The Samurai Japan 21U National Team consisting of 24 professional and amateur players aged 21 years or younger, is to play in the 1st IBAF 21U World Cup that starts on November 7. The team had a 5-day training camp in Tokyo to prepare for the big games. Keeping their goal in mind, they made the camp a very meaningful, fruitful one. They especially learned a lot from the warm-up matches that they had on the 3rd and 4th against the Yomiuri Giants Farm Team.
Masaru Nakamura* (Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters), whom manager Katsuo Hirata put on the top of his pitcher list, started the match on the 3 rd. He gave up one hit but no runs in two innings against the Giants' powerful first team batting line-up using his high and low pitches at will. He had eight wins this season. He proved himself in this match too. The second pitcher was Naoyuki Uwasawa (Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters), who also had eight wins this season. Manager Hirata has high hopes for him too. He gave up two hits but no runs and struck out three batters in two innings.
After the match, Nakamura, who leads the pitching staff like a team captain, said, 'As far as the stats of this season are concerned, Uwasawa and I need to keep being good examples to lead the other pitchers.'
'Taisuke Yamaoka (Tokyo Gus) was the only amateur pitcher among the six that pitched in the match on the 3rd. He was called to pitch in the bottom half of the 9th inning with the score 2-2, a batter on second base and one out. Being under a lot of pressure, he walked two batters in a row. With bases loaded and one out, he let Genki Kawano, a pinch hitter, sacrifice fly to end the match. However, manager Hirata was positive. 'Yamaoka must have gained a lot through this difficult situation. A learning experience for the future. Just one thing is that his sliders broke too much in the 9th inning.'
As an exception, they had the 10th inning, where Yamaoka pitched again. He used his change-up more, showing his flexibility that is often necessary in a decisive game to be played in a short time. Manager Hirata showed his hopes for him and said, 'He's going to do great.'
In the match on the 4th, Yuya Yokoyama (Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Kashima Works), Hanshin Tigers' top draft pick, was the first to pitch. Kazuto Taguchi (Yomiuri Giants) took over to pitch for two innings, where he struck out six batters. In this match, five pitchers took the mound. All eleven pitchers had a chance to pitch during the warm-up matches on the 3rd and 4th.
Norihiro Akahoshi, the Samurai Japan Ambassador, watched the match on the 3rd and made a positive comment on the battery, 'In the match, the catcher, Takajo (Shuto =Yokohama DeNA Bay Stars) tried to figure out how the pitchers wanted to pitch and the pitchers tried to see how Takajo wanted them to pitch. They were learning to trust each other, which is important to build a good relationship.'
As for batting, in the match on the 3rd, while the starting pitcher Ryosuke Miyaguni of the other team pitched for six innings, the National Team only had four hits and two runs. However, they did some good job too. In the top of the 2nd, the cleanup hitter, Kensuke Kondo (Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters) and the 5th batter, Seiya Suzuki (Hiroshima Toyo Carp) both hit singles. The 6th batter, Takumi Miyoshi, with two strikes on him, bunted them to 2nd and 3rd bases. Then the 7th batter, Harutomo Tsuji, with no balls and two strikes on him, got a clutch hit off of the 3rd pitch, a meatball, to right to score two runs. That was just what the National Team needed. 'It is exciting to play for the National Team,' Tsuji said.
After the match on the 3rd, manager Hirata talked about the batting line-up, 'None of the players has played in a real game for a while, but once the lead-off man, Taisei Makihara* (Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks) and the cleanup hitter, Kensuke Kondo (Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters) pick it up, I'm sure they'll be OK.' Also Akahoshi said, 'Their timing wasn't right. Hopefully they fix it as soon as possible in the games in Taiwan.' 'It is important that the 1st, the 2nd and the 3rd pitchers get on base before the cleanup hitter, Kondo bats.
In the warm-up match held on the 4th, the last practice game before the World Cup started, they changed the batting order, the top of which did a very good job. In the bottom of the 6th inning, where the National Team was taking a lead 1-0, a pinch hitter for the 9th batter, Tatsuhiro Shibata (Kokugakuin University) was walked to first and the lead-off man, Makihara bunted him to second. Then Kengo Takeda(ORIX Buffaloes), Suzuki and Kondo had consecutive hits to get three runs, which wiped out all the worries they had after the match on the previous day.
During the 9th and 10th innings of the match on the 3rd, they practiced a tie-breaker, which will be adopted if the games run into extra innings in the World Cup. 'It was kind of hard, but we got a good grasp of what it is like. I'm glad we did,' manager Hirata said with satisfaction.
The Samurai Japan 21U National Team completed their training camp in Japan and is ready for the World Cup. They will be in Taiwan, the host country, on the 5th to play in the first round against the countries in Group B, Australia, Venezuela, Netherlands and Nicaragua from the 7th. Let's see how our young Samurai will do in their journey to become the world champions!
The First IBAF 21U World Cup
List of the 21U Players