As True Team, Samurai Japan Climbed to Glory Atop Professional Baseball

Top players on teams in Japan and the United States came together as one to take home the championship trophy. It was a two-week period in which the attractions of baseball have been fully enjoyed.

Japan’s national team, Samurai Japan, came out on top in the 2023 World Baseball Classic (WBC), which pits nations and regions against each other to determine the world’s best team.

The final against the United States, which featured a star-studded lineup of Major League Baseball players, was a white-knuckle contest. Japan gave up the first run early in the game, but Samurai Japan took control on home runs by Munetaka Murakami of the Tokyo Yakult Swallows and Kazuma Okamoto of the Yomiuri Giants, fending off the aggressive U.S. offense by making steady pitch after steady pitch and playing strong defense.

In the ninth inning with Japan holding a one-run lead, Los Angeles Angels two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani took the mound as the closer. With two outs, Ohtani faced slugger Mike Trout, his Angels teammate, and struck him out swinging to end the game in the best possible way.

Throughout the tournament, Japan showed that its pitching staff and lineup are among the best in the world. Each member had his role and thoroughly played with zeal. This was truly a victory through teamwork. The players, manager, coaches and other staff deserve a round of applause.

At Tokyo Dome, Samurai Japan advanced without a hitch through all four games in the first round and the quarterfinal against Italy.

In the United States for the semifinal against Mexico, Japan trailed throughout the game. In the bottom of the ninth inning, however, the struggling Murakami smashed a two-run double for a dramatic come-from-behind sayonara victory.

This was Japan’s third WBC championship following triumphs in 2006 and 2009. With each tournament, the playing ability and skills have risen among the participating countries and regions and the players appearing in the games. Victory this time must have been exceptional for Samurai Japan because they reached the pinnacle of the WBC after defeating other baseball powerhouses.

The way the Samurai Japan players, who are usually rivals, carried the Hinomaru national flag in their hearts as they aimed for the championship struck a chord with the public, and made for high TV ratings as well. As the final was played on a weekday morning Japan time, many people were probably too anxious about the outcome to get any work done.

Teams in European countries in which baseball is not so popular also put up a good fight in this tournament. The Czech Republic, which Japan faced in the first round, played with vigor and enthusiasm despite the fact that the players are mainly amateurs, giving the impression that the sport has been broadening its base around the world.

The manager of first-time semifinalist Mexico, Benji Gil, said after his team lost to Japan that the excitement created from the game meant “the world of baseball won today.”

This tournament apparently provided an opportunity to show the world again the appeal and fun of baseball. The hope is that the children in Japan who saw Samurai Japan in action will become more passionate about the sport, and that future players for the Samurai will emerge from among them.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 23, 2023)