Young baseball slugger’s record the stuff of dreams

The word “dramatic” is probably reserved for such an occasion. In his final at-bat of the last game of the regular season, the 22-year-old slugger accomplished something that deserves a round of applause.

Munetaka Murakami of the Tokyo Yakult Swallows hit his 56th homer of the season in a game against the Yokohama DeNA BayStars on Oct. 3. He set a single-season home run record for a Japan-born player in Nippon Professional Baseball history, surpassing the 55 homers set by Sadaharu Oh of the Yomiuri Giants in 1964.

Murakami also became the youngest Triple Crown winner in NPB history, with a .318 batting average and 134 runs batted in, marking the first time in 18 years a player has accomplished the feat. It must be said that this was truly a record-setting year.

Murakami had not hit a home run in 60 plate appearances since smashing his 55th homer on Sept. 13. The prospect of surpassing world home run king Oh may have increased the pressure on Murakami. In spite of that, the star player lived up to fans’ expectations at the very end of the regular season.

As soon as he sent the ball soaring into the air, Murakami pumped his fists, confident of a home run. Fans must have been intoxicated by the dramatic turn of events.

When Murakami was a first-year student at Kyushu Gakuin High School in Kumamoto City, he was the school’s cleanup hitter in the National High School Baseball Championship at Koshien Stadium, and he attracted attention as a strong hitter in the summer tourney. In 2018, he joined the Swallows as a first-round draft pick, wearing uniform number 55.

The uniform number encapsulated the team’s desire for Murakami to surpass Oh’s 55 homers, and the 50 homers hit by Hideki Matsui in 2002 when he was a Giants player wearing 55.

Murakami’s strength lies in his skill at hitting to all fields. Even when he set an NPB record for hitting a home run in five consecutive at-bats this summer, the left-handed hitting Murakami pulled inside pitches into the right field stands and hit pitches away into the left field stands by going with the pitch.

The sharp swing produced by his solid lower body is the result of persistent training. He is addicted to practicing. His trial-and-error approach toward his development is also worthy of special mention.

Murakami has already hit 160 home runs in his career. How far will he take that tally? Baseball fans also are looking forward to his future achievements.

This season was marked by excellent performances by young players in the Japanese baseball world, with 20-year-old Chiba Lotte Marines pitcher Roki Sasaki achieving the first perfect game in 28 years. Overseas, Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels has been displaying his overwhelming presence in Major League Baseball, pitching and batting as a two-way player.

Japan is still recovering from the coronavirus pandemic. Many people must have been encouraged by the way that young baseball players carry on.

Next spring, the World Baseball Classic, an international tournament to decide the best team, will be held with the participation of various countries and regions. Baseball fans hope to see the player nicknamed “Mura-kamisama” (a play on the second part of his family name with the kanji for “god”) hit home runs on the world stage.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 5, 2022)