Japan national team manager Hiroki Kokubo had hoped to get active coaches to help him select national team players and got his wish on Thursday, when a pair of active first-team coaches were named to the Samurai Japan staff.
Hiroshi Narahara, currently the Seibu Lions’ fielding and base running coach, will join Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters player coach Atsunori Inaba on Kokubo’s staff as his head and batting coach, respectively. Inaba has announced he will retire from playing at the end of this season.
Kokubo’s team will play six games against a team of visiting major league All-Stars starting on Nov. 12, with the series viewed as part of Japan’s build-up to win the 2017 World Baseball Classic. Kokubo has already named six players to his team and the rest of the team is expected to be named later this month.
According to Toshimasa Shimada, the chairman of the Japan Baseball Marketing Committee that currently oversees the national team project, a huge challenge facing a manager who is not currently on the sidelines is selecting players. Shimada said it that reason that spurred Kokubo to ask for coaches currently in uniform.
“That’s probably the biggest job for a manager, to pick the players,” Shimada told Kyodo News recently. “He thinks he needs a national team coach who is an active coach who will work with him on picking players. He said that’s what the national team needs.”
Both Shimada and Sadaharu Oh, a special consultant to Samurai Japan and Japan’s first WBC manager, have blamed Japan’s failure to win the 2013 WBC not on former skipper Koji Yamamoto, but on the difficulties he faced in selecting players after being out of the game for so many years.
Yamamoto was a last-minute choice after no active managers were willing to take on the Japan job.
“I don’t think it was Yamamoto-san’s fault, but it will be difficult for a manager who hasn’t been on the field in such a long time to pick players,” Shimada said.
Unlike the last-minute decisions on previous WBC managers, Kokubo was hired nearly four years in advance of the 2017 WBC and this time has an organization behind him dedicated to winning the tournament after Japan fell in the semifinals last year in San Francisco.
Also joining Kokubo’s staff are longtime national team coach Yoshitaka Katori as pitching coach, former Hanshin Tigers catcher Akihiro Yano as battery coach, former Yomiuri Giants second baseman Toshihisa Nishi as infield coach with Fukuoka Softbank Hawks minor league coach Arihito Muramatsu in charge of the outfielders.