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Rob Smaal

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'Samurai Japan' eager to defend World Baseball Classic title

by Rob Smaal (Nov 13, 2008)

They already had a manager, and now they have a coaching staff and a team name. The biggest task remaining, as Japan prepares to defend its World Baseball Classic title, is to line up a few players.

"We will be picking the best Japanese players available," Yomiuri Giants skipper Tatsunori Hara, who was recently named to manage the WBC team, said at a news conference in Tokyo. "Whether they play in the major leagues or NPB is not a factor. We just want the best players, period. The U.S. team will be out for revenge and that will make for a very competitive tournament."

Also at Wednesday's media event, NPB Commissioner Ryozo Kato and the team's senior adviser Sadaharu Oh revealed that Japan's WBC entry would go by the name "Samurai Japan."

"In Japanese baseball, the Bushido code (way of the warrior) is a big part of the game," Hara said. "We really want to play a brand of baseball that reflects Japan."

Hara's coaching staff was also formally announced. Kazunori Shinozuka, who coaches with Hara on the Giants, is the hitting coach; Hisashi Yamada is the pitching coach; Nobuhiro Takashiro infield coach; Tsutomu Ito bench coach; Tsuyoshi Yoda bullpen coach; and Koichi Ogata first-base coach.

On Jan. 20, a preliminary list of 45 potential players will be released and Hara said that 48 players had already been contacted. Just over a month later, on Feb. 25, the final 28-man roster will be announced with the first games getting under way on March 5 at Tokyo Dome.

The Asian Pool A in Tokyo will feature host Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and China; Pool B in Mexico City includes Mexico, Australia, Cuba and South Africa; Pool C takes place in Toronto with Canada, the United States, Italy and Venezuela; and Pool D in San Juan features host Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Panama and the Netherlands.

The top two teams from each group will advance to Round 2, which takes place in San Diego and Miami. The semifinals and final are set for March 21-23 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.

Hara said that as defending champion, Japan will be under immense pressure to perform, particularly in light of the nation's disappointing performance this summer at the Beijing Olympics, where they finished out of the medals under Senichi Hoshino.

"This team is like a great ship and I hope to successfully steer it into port," said Hara. "This time, we will be under pressure as defending champions but our goal is the same as last time--to win it all."

Oh, who skippered Japan to victory in the inaugural WBC in 2006, was on the committee that selected Hara as manager. Oh said Wednesday that Hara would have to make some adjustments in terms of scheduling and his mental approach.

"When the WBC starts, it comes at a time when normally you'd be in the middle of spring training," said Oh, who recently retired as Softbank Hawks manager due to health issues. "We almost felt like we had to apologize for asking (Hara) to do this but we also felt that he was the right man for the job. Hara is energetic and outgoing and that will transfer to the players."


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