Ohtani aims for World Baseball Classic glory with Japan
Tokyo (AFP) – Los Angeles Angels superstar Shohei Ohtani said he was “only thinking about winning” the World Baseball Classic title after being named to Japan’s national team for the March tournament on Friday.
Ohtani, who has earned comparisons to the great Babe Ruth for his talent as both a pitcher and hitter since his meteoric rise to stardom in Major League Baseball, will make his World Baseball Classic debut after missing the 2017 due to injury.
The 28-year-old was one of the first 12 players announced by Japanese manager Hideki Kuriyama, along with veteran San Diego Padres pitcher Yu Darvish and 21-year-old national sensation Roki Sasaki.
The quadrennial World Cup-like tournament, which will be held in Japan, Taiwan and the United States, is taking place for the first time since 2017 after delays due to the pandemic.
Japan has won the title twice since the competition began in 2006 and Ohtani said it had been “a dream” to take part since watching the tournament grow.
“I was playing baseball in school and I think that’s when you enjoy it the most,” Ohtani, the 2021 American League MVP, told reporters in Tokyo.
“It was so exciting to see the best players in Japan playing together as a team against the best in the world.
“Now that I’m in this position, I want to show people what I can do.”
This year’s World Baseball Classic promises to be a stronger competition than in previous years, with several Major League Baseball stars announcing their intention to participate.
Ohtani’s Angels teammate Mike Trout will lead what will likely be a star-studded American team, with Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Mookie Betts, two-time All-Star Pete Alonso and MVP of the National League 2022 Paul Goldschmidt.
Ohtani said he “didn’t expect so many top players to be involved” and is enjoying the challenge.
“It’s not just the United States, other countries have also called up the best players,” he said.
“It will be difficult, but I want to give everything for Japanese baseball.”
The competition will be divided into four first-round groups of five teams, with eight teams advancing to the next round.
The tournament then becomes an elimination competition, with the semifinals and final in Miami.
Japan has won the title twice before, while the Dominican Republic and the United States have won it once each.
© 2023 AFP
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