Tanaka eyes revenge for Beijing Games with old teammate

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Tohoku Rakuten Eagles right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, center, smiles Wednesday in Sendai after learning that he had been selected as a member of Samurai Japan, the national baseball team for the Olympics.

Among the 24 players who Wednesday earned a spot on Samurai Japan’s roster for the Olympics, Tohoku Rakuten Eagles 32-year-old ace Masahiro Tanaka is the only member who played at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Together with 48-year-old skipper Atsunori Inaba, Tanaka’s Beijing teammate who fought hard at the 2008 Olympics when baseball was last played at the Games, Tanaka is now determined to get revenge for the defeat they suffered when the team finished in fourth place.

“I wanted to be selected, so I was thrilled to hear my name called [in the announcement],” Tanaka said in an online interview following a team training session in Sendai.

“It’s my first time to work with Mr. Inaba as a skipper after playing alongside him, so I’m looking forward to it,” Tanaka added.

At the Beijing Games, Tanaka, then 19 and in his second year as a pro, participated in the games as a reliever. Inaba was an outfielder and they did not have many opportunities to exchange words, but they both shared the disappointment of missing out on a medal.

Rejoining Rakuten this season after an eight-year stint with the New York Yankees has enabled Tanaka to participate in the Olympics.

Before the season started, Inaba sent Tanaka an email saying, “I’ve regretted Beijing,” Tanaka replied by saying, “It must be some kind of fate. I’ll definitely do my best to be selected for the national team.”

Despite poor support from the offense Tanaka (2-4) has a 2.90 ERA this season and the righty has shown an increasing maturity in his pitching, which is characterized by his precise control.

Inaba, who describes Tanaka as “a comrade who fought together in Beijing,” has entrusted him with number 18. The skipper has high hopes for Tanaka, saying, “I want him to lead our pitchers.”

Tanaka, a two-time participant in the World Baseball Classic, said “I want to pass on what I know.”

The right-hander, aiming to win a gold medal with his old teammate after 13 years, added, “I’ll have to play, thinking that I myself will be a strength [of the team].”