Ep 1: True Ace

 

Past:
The opposing team scores another one, putting the Mihoshi baseball team down 3–0 in the fifth inning. Mihashi Mihashi 「三橋廉」, the pitcher for Mihoshi, clenches his teeth as he looks away from the disdained looks of his teammates’ faces. With the next hitter in the batter’s box, Mihashi seeks to find some guidance from the catcher, but he finds none. Still shaken and unsure of himself, he throws the pitch. The batter hits it squarely and it looks like it is going to be another homerun.

Present
The school is bursting with people recruiting for various sports club activities. Mihashi, with his head down, slowly walks through the crowd towards the baseball field. All the way, he thinks to himself that he can never be a player here, much less be the team’s pitcher. He looks from the fence to see an empty field, when suddenly a tall girl places a strong grip on Mihashi’s shoulder and drags him to where more people are gathered.

She stops and takes out a notebook and asks for Mihashi’s name and what position he plays. Mihashi, with a bit of hesitation, answers that he is a pitcher. The tall busty girl then introduces herself as Momoe Maria 「百枝まりあ」 and that she will be the team’s coach from now on. Momoe, however is not a faculty member, thus she introduces the teacher who will be responsible for the team, Shiga Tsuyoshi 「志賀剛司」. A mysterious girl looks on from behind the fence. Next, Momoe introduces Takaya Abe 「田島悠一郎」, the catcher, and Sakaguchi Yuuta 「栄口勇人」, second baseman. The two of them played in the Senior League. Tajima Yuuichirou 「田島悠一郎」, jumps out and declares that he will take #4 as the third baseman.

A haughty guy wearing a snowcap cuts off Tajima and tells them that he too plays position #4, but that he is no longer interested. Momoe is startled and quickly goes to confront Hanai Azusa 「花井梓」 and asks him the reason for his sudden change of heart. He looks straight at Momoe and tells her that the reason is that the coach is a girl and he can live without baseball anyway.

Momoe takes up a bat and starts hitting and balancing a baseball with profound ease, much to the amazement of Hanai and the others. She tosses the ball higher and quickly changes to a hitting position. She hits the ball hard, sending it high straight up. Abe readies himself and catches the fly ball. Hanai is stunned and recalls that his former manager would not be able to do something like that, no other manager could. Momoe reaches to a sack, gets two pomelos, and offers Hanai a drink. She asks him to wait awhile as she prepares it. She takes a deep breath and squeezes the pomelos with her bare hands, forcing the juice to come out! She offers the FRESHLY SQUEEZED juice to Hanai and he gulps it down immediately. The others watch on, obviously terrified and amazed at what they just saw. They quickly refuse the offer when Momoe asks them if they would like a drink as well. Both Mihashi and the mysterious girl tremble as both conclude that the team manager is very scary.

Abe asks Mihashi to show him his pitch. Mihashi struggles to utter that he will also quit. Tears start to roll out as he silently scolds himself for mistakenly saying that he was a pitcher. He really wants to pitch, but he quickly dismissed the thought because whenever he does, he ends up embarrassing himself. He concludes that there is no way the others will accept him. Mihashi tells Abe that there would be no point in even trying, since his pitch is slow. Abe reassures him that they are not expecting him to be the best and asks whether he was a substitute. Mihashi shakes his head and Abe quickly realizes that Mihashi was a regular at Mihoshi. Nobody seems to know about the Mihoshi baseball team. Then, Shiga-sensei recalls that it is a team from Gunma. This got the others curious and they start asking Mihashi a bunch of questions about Gunma.

Hanai rudely interrupts them and angrily tells Mihashi to come clean and say that he was the ace, the best player in Mihoshi. Mihashi confesses that he was not really the ace. He was only made so as a favor to his grandfather, who owns the school. Crouching in embarrassment, Mihashi insists that even if that was the case, it was his fault for not quitting and not giving up the mound to anybody else. For three years, he did this and he was the reason why everybody else in the team started to hate baseball. Abe tells Mihashi to shut it, wanting to keep the mound is only natural for a pitcher. Though Abe thinks of Mihashi as annoying, as a pitcher he likes him. Upon hearing this, Mihashi stands up and agrees to pitch.

Still second-guessing himself, Mihashi stands on the mound. Abe shares to him that they have been working on the field, but have not gotten around to the outfield yet. While working on the mound, they wondered what kind of pitcher they would get. Abe is impressed after finding out that Mihashi has been doing self-training. Yet, Mihashi who still insists that he does not throw well gets approval from Abe to throw as he likes.

Mihashi is very nervous now as he turns to find that the others are looking intently, waiting for him to pitch. He psyches himself to just throw the ball and get it over with. He is ready to be thrown off the team. He has been preparing for this moment ever since he left Mihoshi. Thus, he throws the first pitch. He is about to walk away from the field, when Abe returns the ball and beckons him to throw another, then another and another. After a few pitches, Abe, sparkly-eyed, approaches the mound and demands Mihoshi show him his special pitches. Mihashi begins to enumerate what he thinks are his special pitches (curve, slider, screwball), after Hanai doubted that he even had one. Abe decides to work on signs after finding out that Mihashi never received formal coaching.

Abe invites Hanai to stand in the batter’s box. Hanai refuses, as he will not be joining the team. He then gets a 3-at-bat challenge from Abe. Hanai was the clean-up hitter in middle school. Tajima, also a clean-up hitter in middle school, wants to take on the challenge as well. Much to Tajima’s disappointment, Abe tells him that he can do it next time. There is no doubt in Abe’s mind that Tajima is from the Arakawa Sea Breams, known to scout good players. Thus, having him at bat would be hard for Mihashi to deal with. But with Hanai, Mihashi might be able to gain some confidence. Abe is perplexed as to why Tajima is here since he could have gone to a better school.

A slightly annoyed Tajima heads to the dug out. Before reaching the dug out, he runs for the fence and calls out to greet his grandfather, who is on the other side doing some gardening. Tajima reveals that his house is just outside the field and he loves being only a minute away from school. Abe realizes that it must be the reason why a player like Tajima is here.

Abe instructs the infielders to get ready. Hanai is riled up, but calms himself saying that Abe is just angry that he is leaving. He declares that he will surely hit the ball far. Abe tells him off that if that were the case, he would be telling Hanai not to leave.

In the dug out, Abe tells Mihashi that he will just use signs that Mihashi is accustomed to. However, Mihashi was not using signs before, because the catcher really disliked him. Abe assured him that everything would be fine. Abe is confident in his ability to handle players like Hanai. Mihashi lets out another apology knowing that he will be the reason Abe loses. Abe promises him that he make Mihashi a real ace just as long as he follows his instructions. He adds that that the thing he hates the most is a pitcher who shakes his head at him.

The umpire announces the start of the 3-at-bat challenge. Abe signals the pitch, Mihashi acknowledges and throws it. Hanai swings and misses. Strike one! Hanai laughs it off and readies for the next pitch. Abe signals for a low curve ball on the outside. Mihashi throws accordingly. Hanai manages to hit it but one of the fielders easily catches it. Abe again signals for the third pitch, asking for a straight one right down the middle. Mihashi, hesitated for a moment, knowing that power hitters would send a pitch like that straight home. He possibly could not… but in the end he chooses to believe in Abe and throws the pitch. Hanai strikes again! Mihashi is throwing with more confidence now, not knowing exactly why himself. Two outs! The infielders are cheering him on. Mihashi knows that it is not his doing. It is Abe’s doing. Mihashi could not believe it, but there might actually be a chance that he will become this team’s ace. Now with more conviction, he releases his pitch while fervently believing that an ace’s ball will not be hit, it will definitely reach Abe’s mitt. Hanai takes a good look at it, tries to swing his bat, but the ball blows right past him. Strike!

Hanai, stunned, releases his bat, goes straight to the mound, and takes Mihashi by the neck asks what that slow pitch was. Abe explains that it was Mihashi’s fastball. Hanai is not willing to accept that answer and insists that it was definitely not a straight ball. Abe agrees with Hanai, none of Mihashi’s pitches are truly fastballs. He then explains the physics and unravels the mystery of Mihashi’s pitch. He then adds that Mihashi’s fastball is quite a weapon. The others start to question this since Mihashi was a terrible pitcher in middle school. Abe tells them that it takes a little time to get use to it, but once you do, you will be able to hit Mihashi’s pitch. Hanai could not believe that he was unable to get the timing. After Mihashi reveals that his strike zone is divided into 9 sections, Abe declares that if he had a pitcher with that much control, he will strike out Hanai every single time.

Abe tells Mihashi that his pitching skills are acceptable. However, Mihashi knows that it is Abe who is truly amazing. Without Abe's guidance, Mihashi would just be a slow pitcher. Thus, for the next three years, Mihashi must follow Abe’s signals. Abe places his hand on Mihashi’s shoulder and declares that from now on, Mihashi will become a pitcher no batter can defeat and together with a good set of fielders and batters, they will go all the way. Mihashi breaks the silence and tells them it is impossible. The others quickly try to persuade Mihashi otherwise.

Momoe, slowly approaches the players saying that those who truly enjoy baseball are only those who want it all. She wants to win and she will definitely not give #1, the ace number, to anyone who says it is impossible. She threatens to hit Mihashi if he annoys her more than he is now. She adds that since they just had exams and have been out of practice, they'll train to get back in shape for the next two weeks. Then they will have training camp during the Golden Week, and finally, they will be playing against Mihoshi. Mihashi starts to freak out and expresses his disapproval. Momoe’s bat knocks him back, rolling on the dirt. Momoe swears that she will never give him the mound if he does not fix that attitude of his. Abe knows that changing Mihashi would be hard and that he would just have to keep on using him as a puppet. Momoe squashes another pomelo sending the juice flying, splattering the faces of the players. She is dead serious and tells Mihashi that if he wants to be the ace, he should show her that he can change!

Notes:
Abe and Sakaeguchi played in the Senior League which is organized outside of school, as opposed to middle school teams where Tajima and Hanai played. The Senior League uses a regular hard baseball while middle schools use a softer version.

In Japan, baseball team members are given numbers based on the position they play. Low numbers are for the regulars.

Momoe would be called the manager in the U.S. but the "manager" of the baseball team here is Shinooka who is responsible for miscellaneous duties to support the team. Momoe is the "coach" and is the one actually directing the team.

What Momoe does with hitting the ball straight up is translated as "the knock" in future episodes. (Unable to verify used of this term in U.S. baseball.)

Izumi (future centerfielder for the team) looks to be the umpire.

Golden Week is at the end of April. Spring break signals the end of the school year, which starts in April in Japan (see our timeline).

Manga cuts (see manga pages):
Series starts with Mihashi deciding to leave Mihoshi for Nishiura.
Shiga-sensei adds to Abe's fastball and backspin explanation, using tennis as an example.