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Classic encore/ Rays' Iwamura back & prepared to go distance

by Jim Allen (Feb 5, 2009)

The World Baseball Classic is back and so is Akinori Iwamura. Since missing the final games of Japan's 2006 championship effort due to injury, Iwamura has played two seasons in the majors and been in a World Series.

"Last time I had absolutely no information about America--nothing," the Japan second baseman told The Daily Yomiuri in February. "So in that sense, it's a little easier this time.

"But on the other hand, it may have been a case of not knowing enough to be scared. I think that helped us succeed."

One thing Iwamura knows is that he'll have to be better prepared.

"We won the championship and I was able to cheer on my teammates, but I wasn't able to be on the field with them," he said. "My injury was a result of my own lack of preparation. This time, I intend to go the distance.

"I'm working hard. I find it easy to put on weight in the offseason, so this time I made a special effort to maintain my weight."

Although he had to increase the volume of his workouts in order to be ready for the increased spring workload the WBC requires, Iwamura said his No. 1 priority is the same every year: making the postseason.

"If you're one of the players chosen [for the WBC] you have to plan to play until October," Iwamura said. "Your goal is to make the postseason, to get to the World Series and win that. And that's...why you're working out in the offseason.

"It [the WBC] is like an extra-inning game. If you're aiming just for the WBC and focusing on the WBC, what do you do when it ends? Where does that leave your team? From your club's standpoint, it doesn't matter if you're in the WBC or not. But you have to come back and be ready."

One thing Iwamura is certainly ready for is taking on South Korea, which laid a pair of embarrassing defeats on Japan in 2006.

"I don't want to make this sound like a fight on the playground, but if someone gets you, you have to get them back," he said. "I wonder if that sounds like a child talking about a fight.

"In baseball, if you lose, you have to want to bounce back and win. That feeling is extremely important.

"I'm really looking forward to it. It's going to be fun."

Three years ago, the Koreans squeaked past Japan here and in Anaheim on the strength of a pitching staff overloaded with major leaguers. This time, the shoe will be on the other foot, with Japan bringing five major leaguers and South Korea just one.

It's a far cry from when Japan went into the 2006 with just two, outfielder Ichiro Suzuki and reliever Akinori Otsuka.

Iwamura said that two years in the majors have altered the balance of his relationship with Suzuki and his own place as a source of potential information on the Japan team about major league opponents.

"Now, I think...I have something to say," Iwamura said. "But on the other hand, it's so easy to fill your head with too much stuff. If you just rely on data, you can do that to the point you are paralyzed.

"It's not like you can't hit. If some players come to me, I'll tell them about this pitcher, my image of him, say, 'He'll bring it here.'

"Is that advice? I can give some ideas, some opinions. But to go on and on and on, there's no need for that, because it's an individual thing."

For the second straight winter, Iwamura went to Okinawa to work out with Saitama Seibu Lions shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima. But because no one knows which pitchers they might face, it seemed premature to talk about potential opponents.

"In reality, we spoke most of all about what there isn't much of in Japan--grass infields," Iwamura said.

"I myself have never played in Dodger Stadium or PETCO Park [the respective venues for the final round and quarterfinals], but the parks in America I've seen are similar and the infield dirt seems universally hard."

The slicker major league balls, he said, were another matter of concern for a lot of players--if not for Nakajima.

"The ball is very hard for the fielders, as well," Iwamura said. "There's no real time to get used to it, so you just have to be yourself. Nakajima told me he wasn't concerned about the ball. That's the best thing: not to worry about it. The...ball is different, but it's the same shape.

"Sure, Japanese balls may go farther when you hit them, but once you start thinking about it [the difference], you'll never stop.

"If you're a player like Hiroyuki who says, 'It doesn't matter to me,' then it won't get on your nerves. And not letting things get to you is so important."


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