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Japan faces difficulty in hosting later round games for 2009 event

by Stephen Ellsesser

SAN DIEGO — Results aside, it could be tough for Japan to host later round games for the next World Baseball Classic in 2009.

News photoKids dressed in Fidel Castro costumes carry Japanese flags as they await the start of the World Baseball Classic championship game between Cuba and Japan in San Diego.

“Especially if they win, one of the issues they will press is whether we should have more of the tournament over there next time,” Major League Baseball Players Association Chief Operating Officer Gene Orza said Monday at Petco Park. “We’re going to look at everything.”

The biggest stumbling block, according to Orza, is sluggish attendance figures for the non-money games at Tokyo Dome, namely the three day games in which Japan did not participate.

The games — involving Taiwan, South Korea and/or China — drew a combined 13,695 fans, a couple thousand less than Team Japan’s worst draw from the Big Egg slate. Combine the two figures, and it still would fall well short of Tokyo Dome’s published capacity of 55,000.

For Saturday’s semifinal game between Cuba and the Dominican Republic, the attendance was 41,268, just a thousand short of Petco Park’s published capacity.

Orza said the fear is that Japanese fans would not come out in strong numbers for, say, a game between the Dominicans and Cubans.

“Japan has to be able to prove they are capable of drawing crowds,” Orza said. “That’s a big part. The semifinal we had here Saturday, I don’t think the fans would have come out. For Japan, sure, but not for the other teams.”

As for other sites outside the United States as candidates to host future WBC finals and semifinals, Orza was not optimistic, although he said all options would be considered.

“Very few institutions could take on something like this,” he said.

“It’s a great idea to host it in Katmandu, or wherever people are saying, but when you put paper to pen, a place like San Diego makes more sense.”

NO DEFECTORS HERE, SIR: Always concerned about the possibility of its players defecting, the Cuban Baseball Federation has kept players under tight quarters during their stay in the United States.

At the team hotel, players are paired up in hotel rooms, and there are Cuban security guards on each team’s floor to keep people from going in or going out. Players are not supposed to leave their rooms, except for practice games and meals.

Team Cuba’s media access has been heavily restricted as well, and the Cubans canceled practice Sunday to have a weightlifting session, which was closed to the media.

As for Cuban ruler Fidel Castro, he was not in attendance Sunday.

Reportedly, Castro applied for a visa to come to the United States for the games in San Diego but was denied.

HELLO, OLD FRIEND: Of course Satoshi Kamishige was there for Daisuke Matsuzaka’s big start in the WBC final.

Kamishige and Matsuzaka go way back. The two were on opposite sides of Yokohama’s 9-7 win over PL Gakuen at the national high school tournament at Koshien Stadium in 1998.

Matsuzaka threw a 17-inning complete game to lead Yokohama to victory, and Kamishige came in during the seventh inning, going the distance from then on.

Kamishige played college baseball with Rikkyo before blowing out his elbow, and now he works for NTV, his main reason for being in San Diego for the WBC.

“He and I are still friends, we play golf and have dinner together,” said Kamishige, who works with Matsuzaka’s wife at NTV, “In high school, I never knew him to lose. . . . He’s only grown and gotten better.”

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