Happy New Year! We are just two months away from the beginning of the fifth World Baseball Classic, and it seems like the baseball world is more excited than ever about it! The Samurai Japan team has officially named its first twelve players, and trust us, you won’t be disappointed! All that and more in this week’s newsletter…
First and foremost, Samurai Japan manager Hideki Kuriyama held a press conference with his star player (past and future), Shohei Ohtani. At the conference, Ohtani made it clear that his mission was simply to win, and that his personal role on the team is of little importance. Ohtani will wear #16. Joining him will be:
Pitchers: Yu Darvish (11), Shosei Togo (12), Roki Sasaki (14), Yoshinobu Yamamoto (18), Shota Imanaga (21)
Catcher: Takuya Kai (10)
Infielders: Sosuke Genda (2), Shugo Maki (3), Munetaka Murakami (55)
Outfielders: Kensuke Kondoh (8), Seiya Suzuki (51)
The rest of the 30-man roster is expected to be announced later this month.
Another prospective pitcher for the national team, Kodai Senga (Mets), had a little run-in on social media last week. The 29-year-old ace (formerly of the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks) had requested that his team post him for the past 5-6 offseasons without the desired result. Senga let it all out on social media, blasting his club not for refusing his request, but for not giving him a reason behind their decision. After a few hours, he deleted his tweet, probably because it got misconstrued. He admitted that it is really hard for him to express his true feelings on the topic, and that “Japanese is hard, and I learned how hard it is to express myself clearly on social media.”
The Hawks have gotten serious this offseason, signing free agent outfielder Kensuke Kondoh and pitcher Joe Gunkel (Hanshin Tigers). This past week, they added yet another piece in the hopes of replacing the departed Senga: former big-leaguer Kohei Arihara (Texas Rangers) has reportedly reached an agreement that will pay him ¥1.5 billion ($11 million) over the next three seasons. The thirty-year-old struggled to succeed in North America but will be back in Japan in 2023, looking to bring the Hawks their first pennant since 2020.
Two final tidbits that may affect the fan experience more than the results on the field (or so we think). First, Chunichi Dragons manager Kazuyoshi Tatsunami has ended his one-year ban on players dying their hair or growing beards. When the team re-acquired Dominican Zoilo Almonte this offseason, Tatsunami apparently got to thinking that some foreign players sport beards for cultural or spiritual reasons. Hence, if he were to allow imports to grow facial hair, he could not justify banning it just for Japanese players. It will be interesting to see how players use this re-found freedom and whether or not it affects their performance.
Finally, new NPB commissioner Sadayuki Sakakibara seems confident that there will be cheering allowed at ballparks in 2023. He is hoping to allow more noise in the stands and that baseball will once again be an attractive option for fans across Japan.