November 20, 2023 TOPICS

“Nanshiki baseball taught me the joy of winning as a team.” A member of the Japanese national university team discusses how he honed his strengths

Yuuta Shibata, 4th year, College of Sport and Health Science

Thanks to the World Baseball Classic, baseball has drawn a great deal of attention. While hardball, with its impressive plays, generally attracts the most attention, nanshiki baseball—a Japanese take on the sport that uses a hard rubber ball—is also a deeply popular sport with its own unique features. “Nanshiki baseball has its own appeal, with unique hitting techniques, the variety of tactics you use when runners are on base, and pitch-by-pitch strategy.” These are the words of Yuuta Shibata, a member of the Ritsumeikan University Nanshiki Baseball Team. In the Kansai Big 6 Nanshiki Baseball League Spring Tournament earlier this year, Shibata won the batting title and earned a Best Nine selection, contributing significantly to the team’s third league championship in as many years. In recognition of his abilities, he was selected for the 2023 Japanese National University Nanshiki Baseball Team. In high school, Shibata was a bench player and not one of the elite starting members. We caught up with him to learn more about how his dedication has led him to become a member of the Japanese national university team.

Practicing intensely to master left-handed hitting

Shibata started playing baseball when he was in the first grade after watching the 2009 World Baseball Classic. Captivated by Ichiro's ability to produce results under great pressure, he joined a local youth baseball team. “I loved baseball so much that I couldn't wait to go to practice,” says Shibata about his younger days.
In the spring of his third year of junior high school, he made a big decision. Unable to get the results he wanted, he was struggling to secure regular playing time. That is when his coach advised him to try hitting left-handed. This suggestion came only a few days before the spring tournament, but Shibata decided to give it a try, telling himself, "This way, I can make better use of my trademark agility.” At first, he could barely hit balls over the heads of the infielders, but after intense practice, he mastered left-handed hitting and earned a regular spot in the lineup.

After entering high school, he continued to steadily hone his base-running skills, which are his forte. He eventually finished his high school baseball career as a reserve player, but he served as first base coach and was used as a pinch runner in leverage situations in his final year because of his keen eye for detecting the habits of opposing pitchers. He fulfilled his role by supporting the offense in critical moments.

Joining the nanshiki baseball team with a new goal: “Play in the national tournament as a starting member”

After entering university, Shibata joined the nanshiki baseball club at the invitation of an older student he was close friends with and other members of the team. With a new goal of advancing to the university nationals as a starting member, he practiced hard to seize the opportunity.
The turning point came at the summer retreat in his second year. The team captain, who positively assessed Shibata’s baserunning ability and steady throwing arm, asked him if he would try playing in the outfield. As the captain had foreseen, Shibata quickly adapted to playing in the outfield. He secured a starting position due to his defensive range and accurate throwing arm. In the Spring League of his third year, he ranked third in the league in stolen bases, thanks to the baserunning skills that he had been working on since high school. He exceeded the expectations of those around him and secured the opportunity to realize his own goal of competing in the national tournament as a starting member.

Unfortunately, he experienced an unexpected setback after making it to the long-awaited competition. In the first game, their opponent upset them with a walk-off win in the ninth inning. An error by Shibata set the stage for this heartbreaking loss. He left the field that day filled with regret over his error, but this experience instilled in him a strong sense of responsibility. “From now on, I will be the one to lead the team,” he felt. Inspired, he went back to square one to reflect on his inexperience on both sides of the ball and poured himself into improving his technique. His dogged determination steadily produced results, and in the Fall League he recorded a .290 batting average and ranked second in the league in runs batted in. In this way, he contributed greatly to the team’s consecutive league championships.

“I want to win as a team.” A change in how Shibata views baseball prompted his growth

Shibata has grown to become the leader of the team's offense. Underlying this was a shift in how he views the sport of baseball. “After joining the nanshiki baseball team, I came to realize how fun it is to win as a team. Up through high school, all I did was follow my coach's instructions, but going through the process of analyzing our opponents’ tactics and devising practice regimens in response to this, I have come to understand the depth of baseball as a team sport,” says Shibata. He delved into the meaning of each and every practice session to help the team win. By repeating this process, Shibata’s attitude toward the game changed. “When I was in a slump at the plate, I knew I could sacrifice myself to advance the runner and turn it over to the next batter. Even when I found myself behind in the count, I battled back and created the opportunity to take a walk. These are the kinds of things I came to emphasize,” explains Shibata.

His insatiable appetite for victory and ambition spurred his growth even further. In the Spring League of his senior year, Shibata honed his tenacious approach to hitting and ended up winning the batting title with a .389 batting average, earning himself a Best Nine selection. He made great strides toward becoming one of the best players in the league, which is also evidenced by his top five finish in both on-base percentage and stolen bases. “We tried not to let our emotions get the best of us even when we did well, and in the end, we were able to achieve even better results than we had expected,” says a humble Shibata, whose performance has garnered high praise from the collegiate nanshiki baseball world. After passing a document screening and completing a training camp, where his past performance and technique were evaluated along with his human qualities, Shibata was selected to represent Japan as a member of the 2023 National University Nanshiki Baseball Team. With his slow and steady efforts, he has continued to demonstrate his ability to perform, which has finally led him to don the uniform of the Japanese national team.

Giving something back to the sport that helped him grow

The 3rd All-Japan University Nanshiki Baseball Tournament was the final tournament that Shibata participated in before finishing his time at university. Despite an outbreak of influenza just before the competition, the team was able to advance to the final eight. Looking back on the game, a radiant Shibata expressed his gratitude to those around him as follows. “I was able to keep playing baseball, a sport that I love, until the very end of my time at university. I was not a starting member in high school, but I was able to achieve my goal of being chosen for the national team thanks to my friends and mentors and to my family who supported me."

Shibata is steadily preparing for the Japanese national team's trip to Taiwan that is scheduled for this December. In Taiwan, they will play exhibition games against some local universities and participate in baseball classes for children. “I hope to give something back to nanshiki baseball by conveying to the people in Taiwan the unique appeal and depth of the sport that I have come to realize felt as well as the good aspects of this Japanese style of baseball,” says Shibata. Thanks to his dedicated approach, Shibata has come to understand the appeal of nanshiki baseball, and this is something that will surely translate beyond Japan’s borders.


Yuuta Shibata
Shibata graduated from Ritsumeikan Senior High School. He was selected for the 2023 Japanese National University Nanshiki Baseball Team due to his tenacious hitting and elite base-stealing skills, which also led him to win the batting title and earn a Best Nine selection in the 2023 Kansai Big 6 Nanshiki Baseball League Spring Tournament. After graduation, he plans to work for a sports equipment manufacturer and is enthusiastic about wanting to support hard-working athletes. His hobbies are collecting sneakers and playing golf, a sport he took up when club activities were restricted during the pandemic.


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