I never used to think I was good at fielding
Yoshioka : Nice to meet you, Mr. Kikuchi. I’m Riho Yoshioka. Welcome back to Tokyo. [laughs]
Kikuchi : Thank you very much.[laughs] Yes, I’m back in my hometown.
Yoshioka : Do you often come back to Tokyo?
Kikuchi : Not really. I cannot make it back so often, maybe just once a year for the New Year’s holiday. I mostly stay in Hiroshima.
Yoshioka : Well, that’s quite understandable. To tell you the truth, my father is from Hiroshima.
Kikuchi : Is he really?
Yoshioka : Yes. So when your team, Hiroshima Toyo Carp, won the Central League pennant for the first time in 25 years, my whole family and relatives were so excited. I was in Tokyo at that time and when I saw so many Carp fans celebrating the victory, I thought that was very typical of them. Very heartwarming.
Kikuchi : I know that Carp fans are very enthusiastic, sometimes too much, aren’t they? [laughs]
Yoshioka : They are all very supportive, aren’t they? They cheer every single play of yours, right?
Kikuchi : Yes, but in my case, whether I’m standing in the batter’s box or fielding, I’m actually so focused on the pitch, that I hardly hear the cheering or anything at all.
Yoshioka : Are you saying that you don’t hear the sound of a ball hit by a batter while fielding?
Kikuchi : No, nothing.
Yoshioka : That means that you just use your eyes and other senses to judge the situation, right?
Kikuchi : I use my senses and also rely on the data of the batter. Depending on the batter’s vibe and the type of pitch, I change my defensive position within one or two steps.
Yoshioka : That movement and judgement are the results of hard training, right?
Kikuchi : Of course, training is very important, but what is more important is to play constantly. Well, that’s what I believe. You will know the flow of the game, such as whether you can or cannot afford to allow a score, only when you consistently play in real games. I think that there are so many things that you can’t learn from just training.
Yoshioka : I thought you underwent series of hard trainings again and again to reach that level. But in fact, there is more than just training that made you become such a star player, right? Whenever I watched your fine play, I got very excited and truly wondered how on earth you could deliver such an excellent performance.
Kikuchi : Actually, I never used to think that I was good at fielding. I just started feeling confident after winning the pennant in 2016. Before that, I was happy if I was simply assigned to play in a game. I was just focusing on my play, pursuing my best performance.
Yoshioka : I really understand what you are saying. I think the only thing I can do at acting is just focusing on each scene. Everyday efforts lead to the performance of today, right? In my case, it is impossible to create a piece of work if there is no support from others, so I always bear in mind that there are so many people involved and never forget to show my gratitude to them. There may be something in common between acting and baseball, because I think that playing baseball also requires many people to be involved as a team.
Never give up hope and stay positive
Kikuchi : I try to loosen things up in the team and cheer my teammates up by, being the life of the party. For instance, when the team loses a game, sometimes we feel gloomy on the next day. So I try to change the mood, playing pranks and poking fun at my teammates.
Yoshioka : What kind of pranks do you play on them?
Kikuchi : Well, I play classic pranks like spraying something stinky in the gloves that my teammates are going to use in the game. I often play those kinds of pranks.［laughs］
Yoshioka : How dare you! ［laughs］
Kikuchi : I know, but then, the distance between the teammates gets closer. I am a kind of a person who pays attention to and cares about others, to create a good mood and make better communication.
Yoshioka : You simply care about the teammates too much, to the extent that you play pranks… You are like a big kid, aren’t you? ［laughs］
Kikuchi : Maybe I am the one who most enjoys those pranks, but I want to show a positive attitude, encouraging my teammates to chin up. That is my first priority.
Yoshioka : Okay, I will play a prank next time while shooting ［laughs］. By the way, what made you play baseball?
Kikuchi : My father and brother used to play baseball, so I naturally started playing with a ball when I was very little, and apparently, I was keen on that, that’s what I’ve heard. I remember nothing though. And I actually decided that I wanted to play baseball in my second year of elementary school.
Yoshioka : You became aware of yourself so early! When I was that age, I had just started practicing Japanese calligraphy. I really enjoyed it.
Kikuchi : That’s nice, much more ladylike than baseball.
Yoshioka : Well, I also liked baseball and …
Kikuchi : What? You haven’t ever played baseball, have you?
Yoshioka : Not baseball, though I once served as an assistant in a softball team.［laughs］And my brother used to play baseball. Well, would you enjoy doing something a little less active, like spending a quiet time at home?
Kikuchi : No, I don’t think so. ［laughs］I definitely prefer to move my body.
Yoshioka : Whenever I watch your play, moving around so quickly with nimble steps, I simply think that you’re a superhuman.
Kikuchi : I am often called “ninja” but as far as I know, I am a human. I［laughs］’m just playing the best, a human can.
Yoshioka : A-ha-ha! My apologies. ［laughs］When was the most difficult time in your baseball life?
Kikuchi : I remember that the first year of my professional career was tough enough but in the second year, I had my right wrist injured during training camp, even though I was aiming to be named as a regular member. I couldn’t bend my wrist. That said, I couldn’t afford to give up, because I had to deliver results to become a regular player. So I had quite a tough time then.
Yoshioka : You didn’t care about the pain?
Kikuchi : That’s right. I believe that even if I’m in pain, I can keep playing until my body breaks down and refuses to move. So I remember begging the manager, saying “I can play! Do let me play in this game!” And that’s how I became a regular player.
Yoshioka : You are mentally tough! I’m sure that fans are encouraged by your passion and attitude. You once said in an interview, that you would like to play baseball as a professional player as long as your body moves. Your comments were so inspiring. I feel the same way, as I also want to continue acting as long as I can.
I cannot exist without the team and fans
Yoshioka : When do you feel fortunate to have chosen baseball for your career?
Kikuchi : I feel so happy when I see my teammates and fans looking happy. The result of the game means a lot, but I cannot do anything if I have no one to work with, and no one to support me. I know that I cannot exist without my team and fans.
Yoshioka : I totally agree with you. I have the same feeling.
Kikuchi : As you said earlier, baseball and acting may have something in common.
Yoshioka : Yes, I think so too. What is your next goal?
Kikuchi : I simply want to play baseball as long as possible. I, as an athlete, am living in a highly competitive world. Once an athlete gets injured and becomes no longer able to play, they will get fired immediately. So I would just be grateful if I could stay healthy, not getting injured and keep playing.
Yoshioka : Health always comes first, doesn’t it? Acting also requires physical strength, so I am recently trying to do some training. I go to the gym and do weight training… Well, I must say that what I do is much lighter than “weight training” especially as I have a professional athlete in front of me. ［laughs］
Kikuchi : Actually, I never do weight training.
Yoshioka : Really?
Kikuchi : When I use a training machine, I somehow feel my muscles getting stiff and tight, resulting in my body moving awkwardly. So I normally only do core training and exercises that leverage my weight. At the same time, as I get older, I am thinking more about diet control. I used to eat whatever I like and sleep as long as I wish, but now, I think that I have to look after myself properly, to keep my body in a good condition.
Yoshioka : Especially since we have the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, right?
Kikuchi : I want to wear the red jacket of the national Olympic team, although I must say that I very much like the green jacket of Golden Players Club too.
Yoshioka : Of course! I’d love to go and watch you play at the Tokyo Olympics.
Kikuchi : Sure! You are more than welcome. ［laughs］