- Title: JAPAN: BASEBALL: Asian countries preparer for World Baseball Classic tournament
- Date: 5th March 2009
- Summary: KOREAN TEAM PLAYERS POSING FOR CAMERA KOREAN SLUGGER LEE DAE HO KOREAN TEAM PLAYERS POSING FOR CAMERA KOREAN PLAYERS RUNNING IN THE FIELD LEE BATTING CHOO SHIN-SOO, KOREAN PLAYER AND CLEVELAND INDIANS PLAYER, CATCHING AND THROWING BALL KOREAN PLAYERS PRACTICING MORE OF KOREAN PLAYERS PRACTICING LEE BATTING KOREAN TEAM MANAGER KIM IN-SIK WALKING INTO A NEWS CONFERENCE (SOUNDBITE) (Korean) KIM IN-SIK, KOREAN TEAM MANAGER, SAYING: "We're going to do our best this time. Everyone expects us to do well since we qualified for the semi-finals last time." CHINESE TAIPEI PLAYERS POSING FOR CAMERA CHINESE TAIPEI PLAYERS PRACTICING
- Embargoed: 20th March 2009 12:00
- Location: Japan
- Country: Japan
- Topics: Sports
- Reuters ID: LVAB74CFXZZ1MUBUSE8UVBJDZIO9
- Story Text: Tokyo and national baseball teams of defending champions Japan, South Korea, China and Chinese Taipei prepare to face each other off for the World Baseball Classic tournament's Pool A.
A day before the opening game of the World Baseball Classic (WBC), Asia's national teams - defending champions Japan, South Korea, China and Chinese Taipei - made their final preparations on Wednesday (March 4) to face each other off in the tournament's Tokyo round.
Participating teams held training across Tokyo in between practice games with the local baseball teams.
Chinese national team coach Terry Collins says the team expects a tough road ahead.
"We've got a real tough challenge, when we face Yu Darvish, who I think is definitely one of the best pitchers in the entire world. You know, we have a huge task ahead of us." said Collins, referring to the Japan's Nippon Ham Fighters' ace who's expected to be pitching against China on Thursday (March 5).
Some star players like Boston Red Sox hurler Daisuke Matsuzaka, who pitches for team Japan, led the pitchers' training with Japan's Yu Darvish.
Japan, with Mariners outfielder Ichiro Suzuki and star pitcher Matsuzaka, were gathered the in Tokyo Dome - one of the biggest indoor baseball fields in Japan - as they prepared for the long tournament ahead.
Japan were surprise winners of the inaugural World Baseball Classic (WBC) in 2006, Matsuzaka being named the tournament's MVP (Most Valuable Player) before his big-money move to Boston.
A two-time American League batting champion and holder of MLB's record for most hits in a season with 262 in 2004, Ichiro, 35, is continuing to struggle for form ahead of WBC defence.
The Seattle Mariners right fielder's batting woes are showing no sign of improving in front of his home fans.
Ichiro set MLB's single-season hit record and has over 3,000 combined knocks on both sides of the Pacific, but has received broad criticism for his role on Seattle's woeful 2008 team.
Japan will need all their leading players to perform well if they are to emerge from a tough Pool A when games start on Thursday Pool A features Olympic gold medallists South Korea, China and Taiwan.
Ichiro's Mariners teammate Kenji Johjima says the Japanese players are ready to face their Asian rivals.
"We don't know what to expect when it comes to baseball so we're practicing and doing our best right now," Johjima told Reuters.
Johjima, 31, joined the Mariners before the 2006 season after winning seven Gold Glove awards in 11 years with Japan's Pacific League Fukuoka Soft Bank Hawks.
He ranked among the top catchers in the American League (AL), both offensively and defensively, in 2007. He was third in hits (139), fourth in average (.287) and fifth in home runs.
Japan opens its defence against China in Tokyo on Thursday (March 5).
Korea will face off against Chinese Taipei on Friday (March 6).
Chicago Cubs batter Kosuke Fukudome, who is also on the Japanese team, says the team is focused despite Ichiro's trouble at the plate.
"It doesn't matter who we play against whether it's South Korea or other teams. "All we've got to do is to win each game starting tomorrow," said Fukudome.
Fukudome joined the Cubs as a free agent after nine seasons in Japan.
New Japan coach Tatsunori Hara, under pressure after the team's failure to win a medal at last year's Beijing Olympics, promised his players would peak at the right time.
Meanwhile, Beijing Olympics gold medalists South Korea were also geared up to win the WBC championship.
South Korea compiled a 6-1 record in the inaugural WBC tournament in 2006, beating Japan twice before losing to their fierce rivals in their third meeting in the semi-finals.
Japan won the competition with a 5-2 record, triggering protests from South Korea and beyond about the rules, which have since been amended.
Korean slugger Lee Dae Ho and leading pitcher Kim Kwang-Hyun led an hour-long training at Tokyo Dome.
Korean team manager Kim In-Sik says the team is in its final preparation for defending champion Japan.
"We're going to do our best this time. Everyone expects us to do well since we qualified for the semi-finals last time."
The team also said that Cleveland Indians outfielder Choo Shin-Soo may be limited to designated hitting duties against Taiwan in their opening game.
Choo is recovering from elbow surgery and Cleveland do not want him to play more than one game as an outfielder.
South Korea took bronze in 2006 before gaining revenge by beating Japan in the semi-finals at last year's Olympics on the way to winning the gold medal.
Asia's top two teams are expected to advance to the second round of the 16-team competition in the United States.
The Asian preliminaries for WBC will begin in Tokyo on Thursday (March 4).
- Copyright Holder: REUTERS
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