Japan shines at Classic
By Brad Horn
Japan has proven once again that when it comes to international tournament play, no country performs better.
With Monday’s 5-3 victory in 10 innings over a tough Korea team, Japan defended its 2006 World Baseball Classic crown in Los Angeles at Dodger Stadium, parlaying timely hitting and dominant pitching into victory as more than 54,000 fans roared, chanted and were entertained as a super rivalry reached a white-hot intensity.
After the game, Team Japan stars Ichiro Suzuki, Hisashi Iwakuma and Yu Darvish each donated artifacts to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, which will be added to the Today’s Game exhibit in the near future.
Suzuki, who has been one of the most generous players in history with the Hall of Fame in terms of number of artifacts, donated the bat he used in Round 1 of the Classic. In 2006, he donated his helmet from the WBC.
Iwakuma, Japan’s reigning Cy Young-equivalent winner, donated the cap he wore on Monday. And young sensation Darvish, who threw the first and last pitch of the ’09 Classic, will be sending a pair of spikes to Cooperstown.
After the medal ceremony in the Japanese dugout, Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson congratulated Ichiro, a player he’s been friendly with since Ichiro arrived in Seattle in 2001.
An ecstatic Ichiro said to him, “What an honor it was to play in this game and in this tournament.”
Any number of Japanese players could have been chosen to represent the team in the second Classic. Akinori Iwamura, already a Major League star with the Tampa Bay Rays, pulled off a double “World” feat, with an October appearance in the Fall Classic and a March stint in the Classic. This time, Aki and his teammates are truly world champs.
“That was a tough game,” Aki told me last night as we walked toward Japan’s clubhouse. As one of the few English-speaking Japanese stars, Aki was gracious in helping the Museum acquire artifacts from Darvish and Iwakuma.
In any language, recognizing the incredible team unity and spirit displayed by Japan only furthers the globalization of the game. It will be another four years before the next Classic in 2013, but there’s no doubt they’ll still be talking of this night for many generations to come.
Brad Horn is the senior director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.