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Fighters’ Yoh enjoying spotlight with Taiwan at WBC

by Jason Coskrey

Staff Writer

Daikan Yoh was surrounded by a mob befitting a rock star. Most eyes had been trained on the Taiwanese outfielder during his team’s practice session at Tokyo Dome on Friday, and finally they’d caught up to him.

The Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters outfielder had better get used to all the attention. Now that he’s a hot commodity in two baseball-crazy nations, the spotlight on him at the 2013 World Baseball Classic is only going to get brighter.

Yoh, known as Yang Dai-Kang in his native Taiwan, has led the way for Taiwan during the WBC, guiding the country to a berth in the second round, where a showdown with two-time defending champion Japan looms on Friday.

“It’s great” Yoh said about his team’s atmosphere on Friday. “Whether we win or we lose, we are having fun out there, and that’s the good thing about us.”

Playing before a home crowd in Taichung, Taiwan, Yoh went 4-for-12 with a home run and four RBIs in three games to earn Pool B MVP honors.

“You don’t have many chances to contribute to your own country,” Yoh said. “I’m pleased about this opportunity.”

Playing at home was a welcome change for the outfielder, who plays the majority of his games in Sapporo with the Fighters.

The 26-year-old, who went to high school in Fukuoka, joined the Fighters in 2006, but didn’t begin playing regularly until injuries gave him an opportunity midway through the 2010 season. Yoh was a starter by the time Opening Day rolled around in 2011, and an All-Star in 2012. Yoh is a career .261 hitter with 17 home runs, 136 RBIs and 48 stolen bases in six seasons.

“He’s been playing in Japan a for a long time,” Japan manager Koji Yamamoto said. “He’s a great athlete.”

Because the Fighters play a few home games at the Big Egg each season, Yoh is familiar with the park. Because of his time in Japan, he’s even more familiar with the members of Samurai Japan, who he and his Taiwanese teammates will be trying to defeat on Friday.

“Yang (Yoh) is one of our key players,” Taiwan manager Hseieh Chang-Heng said through a translator. “Yang has good experience, he has a lot of information. Yang knows everything about Japan.”

Taiwan enters the second round as the Pool B winner. The Taiwanese defeated the Australia and the Netherlands, but lost to the South Korea during group play in Taichung.

“It was a pretty heated atmosphere,” Yoh said.

Playing on a stage as big as the one the WBC provides makes it easy for a player to attract the attention of the major leagues. Japanese players such as Daisuke Matsuzaka, Yu Darvish and Hisashi Iwakuma all improved their MLB stock with strong performances in the event and all headed to the majors within a few years of competing.

Yoh was asked about that Friday, but brushed the topic aside.

“I’m just pleased that I can play in this international tournament,” he said. “I don’t have to put up (a) good performance because there are scouts.”

Either way, those scouts will be watching when Taiwan tries to take its first step toward the final round in San Francisco by defeating Japan.

“I feel relaxed,” Yoh said. “I think it’s Japan that has more pressure because their goal is to repeat as champions.

“We have confidence and we want to win because we haven’t won against them. So I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s game.”