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Second Chance

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When one hears the name “Goro Shigeno” it can be virtually guaranteed that no less than a thousand images begin to instantly flash through that person’s mind. A tall, imposing man who unstoppable dominates his opponent from his commanding perch on the pitcher’s mound with his talent, work ethic, and undying spirit. All of which came together for a decade and a half to form the youth pitcher who’d represented all the future Japanese baseball stars of his generation in interviews with countless magazines, TV shows, and radio stations in both Japan and America. 

What most people, especially those who knew him personally, never thought about when they heard his name was school, at least not without it somehow being connected to sports. Even then, these same people would most certainly not think of college, due to the combination of him having jumped ship to play in America when he was 18 and his academic record. Yet, here he was, on a Saturday afternoon, dressed in a black suit and necktie with black slacks, looking more like a weary salary man than a baseball player, sitting in the waiting room that led to the office of the President of the University of Tokyo. A single thought, repeatedly echoing in his head.

‘How did I get here?’ as he nervously tapped his foot and left, his gaze squarely focused on the floor in front of him, placing him on edge in a way he hadn’t experienced since he asked his darling wife to marry him.

“Come on Goro” his wife, Kaoru, had said when she’d first learned of the offer, several days after his agent had forwarded it to his personal email. Her words came as she stood over the stove of their house cooking the two of them a late breakfast, much to Goro’s delight. 

“The least you could do is respond to the offer”

“But why ?” he’d countered, as Kaoru had moved from where she stood to the table where he sat, two beautiful dishes of food in her hands. The news on the position in question had come only about a week after he’d returned from having completed his second year on a two-year-long contract with the SSG Landers. Under normal circumstances he probably would have seen her point, it was never wise to leave such an offer without a response, but his agent had been certain that, given his solid play over the course of the previous two seasons, relations with the general manager of the Landers was more than friendly. Unless something massive came up, such as another veteran player demanding more money or they sign another overseas player, there was no fathomable reason why they shouldn’t at least extend him an offer to play a few more years. 

“The Landers have made it clear that they intend to offer something and even if that falls through, there are two offers from the CPBL” he continued, looking Kaoru in the eyes as he did so. His question was initially met with silence before she tilted her head upwards slightly to look past him to the staircase that led to the second floor of their house, where Izumi and Daigo were still asleep. Then whispered.

“Well, it would be nice to have around a bit more” her barely audible words, sending Goro’s gaze in the same direction. As much as Goro may not have wanted to admit it, deep down he knew Kaoru was at least partially right. There had been multiple points during the season in Korea when he’d returned to his hotel, looked at his phone, and been greeted by a photo of his smiling family before his mind began to wonder. Began to note how old Izumi and Daigo were, began to remember all the things he’d gone through at their age, remembered all the things his father hadn’t been able to do with him because of his baseball career, how unstable it all was. Sure they had Kaoru and didn't have to be even half as independent and self-reliant as he was at that age, but he still knew that his two kids would keep growing and that if he wasn’t careful he’d miss out on being their dad. It was part of the reason that every time he went looking for contracts, he always told his agent to put a special priority on deals from Japanese teams.

“Daigo and Izumi are getting older, and as much as they love the fact that they can see you on TV, I can just tell that they also want you to be their dad” Kaoru added, her words echoing in Goro’s head as he continued to stare at the staircase, before letting out a compromised sigh.

“Okay, I’ll send them a reply and try to see what details they’re willing to say” earning him a smile from Kaoru.

“Thank you, besides if this goes well who knows, you may get hired for something relating to high school baseball ”, coming just before the sound of a weary yawn came from upstairs.

“Shigeno-san?” a gentle voice called, pulling the young man from his memories and back to the present situation.

“Yes?” being the startled words to that, he could manage to help fall out of his mouth as he looked from where he sat to see a middle-aged man dressed in a similarly colored suit and tie.

“The President will see you now” the man explained, but not before looking Goro up and down with what seemed to be a glint of displeasure in his eyes.

“Oh, yes, thank you” were the only words that Goro could say, well at least the only ones that wouldn’t give away the fact he noticed the man’s displeasure, before rising from his seat, turning, and marching into the aforementioned presidential office. His jerky, stiff motions, him look like an awkward youth on one of the underdog teams that somehow managed to make it to the Koshien in any given year. His anxiety wasn’t helped when he heard the authoritative “click” of the door being shut behind him. Though it was eased when he caught sight of the president in question, a man who appeared to be in his early sixties and wore the formal black jacket and slacks that one would expect, the only noteworthy thing being his gray framed glasses and black bow-tie. 

“Good morning, Shigeno-san” the man stated, a warm smile coming over his face.

“Good morning sir” Goro replied, making sure to remember what he and Kaoru had gone over and practiced, making sure to perform a gracious, yet subtle, bow that he was sure most people would regard as respectful. Finishing his bow just in time to see the man make a gesture towards one of the chairs which sat in front of his desk, an offer that Goro duly took, while the other man proceeded to sit on the small couch which was off to the side of the room. Meaning that while he was still in the room, and very much in the back of Goro’s mind, he was not in a position that would allow him to easily interfere in the oncoming conversation.

“You know Shigeno-san, I must truly say that it’s an honor to have you applying for this position, we were rather surprised that you answered the inquiry we sent to your agent”, the old man stated, his words catching the young man off guard.

“Oh…thank you” he stammered, truly unsure whether the man meant the statement to be one of relief, joy, congratulations, or an insult.

“Don’t be offended, Shigeno-san” the other man added, causing Goro to turn in his seat to face him.

“We more so sent the offer towards you to strengthen our communications with other candidates, after all if a former player of your caliber was a possible candidate for the position, surely others would look our way” he clarified, his words earning him an almost jovial chuckle from the president.

“Yes, you wouldn’t believe the looks on the faces of our administrative staff when they heard that you had actually agreed to apply for the position,”.

“Well, when you get an offer to coach at such a young age, it usually means that you must have some potential,” Goro answered, hoping that his words would prove to be a sufficient mix of humility and honesty.

“Even the great Suzuki Ichiro had to play for nearly three decades to get an offer to coach high school baseball, I’d be crazy not to at least look at your offer” he added, his words causing the smile on the president’s face to go from being jovial to impressed.

“Well then, if that’s the way you feel Shigeno-san, let’s get right down to business” came as the man snapped his fingers and gestured, footsteps audibly coming from behind him, before a stack of papers was set on the desk before him. The sight and sound, of the papers hitting the desk caused Goro to almost emotionlessly shift his gaze down to the papers that now lay before him. 

‘Ah, power move’ running through his mind, something that he’d gotten personal experience dealing with during his decade and a half of playing, and negotiating, with teams. 

“On behalf of the University of Tokyo, I would like to extend to you the offer of being the next head coach of our baseball program” the man stated rather matter-of-factly, causing Goro to look from the papers in surprise.

“I’m sorry sir, but I seem to have misunderstood the nature of my visit, I thought I was being offered a position as an assistant coach, particularly on who specializes in pitching or batting, not of a whole program” he replied, glancing up towards the assistant to see if there had been some sort of mistake. 

“Under normal circumstances, and at other schools that would most certainly be the case, however, given that our current coach announced that he would step down following the spring league season we needed to find a suitable replacement as soon as possible” the man assured, before the president cut in.

“We aren’t under any delusions of current, or possible, grandeur, our sole desire is to find someone who can create a competitive program that can at least win a few matches ever season”, the president clarified, his words coming as his assistant reached into his breast pocket and offered a pen to Goro.

“So, are you interested?”, the words sitting in the back of Goro’s mind for a few moments before he took the man’s pen and signed the paper.