In lieu of working through my current backlog of anime, I’ve instead been streaming through Ace of Diamond with my family. I’m a fan of sports anime, and enjoy baseball in real life (blame Ken Burns’ Baseball and a man crush on Bob Costas), so it’s a wonder I never watched this series until now. I’m a few episodes into the third season, and it’s been a joy to witness Sawamura, the series protagonist, begint to blossom into a reliable and crafty pitcher.
It’s been a hard road, though. Sawamura starts out all puff and spirit and no skill. There’s talent there, for sure, but the series up to this point has seemed more struggle than success for the would-be ace. Just like many anime protagonists, we root for Sawamura because he’s an underdog who doesn’t give up, whose bluster and confidence both ridiculous and moving. But unlike, say, Naruto Uzumaki, Sawamura is neither superhuman nor able to defeat his opponents by his own hand; he must depend on teammates from his high school, Seido, to play a heavy role. I know, I know, Naruto is trained either methodically or by example from several mentors and he is part of a small team and the larger village of Konoha—but his dependence on others is relatively low and the power from within is what pushes him forward. I can’t say the same about Sawamura.
In fact, Sawamura’s display of indomitable spirit largely even goes away in one arc. After he beans an opposing player, leading to opportunities that eventually cost Seido the game and a continued chance at Koshien, the first year pitcher loses confidence. It takes him many episodes—a dozen or two—before he’s able to regain his swagger (and his ability to pitch inside). Even then, Sawamura must rely on the offense to produce runs, which are ultimately what wins games. And as if to reemphasize his dependence, Sawamura is a terrible batter—he cannot “earn back” the runs he gives up, which is a common thought for several opposing teams’ pitchers.
Recent episodes I watched, near the beginning of season three, elicited joy from me. No sooner had Sawamura once again regained the ability to pitch inside that he learned a new pitch, a change-up, which makes him far more dangerous than he was previously. He stumbles at first, but very quickly uses the new pitch effectively in a game. And the development of a change-up came about through advice from a coach that really doesn’t care a lick for Sawamura in the first place!
When I look at his path toward trying to become the team’s ace, I realize that a lot of things fell just right for him—the right school, the right teammates, the right battery, the right coach, the right recruiter, the right mentors, the right baseball situations. He could, he should be stuck in a dead end in his baseball career, but everything seems to break right, giving him a chance to be all that he can be.
I never participated on any type of organized team sport, but work, certainly, feels likes athletics sometimes. Teams are developed and teamwork is needed to accomplish goals, but also this—one’s career path can sometimes feel like a dead end. At least it felt that way for me when I was in my mid-twenties. I wanted to be the “ace,” but I was stuck in the stands, not even a benchwarmer.
I’ve heard much good career advice over the years, and I’m not going to replicate it here. I don’t think I could give it as well, and honestly, much of it hasn’t applied to me, because like Sawamura, things broke my way very often in life. I believe it was God opening doors that I didn’t deserve so that he could get his work done even through a dumb guy (also like Sawamura!) like me. And so I’ll skip the words of wisdom and offer you a quick story that might encourage you where you are right now.
I had a desk job—much like the salary men of Japan and sometimes anime lore—which I enjoyed for a couple of years. But then it started to drag. I wasn’t being challenged and became bored and disinterested. My production decreased, and I saw no way upward within the team structure. I was ready to leave.
But a job opened at a sister agency that would put me in a leadership role. It seemed like a tiny step up, enough for a peon like me but not enough for my co-workers to apply for. So I did, and with supportive managers, was able to secure the job. The job involved working with a board composed of some of the most extraordinary and caring people I’d ever met, and together we created a wonderful, productive atmosphere. Our agency grew and grew, more than quadrupling our budget, and I soon oversaw a number of staff and earned the title of “Executive Director.” In four years, I went from bottom of the totem pole to top, but the thing is, this isn’t a “hard work will get you places” kind of story. I don’t I earned the accolades and pay that I received. Like Sawamura, blessings came my way—it was the right fit and the right time with the right people, and I benefited tremendously from it all.
That agency, though, was about to head downhill quick due to reasons out of staff control. Another position opened up as the director who oversaw many programs, including the one I was once part of, the one that I’d grown bored of. Again, I wasn’t as qualified as other staff, but applied anyway and to my shock (and everyone else’s), I got the job. Shortly afterward, within days, that supportive board fell apart.
I’ve now been in this newer role for several years and through I have grown a ton, doing more effective work than I ever had (I’ve learned much about how the good work I did as an ED wasn’t nearly as good as I thought it was!) and enjoying what I do. It’s given me so much, none of it truly deserved.
This post feels like a brag, but if anything, I hope to impress that like Sawamura, so much of my accomplishments were hardly my own; they were out of my hands and even happened in spite of me. I see more worthy people around me all the time—many of them work for me. But paths opened and to borrow Dr. Malcolm’s expression, “my career found a way.” Sawamura’s experience and my own have shown me this—possibilities sometimes lie in wait and lead to incredible things.
I just realized that I lied to you—I will be giving you advice, leaving you with what wisdom I have, if it can be called that, with the lessons I learned when it seemed I was trapped but others lifted me up, far up. Here it is: Be open, be prepared, and be encouraged, all you who toil away, for a dead end sometimes just leads us to another, and better, path.
Ace of Diamond is available to stream on Crunchyroll.