The first week of practice on a collegiate team, like the first week of college, is usually an absolute chore. The players and coaches have a new schedule to get used to, the players have to get used to dorm life, and everyone has to alter their diets to keep up with their new schedule. The difference is that for normal students the first weekend of school, while packed with homework, can be a break from the chaos of the first week. However, there's no sch relief for collegiate athletes during that time.
"Come on, move it!" being the remind of this as the entirety of the University of Tokyo baseball team moved to complete their 15th lap in the last quarter of an hour. Normally, this wouldn't have been difficult, it had been one of the things introduced to them on the second day of practice and the team had been able to do it on their own quite effectively. The problem was that on this Saturday morning, their run had been complicated by the fact that Toshiya had elected to make two noteworthy additions to how the running practice was going to be performed.
First, they would have to do so while remaining as a group, there would be no stranglers at the front nor at the back of the group. The second was that Toshiya had added the team's pitchers and catchers to the group, neither of whom had shared the running experiences of the fielders during the earlier part of the week. And it was the second requirement, rather than the first, that had seen their exercise draw to an agonizing crawl.
'I hope Goro's right about this' he thought as he watched the group struggled to stay together as they completed another lap. The four members at the front of the group, Tajima, Kobayakawa, and Haruichi kept looking backwards towards the rest of the group to mitigate their progress in compared to the rest of the group. The group passing by the pole to, hopefully, complete the final lap before they could move onto the main part of their practice.
'Not like things will get any easier when it starts; Toshiya though as he watched the group head off to do their last lap.
While Toshiya was busy implementing the first part of Goro's weekend practice plan two other individuals were busy looking at an equally important factor for their plan, the upcoming Tokyo Big 6 Baseball League's Fall League schedule.
"How long until our first official match?' breaking the focused silence that had settled over the two and sending Momoe's attention towards the small calendar that was stuck to the right wall of Goro's office, that detailed the regular season.
"September 18th" she answered, noting the team they'd be playing on that day as well as the next few teams after that.
"They have us playing Waseda first, then we get a week off before we play Rikkyo and Keio for the second and third series" the news causing Goro to let a long sigh.
"They couldn't start us off with easier opponents?"
"They probably could" Momoe answered, turning her attention back towards the practice reports that she, Goro, and Toshiya had compiled over the first week of practice as she did so.
"But a lot of teams probably want us as a tune up series before the season seriously heats up and the games start to matter", earning her another sigh from Goro as he leaned back in his chair and looked down at the unfinished practice schedule in front of him. While it might have been somewhat foolish in hindsight, Goro had originally been really optimistic about both the long term and short term for the team. After all, he'd not only managed to informally get some of the most reliable, if not as well scouted, talent in Honshu, but he'd also sustained this hope through the fact that the team had been able to rapidly adapt to the differences between fielding balls hit by metal bats and ones hit by wooden bats. However, things had changed slightly as the days had gone on, particularly when Momoe had returned with a training video that Coach Inoue had gotten of the team he'd had the highest amount of success against, Hosei.
'Why did I have to watch that video?' Goro thought as he returned his gaze towards the schedule, particularly the plan to introduce hitting practice the next week, which would move being the primary focus of the team during the last week before the season was set to start.
"By the way, Momoe, how many pitching machines do we have?" he asked in an almost carefree manner, earning him a look from Momoe.
"Three I think, Coach Inoue made a pretty intense push to get more, but the University never gave him the funds," she began, no doubt catching sight of Goro's raised eyebrow, before adding.
"They said it would be a 'waste of resources'", earning herself a nod from Horo as he raised his left pointer finger to his lips.
"Would it be possible for us to do a rapid rotation that gets our players both fielding and batting practice?" he then asked, this time being on the receiving end of a nod from Momoe.
"Yep, Coach Inoue and I used to do it all the time for the first years and to get the upper classmen warmed up", her answer causing a smile to slowly come onto Goro's face.
"Good, let's see what we can make happen", just as he glanced up at the office clock and took stock of the time, then rose from his seat.
"Come on, Toshiya should be done with warm-ups by now, it's time for us to get on with practice"
Sure enough, a quarter of an hour later every member of the University of Tokyo baseball team found themselves in the midst of an intense fielding drill. Including the figure of a single lanky and black-haired individual who was currently planted on the mound.
"Come on Kou, it's simple" Goro called from the safety of the third base dugout entrance, a batting helmet placed on his head.
"You just need to put your foot down, collect the ball, and throw it to first base in a clean motion" he continued, noting the way the young made a point of listening to each one of his points, adding.
"It's like when you're pitching but just send it to the first baseman", gesturing to Toshiya, who tossed the ball and hit it directly towards the aforementioned Kitamura who stopped, fielded the ball, turned, stepped, and threw the ball slightly off target to first base where Tsukishima was able to scoop the ball with his glove. The action causing Goro to briefly bring his right hand over his eyes in slight exasperation at the boy's fielding difficulties and ordered.
"Well, looks like we found Kitamura's weakness" Momoe muttered so as to only be audible to Goro, her words only causing him to shake his head.
"The kid can consistently throw over 150 km and dominate the plate like Mike Trout" Goro began, watching as Kou ran through the exact same frill again and again struggled to get the threw off right.
"But as Kami is my witness, he can't field a ball"
"Well, better that we see what needs to be improved before we start him against Waseda than after: Momoe added, clearly try to be the optimist in their conversation, but failing miserably. As he words instead caused Goro to shift his right hand to his head at the thought of the previous year's All-Japan University Baseball Championship Tournament winner, and perennial Tokyo Big 6 Baseball League contender, that they were about to have to play.
"God, he wouldn't get past the third inning" escaping his lip s in a whisper just as Kitamura managed to properly complete the drill. The completion of the throw causing the young Kitamura to jog off the field while Mihashi Ren jogged on, the young orange haired boy easily managing to do in one go what Kitamura had struggled to do in about a dozen. Quickly jogging off the field to be replaced by Kageyama who manage to do likewise, bringing Sawamura onto the field.
"Sato" Goro shouted, earning himself the attention of his young friend.
"Next", earning himself a nod before his assistant coach looked back at the field.
"Alright, we're doing double play drills, so everyone up the middle be ready" Sato called, earning himself a series of nods from the field before he tossed the next ball into the air and hit it right up the middle. The ball speeding past Sawamura and seemingly on a beeline towards the second base bag, sending Haruichi and Nishinoya towards the ball. Both of their eyes focused squarely on the ball, neither initially seeming to take any note of the other fielder, until Haruichi glanced up slightly and changed his course; allowing Nishinoya to quickly field the ball, using his momentum to seamlessly deliver a strike over towards Tsukishima at first base.
"Good" Toshiya called, making a point of gesturing over towards Haruichi and adding.
"Second, this one's for you", before sending a ball directly towards the pinkette, who easily fielded the ball, tossed it to Nishinoya, who delivered another accurate throw to first base. The combination of their speed making it clear that even the fastest of baserunners would struggle to prevent being throw out under any circumstance; be it a double play, a standard in field ground out, or if they cut off a throw from the outfield and were to make a strike to third base or home plate. Another nod coming from Goro as he watched Sato hit the ball over towards the team's full-time third baseman, Tajima, who easily managed to field the ball and send it to Haruichi at second, who gunned the ball over to first base to complete the play.
"Who's that at third base?" Goro asked as he watched the boy jog back to his position.
"I've been trying to get some more data on him since he arrived" Momoe answered, looking down at her small notebook as she did so, her words causing Goro to raise an eyebrow with interest.
"Very little outside of the fact that he played in Saitama and that he was the best player at his school" she began, briefly flipping through her book.
"School never made it far in the prefectural tournament, but he always made a point of putting on a show before they were defeated"
"Well, he's putting on a show now" Goro muttered, watching as Tajima fielded a throw from Nishoniya, stepping on third base to terminate a ghost runner, and then threw it over to first base to get the tail end of the double play.
'He might just make the future anchor of the infield' running through his head as he watched Tajima jog off the field and be replaced by Hinata. If Goro recalled correctly the tiny orangette had primarily served as a pinch runner during his time in high school, robbing him of both fielding and batting experience. Yet he'd been more than eager to try and get some practice reps at the proverbial hot corner of the infield than any of the other players on the field, when Goro had approached the need to have depth at the position.
"Big risk to take considering the person he's playing behind" Goro muttered as he watched the boy field a ball and throw it towards first base, his throw being only slightly off target.
"Did you say something?" Momoe asked, snapping Goro's attention towards her before calmly answering.
Unbeknownst to any of the coaches, or the players they were mentoring, their rehearsal for all future practices was being watched by a pair of unintended guests.
"Kento, I don't understand why we have to watch this," a young, blond haired, boy whispered before letting out a yawn.
"I mean, when I learned we were doing a special observation mission I thought it would be against a team that mattered" he added, glaring down at his nails before continuing.
"Not them", before making a disinterested nod of his head towards the practice field before him. However, if they young boy had been hoping for some sort of response for his somewhat rude display, he was frankly disappointed by the fact that the boy he was speaking to didn't move his eyes, or focus of the camera, from the field.
"Narumiya, how many times do I need to explain this" the black haired, clear glasses wearing boy began.
"Coach sent us to scout out the opposing team so we can be prepared for out series"
"I know," Mei continued, placing his hands behind his head before looking up at the sky.
"But we only scout serious opponent this far before the season starts with really good schools; like Rikkyo or Keio, this is the University of Tokyo, we always beat them" his final point not earning him any sort of immediate response from his scouting partner, who happened to be the team's vice-captain. Of course, that wasn't because Kento inherently agreed with what Narumiya was saying, but rather because it was an undebatable fact.
In the two decades since their coach had taken over the juggernaut that was Waseda University's baseball program he had only been two guarantees. First, that they would never fall before second in the standings of the Tokyo Big 6 Baseball League's autumn or spring tournaments and second, that they would beat the University of Tokyo. In fact, during his twenty years as the head coach, their coach had managed to compile an outstanding 78-0 and had coached three pitchers to throwing perfect games against the University of Tokyo, while the only non-wins being draws. Even though their coach always stressed the fact that any team could surprise you and that you shouldn't overlook anybody even he wasn't paranoid enough to require such a scouting job in a normal year.
"You're right Mei" Kento initially replied, making a point of using his friend's first name and not breaking his eye contact from the field before him as he did so.
"But this year they've got a new coach, some former pro-baseball player from the NPB and MLB"
"What some wash out from American going to do?" Narumiya asked, his words causing Kento to pause, Narumiya's words finally seeming to get reaction from Kento.
"That 'washed up player' is Shigeno Goro" he began, instantly causing Narumiya's ears to peak up at the boy's words.
"Even if he can't get them to dominate the top of the table, he could still be a problem for us if we have to use a lot of our pitchers and players to beat him before we move onto the more intense part of the League tournament or have to use all the cards up our sleeves before the Meiji tournament or All-University Championship,"
"And coach would never let us live down a loss against a school like UT" he added, Narumiya countering Kento's words with a wave of his hand.
"Yeah, yeah, I know"
"Good, then you'll be more than willing to help me with this" Kento replied, thrusting a second camera into the blond boy's hands to shut him up, if only for a few minutes.