Without a captain, a boat can’t depart from port.
Samurai Japan finally has one.
As had been reported, former Hiroshima Carp great Koji Yamamoto was officially named manager of the Japanese national team for the 2013 World Baseball Classic on Wednesday.
“I received a request to become the manager at the end of last month,” Yamamoto said at a Tokyo news conference. “It’s an extreme honor and I humbly accepted.
“It’s been some 10 days since then, and I’ve been gradually feeling the pressure building in myself. But once I take this job, I’m going to aim at (Japan’s) third straight championship in March’s WBC.”
The Yamamoto-led team will debut in a pair of exhibitions against the Cuban national team on November 16 and 18 at Fukuoka’s Yahoo Dome and Sapporo Dome, respectively.
The WBC begins March 2. Japan is drawn alongside Cuba in Pool A for the first round at Yahoo Dome.
Yamamoto, who earned two Central League MVP Awards, understands he has a monkey on his back, but said the team’s goal will the same as it was for the last two tournaments: win the championship.
“(Japan) won the title in the first and second tournaments with the support of Japanese fans behind them,” Yamamoto said. “But I imagine it was probably very tough on the players to win the championship. Yet this is a serious tournament and Samurai Japan has to look for the championship.”
Yamamoto announced his coaching staff as well: Osamu Higashio (pitching/head), Masataka Nashida (fielding/head), Tsuyoshi Yoda (pitching), Kazuyoshi Tatsunami (batting), Nobuhiro Takashiro (infield fielding and base-running) and Koichi Ogata (outfield fielding and base-running).
Yoda, Takashiro and Ogata were on Tatsunori Hara’s staff at the last WBC.
Yamamoto said that his team will be playing “small ball,” as was the case for Japan in the last two WBCs, meaning the team will rely on strong pitching and solid defense in order to win close games.
But Yamamoto wouldn’t reveal much about the national team’s roster, as he had yet to have meetings with his coaching staff. He said that he would announce the members for the November exhibitions “soon.”
Meanwhile, Sadaharu Oh and Hara, the skippers for the first two WBC-winning Japanese teams, will serve as advisors for the team.
“We went through extraordinary experiences in the first two tournaments and felt the wonderful aspects about the game of baseball,” said Oh, Japan’s all-time home run leader. “I don’t mean to give him pressure, but hopefully, I’ll be able to take some pressure off manager Yamamoto’s shoulders.”
Oh added that the choice of Yamamoto was right and believed he would be suited for the job.
“Manager Yamamoto is good at communicating with young players,” Oh said. “Since (the WBC) is a short tournament, you need to voluntarily ingratiate yourself among young players. He’s a good communicator.”
As was the case before the last WBC, the search for Japan’s new manager didn’t exactly go smoothly.
NPB Commissioner Ryozo Kato, who was in charge of making the final decision, preferred someone currently in uniform. Koji Akiyama, who led the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks to a Japan Series championship last year, was unofficially asked to take the helm, but categorically refused.
Yamamoto, who was drafted in the first round in 1968, played 18 seasons, all with the Carp. The four-time home-run king retired with 536 homers, which ranks fourth in NPB history.
Yamamoto also had two stints as Hiroshima’s manager. The first, which lasted five years from 1989, was relatively successful as he led the club to a league championship in 1991 (the club’s last pennant), and runnerup finishes in ’89 and ’90. But in his second term, from 2001, he failed to guide the team to top-three finishes in any of his five seasons in charge.
Yamamoto was on Team Japan’s staff at the Beijing Olympics as the fielding and base-running coach under skipper Senichi Hoshino. The Japan team finished fourth.
Asked about the layoff from his last managerial stint at Hiroshima, Yamamoto, who currently works as a commentator on TV, said it would not be much of a problem.
“That is why I chose (coaches) that are close to the action (such as ex-Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters skipper Nashida and ex-Orix Buffaloes head coach Takashiro). And being a commentator, I’ve gotten on the field a lot. So that’s something we can overcome.”