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Waseda pitcher Saito to lead student charge

by Jason Coskrey

Waseda University pitcher Yuki Saito has done nearly everything there is to do in college baseball.

Except beat the United States in the world championships.

Japan’s baseball prince will attempt to remedy that when the nation hosts the 5th World University Baseball Championship which begins next month at Jingu Stadium.

“This is the first time Japan has hosted,” manager Tamotsu Enomoto said. “I’d like to put the Hinomaru in the middle (of the podium) by any means.

“That’s been my objective for the last two years. I believe the players’ mind set is the same.”

Teams from the U.S., Canada, Cuba, China, South Korea, Chinese Taipei and Sri Lanka will join Japan in the tournament which runs from July 30 to Aug. 8.

“I’ve been told by manager Enomoto that I’ll be a starter,” Saito said. “So I’d like to do my best and pitch for at least five innings. I’d like to hold the opponent to as few runs as possible while waiting for run support from our team.”

Saito is hoping to snap his losing streak against the U.S. in the event while helping lead Japan to the title.

“We lost to America when I was a freshman,” Saito said. “We lost to them again when I was in my second year. So personally, I’d like to get revenge on them and win the championship.”

Fellow Waseda pitcher Tatsuya Oishi is hoping for a chance to face the Cubans.

“I want to face Cuba,” Oishi said. “Because they have members who have played in the World Baseball Classic. So I’d like to face their strong lineup.”

The Waseda duo will be joined by an experienced team of college stars, many already with national team experience.

Tokai outfielder Shota Ishimine and Chuo University hurler Hirokazu Sawamura are just two of the other big-name players on the roster.

“We have a lot of guys who have experienced this, particularly among the pitching staff,” said Ishimine, the team captain. “So we’d like to communicate well as those players with experience lead the squad and create the best team.”

Despite going through all this before, the players say it’s still a special feeling to be able to play for Japan.

“It’s my fourth time to play in this event,” Saito said. “It’s the ultimate honor for sure. We’d like to go for the championship.”

Sawamura was equally honored to be playing for his country.

“It’s an extreme honor to wear the Hinomaru,” Sawamura said.

“I’ve wanted to wear the Hinomaru since I began playing baseball.

Japan will play three warmup games, including an exhibition against a select group of NPB players aged 26 and under. That game is scheduled for July 26 at Tokyo Dome.

Japan plays its opener against Korea on July 30 at Jingu Stadium.

Staff writer Kaz Nagatsuka contributed to this report.