Koshien Stadium’s “Nightingale Announcer” Kayo Mizutani’s Last Call
by Mayumi Doi
“Batting first, third baseman, Nishioka.” It seems like that beautiful voice and smooth cadence have been echoing throughout Koshien Stadium since ages ago. May 10th. That day marks the final day of working as “nightingale announcer” (uguisu jo) at Koshien Stadium for Kayo Mizutani.
“Just stay calm and don’t make any mistakes. This is just like any other day, I kept telling myself. If I didn’t, my voice would have betrayed me,” explained Mizutani, the woman with the beautiful voice, as the curtain fell on her 15-year career as Koshien Stadium announcer.
Life-Changing Announcement at Koshien
Mizutani hails from Ishikawa prefecture and was a clubhouse manager for her high school’s baseball club. One of her jobs was to announce during games, but she didn’t consider broadcasting as a career at the time. Rather, she felt like she had been forced to do it. She vaguely hoped to find a baseball-related job in the future, but announcing was not one of the options she had in mind.
But in her final year of high school just before the summer tournament, that fateful encounter took place. Once every three years, Ishikawa prefecture would invite the Koshien Stadium announcer to hold a short course. Mizutani, took part in it, but “I knew nothing of the depths and wonders of stadium announcing. But I was deeply moved: ‘That’s what it takes to be a Koshien Stadium announcer! Wow!'”
The announcer who conducted the course was none other than current director of stadium announcers Kayoko Yamasaki. And Mizutani, who until then “had no ideas about my future,” instantly made the decision to try to become a stadium announcer upon hearing Yamasaki’s voice in person.
She didn’t have the foggiest clue of how to become Koshien’s announcer, though. Her first thought was to get a part-time job at the stadium, which she did – finding work as a receptionist, a vendor, and so on. While working, she dropped the hint countless times that she wanted to find work in the field of announcing. “Unless there’s a vacancy it can’t happen. And we have nothing opening up anytime soon,” was the rejection she continued to hear.
Three years and two months into her time at Koshien, the time came. “There happened to be a vacancy, and I was granted an interview.” That was May 2001, and in June she found herself working in the announcing industry.
But this is a rare case. It’s not like there is a clear path laid out for part-timers at Koshien to become announcers. “The timing just happened to be right. I got really lucky,” Mizutani emphasizes. No doubt Mizutani’s passion came across and the baseball gods granted her wish to her.
The One Time My Mind Went Blank
Mizutani’s dreams had come true but she was not able to start announcing games right away. The first job given to new hirees is telephone answering and recording services. You know the recorded playback when you call Koshien Stadium? That one. Also they do announcements outside the stadium. Like when the stadium gates open, cautions, and other public service announcements.
Next is doing the announcements for offseason events at the stadium. For instance, doing in-game announcing for baseball clubs that rent out Koshien.
Then they move on to pro games, but just like the pros, they start on the farm. They pick up experience doing Western League games.
She started taking charge of high school baseball announcing at the national summer tournament, and finally made her big league debut on August 31, 2003. “I can remember it clearly even now. (Shinobu) Fukuhara made the start, knocked in a run himself and won the match. I’m pretty sure it was 4-1.” It was an unforgettable match for Mizutani.
Even more than what happened during the game, she remembers how she herself felt. “When I say I remember, I mean that I remember blanking out.” The fact is, games were much more difficult and complicated to announce back then. During the game you would have to announce sponsorships along with athletes’ achievements, like if the first hit was a home run, there would be announcements for “First Hit Award,” “First Run Award,” “First RBI Award” and “First Home Run Award” and the sponsoring products to introduce. How to put that all together would be up to the announcer and had to be done ad lib. The game is a living thing, and you don’t know what’s going to come at you when. You have to make shrewd and quick decisions.
But Mizutani seasoned her announcements with quick wit and got through it all without incident. “That was the first time I felt like I drew a blank.” But now it’s a good memory.
High School and Pro Baseball
Koshien Stadium is both the home turf of the Hanshin Tigers and the sacred grounds of high school baseball. Is there a difference in how Mizutani announces them? This is what she had to say: “For baseball boys, the high school tournament might be seen as a ‘one shot deal’ and their ‘last chance,’ but it’s not a good idea to think about that too much. I’m usually the type to get emotional really easily so I try to keep level-headed and just make sure I don’t make a mistake with their names when I announce.”
On the other hand, “not making any mistakes with the pros is a given, so I try to use more variation in my announcements with them. Announcing the next batter, making public service announcements and giving warnings all have a different feel to them.” So fun announcements in a cheerful voice, and warnings with a tone that says, “Be careful!”
She also put full attention into improving her announcing techniques to make sure they were properly received by the crowd. “There are actually a lot of things to keep in mind when imparting information. Purposeful inflections, stretching out and shortening sentences, pauses. Putting a pause in front of something really important. Highs, lows, tightness, looseness. Even now I feel like there’s lots to think about.”
Always her own worst critic, Mizutani always reflects on her performance and says, “There’s not a single time I got it all 100% right.” We’re not talking about mistakes that the average person would pick up on, but “I didn’t use the right inflection on this person’s name.” Things only a person of her talent and level would pick up on.
Her master, Yamasaki couldn’t say enough kind things about Mizutani, whose awareness of what it means to be a pro included “looking things up beforehand, revising the script thoroughly and just being prepared. She was reliable for all these years and kept that same eagerness that she had right from the start.”
Fujinami Loved Her Announcing, Too
Soon after Mizutani made her debut with the parent club, word in the baseball world was that “a big name freshman joined the Koshien staff.” Right from the start she gained a reputation for having a beautiful and clear voice. She also held hi standards for herself and worked hard to reach them.
So on the occasion that she heard someone say, “The announcing at Koshien is second to none,” she felt supreme joy as she thought to herself that she had successfully carried the torch passed on to her by previous Koshien announcers.
Tigers pitcher Shintaro Fujinami, “Koshien poster boy,” also has a special place in his heart for the announcing at Koshien. “Even before I started playing high school ball I would come to the stadium and hear her voice. It’s been a part of my life for a long time and has left a strong impression on me. That slow, orthodox delivery and sticking to the basics really appealed to me. The way they pump things up at other stadiums, that’s cool and all but I personally prefer Koshien announcers.” That style that Fujinami loves is the very style that Mizutani longed to emulate, then inherited, then worked hard to preserve.
Mizutani will be on maternity leave for the time being. “I’m really not sure what I’ll be doing a year from now but in my heart it feels like the announcing season in my life has been completed. That is how I approached these final days.” Now, she’s leaving the announcing to her subordinates. She also has an important message to impart to them: “When you’re broadcasting, I want you to do it with the confidence that you’re the best at what you’re doing. If you make a mistake, brush it off. I would be happy to hear that you take pride in what you do.”
It is sad to think that we will not be hearing Mizutani’s voice anymore, but as long as the next uguisu jo carry the spirit of Mizutani in them, announcements at Koshien Stadium will continue to add color to the game of baseball.