LOS ANGELES — Having arrived at the semifinals for the World Baseball Classic, Japan manager Tatsunori Hara felt right at home. The U.S., meanwhile, was just looking for a home-field advantage.
The WBC reaches its final destination on Saturday as the four semifinalists descend on Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, the final venue for the 2009 tournament.
Hara, 50, was in a nostalgic mood before Japan took the field for practice on Friday.
“It’s my experience that Dodger Stadium is one of the great stadiums of the major leagues,” said Hara. “When I was in college (at Tokai University) I played here in the USA College All-Star Series. I remember there were a lot of fans here at that time.”
The familiar feeling won’t stop there for Hara, who will match wits with U.S. skipper Davey Johnson, who is a former Yomiuri Giants player, as is Hara himself, but did not play with the Japanese manager.
“I don’t really know U.S. manager Davey Johnson well myself, but I understand he was wearing the Kyojin uniform in Japan,” Hara said. “So in that sense he is an ‘old boy’ of the Kyojin. I feel familiar with him.”
Johnson joined the Giants in 1975 as the team’s first foreigner in over a decade, replacing Giants legend Shigeo Nagashima at third base. He spent two seasons with the team.
“I really had a good time playing for the Giants,” Johnson said. “Many tomodachi, many friends. It was a great experience. I had a great teammate in Oh-san and a great manager in Nagashima-san.”
U.S. bench coach Reggie Smith also played for the Giants, playing alongside Hara with the Kyojin from 1983-84.
“Reggie Smith is also a coach on the U.S. team, so those are two people we have to play against that I respect,” Hara said. “So I would like to be able to compete against them and Japan to be proud of us.”
Johnson and Smith will be focused on other things come game time and are hoping to see a number of U.S. fans in the stands.
While the WBC has been a lightning rod of attention in Japan and other countries, the tournament still elicits a lukewarm reception among some in America. The team is hoping its success this year will generate more interest among fans.
“I’m sure we’ll have a big crowd on Sunday, but I think the American people are a little slow to get it,” Johnson said. “But I think the victory we had over Puerto Rico went a long way in creating fan interest,” he said referring to the Americans’ walk-off win on Tuesday which put them in the semifinal round.
The Puerto Ricans had a lot of fan support during that contest in Miami and the fans of other nations have come out in large numbers to support their teams. The U.S. is hoping for the same in Los Angeles.
“We knew going into Canada that it was going to be a visiting atmosphere and we were right about that,” third baseman David Wright said. “Miami, we didn’t know what to expect. We knew that there was a large Puerto Rican and Venezuelan contingency. In the end our fans came out.
“But moving forward, we expect to have more fan support this round,” he said. “Because I think just the general baseball fan is seeing the kind of intensity and focus and desire we have to win and hopefully it catches on.”