate. He can locate his fastball and throw his curveball over for strikes."
"He is an extremely respectful and disciplined player," Brown said. "He is a coach's dream. He does everything you need him to do."