That smiling man up there is Hiroki Kuroda of the New York Yankees. Kuroda's first season in the American League has been a good one—he's got a 134 ERA+ in 16 starts heading into the all-star break. So he has good reason to smile now. But he didn't, way back when, writes David Waldstein in the New York Times. He was subjected to some objectionable stuff. Here's the worst of it:
Summer practices in the heat and humidity of Osaka lasted from 6 a.m. until after 9 p.m. Kuroda was hit with bats and forced to kneel barelegged on hot pavement for hours.
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.
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.
"Starting in elementary school, it was like the military almost," he said. "If you did something wrong in a game, you'll get a certain number of spanks with a bat. The next day, you couldn't even sit in a chair in school.
"When I gave up a hit, ketsu batto. That was my first experience in baseball with a team. In first grade to fourth grade."
There's assuredly a column in how Kuroda's been the best Yankee starter, instead of those coddled wimps Sabathia and Hughes, because of his rough training. We used to make pitchers in America! Get to it, internet.