GOOO, JAPAN! Fans rejoice over team’s win
Last updated 3-26-09 at 7:57 a.m.
Rivals Japan and South Korea came to a head during the championship game of World Baseball Classic in Los Angeles on March 23. Who took home the trophy that night? Japan.
Photo provided by The Associated Press
By Jim Armstrong
The Associated Press
TOKYO (AP) — Special editions rolled off newspaper printing presses, and Japanese fans who’d taken time off work to watch the World Baseball Classic final celebrated with banners emblazoned with “Samurai Japan.”
The WBC may not be a big deal in the United States but it’s huge in Japan, which prides itself on its baseball pedigree. Needing a 10th inning to beat archrival South Korea 5-3 in Los Angeles late Monday, March 23, only added to the tension.
Workers crammed into bars and restaurants in Tokyo and other cities to watch the game, which started at 10:30 a.m. local time on Tuesday.
Electronics stores selling big screen TVs were turned into public viewing galleries as the baseball-crazy nation stopped to watch as Japan defended its title.
“To defend the title and do it against South Korea is a great feeling,” said Soichiro Tabata, an office worker who watched the game at a Tokyo sports bar. “I took an extra-long lunch break, but I think I’ll get away with it today.”
Japan defeated Cuba 10-6 in the final of the inaugural WBC in 2006.
The back-to-back WBC titles were especially satisfying for the Japanese, given the results of the baseball tournament at the Beijing Olympics, where South Korea won the gold medal. Japan finished a disappointing fourth at Beijing despite sending many top players from the Japanese pro leagues.
After two losses to South Korea earlier in the 2009 WBC, some in Japan were wondering if their Asian neighbors had finally overtaken them in continental baseball supremacy.
Those fears were put to rest Tuesday as Japan finished the tournament with a 3-2 record against the Koreans. Seattle star Ichiro Suzuki, one of five major leaguers on Japan’s team, delivered the key hit with a two-out, two-run single in the top of the 10th inning.
“Leave it to Ichiro,” fitness instructor Junji Hasegawa said after watching the game. “He started out slow in this tournament but came through when it counted most.”
Mass circulation newspaper Mainichi Shimbun printed a special afternoon edition with a headline recounting it simply: “Japan defends title, winning hit by Ichiro.”
On the inside page, the Mainichi outlined “Road to the final for the 29 Samurai” — Samurai being the widely adopted nickname for the team.
Baseball has long been the No. 1 sport in Japan. The professional leagues were formed in the early 1930s while Korea’s pro leagues weren’t formed until 1982.
Yomiuri Giants pitcher Seth Greisinger, who has pitched for professional teams in both Japan and South Korea, said the Koreans have improved greatly in recent years, but Japan still has the edge over their Asian rivals.
“As you saw from this game, both countries are very competitive, but I would say Japan still has a slight edge in terms of depth,” Greisinger said.
Japan’s professional players from the U.S. major leagues didn’t play in the Olympics, but the 2009 WBC squad had a strong MLB contingent that also included Ichiro and Kenji Johjima of the Seattle Mariners, Kosuke Fukudome of the Chicago Cubs, Akinori Iwamura of the Tampa Bay Rays, and Boston Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, the MVP of both WBC tournaments.
Cleveland Indians outfielder Choo Shin-soo was the only major leaguer on South Korea’s roster.
In Seoul, thousands skipped work and school to watch a large-screen broadcast of the game at Jamsil Baseball Stadium, tossing confetti, waving banners bearing the names of their favorite players, and chanting through the championship.
“I hope I won’t get into too much trouble for missing my lecture,” said Jang Hyun-shik, a 24-year-old Seoul university student who skipped a morning class to watch the game.
Across the capital, businesses came to a standstill as workers crowded around TV sets to watch the game, with shouts of joy echoing around each time South Korea scored a run.
The loss to Japan was a blow but many Koreans were quick to praise their baseball team.
“What a shame! It could have been such a morale-booster for South Koreans,” said Kim Jin-hee, a 47-year-old housewife.
“But those young men fought so hard for the country. Good job.” (end)
Associated Press writer ShinWoo Kang in Seoul, South Korea, contributed to this report.