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A quick chat

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The VHLM season is marching ever closer to the end of the regular season. The Mexico City Kings, home to the player I've been embedded with for the six months, Ryuji Sakamoto, sit comfortably in third place in the Western Conference with 71 points. The Kings are trailing the Saskatoon Wild and the Houston Bulls, who are in a neck and neck battle for conference supremacy, tied at 85 points. The league-leading Philadelphia Reapers sit a single point ahead at 86.


               For his part, Sakamoto sits just outside the top 10 in assists, and 7th in defensive scoring. His bread and butter this year, shot blocking and hitting, both see him still ranked at the top of the league, with a gap of 49 blocked shots and 20 hits. Along with that, he's 5th in penalty minutes, a rather dubious leaderboard, and one of only six players to be above to 100 penalty minute mark.


               One thing that has been bothering Sakamoto lately, however, is his timing. His torrid shot blocking pace has slowed considerably, and with 15 games remaining in the Kings' schedule, there's some doubt as to whether or not he is able to set a new VHLM record for most blocked shots in a season. The current record is 263, which means that Sakamoto would need to resume the pace of five blocks per game, a pace that he was on for the first half of the year.


               "Do you think that maybe you're trying too hard?" I ask Sakamoto, who slouches his way out of the locker room after a particularly grueling practice session. "Not to mention the fact that teams are aware of your shot blocking skills and intentionally pass around you when you're in the shot lane."


               Sakamoto sighs. "You sound like my coach," he grumbles, popping open a can of carbonated grape-flavored soda. He offers me the first sip in a charming if wholly disgusting gesture, waits for me to decline, then downs the entire thing in about ten seconds.


               "Maybe your coach has a point," I say gently.


               Sakamoto sighs again. I don't know if you know anyone like this, but the young Japanese defender can communicate dozens of different thoughts and emotions through his varied sighs. I have no doubt that it is a byproduct of extensive practice. His first sigh said, "You don't have to lecture me. I know what you're saying, I hear and understand your words, but I don't want to deal with it right now." The second sigh said, "I hate taking advice from adults." I'm not sure if he means me or his coach, but it doesn't matter. I'm very curious what Sakamoto will be like when he grows into adulthood himself. In the past few months, he's let slip a few comments about a friend back home, Ann Takamaki, whom he clearly has a huge crush on, but he shut up like a clamshell as soon as he realized what he had said. Idly, I wonder if it would be possible to meet Ms. Takamaki myself, and get some insight into what the rough, blond-haired youth went through back in Japan.


               "C'mon, man," Sakamoto says impatiently, breaking me from my reverie. "I wanna go play Gun About."




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