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Skipper Hara doesn't feel pressure to defend WBC title (and other news)

by Jim Allen (Nov 13, 2008)

New manager Tatsunori Hara said he feels no pressure in his effort to defend Japan's World Baseball Classic title.

"Even though I'm managing in the tournament after we won the championship [in 2006], I don't really feel any pressure. That's just my personality," Hara said Wednesday when he announced his coaching staff for the 2009 WBC.

"As [Yomiuri] Giants manager, it [pressure] is an everyday thing."

Hara put two Giants coaches on his staff, batting coach Kazunori Shinozuka and first base coach Koichi Ogata.

Former Chunichi Dragons manager Hisashi Yamada was named pitching coach, while former Seibu Lions manager Tsutomu Ito will be the overall coach and look after the battery.

Longtime Chunichi coach Nobuhiro Takashiro will coach at third, while former Dragons pitcher Tsuyoshi Yoda, currently an analyst, will be in the bullpen.

Sadaharu Oh, a consultant for the 2009 effort, said a lot has changed since he took over and managed Japan to the inaugural title in 2006.

"I don't recall having a press conference like this when we announced our coaches the first time," Oh said.

"It was more low key, and I think that made it easier. I don't think it's important to worry too much about tiny details. It will be better if we don't think too much."

Japan will kick off its 2006 title defense at Tokyo Dome on March 5 in the tournament opener against China, while its top Asian rivals, South Korea and Taiwan, will go at it the next day in the start of the double-elimination Tokyo Round.

The top two teams will play here on March 9 to determine second-round seeding for the games in San Diego.

Hara is considering 48 players for the squad and expects to present a young team when he announces his roster in January.

"As the commissioner has said, it's time for a new generation," Hara said. "I'll look for young players with speed, power and technique. I want to play a style of ball that will earn the respect of baseball people around the world.

"Of course, I want to win, but to do that, I want to execute the kind of ball we play in Japan."

The team has been nicknamed "Samurai Japan."

"It's a name that we are sure fans here will appreciate," said Nippon Pro Baseball commissioner Ryozo Kato.

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Wyverns aim for top

After splitting their Asia Series games with the Chunichi Dragons last year, the South Korean champion SK Wyverns started the 2008 season with only one objective: taking the club championship trophy out of Japan for the first time.

"Last year, we set winning the Korean Series as our principle goal," pitcher Cho Woong Chun said on Wednesday. "When we won the Korean Series, the manager reminded us that our work was not done."

Wyverns manager Kim Sung Kun, who played high school ball in Japan and coached for the Chiba Lotte Marines, said the Saitama Seibu Lions, would be tougher opponents than the Dragons.

"Their pitchers know what they're doing and they execute," Kim said prior to his team's practice. "Their fielders make the plays and they are aggressive hitters."

Kim said he had hoped to take on the Yomiuri Giants, whose home games are televised in South Korea, although he said Giants first baseman Lee Seung Yeop faced some tough questions recently after going 2-for-18 in the Japan Series despite leading South Korea to gold at the Beijing Games.

"A lot of people were not happy, thinking he [Lee] only gave his all in Beijing," Kim said.

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Seibu coach denies assault

Saitama Seibu Lions batting coach Hiromoto "Dave" Okubo on Wednesday at Tokyo Dome denied charges he assaulted a female acquaintance.

Okubo and the Lions practiced at the dome for the Asia Series, which starts on Thursday, but the coach was forced to address reports that a woman had filed charges against him with police in Shinagawa about the August incident.

"I apologize for having a private matter get in the way of things here, but I did not hit [this woman]," he said.

"The results of the investigation will show the truth."

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Ishii catches on with Carp

Takuro Ishii, a 38-year-old lifetime Yokohama BayStars infielder, has caught on with the Hiroshima Carp, it was announced on Wednesday.

Ishii, who was released after 20 seasons with the Central League cellar dwellers, said he wasn't ready to call it quits.

"Honestly, I'm relieved," Ishii said. "I'm very pleased to have been added to this team as a player it can use."


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