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Oh, Kato praise Samurai Japan’s performances

by Jason Coskrey

LOS ANGELES — Even Sadaharu Oh is a little weary of watching Japan face South Korea in the 2009 World Baseball Classic.

“Since this is the second tournament, there is nothing you can do about this,” Oh said before the teams met for the fifth time, in the WBC final. “But it will change in the third tournament, I guess. I think that they (organizers) didn’t really imagine it would be like this. They will need to study.”

Oh has followed Japan’s progress throughout the WBC in person and was understandably pleased with the team prior to the final.

“The Japan players have been able to show their strength to the world during this WBC,” Oh said.

Nippon Professional Baseball commissioner Ryozo Kato was also in attendance for the final.

“In the past WBC Japan won,” Kato said in an exclusive interview. “Then in the Olympic Games in Beijing last year, Korea became the champion. This time Japan and Korea are doing very well, and will be the winner and runnerup of this tournament.

“Asian baseball has been growing rapidly. Therefore in the not too distant future, I hope for a real world series of baseball to be held.”

The commissioner also left open the possibility of the later rounds of the WBC coming to Japan in the future.

“We will really have to have a consultation with Major League Baseball . . . and the other countries,” Kato said. “The thing is the timing. Because 162 games are played in the major leagues and 144 are played in Japan.

“Therefore the window during which to hold national games is limited,” he continued. “So we have to look at that. We have to work at that and so far I don’t have any complete idea yet. But at the same time, I don’t exclude anything.”

Kato also said he was pleased with the way Japan manager Tatsunori Hara was handling the job and commended his work with the team.

“Hara-kantoku has been doing great,” Kato said. “At the same time, he’s placed under great pressure. As (Yomiuri Giants) manager, he has to look after his own team because in April the regular season opens in Japan. In the meantime, he has managed the Samurai Japan team. It’s a tough thing for anybody.

“This is a big deal in Japan. Therefore its good for Japan to have a star manager to manage the team.”

Oh, who managed Japan to the WBC title in 2006, also praised Hara’s performance, adding that he manager had his full support.

“Yes, I do,” Oh responded when asked if he had conversations with Hara. “But I don’t talk about details of the team because it is him who leads the team now and he knows everything, including the players and their conditions. So I leave everything to him. And he’s got some luck as well.”

The play of NPB stars Norichika Aoki and Hisashi Iwakuma, who don’t get much attention internationally, has also pleased the NPB boss.

“It’s a good thing for Japanese talent,” the commissioner said. “For talented guys to come to the United States and play against major league players. At the same time, the level of exchange between Japan and the United States should be even.”

The export of Japanese talent to the U.S. has been a touchy subject for Japanese baseball officials lately. In the past the commissioner has pledged to do his part to help Japan keep its stars at home.

However, Kato feels the increased attention on Japanese stars at the WBC could also work in the NPB’s favor.

“Japan is a pretty comfortable place to live and a comfortable place to play baseball,” Kato said. “So as more the players in the United States and Latin American countries learn about Japan, maybe more players will think about coming to Japan. That way I hope the the interchanging of players in Japan and other parts of the world increases.”