12/10 14:32 CST With win over All-Stars, Japan builds for 2020 Olympic gold
With win over All-Stars, Japan builds for 2020 Olympic gold
By JIM ARMSTRONG
AP Sports Writer
NAGOYA, Japan (AP) --- Coming off a strong showing against a team of Major
League Baseball All-Stars, Japan manager Atsunori Inaba has every reason to be
confident about his team's chances of winning a gold medal at the 2020 Tokyo
Japan won the six-game exhibition series 5-1 against an MLB squad featuring
National League Rookie of the Year Ronald Acuna Jr., fellow nominee Juan Soto
and veteran catcher and nine-time gold glove winner Yadier Molina.
The tour was a chance for Inaba to gauge the progress of his young players
ahead of the Olympics their capital will be hosting in less than two years.
Players like 23-year-old Seiji Uebayashi and Sosuke Genda stepped up against
the major leaguers and performed well.
"I told my players to play this series with Tokyo 2020 in mind," Inaba said.
"We used a lot of young players and it was a valuable experience for them. I
hope they continue making progress."
The host country has set an ambitious target of 30 gold medals at the 2020
Games and few would be more coveted than the top prize in baseball, the most
popular sport in Japan.
Japan has never won gold in the Olympics but won the World Baseball Classic in
2006 and 2009, and has produces players the caliber of Ichiro Suzuki and Shohei
Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly, who managed the MLB tour of Japan, said
Japan has a good chance to win gold.
"The WBC is a pretty good indication," Mattingly said. "They've won it a couple
of times and do a good job of doing what you have to do to win games. There are
a number of countries that are going to put pretty good teams out there and in
that type of format anything can happen but (Japan) has a great chance because
of the way they play the game."
Baseball will be returning to the Olympics for the first time since 2008, and
part of the reason it was reinstated by the IOC was because of its popularity
Some of the games will be held in Fukushima, an area devastated by the 2011
earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster.
Olympic organizers have been eager to use the games as a symbol of recovery
from the disaster that hit Japan's northeastern region including Fukushima, 240
kilometers (150 miles) north of Tokyo, where entire communities fled after
meltdowns at the nuclear plant.
More than 18,000 people died or went missing after the disaster.
The IOC approved the use of Fukushima Azuma Baseball Stadium as an additional
venue for baseball and softball, although Yokohama Stadium will be the main
Major league players won't take part as the games are scheduled for July
24-Aug. 9 --- in the middle of the MLB season.
In 2008, players on major league 25-man rosters and disabled lists on June 26
were ineligible to play. The U.S. roster included 17 players from Triple-A,
seven from Double-A and college pitcher Stephen Strasburg, now with the
Mitch Haniger, who was part of the MLB tour of Japan, said he'd like to be a
part of the Olympics.
"One of my dreams has always been to put on a United States uniform and play
for my country, but I don't know if it will happen during a season," he said.
"I'm not the one making the calls, so we'll have to wait and see but hopefully
at some point during my career, I'd love to play for my country."
In 2020, the main competition for Inaba's squad will likely come from
traditional baseball powers like Cuba, the Dominican Republic and the U.S.
The Cubans have won three gold medals in the event since baseball became a
medal event in Barcelona in 1992, while the U.S. and South Korea have each won
a gold medal. Japan's previous best was a silver medal at Atlanta in '96.
Inaba's squad is hoping to take that next step in Tokyo.
"We did well against these great players from MLB," said Genda, who hit a
bases-clearing triple in Thursday's 4-1 win at Nagoya. "I think that is the
general feeling within the team. It has certainly given us a lot of motivation
as we look forward to (the 2020 Olympics)."
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