|Seeing Haruna Motoki brings up a bunch of old memories for Abe Takaya, who has very conflicted feelings towards this pitcher that he insists on calling "the worst." This game marks our first introduction to some of the key players at both Kasukabe and Tosei, who are watching the game from the stands. Nakazawa Rio, the freshman backup catcher at Tosei, is upset to see that Haruna is not the starting pitcher, and Tosei's ace Takase Junta teases Rio about this, and we learn that Rio's brother Nakazawa Roka had unsuccessfully attempted to recruit Haruna to the team he himself coaches for-- Bijou Dai Sayama. In fact, it soon becomes clear that Haruna has qualities as a pitcher that are very different from Mihashi-- fast where Mihashi is slow, sloppy where Mihashi is precise, and arrogant where Mihashi is shy and self-effacing. It quickly becomes clear to Mihashi that Haruna is actually a very good player, and so Mihashi wonders (a bit apprehensively) why Abe would call Haruna "the worst."
Second baseman Sakaeguchi Yuuta proves to be the key that gets Abe to open up to Mihashi about his past. It turns out that Haruna had gone through some trauma himself before coming to the Senior league, and was initially very harsh and rude to both his teammates and coaches, setting terms and conditions under which he would pitch for the team. He "strictly" set for himself a pitch count limit of 80 pitches per game, per day: a statistic that leaves Tajima Yuuichirou stunned and amazed when he hears it (and gives him a new catchphrase which he will presumably carry to his grave). Despite Haruna's prickly attitude and propensity for laughing at Abe's bruises, Abe felt he and Haruna made a good team until a fateful day where Haruna's strict pitch count and refusal to follow signs arguably lost their team an important game-- and causes Abe to lose respect for Haruna, possibly forever. Upon hearing this sad tale, Mihashi realizes that he is now Abe's pitcher, and that it is incumbent upon him not to make Haruna's mistakes, for Abe's sake.
Following the prefectural match, which Musashino wins 4-3, Haruna tries to run down his former catcher, because he had something he wanted to tell Abe, but is unable to find him. Haruna's childhood friend and current backup catcher Akimaru Kyouhei reflects on Haruna's past, and is grateful to Abe for the hard, painful times that Abe went through with Haruna, because it is to Abe's credit that Haruna is now able to pitch naturally once again.
After returning from the game, and after Mihashi resolves to be Abe's pitcher, Coach Momoe says that the team is still missing something and asks them to guess what that might be. Without hesitation, Abe says "another pitcher." Mihashi instantly becomes stressed about this, thinking that this is a vote of no confidence and that it is a sign that he is about to be replaced as the team's ace, but Abe points out that at least two pitchers will be required going into the grueling days of summer, when practice matches are schedules two a day, and because relying on only one pitcher leaves the whole team vulnerable if that pitcher gets injured. To cheer Mihashi up, Tajima writes a #1 on the back of Mihashi's jersey with black magic marker, and tells Mihashi that "number one is yours, so wear it on your back always." This is enough to appease Mihashi, and so it is determined that Hanai (who has a strong right arm) and Oki (who has some experience as a lefty pitcher) will be Mihashi's pitching backup. Abe also needs backup, and although Tajima is initially reluctant, Coach Momoe is able to convince him to act as backup catcher. This stresses out Mihashi even more than the thought of not pitching himself, though, so Abe promises Mihashi that he will pitch for Mihashi in every game for the next three years, rain or shine, and furthermore promises never to get sick or injured during that time period. At the end of the day, Hanai is named team captain, to the universal agreement and acclaim from his teammates.
The bonus chapter "The Basic of Basics" gives us even more background information on Haruna, and introduces us more fully to Haruna's senpai, Kaguyama Naoto, a pitcher with self-esteem issues who was about to quit Musashino's baseball team until Haruna and team captain Ookawa were able to help convince him to change his mind.
|This volume starts out at team practice, with Nishiura's bench reliever Nishihiro Shintarou making his first catch of a fly ball from left field. Team manager Shinooka Chiyo accidentally runs into a dazed Mihashi, and we learn from her that today (May 17th) is Mihashi's birthday-- she cheerfully wishes him a happy birthday.
At the end of the day's practice, coach Momoe rounds up the team and reminds them that although they've all been doing well in their practice matches, there is still something just as important that the team must accomplish: passing their classes. It is not only the end of spring but the beginning of test week, and Coach Momoe reminds them all that studying is important, and seeks to find out who amongst them all is struggling in their classes. It turns out that Mihashi and Tajima are struggling in everything. In his role as team captain Hanai decides that the team should all get together after practice to study. Nervously, eagerly, Mihashi offers to allow the entire team study at his house, without informing them that it is his birthday (Shinooka is the only one who knew).
At Mihashi's spacious home, the team sets up to study, but before they can get started Mihashi's mom shows up with a lot of food, mistakenly thinking that this was supposed to be a birthday party and not a study session. Awkwardness ensues, until Tajima breaks in and cheerfully pronounces that they will light the candles and have a party anyway. Relieved and grateful, Mihashi ends up suggesting that they celebrate on behalf of Suyama Shouji (shortstop) and Hanai too, whose birthdays have already passed. This cheerful interlude ends with Abe having Mihashi show the rest of his teammates the true nature of his unbelievably accurate pitching control, using the pitching target in Mihashi's backyard to demonstrate. Everyone is impressed with how Mihashi can unerringly hit any of nine spots on the target at command, and an excited Tajima proclaims "let's go to Koshien!" For the first time ever, Mihashi exhibits the confidence to say "I want to go!" in return.
After the rigors of test week, which thankfully everyone from the Nishiura team passes, it is now time for the summer Saitama Tournament Lottery. This lottery is a way to randomly determine which teams play where in the bracket; only the best teams are "seeded," which means that they are spread out evenly amongst the bottom branches of the bracket to give everyone a more or less even chance in terms of whether or not they will come up against the powerhouse teams early on in the tournament. When the Nishiura team arrives at the lottery, they notice that many of the boys there are significantly taller than them all, which is only natural since Nishiura's team is composed only of freshmen players since this is their first year competing. Sakaeguchi, who suffers from nervous diarrhea, excuses himself to go to the toilet, and Mihashi joins him because he has to pee. While in the bathroom Sakaeguchi suffers the tragic fate of being in a stall without toilet paper, and so asks Mihashi to find him some. In his quest for toilet paper, Mihashi ends up accidentally running into Haruna (literally), and Haruna is first very irritable with him until Akimaru (who is with him) cuts in to mediate. This marks the first time Mihashi talks to Haruna.
Haruna learns that Mihashi is the pitcher who is currently working with Abe, and with a palpable sense of victory pats Mihashi on the shoulder and urges for them both to do their best. Mihashi is oblivious to the condescending undercurrents of Haruna's proclamation and so excitedly thinks to himself "... such a good person...!" When Akimaru finds out that Mihashi's teammate requires toilet paper, he calmly volunteers himself for the task, going to the girls' bathroom next door and asking the girls inside to give him some toilet paper. So far Akimaru is on record as probably the only male baseball player who is known to be confident in approaching strange girls and asking them for toilet paper. This makes him a "good person" too, according to Mihashi's calculus, and both Haruna and Mihashi are joined in their respect of this amazing act of manly indifference.
When Sakaeguchi and Mihashi meet up with the rest of their team, who are now all gathered in the auditorium awaiting the start of the lottery, soon the music starts and we see Kasekabe, Tosei, Musashino in the crowd along with Nishiura. This is also the first time we are introduced to two other big powerhouse teams in Saitama, Senda and ARC. Senda are currently the number one seeded team, and apparently all the team members have shaved their heads for the occasion. We hear this discussed by various ARC team members. Freshman pitcher Ootagawa of ARC makes his first appearance, grumbling about Senda and seeming resentful of their successes. We also meet catcher Yoshida from ARC, and he seems to be pretty loud. Izumi Kousuke, Nishiura center fielder and switch hitter, notes nervously that the ARC team are sitting right behind them. Izumi asks Mihashi if he's ever heard of ARC, and Mihashi says he has. Izumi then gives Mihashi some information about ARC, saying that this year's new recruits are reputed to be the worst they've had in a decade, although no one knows for sure if this is true yet. Izumi tells Mihashi that Ootagawa is famous for beating the Kanagawa champions in the Kantou semi-finals, back when he was a middle schooler. Sakaeguchi then wonders if Mihashi has heard of Senda, and Tosei, and tells Mihashi that Tosei went to Koshien during the last summer's tournament. We also learn that Kasukabe, Bijou Dai Sayama, and Koshigawa are all doing well this year-- as well as Musashino, a fact which causes Mihashi to first drool and then bolt upright in his seat, shouting "Haruna-san!" This is where he reveals to everyone that he met Haruna in the toilets, and tells them about his "pact" with Haruna for them to both do their best. Abe is very disdainful when he hears this, since he doesn't believe Haruna is capable of working hard.
Eventually Hanai goes up for the draw, and he gets Tosei, the powerhouse team we just learned about. Izumi thinks that this is bad luck, and that they are destined to lose in the first round, but Coach Momoe practically reads his mind and rather strongly disagrees. Most everyone is intimidated but Tajima thinks they will win, and Abe says that even though it would be hard, he thinks they can win too, with Mihashi's breadth and accuracy of pitches, presuming they work hard and research Tosei closely. Coach Momoe points out that the difference between a strong team and a weak team isn't in facilities, grounds, or even number of players but rather in how hard they work for it. If Nishiura wants to win, they will need to practice very hard, starting at 5am and going to 9pm, making time for class and studying and resting throughout the day. Everyone is a little intimidated but agrees.
With Tosei, some of the members suggest that since Nishiura is a team composed only of freshmen that maybe they can get by only fielding their second stringers, but team captain and catcher Kawai Kazuki wants them to be under no illusions: everyone will prepare the same way as always, and only the best players will be on the field, the same as always. He refuses to take anything for granted, and intends to take this match seriously. He says that this will be their path to victory.
After the lottery is over, the team returns to the clubhouse, and meet up with one of the people who is in class together with Tajima, Izumi, and Mihashi: a boy named Hamada Yoshirou. Hamada offers to start a cheer squad for the baseball team, and it is revealed that he used to know Mihashi back when he and Mihashi were in grade school and lived together in the same old, creaking apartment complex. Hamada remembers Mihashi from back them, but never said anything before because he wasn't quite sure about his memories since it was from so long ago. Mihashi originally didn't remember Hamada, but when prompted with the name of their old apartment complex, his memories come rushing back and we see that was where Mihashi first learned to love the game of baseball.
The next morning, Hamada joins up with the team for practice and there is another session on meditation, and the team learns about relaxation and conditioning, and they decide to create an automatic relaxation trigger based on the idea/sight of a runner on third base.