Angels’ Shohei Ohtani announces intention to play for Japan in World Baseball Classic
Shohei Ohtani is taking his talents back to Japan for a few days next year.
The Angels’ two-way star announced Thursday on Instagram that he “officially informed” Team Japan that he “would like to participate” in the 2023 World Baseball Classic, which takes place March 8-21 in Tokyo, Miami, Phoenix and Taichung, Taiwan.
Japan is part of the tournament’s Pool B, which plays its opening-round and quarterfinal games at the Tokyo Dome.
“Looking forward for the opportunity to face the best players around the world and to be able to play in front of the Japanese fans for the first time in over 5 years!!” wrote Ohtani, who is under contract with the Angels through the 2023 season.
Shohei Ohtani and his agent, Nez Balelo, said they are focused on 2023 season. Anything beyond 2023 with the Angels continues to be just wait and see.
The decision was not surprising since Ohtani said the day before the 2022 All-Star Game that if given the opportunity, he would want to play for his national team.
His fellow Angels teammates also on WBC team rosters, like Team USA captain Mike Trout, also anticipated that Ohtani would eventually decide to play for Japan.
The 2023 edition of the tournament will be Ohtani’s first time playing in it.
Ohtani was slated to play in the most recent WBC, in 2017, but pulled out because of an ankle injury. The Tokyo Dome hosted opening-round games in that event as well. The tournament was scheduled again for 2021, but was canceled after baseball shut down in 2020 because of the pandemic.
Last month, Ohtani told reporters that he would consider coming out of the bullpen for Team Japan if he decided to take part in the WBC.
Angels’ two-way star Shohei Ohtani could add a new role to his impressive playing style as closer for Japan at next year’s World Baseball Classic.
“If you’re going to pitch as a starter [in the WBC], you’d have to be built up to 60, 70 pitches. So you have to take that into account,” Ohtani told reporters Oct. 18 in Tokyo. “But if they say you don’t have to start, there’s no reason to move up anything.”
The Angels gave their blessing months ago for Ohtani to play for Team Japan in whatever capacity he wants.
Since the tournament takes place in the middle of spring training, general manager Perry Minasian was asked if he was concerned about Ohtani leaving camp to play for Japan.
Minasian joked that his concern was about being able to briefly leave the team himself so he can fly to Japan to watch Ohtani play.
“He is the last person on the face of the Earth I’m worried about being ready to go when the bell rings [for the start of the 2023 season],” Minasian said at the end of the season.
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“He’s earned my respect with everything he does,” Minasian said. “We’ll work with him in any way to make sure of the accommodations and we’ll make it as easy as possible, whatever he feels like is the right thing to do.”
The Japanese national team, also called Samurai Japan, will be managed by Hideki Kuriyama, who was Ohtani’s Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters manager. Kuriyama embarked on an MLB tour in August, talking to and scouting potential players for the WBC team.
He stopped in Anaheim on Aug. 12 to see Ohtani during a game against the Minnesota Twins.
Asked at the time whether he was surprised by Ohtani’s success in Major League Baseball, Kuriyama said in Japanese: “In Japan, he cleared challenges that people thought were impossible. How high can he clear? No one viewed his ceiling as high as I did. Even now, I think he can do more.”
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