Episode One: Dragged by Good Intentions into a Weird Subculture
It all started on a bright, sunny spring morning. Shibuya Yuuri, freshman at K High, was making his way to homeroom in his usual, cheerful manner (how he managed to walk cheerfully is still something of an enigma) when he noticed some sort of commotion at one of the entrances to the school. Curious teen that he was, Yuuri decided to alter his route slightly so that he might see what all the fuss was about.
Upon arriving on the scene, Yuuri discovered that the disturbance was caused by a young man accosting the students attempting to enter the building. On closer inspection, said young man was identified to be one Murata Ken, longtime classmate and casual acquaintance of our genki little protagonist. Now, Yuuri might not have known Murata Ken particularly well, but he’d been going to school with the boy for enough years to realize that waving a clipboard in the face of every student that passed by was not par for the course. Since there were still twenty minutes before class began, he decided to satisfy his curiosity by asking Murata just what he was up to. This was, in fact, a decision that would forever change Yuuri’s life, but we’ll get to that soon enough.
“Shibuya!” Murata exclaimed as his classmate came into view, allowing the third year boy he’d been chatting up to slink away unnoticed, “Do you want to join my baseball club?”
“Baseball club? Is that what all this is about?” Yuuri took the flyer Murata offered and read it over. “Murata, this just says ‘join my baseball club’ on it. There’s no other information! What kind of advertisement is this?”
The other boy gnawed his thumbnail in agitation. “Well, yes, that’s because there isn’t really anything else to tell yet.”
“But it’s going to be fantastic once I get it started up!” Murata barreled on, oblivious. “So, will you join? I’ll make you co-manager, or captain or something.”
Suppressing the unusual urge to tell Murata just where he could stick his flyer, Yuuri suggested that they go talk about this whole baseball thing somewhere that wouldn’t disrupt traffic, and after a little bit of prodding Murata agreed. Yuuri led his classmate to a nearby bench and inquired as to why he’d grown such a sudden interest for the sport in question. “Our school’s not really big on baseball,” he elaborated, “Why would you want to start a team here?”
“That’s exactly the reason why I have to start a team here!” Murata gripped Yuuri’s arm in a fit of excitement. “Don’t you see, Shibuya? The students of this school are deprived of the greatest sport known to man! It’s my duty, my obligation, to rectify that!”
“Well,” Yuuri replied, gently shaking himself free from Murata, “I suppose it sort of makes sense, if you feel that way about it. But, I think you’ll have a real hard time convincing others to take it so seriously. I mean, it’s so boring to watch…”
“Shibuya!!!!” the other boy cried, shocked, “Bite your tongue! Baseball is NOT boring to watch if you know what’s going on, and even if it were, watching and playing are two totally different things!”
“But it seems like you just stand around all ga—OW!” Yuuri clutched his ribs where Murata jabbed him with the clipboard, “well, it does! Where’s the fun in hanging around the outfield all day?”
“Baseball isn’t about running around every second you’re on the field!” Color rose in Murata’s cheeks and his voice became increasingly louder; he jumped to his feet, “It’s about strategy, quick-thinking, and teamwork! Just because it’s not as fast-paced as other sports doesn’t mean it’s not as good, you know!”
A sickening spurt of guilt at his unintentional insensitivity sent Yuuri into a string of incoherent apologetic babble as he stood and patted Murata’s back in an effort to soothe him somewhat. “Hey, I didn’t mean it like that at all, really!” he exclaimed, “I just don’t really get baseball, but maybe you’ll have better luck with someone else, one of your friends or something. I mean, baseball’s so popular here in Japan, surely I must be the rarity, right? I just went and assumed that everyone thought the same way, but that’s really not right, is it? Sort of conceited of me, I gu—”
“It’s okay, Shibuya.” Murata smiled, albeit a little sadly. “You just seemed the type that might feel the same way about baseball as me, so I was a little surprised.” He sighed. “Truth is, it’s not very popular at all in this area. I haven’t had any luck.”
“Well, you just need a little help, that’s all.” Yuuri tugged the other boy back to the bench. “You should get things organized before you start trying to recruit.”
“I’ve been trying, but it’s such a big job for just one person!” He leaned back abruptly with an air of defeat. “All my friends go to different high schools, and I can’t find anyone here with much interest except some of the faculty, and they’ve got no time to be helping me with this.”
Yuuri felt a pang in his chest (assumingly due to sympathy and not heartburn from omelets he’d eaten for breakfast) as he looked at his crestfallen classmate. Our hero had always been rather helpless to resist a good sob story, and Murata’s was a FANTASTIC one, right down to the quiver of his bottom lip. “If it’s so important to you,” he found himself blurting out before he could think about it, “I’ll help you get started. I don’t know much about baseball, but it can’t be too hard—”
“Really?!?!” Murata cut him off mid-sentence with a huge hug. “Oh Shibuya, thank you!”
“It’s no big deal…”
Just then, the bell for first class rang. Murata smiled and stood up. “Well, I’ll leave it to you, then. You’ll be meeting with the vice principal this afternoon at four!”
Yuuri slumped in the bench outside the vice principal’s office. Murata had explained to him at lunch break (after Yuuri had a mild freak out in the middle of the cafeteria about Murata dumping all the work on him) that the meeting was really just a brief thing to finalize the club; Yuuri just had to make sure to take down everything and make nice with the vice principal. “I’d go,” Murata told him, “but I’ve got work after class today. It’d help me a lot if you could do it.” And then Murata flashed him big, hopeful eyes, and Yuuri was trudging off to class with an only slightly irritated “I’ll be there, then.”
And so it was that, instead of playing videogames to put off doing his homework like a NORMAL teenage boy, Yuuri found himself sitting on an excruciatingly uncomfortable bench in the school’s main office at four o’clock in the afternoon with no one but secretary Gunter to keep him company. Considering the man kept gazing at him with questionable intent in his eyes, Yuuri would’ve much preferred to be alone, but he was always one to make the best of things and so he tried to strike up something of a conversation.
“So… how much longer, exactly?”
The man flicked his lavender hair (‘Who on earth dyes their hair lavender, at his age?’ Yuuri mused to himself) out of his eyes before replying. “He’s in there with coach Grantz, which could take awhile, and then he’s speaking to a student about a baseball club, so you’ll probably be here for a good half hour at least.”
“But I’m the one here about the baseball club.” Yuuri could’ve sworn he’d mentioned that when he came in, but the secretary had been reading the sort of book that secretaries are wont to read when the office is slow (you know what kind I’m talking about) and probably didn’t take much notice of him. “So I just have to wait for Mr. Grantz to finish?”
“You’re the one starting the club?” The man was clearly bewildered. “Well, why didn’t you say so earlier? Gunter Christ, Mr. Walde’s personal secretary, I look forward to working with you! I’m so glad to see an energetic young man like you stepping up to revive the baseball club, it’s one of my favorite sports, I was DEVASTATED when it folded year before last, broke my heart!” He shook Yuuri’s hand vigorously and then dropped a thick sheaf of papers into his lap. “Fill these out before you leave, please.”
“Please to meet y—what?” Yuuri stared at the forms, horrified. “But Murata—”
“Skipped out without filling in all the proper paperwork, the rascal!” Gunter clucked his tongue in that disapproving manner usually reserved for schoolmarms and homemakers. “Knew as soon as he came in that he couldn’t be trusted with this kind of thing. Hates work, that boy. But you’re a kind, honest young man, aren’t you? You won’t shirk your duties as soon-to-be-president of a club by blowing off your paperwork, will you?”
There was something dangerous behind the secretary’s smile, and Yuuri figured he’d better agree. He didn’t have anything better to do, after all.
Our hero was halfway through the dastardly pile of paperwork by the time Adalbert Grantz strolled out of vice principal Walde’s office. “Sorry to make you wait,” he said to Yuuri when he spotted him on the bench. “Shibuya, right?”
“Yes, sir. I’m in your fourth period class.”
“Yes, that’s right. You’ve got a good jump. Ever think of trying out for the basketball team?”
That did sound a lot more exciting than this silly sport Murata was so interested in. Maybe…
“Don’t bother, Coach Grantz,” Gunter piped up smugly from his desk. “Shibuya’s our new baseball manager.”
All at once the cheerful expression dropped from the P.E. teacher’s face. “Oh,” was all he said, though the chill behind that single syllable could’ve replaced the school’s aircon for an entire summer. He gave Yuuri a thoroughly disapproving look before he left without a word.
“Don’t mind him.” The Vice Principal’s voice made Yuuri nearly jump off the bench, sending some of the papers in his lap fluttering to the ground. “Don’t mind the forms, either, you can finish those later. Come in.”
Now, Vice Principal Walde was no cushy creampuff of an administrator, definitely not. The man was young, tall and well-built, the sort of physique that didn’t really fit his job description and could easily put a young shitdisturber in his place with a well-aimed glare. In any case, he was pleasant enough (if a bit brusque), so long as you weren’t in his office for Stirring Shit Up, and Yuuri quickly got over his intimidation at the somewhat imposing figure the man cut. They soon got down to business, which mostly consisted of Yuuri furiously taking notes while VP Walde listed off everything from where the club was to meet to how much money they were being allotted to whom Yuuri should contact about setting up games, etcetera. And then the vice principal mentioned a complication.
“Complication?” Yuuri didn’t like the sound of that. Complications were bad. Complications could possibly mean missing dinner.
“Sports clubs generally have a teacher to sponsor and coach.” Gwendal (for why should narration bother with formalities all of the damn time?) folded his hands in a Rather Serious Manner. “However, there are no teachers here with sufficient knowledge of the sport to coach. Professor Khrennikov has agreed to be your supervisor, but her knowledge of baseball is extremely limited.”
“We could try coaching ourselves…” Yuuri said doubtfully.
Gwendal cleared his throat. “Well, I was going to propose that you simply use a volunteer from outside the school.”
“But I don’t know anyone who plays baseball!!”
“If you’d let me finish,” the vice principal gave Yuuri a look that made the boy realize just exactly why their high school had so very little delinquent behaviour, “I’ve already found a volunteer, if you’d like to use him.”
Yuuri kinked his neck all out of sorts as he whipped his head around to see where the voice had come from. He berated himself silently: he really did need to get his peripheral eyesight checked, if he’d mistaken the lean, brown-haired guy standing in the corner for a coat rack. “Oh. Hello.” Idiot. “And, um, you are, er, who, exactly?”
“Conrad Weller,” the vice principal replied for him, “my half brother. He plays for K College.”
The young man stepped forward, arm outstretched, smiling. “Pleased to meet you.”
Yuuri took the proffered hand and shook it, for some reason struck instantly stupid-nervous. “Um, er, ah, me too. Pleased, I mean. To meet you. Conrad. I mean, Mr. Weller. Sir. Um,” he gave the vice principal a desperate sidelong glance that clearly said ‘help’.
“I’m sure he’s fine with you calling him ‘Conrad’, Shibuya,” Gwendal said, a small smile cracking at the corners of his mouth. Conrad nodded his approval. “He’s never liked people treating him formally.”
Yuuri eyed the baseball team’s maybe-soon-to-be coach across the table as he took a bite of his caramel sundae. Why don’t the two of you become acquainted, the vice principal had said. See if the two of you will be able to work together, he’d said. You’re under no obligation to accept him as your coach, he’d stressed, it’s only a suggestion. He hadn’t mentioned a thing about sit in an ice cream parlour for half an hour in awkward silence, but apparently that was part of the deal. At least Conrad was paying; Yuuri didn’t usually like to freeload, but he felt he deserved some sort of compensation for all the work he was putting toward a sport that he didn’t even enjoy, and it might as well come from the affluent college student as anyone else.
“How long have you been playing?” Yuuri finally asked before the silence at their table could drive him completely and utterly mad.
“Since I was six.” Conrad poked at his own sundae absentmindedly. “My mother was in a women’s softball league when she was younger, so she signed my brothers and I up for youth teams as soon as we were old enough. Luckily, we all enjoyed it. Even Gwendal.”
Yuuri tried to imagine the stoic vice principal in a baseball uniform and nearly broke his brain, or so he would claim. “Is that why he’s been doing so much for the team? Because he’s a baseball fan?”
“I don’t think he’s been doing much beyond what he normally does. He mentioned the team and I said I’d be interested in lending a hand, since I played ball here when I was in school. You just happened to need a coach.” Conrad shrugged and took a downright dainty bite of his ice cream; Yuuri wondered if the man even liked sweets. “It was a happy coincidence, not Gwen—Vice Principal Walde’s preferential treatment. He’s very happy about the whole thing, though.”
“Rrthy?” It was hard to talk through caramel topping.
“Yes, really.” Conrad smiled and reflexively dabbed some stray ice cream from Yuuri’s face, an instinctive gesture left over from years of looking after his younger brother. “He might not act like it, but he’s happy. He sulked for a week when the team first disbanded.”
Yuuri laughed (Conrad would have called it a giggle, but Conrad’s not our protagonist and so we’ll call it a laugh). “I’d have loved to see that! Did he pout?”
The atmosphere was considerably lightened from that point on, and the two of them talked the evening away as their respective sundaes melted into ice-cream soup in their plastic cups. Friends, family, hopes and dreams—basically, they chattered on about every subject they could think of except the baseball club. Baseball itself, yes, but the coaching position was never mentioned. In fact, Yuuri completely forgot just why he was spending the day with a handsome college student instead of playing videogames with his brother (also a handsome college student, incidentally, but this is beside the point).
At nine-fifteen, they were kicked out of the ice cream parlour. They were sitting on a bench, waiting for Yuuri’s bus home, when Conrad finally brought up the club.
“Yuuri,” our hero interrupted. “If I get to call you Conrad, you definitely have to call me Yuuri,” he poked the older man playfully in the shoulder, “it’s weird otherwise!”
“Then… Yuuri,” Conrad’s tone was frank and serious; Yuuri’s playful mood quickly dissipated. “I… well, I know that Gwendal said that the decision is completely up to you but… I just wanted you to know that I’d really like to coach this team with you. I’d love working with you, and,” he clenched his fist, “I really think that, together, we can bring K High’s team to the top.”
“I’ll understand if you don’t think it’ll work out,” he said quickly, eyes never leaving Yuuri’s, “I just wanted you to know what I thought. That’s all.”
Yuuri looked away. It was time to come clean, before Conrad got his hopes up about this whole baseball thing. “To be perfectly honest,” he began, addressing himself to the sidewalk beneath his feet, “I’ve never had anything to do with baseball before this morning. It always seemed so… boring. Sorry,” he apologized, “but you can see where I’m coming from, can’t you? Anyway,” he dared glance up, “that’s how I’ve always felt about it. But I wanted to help out Murata, and after hearing him defend it so strongly, I started to think that maybe I was missing something. And after hearing you talk about how much it’s influenced everyone in your family, and everything, I… I…” at a loss, he stared at the ground again. “I’m sure there’s more to it, now.”
“Yuuri,” Conrad exclaimed, and all at once Yuuri was being hugged right out in public by a guy he’d only met five hours before. He probably would’ve been horrified, but he was too relieved that Conrad wasn’t angry with him for not liking baseball to bother.
“If I make you our coach,” our coal-haired protagonist muttered into Conrad’s shoulder, “will you teach me what’s so great about this sport?”
“I promise,” Conrad replied fiercely, “I’ll teach you everything there is to love. Manager.”
“Then I guess I’ll see you at practice.” Yuuri smiled. “Coach.”
And as he waved goodbye to his new coach and friend from the bus window, Yuuri knew that if people like Conrad loved it, baseball couldn’t be as stupid as he first thought.
So our hero’s journey begins…