Somehow, posting about this topic seems rather well.... topical.
This sub genre of the whole sports pantheon is actually one of my favorites, because it covers a well varied change of POV for each of the four series I want to discuss. The four series all approach the game and those who play it in quite a different fashion, some may appeal to you than others and so depending upon what you're looking for, maybe I can find a match for you amongst these four favorites of mine.
Ookiku Furikabutte – Big Windup!
They vary in style and in drawing quality and for some its all about the individual and others its all about the team. That's what makes them somewhat unique. Do they have flaws, yes they do, but are they compelling, yes... yes they are. Now none of them quite match the moments like the end of Shane (for you youngsters out there, go see if its on Netflix, it'll help explain why your parents and grandparents are closet sentimentalists), well okay, maybe Cross Game does, but they all honor and adore the game and its players and all of the things that make baseball great and people fans of the game.
So lets start with the series that is perhaps truest to the spirit of the game, at least the Japanese spirit of the game.
While its characters maybe the least attractive and the stretch in the actual circumstances to allow the conflict to take place is forced, its not any worse than the usual sitcom lineup on Thursday nights. The pitcher is a neurotic wreck, the catcher is a control freak, there's one blissfully talented player who walks through life without any emotional baggage of any kind and the rest of the team is doing their very best to not fail. The vast majority of them are students of the game. Well schooled in small ball strategies and know what the pitcher is trying to do and where the play is likely to go if and when the ball is put in play. It's actually refreshing to see young baseball players who supposedly know what to do if the ball is hit to them. It sure feels right because it is so close to what I went through as a kid, taking ground balls and fly balls and replaying each baserunning scenario until throwing to the proper base, to the proper cutoff man was second nature. You watch pro baseball these days, its scary how many guys can't do what I used to do out of routine. There interaction here is rebuilding of a pitchers psyche by his catcher and his manager and teammates. While the internal dialogue can be excessive, at least you have an understanding on what everyone is thinking. Very few straw men characters here, even the opponents are given their turn to explain what they are looking for and why. For a person who enjoys that kind of character developmnt and internal insight into a character, this is a huge change of pace, with baseball strategies laid out for everyone to see. Doesn't even mean you have to agree, but you know what the characters know, as such, it feels real. Granted, most japanese High school teams don't have busty single female managers, but this is geared to guys, so I think you have to expect a little fan service and they play our stalwart coach against type, so she's not used as a sexual conquest goal or the like. The sub is fine and now they even have this dubbed as well, with the bonus being that the catcher's voice is done by the same person who had the lead in Beck.
Is a double threaded anime, by that I mean that there are two stories in play, one is the POV of the young lady who helps as a team manager for the baseball team for a struggling group at n inauspicious school. What happens is that she takes this up because of a promise to a sick friend without having any idea on how to actually help a team or understanding enough about baseball to feel like she can make a difference. The second story is how she applies business principals to that of helping to organize the use of practice time and manage the personal relationships that keep a team working as a team and handling the individual problems that arise on the way. It doesn't all work perfectly and there are various missteps and personal conflicts along the way, but we do get to see an analytical approach to baseball, innovation and ideas on how to get the most of individuals while still promoting team effort. The sick friend thread allows for the personal development of our heroine in a cathartic manner that I felt was overplayed a bit, but that didn't take away from the fresh approach the series took to the subject matter and how it blended business with people and understanding that there are choices to be made and not all of them are easy ones.
This is the longest running baseball anime that I know of. It's very Japanese in its approach to character motivations and ideals. It centers around a young boy (Goro Shigeno), who's father is a baseball player who is recently widowed. He finds a caregiver for his son and starts to fall for her but before they can realize their relationship, he's tragically killed by a beanball from an American phenom. She adopts the child as her own and begins to raise him. She falls in love with the best friend of the father and the story follows the boy as he tries to follow in his father's footsteps. We get to see his competitive spirit, his talent for the game and the amount of growing up he has to perform while his natural acerbic tendencies push people away at the same time as his love of playing the game draws people to him. Since this is an older series, some of the voices are extreme,y rough to handle when they start to cross over to english names and concepts, but hell, I can only imagine how badly I would sound attempting to handle the appropriate tonal inflections attempting to speak japanese, so I think I'll do the proper thing and encourage you to not let it bothr you. It's told from the POV of the pitcher's position and goes into great detail about the training and sacrifice that person must endure in order to become a professional athlete and the real obstacles that can be in your way, being outclassed by your competition, culture shock and injury all play a part in the story. Plus there are the interactions with rivals, a childhood sweetheart and the growth and development of his new family. If you dig stories about athletes and the bonds they make with fellow players, trainers, docs and management, then this series could be for you.
Is actually a love story using a baseball setting. Two kids that appear to be meant for each other have a Disney moment and the young girl dies. The boy is despondent, but the young lady serves as inspiration for her younger sister, who eventually pulls the young man into her orbit through the means of baseball. Did I mention that there were four girls and their father owns a sporting goods store and batting cages? The story grows as the two develop their own baseball skills and you have the unspoken relationship building between the two which is rarely spoken of but is like the elephant in the room that no one mentions. There's a boatload of understatement here in regards to relationships and we're treated to multiple stories of love and people expressing their affection for each other in traditional and non-traditional fashion, all the while the team trans for Koshien. It's very high school, but also baseball savvy in an understated way, but less focus on the game other than as a means to an end for the hopes and dreams of our two protagonists.
Thanks to any and all that stumble upon this and your own opinions are welcome.