Exciting to Watch Top-Tier Ballplayers Pit Power, Skills against Each Other

The 2023 World Baseball Classic (WBC) has begun, pitting nations and regions against each other to determine the world’s top team.

Samurai Japan, the nickname of the Japan national team, are aiming for the championship for the first time in three tournaments, with their first game Thursday night. It will be good to enjoy this festival of baseball to the fullest, as star players from around the world use their power and skills to compete.

In the WBC, 20 teams are divided into four pools, A to D, in the first round. Pool B is based at Tokyo Dome, where from Thursday Japan will play China, South Korea, Czech Republic and Australia in order. The top two teams in the pool advance to the March 16 quarterfinals.

Japan’s immediate rival will be South Korea, whose roster includes several Major League Baseball players.

No doubt many people remember Japan’s extra-inning battle against South Korea in the final of the 2009 WBC, when then Seattle Mariners star Ichiro Suzuki hit a two-run single in the top of the 10th inning to give Samurai Japan a dramatic victory. Japan’s WBC record against South Korea is an even 4-4.

Australia as well is an unpredictable opponent, with balanced pitching and hitting, and its manager having played in Nippon Professional Baseball. The hope is that Japan can gather momentum by beating China with certainty in its first game.

Samurai Japan started training camp in Miyazaki City on Feb. 17, playing a series of send-off and tune-up games. Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels hit tape-measure, towering home runs, and the Tokyo Yakult Swallows’ Munetaka Murakami and other sluggers from the NPB’s Central League and Pacific League have been rounding into form.

Japan won consecutive WBC tournaments in 2006 and 2009 by playing small ball, making full use of their running skills and sophisticated hitting techniques that do not rely solely on power. With decisive games played within a short period of time, the emphasis on pitching with defense and subtle techniques playing a role remains unchanged. For this year’s event, however, Japan has a lineup that will be able to compete favorably even in a slugfest.

Carrying the Hinomaru national flag in their hearts, the players are already prepared to fight as one. Hopefully, they will fully demonstrate their abilities against the United States and other powerhouses and show the world the high level of baseball in Japan.

According to a nationwide survey by The Yomiuri Shimbun, a record 69% of respondents said they were “interested in the WBC.”

The WBC is being held for the first time in six years after being postponed for two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year’s event will hopefully provide an opportunity to regain some of the normalcy that has been lost.

At Tokyo Dome, spectators will be allowed to vocally cheer for their favorite teams and cheering squads can play their musical instruments, actions that had not been allowed for three seasons in professional baseball in Japan. For the fans at the stadium, there will be no greater joy than to be able to cheer out loud.

After the WBC, the Pacific League opens its season on March 30 and the Central League will do so on March 31. It is hoped that the WBC will make many children want to play and watch baseball.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 9, 2023)