Japan brings vibrant support to San Francisco

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

A lot of passion with different ways of cheering for each respective nation. That’s one of the things you can taste only at the World Baseball Classic.

For Sunday’s semifinal between Japan and Puerto Rico, the stands were filled with an enormous amount of fans from both countries, many of whom flew from their native lands.

Shinjiro Suzuki was the center of attention outside AT&T Park, the venue for the final round, a few hours before the 6 p.m. game time.

Suzuki, who traveled from Okazaki, Aichi Prefecture, to cheer for Samurai Japan along with a friend, wore a samurai costume with a big Japanese fan bearing the national flag.

Suzuki said that he had attended all Japan’s games in the WBC since the second round in San Diego in the 2009 edition of the tournament, proudly adding that Japan had not been beaten when he had been wearing his samurai gear.

Suzuki said he was hoping to transmit some spirit to his compatriot players, as he had done at previous WBC games.

“We’ve never lost a single game when we put this on,” said Suzuki, a self-employed 39-year-old. “People say this team doesn’t have any major leaguers or some negative things like that, but you’ve got to have faith in your team. Hopefully, us cheering for them motivates them even more.”

Suzuki said he definitely wants Japan to win playing its own brand of ball, but at the same time he hopes to take advantage of this rare opportunity to make friends with people from other countries.

“They are rivals, but it would be great if we could promote our relationships with the fans from foreign nations,” Suzuki said.

Meanwhile, there were also some non-Japanese taking the chance to explore their own roots.

Japanese Americans Jesse and Paul Yaginuma, along with their American friend Shannon Shorr, came from all over the United States to root for the Japan team with different Japanese professional team jerseys on.

“We live in America, but we go back to Japan a lot,” said Jesse, a professional poker player living in Los Angeles. “We are all cheering for Team Japan.”

Shorr, from Alabama, is also a pro poker player and wore the uniform of the Kintetsu Buffaloes.

Paul, who lives in Maryland and was wearing former player Koichi Ogata’s Hiroshima Carp jersey, backed his older brother up by saying, “Back-to-back-to-back, absolutely.”

The three said they purchased package tickets that are good for all the final round games and would watch regardless of who wins.