At the end of the first season of Oofuri, we left Coach Momoe and the ten boys on her Nishiura High baseball team savoring a hard-won victory against a stronger team in their first summer tournament. But rather than sharing responsibilities jointly with his battery-mate, Abe the catcher is more or less using Mihashi the pitcher (or really, Mihashi’s accurate throwing arm) as an extension of himself. Abe has expressly forbidden Mihashi to shake off any of his signs, and in return has promised Mihashi never to be sick or injured during their three years of playing together. While this ill-fated exchange seems to help Mihashi gain self-confidence, it cannot be healthy for the long term. Another weak point is that Nishiura’s bench is occupied by a single reserve player, Nishihiro Shintarou. While he is surely improving, Nishihiro seems a long shot for a starting position anytime soon. As if this weren’t enough, each game that Nishiura plays amounts to more data for their future opponents.
To guess that Nishiura must lose a game sometime during the second season of Oofuri neither requires much talent at guessing, nor constitutes much of a spoiler. Near the end of this losing game, after Abe has been injured after all, Nishihiro must leave the bench and join his teammates. To his horrible luck, Nishihiro comes up to bat at the bottom of the ninth inning, with two outs, and his team behind by a convincing margin. Terror written all over his face, Nishihiro rises to face the opponents’ closing pitcher, as Coach Momoe gives him the signal: Omoikkiri futtekinasai! “Get out there and swing with all your might!”
The outcome of Nishihiro’s at-bat is all too predictable, but we must not overlook the courage it took for him to try his hardest in facing this outcome. When the Nishiura team runs over to the stands to thank their fans and the cheering squad for their support, the look of courage on team captain Hanai’s face is too important to miss, cartoony as it may be. Meanwhile, standing next to Hanai, Nishihiro understandably needs all his remaining strength just to hold it together for a few more seconds.
Many would say that courage involves “reaching within” to find the strength to achieve at our best level, in spite of our fear. To Christians, this idea is at best incomplete. We Christians see courage not only as a good character quality that we must strive to acquire and cultivate, but also as a gift bestowed on us as we depend on God to provide it, at those times when (however figuratively) our legs feel leaden as we rise to face a challenge that we may not avoid or flee. “When I am afraid,” said David to God in Psalm 56:3, “I will put my trust in you.” There is no contradiction in saying that courage involves both a reaching outward in faith toward the one who can make us stand, and a reaching inward to do our level best. Yes, faith in a sovereign God who is able to deliver us is important, and the God in whom we place this faith is the most important of all, but this does not relieve us of the responsibility to excel for his sake.
Courage to try one’s hardest in the face of scant odds. Loss in spite of that courage. And yet, coming out of that courage and that loss, the hope for renewal. When Mihashi and Abe had a long-overdue talk after the game, I couldn’t have been more surprised to see Abe not only apologizing to Mihashi for his part in the ill-conceived agreement they had made, but also doing so while bowing in the style of his culture. Mihashi and Abe decide to work together in a new way, based on not dependence but interdependence: “I’ve always relied on you, Abe-kun. I’ll try my hardest, so please, rely on me too!”
Whatever our individual perspectives may be, the applications to our own lives seem pretty easy to draw out. Who has not experienced heartbreaking losses in spite of one’s best efforts? Who does not need courage to face those times when such losses seem imminent? And who does not depend on cherished and trusted friends while trying to grow after experiencing these losses (for losses in life are inevitable)? As for me, I’d never have expected to learn so much from this oddball group of boys, and animated ones at that. Put me down firmly in the category of those who hope for a third season of Ookiku Furikabutte, to see how a new kind of battery will lead this baseball team.