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Perseverance pays off for Kurihara

by Kaz Nagatsuka

His humble, positive attitude paid off — in the final minutes.

Hiroshima Carp infielder Kenta Kurihara, who was added to Japan’s World World Baseball Classic roster as a substitute for the injured Shuichi Murata, joined the squad on Saturday afternoon. He was just in time for its workout at Major League’s Urban Youth Academy.

In other words, Kurihara has reunited with Samurai Japan.

The 27-year-old was called up for the team’s training camp in Miyazaki mid-February, but did not make the final cut. Kurihara was told that he wouldn’t make the team on the final day of the camp. But he remained on the field with the prestigious Japanese jersey on to take an extra session of batting practice, which he had done throughout the camp.

But his hard work and effort paid off, and he was given another shot to wear the national team uniform nearly a month later.

When Murata hurt his right hamstring in a second-round game against South Korea in San Diego on Thursday — Friday in Japan — he was taking batting practice before a Carps preseason game.

The Carp received a phone call from Nippon Professional Baseball’s office, granting the team permission to send him to Los Angeles for the final round of the WBC.

The next day, Kurihara took an airplane to Los Angeles, and he went directly to Samurai Japan’s practice.

Before the workout, Kurihara was introduced to other players, even though he was obviously familiar with them from his time in Miyazaki.

“I’m pleased that I can play for this team again,” Kurihara said with a smile after the workout.

Yet it was a sudden callup for him and he said that in the airplane he couldn’t get much sleep while getting the proper mind-set to don Japan’s uniform once more.

“I tried to sleep, but thought about so many things,” he said. “I was in a mode for the regular season and was getting in shape for that.”

Now he’ll contribute to Team Japan’s quest for another WBC championship.

Japan skipper Tatsunori Hara has high expectations of Kurihara, who hit .310 with 25 homers and 92 RBIs while helping his club’s battle for the Climax Series spot last year, ultimately falling short of its goal.

Said Hara: “He has a chance to play in the game. It’s big for us to have him on the bench. We have another reassuring player.”

Meanwhile, Kurihara humbly said that he’s not sure if he can fully replace Murata, who had primarily been the cleanup hitter during the WBC. Even so, it doesn’t mean that he’s not confident.

“I have mixed feelings about being substituted for Murata-san,” Kurihara said. “But once I get to work, I’ll just do my job.”