Baseball

Aoki excited to join teammates ahead of WBC

Kyodo

Norichika Aoki, the sole major leaguer on the Japan national team roster for the upcoming World Baseball Classic, said Monday he is mentally ready for action but may need time to reset his sleep cycle.

The 35-year-old, who was released by the Houston Astros for the March 6-22 tournament, spoke to reporters at the airport in Orlando before his departure to join the rest of the squad, which wrapped up a four-day training camp in Miyazaki on Sunday.

“I’ll finally get to see my teammates,” said Aoki, who will be entering his sixth season in the majors.

“I’ll get in shape and do what I have to in order to be in my best form for the opener,” he said.

Aoki is due to arrive in Japan on Tuesday and join his Samurai Japan teammates and manager Hiroki Kokubo on Thursday. He is expected to play in Friday’s warm-up game against the Hanshin Tigers at Kyocera Dome in Osaka.

Japan, a two-time champion seeking to win the WBC title for the first time since 2009, was shut out 2-0 by the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks in an exhibition game on Saturday.

Aoki, who spent the offseason in Japan, has been struggling with jet lag since he flew back to the United States in early February.

Despite managing to get nine hours of sleep Sunday night, he said he is still concerned about the lack of time he will have in Japan to adjust to the time difference after a 20-hour flight with a layover in Chicago.

“Maybe I beat jet lag. I beat it, and now I’m flying again,” he said laughing.

“I probably won’t be able to sleep (on the plane) right away and it’s going to be a challenge dealing with jet lag all over again,” he said.

Japan won the inaugural WBC in 2006 and again in 2009. The Japanese reached the semifinals in 2013, where they were eliminated by Puerto Rico, which fell to the Dominican Republic in the final.

This year’s WBC opens with Pool A host South Korea taking on Israel at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul.

Japan, which is in Pool B, will begin its campaign with a game against Cuba at Tokyo Dome on March 7.

Dodger Stadium will host the semifinals and final, which take place on March 20-22.

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