WBC competition is no mere exhibition for Japan
J Sports, a satellite television station, was granted behind-the-scenes access for the contests and the footage illustrated the degree of seriousness with which Samurai Japan approached practice.
Kokubo implored his team play fundamentally sound baseball.
“If you fail to do it in these four games, there’s no way you’ll be able to do it in real games,” Kokubo said.
The unveiling of lineups had a ceremonial feel, with players gathered around a room, caps in hand, with Kokubo reading of who would bat where.
“First, short, Sakamoto.”
“Second, center, Akiyama.”
Japan dropped the opening game to Mexico, resulting in a level of self-reproach that would seem strange almost anywhere else.
“Pitiful,” first baseman Sho Nakata said.
Nakata, who batted cleanup, was 0 for 4 with a walk.
“I’m upset I was unable to respond to expectations,” he said.
A quick reminder: This was an exhibition game in November.
Nakata showed up early to the stadium the next day for additional work in the batting cages.
Aoki also made certain he would be ready to play. Major league veterans typically play only a couple of innings at the start of spring training, but Aoki showed up to the Houston Astros camp asking Manager A.J. Hinch to play him as much as possible. Aoki played seven innings and made four plate appearances in the Astros’ exhibition opener.
The Japanese are 6-0 in this WBC. Their baserunning is sharp, their fielding is clean and their relays are efficient.
Then again, it’s not as if the players think they have much of a choice.
The pressure back home is intense. Nearly 30% of television sets in the country showed Samurai Japan’s games in the first two rounds of the tournament.
The other semifinalists want to win. Japan has to.
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