Manager Katsuo Hirata, who leads the Samurai Japan 21U National Team, talked about the 'First IBAF 21U World Cup', that is to be held in Taiwan from November 7 to 16.
----What do you think about the team consisting of players 'under 21 years old'?
Well, first I was a little concerned that they might not get along because the team is a mixture of college students, people with full-time jobs and professional baseball players. However, they are all around the same age, so they blended in the team very quickly. I think wearing the same uniform makes them feel closer to each other, too.
----What did you focus on in picking players?
I believe the pitcher's stamina is the main thing in baseball. I'm glad that Masaru Nakamura* and Naoyuki Uwasawa, who pitch in the professional first team (both Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters) joined us. Also it means a lot that Yuya Yokoyama (Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corporation Kashima Works) and Ryosuke Nomura (Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems Yokohama), two top draft picks joined us too. We've got good amateur players as well. They came a little late because they were still playing their games. Thanks to the great support from the professional baseball teams and a lot of work that different people including Mr. Katori (Yoshitaka), the technical director did for us, we have an excellent team of great players and can focus on preparing for the IBAF 21U World Cup without having to do things like looking for fields to practice on.
----Tell us how you are planning on using the players in the games?
As for pitching, Coach Kiyoshi Toyoda thought it over and made a plan during the camp. The starting pitchers will probably Nakamura, Uwasawa, Yudai Mori (Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles), or Yokoyama. Later we can use Nomura, Takaya Toda (Hiroshima Toyo Carp), or Taisuke Yamaoka (Tokyo Gus). Although Yamaoka is not very tall, he throws very fast straight balls and sharp sliders, the sharpest sliders I have ever seen in years, good enough to be professional, I would say.
As for batting, we'll focus on Kensuke Kondo (Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters), Taisei Makihara* (Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks), Aoi Emoto*(Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles) and Seiya Suzuki (Hiroshima Toyo Carp.) Because they never went against any pitchers of the teams we're going to play in the World Cup, we can't expect a lot of home runs. We're going to need to try to grab any opportunity to move to the next base, like running and bunting while hoping that the pitchers don't give up any runs.
----What do you think of the opponents?
We don't know who we are going to play against till the World Cup actually starts in Taiwan, but we understand we'll play Team Australia, in the first game, who has good players that belong to the Class A League and the Rookie League, which is pretty exciting. We really look forward to playing against them.
----I guess world championships have a special atmosphere that you are not very familiar with.
Probably. I have no idea what it's like and feel so excited and nervous that I can't sleep at night. Ha ha.
----You may be nervous, but you look quite happy.
It's a great honor that I have been chosen to be manager for the 21U Team. I'm so happy and honored because I love baseball and it's always been in my life. The players must feel the same. When I was at the Phoenix League (held in Miyazaki last month), a lot of players came to me and said, 'Why didn't you choose me?!' It's a privilege to be chosen to represent Japan and play in the World Cup, wear the uniform with the Japanese national flag and sing the national anthem at the game, which will mean a lot in their lives as they continue to play ball.
----What do you expect the players to learn from playing in the world championship?
I just want them to feel proud of representing Japan and playing as Japanese players. I want them to impress upon young players from other countries the strength, endurance and skills Japanese baseball boasts of. That's what I told the team.
----What's your goal in the World Cup?
Of course, to win. We're going to need different strategies and tactics for the preliminaries and the finals, but whatever it may take, the only thing I, we all have in mind at the moment is to win the championship at the first World Cup.
* Over-age Player
The First IBAF World Cup
List of 21U Players