The next time you sit through Field of Dreams and have to endure Kevin Costner’s character moan and groan about the horrors involved with playing a simple game of catch with his dad, try to recall how David Waldstein of the New York Times detailed some of the numerous ordeals that Hiroki Kuroda endured as a youngster.
One day in the summer of 1990, when Kuroda was 15 and playing summer baseball for his select high school, Uenomiya High, he had a bad outing, the latest in a string of them. Controlling the location of his pitches was a persistent problem, and even when he could throw strikes, opponents hit them hard, and to all fields.
Before long, Kuroda’s manager approached him and another offending teammate, a boy a year older, and issued them the dreaded order: Run.
As usual, it was an open-ended command, and every player, particularly the struggling ones like the teenage Kuroda, knew the meaning: go to the outfield, and run from foul pole to foul pole — the longest part of any baseball field — without water.
Kuroda changed out of his uniform and began a four-day ordeal that still haunts him and still fuels his desire to perform well — and not make mistakes.
The story, as he tells it, sounds implausible. But Kuroda, over the course of five interview sessions, told it again and again, and insisted it was so.
Under orders, he ran from 6 a.m. until 9 or 10 p.m., depending on when the coach went to bed. Obviously, he could not jog for 15 straight hours, but he had to do his best to make it look that way. When his coach, known as the kantoku, was not watching, he would walk.
When the kantoku went to his office for lunch, Kuroda said, his teammates left water or a rice ball for him in the woods.
“That water was the greatest tasting thing I have ever had,” he said, “better than any five-star restaurant.”
At night, when the kantoku had retreated for the evening, Kuroda could at last stop running and would return to the dormitory. But he was not allowed to bathe. . . .
After four days and nights of this treatment, the parents of Kuroda’s teammate intervened more directly. They took the boys back to their house, gave them water and food, and bathed them. They called Kuroda’s mother and told her the situation.
“She said to send me back,” Kuroda said, laughing. “At that point, I knew I had an enemy in my own house.”