The little NI-KI who used to play baseball with his dad “at a nearby park after coming home from kindergarten until mealtime” has grown into a member of ENHYPEN who tours around the world and plays baseball with the members. From playing MLB The Show at the agency building, betting on screen baseball, throwing the first pitch at an LA Dodgers game at Dodger Stadium, and performing at Tokyo Dome, the home stadium of his favorite baseball team Yomiuri Giants, NI-KI opens up about the baseball in his life.
The memories with dad
NI-KI: When I was a kid, I saw a picture of my dad in a cleanup hitter uniform. And because the cleanup hitter is usually the team’s most powerful hitter and plays one of the most important roles, it piqued my interest. I remember playing baseball with my dad at a nearby park after coming home from kindergarten until mealtime. I don’t remember how old I was but I got this scar on my leg when I lost balance while practicing in a parking lot by myself to become as good as my dad.
The fun of playing the baseball video game
NI-KI: I don’t really play the baseball game at home but when I’m at the agency building, I do. We have this amazing lounge for artists and there’s a PlayStation. So whenever I need a break from practicing while preparing for recording, I play games one-on-one with the members. I play the baseball game with JAKE and FIFA and UFC games with HEESUNG. HEESUNG won’t play the baseball game because he’s not good at it. (Laughs) I know there are only three of us playing PlayStation, but when it comes to the baseball game, I’m the first, JAKE is the second, and HEESUNG is the third. (Laughs)
The games that came before the baseball game
NI-KI: Only JAKE, HEESUNG, and I use PlayStation and SUNGHOON, seldom, if ever. But there was a time when everyone played Nintendo Switch. We would play a lot of Mario Cart and Animal Crossing New Horizons (ACNH). ACNH helped me get through when I was separated from the members. I was really scared back then and it helped me relax. So, when you feel scared and alone, you know what to play. (Laughs)
The unique charm of MLB The Show
NI-KI: That “I did it” feeling when I hit a homer! (Laughs) Playing a baseball game is about finding the precise moment to hit the ball and that’s what makes it hard. But when the timing, angle, and positioning are right, there’s a particular scene that comes up and that’s what I keep going back for. I wanted to do the character customization but I haven’t yet because I think it will take some time. But if I do, I want to build a player like Shohei Ohtani who can both pitch and hit. There aren’t many two-way baseball players like him.
The dream of the first pitch at an LA Angels game
NI-KI: Some of the members had the chance to throw the ceremonial first pitch at an LA Dodgers game. It was so cool to see the players from the game in real life and it made me want to throw the ball, too. When I first watched the World Baseball Classic, I bought a mitt right away. I thought it was so dope. I also tried training the way professional players do, first loosening up the shoulder muscles with a towel to prevent injuries and then throwing weighted balls for warm-ups. So I really want to throw the first pitch, too. I’m not so sure about the first hit, though. (Laughs) I wish we could do a first pitch at an LA Angels game. It would be nice to play catchball with the players and meet Shohei Ohtani in person.
The appeal of Shohei Ohtani
NI-KI: Baseball is so different from what I do and it’s a sport that I’m not very good at. I think that’s what got me into it. As for Shohei Ohtani, his passion for training and work really inspires me. Being strict with himself, working hard to build up his body, keeping it cool, and being passionate about his job are some of his attractive aspects. Being proactive, of course. And it’s not just for sports. Whenever I see people who can do what I can’t do or have knowledge that I don’t have, like those who build the stage or handle the lighting, for example, I tend to admire them.
The bet between ENHYPEN and the protocol team
NI-KI: We posted a video of us playing screen baseball on Weverse. JAKE, HEESUNG, and I formed the artist team and we had a bet against the protocol team. I even bought a wooden bat for that game. (Laughs) Playing at 90km/h really burned my hands but we did win that day. The MVP was HEESUNG, but just for that day! If you watch “EN-LOG”, you’ll know that I have better speed and control. I’m usually the best player on the team.
The baseball hobby that ended with “EN-LOG”
NI-KI: The recent vlog I did was to show ENGENE how I play baseball and I had been giving a lot of spoilers. I bought the equipment and gear before we filmed and I also showed them how I pitch and how to break in a glove. While filming the vlog, I had to reach the bat speed of 100km/h or they wouldn’t let me go home. We even had a speed sensor. It was really tough but I made it in an hour. (Laughs) But I’m done with baseball for now with the recent “EN-LOG.” I do want to play more but JAKE is tired of it and when my partner gets fed up, I tend to get fed up as well. We used to go bowling two to three times a week and I even got my own ball, but the members said their arms hurt too much and stopped playing and I also stopped playing because I had no one to play with.
The new interest, fashion
NI-KI: If I like something, I really get into it. If I like a certain part of a song or choreography, for example, I'll keep practicing that part I like. In the case of the last album, I liked “Bills” so much that I constantly practiced my part and recorded until I was satisfied. If I love something, I’ll keep doing it. Recently, I’ve become obsessed with fashion. We’ve been named a brand ambassador of Prada. When you go on a tour, you get to take a lot of pictures and you also get a lot of pictures taken. I wanted to look nice in those pictures, I wanted to post more pictures, and I wanted to look good for ENGENE. That’s how I became interested in fashion. And when you study different styles and brands, you learn to tell what looks better on you, so I think I'll be able to give more input for wardrobe fittings in the future.
NI-KI and baseball jerseys
NI-KI: We’re performing at Tokyo Dome this time. I root for Yomiuri Giants, a team based in Tokyo, so if I have time I want to buy a jersey or towel of Kazuma Okamoto. He’s my favorite on the team. The jersey is more of a souvenir, so I don’t really wear it except for sometimes when I practice because I think the oversized fit looks hip and cool. But the other members have been making fun of me, so I’m not going to wear it anymore. (Laughs)
The secret of the wall in ENHYPEN’s practice room
NI-KI: I think this will get me in trouble! (Laughs) It wasn’t while playing baseball; we were playing soccer. There’s wood behind the wall in the practice room and we broke it. You can hear it when you knock on the wall. It sounds different. Anyway, we were all playing soccer together and there was a “snap.” Whoever caused that snap broke it and I think I might have been the one. We were told to be careful, but we don’t play soccer anymore, so it’s okay. I’m getting older and I’m having trouble moving around. (Laughs)
From baseball stadium to ENHYPEN’s concert venue
NI-KI: When we rehearse, we sometimes go to the seats. And when it’s a dome show, we always check if there’s grass or not. It was so interesting. You can find artificial grass everywhere but we can’t use the real grass that they use for the games, so JAKE and I went to touch it. The Summer Sonic Festival we did not too long ago was also held at a baseball stadium, and there was grass in the back. So JAKE and I got off the bus to run our hands through it.
Standing in front of a stadium filled with ENGENE
NI-KI: Since our pre-debut audition show, there were many situations where we had to be physically distant from our fans due to COVID-19. But now we can shout and communicate with ENGENE, so the moments we spend with them feel even more special. During the three hours we perform, the venue is completely full and sometimes I can’t help but become overwhelmed by the sight of it. When I’m on tour, even if I’m not satisfied with a performance or disappointed by mistakes, I try not to think negatively about it. I try to figure out how I can learn from it and how I can perform better next time. Then I give myself some time to process it because I think mistakes and frustrations are part of the growth process.
Unauthorized reproduction and distribution prohibited.