The Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles have made a habit of winning emotion-packed games this spring following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
Yet other than a pair of front-page feel-good stories, manager Senichi Hoshino said this week that the Eagles have struggled under the pressure.
The Eagles won an emotional victory on Opening Day in Chiba and followed that with a tear-jerking win in their belated return to Sendai on April 29. Hoshino said carrying the banner for the disaster-hit Tohoku region has been a heavy weight for the club to carry.
"What we are going through this season is something no one could have predicted," Hoshino told The Daily Yomiuri on Saturday at Seibu Dome.
"It's been so much pressure, but we have to succeed this year. So many people affected by the disaster have called on us and we have to answer.
"We can't just push it aside and go on like normal with so many people suffering. That would be impossible."
The Eagles, who finished last in 2010, started sinking on May 1. Since beating the Orix Buffaloes in two straight at Kleenex Stadium Miyagi on April 29 and 30, the Eagles lost 24 of their next 38 games and found themselves in last place.
"Prior to March 11, I was thinking so hard all day every day, 'What can I do with this club? How can we make this work with these players?'" Hoshino said. "Then everything just got put on hold."
He said the entire team was pressing too hard, out of a sense of responsibility to win for Tohoku.
"We need an across-the-board attitude adjustment," he said.
By that, he means his players are going to learn that job security in baseball is fleeting.
"Life is about hardship and a player who started [his career] here in this organization doesn't know real hardships," he said.
"Right now, our roster is almost maxed out at 69 players. So if we sign some new players, we have to fire the same number. That's the way it is. And when we do it, some people will understand [the reality of their situation] for the very first time."
Because Rakuten is a young franchise, the talent within the organization does not run very deep. But while depth is something Hoshino can't do much about, it is something he is ultimately responsible for as manager.
In each of his previous managing stints, he took his team to the Japan Series within three years. He said it might take a little longer in Sendai.
"I have to do two things at the same time: develop the players and win, that's the kind of responsibility I've been saddled with," he said.
"This is very hard.
"They tell you, 'You have to develop these players for the future,' so you have to think of how you can do that. And then they say, 'You have to win now.' They dump all of that burden on your shoulders."
Hoshino last managed a club in 2003, when he took the Hanshin Tigers to the Japan Series before quitting due to poor health.
Known as much for his fire, Hoshino longs for a harsher, more businesslike approach to pro baseball--more along the lines of what he sees in Major League Baseball.
"Over there, a manager can rely on the general manager and his staff... I think it would be easier to manage, although results matter more. If you lose, you can get fired in a hurry, but I think that's a good thing, because that's the reality of this life.
"If it were me [in the majors] and they say, 'You're through," I'd say, 'Thank you very much.'
"And I could accept that, but [in Japan that's not the way]."