A/N: This story is the basis for a doujinshi I started for Novel Koushien, and wasn't able to finish. As always, I don't own anything Oofuri except for the physical copies of the DVDs. Oh, and now that it's here, let's all celebrate the new season with style!
Shintarou Nishihiro was always a sickly kid. In and out of hospitals with multiple bouts of pneumonia beginning on his third birthday, the doctors told his parents it was due to the fact that his lungs hadn't fully developed before the time he was born. It was in this way that Shintarou grew up watching sports from the sidelines instead of actually participating.
His parents attempted to enroll him in baseball; however, his lack of stamina meant that he became a fairly consistent bench warmer. By fifth grade, Shintarou had given up on trying to be a baseball player, and instead, settled for being an assistant to the coach, helping the real assistant coach with keeping track of statistics and developing drills to increase the team's overall strength and speed. It was in this way that Shintarou earned the respect of his fellow classmates.
Much earlier Shintarou had discovered that being consistently sick was not completely without advantageous side effects, the first being that he made use of his spare time by reading. The young boy read like a fiend whenever the spare time from recuperating stretched in front of him like a seemingly endless and faraway horizon. By the time Shintarou entered first grade, he was reading at a fifth grade level. By the time he entered second grade, he had reached an eighth grade reading level. His favorite books, by far, were ones about baseball players and baseball strategy. It was this extensive knowledge that he brought to his teammates, who became increasingly reliant on Shintarou that, by the time he was preparing to graduate from junior high school, high school players were coming to him for training regimens and eating schedules.
Upon entering high school, Shintarou was thrilled at the prospect of joining a school that didn't have a well-known baseball team. Perhaps this would finally be his chance to become a team regular. Unfortunately, it was not to be, as Nishiura High School had somehow coincidentally ended up with the most undiscovered raw baseball talent in the area.
There was another boy in his class who had followed behind him that first day of school, around the winding path that led to a baseball field partially overgrown with weeds and tall grass. He was a dark-haired boy with a round, jovial face and a bulbous nose that turned up at the end.
"So you were the starting first baseman at your junior high? That's impressive!" Shintarou said. "I probably won't even make the starting lineup of this team." Shintarou said this, not with a self-defeating attitude, but with an earnest smile. The boy, whose name was Kazutoshi Oki, smiled back and shrugged.
"I don't think any of us are supposed to be very good. We're all freshman, right? I wouldn't worry too much about it," Oki told him.
Later, at their summer training camp, Oki would think back on these words with a large amount of regret, as Shintarou was the only player on the team without a starting spot. The night before their practice game against Mihoshi Academy, Oki tried to console Shintarou, leaning over towards his bedroll and whispering his apologies over Tajima's snoring. The taller boy simply shook his head and said with complete honesty, that he was happy to just be on the team.
Following their shocking win over Tosei High School, the two teammates blearily stumbled their way out of the post game meeting, nearly asleep on their feet.
"Hey Oki?" Shintarou asked suddenly, as the two made their way through the rain and towards Mrs. Nishihiro's waiting car.
"Oki," Shintarou said a bit more firmly. "Lately I've been thinking. Is it okay to want to try for a starting position?"
Startled from his exhaustion, Oki looked up at Shintarou, who had stopped suddenly, allowing a fresh coat of rain to soak his uniform.
"Lately I've been thinking," Shintarou repeated. "That before, I was happy to just cheer from the sidelines and, I'm still really proud to be a part of this team, but…I want to be out on the field. I want to actually be a part of what's happening. Do you think, I mean, would it be okay with the other guys?"
"That's kind of a stupid question, Nishihiro. I'm sure everyone wants you to have a starting spot."
"Yeah but…" Shintarou trailed off. He couldn't help but feel guilty at the fact that him trying earnestly for a starting position would mean that someone else would be denied that spot.
"Well…uh, you know," Oki said, suddenly finding the laces on his cleats fascinating.
"If it helps, you don't need to have a starting spot to make a difference. I mean, you inspire me and stuff. Like when I'm up to bat sometimes I think, 'you know who would kill for this chance? Nishihiro, so you better make it worth it for him' and stuff like that." Oki finished by trailing off this sentence and twitching a bit nervously.
"But…why? I mean, I don't really practice any harder than the rest of you," Shintarou said, a bit confused.
"That's not true!" Oki said forcefully. The conviction in his voice made Shintarou step back a bit. Oki colored and continued, taking a step forward.
"I mean, you probably don't remember this," Oki began, blushing even harder, gripping Shintarou's hand fiercely.
"But you were on my team once, a while back. Even though you were always on the bench, we all could see how hard you tried. You were always the last to leave. Then on this team I noticed…you're one of the hardest workers out there. I don't think anyone should feel guilty for something like that."
Shintarou just stared at Oki, his palm beginning to sweat.
"Anyway," Oki said, lowering his voice and quickly dropping Shintarou's hand. "I guess that what I'm trying to say is that someone like you deserves a starting spot. And I'm sure that everyone would agree, so when it does happen, don't feel bad about it."
Oki looked away, back down at his cleats where he couldn't see Shintarou's reaction.
"Hey, Oki?" the tall boy said, standing up straight and looking up at the sky.