Government to honor baseball champs

Koizumi, Kosaka laud Team Japan amid lofty ratings for WBC triumph

by Hiroko Nakata

As the nation basked in the triumph of Japan’s victory in the inaugural World Baseball Classic the previous day, the government added to the euphoria Wednesday by saying it is considering bestowing awards on the entire team.

The idea was unveiled a day after Team Japan beat three-time Olympic champion Cuba 10-6 at Petco Park in San Diego to put an end to a 16-nation tournament that had been touted as bringing together the best players in the game.

Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister Kenji Kosaka told reporters the ministry is planning to bestow sports contribution awards to the team, the coaches and manager Sadaharu Oh, who also manages the Softbank Hawks in Fukuoka.

Kosaka also said the government should give the People’s Honor Award to outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, who batted third in the final game and served as its main spokesman and spiritual pillar throughout the tournament.

Although the popular Seattle Mariner has refused to accept the award twice in the past, Kosaka said he had not given up hope that the third time would prove the charm.

The government is likely to face little objection to the plan, given the TV ratings for the game.

According to Video Research Ltd., viewership of the WBC final hit a high of 56.0 percent in the Kanto region and 52.8 percent in Kansai at about 2:58 p.m. — the moment Cuba’s final batter struck out.

The game averaged 43.4 in the Kanto region — the highest for any program aired so far this year — and 40.3 percent in Kansai.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi himself expressed pleasure over what he called “a great game.”

“It gave excitement and emotion to many people by showing the tense atmosphere seen in the Japan Series and the earnestness of the players in high school baseball tournaments,” the prime minister said.

Meanwhile, Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe told a news conference earlier in the day: “We have to learn from the guts shown by Team Japan.”

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