The Story Behind Samurai Japan’s 2023 World Baseball Classic Games


After returning to Japan, Japan manager Hideki Kuriyama and other people involved in Samurai Japan told us about the hidden episodes behind the 2023 World Baseball Classic. (^^)/




An Episodes from World Baseball Classic-winning Manager Hideki Kuriyama

*Japan’s manager Hideki Kuriyama (age 61) himself called each player to ask them to join SAMURAI JAPAN.

*Manager Hideki Kuriyama wrote a handwritten letter to each player and put it in the room on the first day of the Miyazaki camp. However, none of the players show a reaction to the manager. He said, “I was wondering if the letters had gone to the players or not?!”

*San Diego Padres pitcher Yu Darvish (age 36) and manager Kuriyama decided together “that Darvish won’t pitch in America (Miami)” on March 17.
However, manager Kuriyama just told Darvish “If you can pitch, let me know.”

*Manager Kuriyama said, “Shohei Ohtani(age 28) is a twisted person. (laughs).”

*Only the pitching coach and manager Kuriyama knew that Shohei Ohtani would pitch last(as a closer). Other members including their teammates and coaches didn’t know it.

*It was decided that both Yu Darvish and Shohei Ohtani would “pitch” in the morning of the WBC final.

*On March 21st (Japan time), the Angels gave Shohei Ohtani permission to pitch.
However, manager Kuriyama said that their will seemed stronger (than the permissions).

**When Darvish gave up a home run in the final, manager Kuriyama kept a poker face.

Because the pitchers usually look at their manager’s face after giving up a home run.
In fact, when Darvish gave up a home run in the game against South Korea, Yu Darvish said, “Manager, your face is terrible. I’m sorry. “

*(5th batter) Masanao Yoshida and (3rd batter) Shohei Ohtani (who doesn’t usually do this) gave some advice on Murakami’s swinging form on the dugout to (4th batter) Murakami during the games, because Munetaka Murakami had been in a slump. They did so in order to win.

*There are 3 catchers.
Manager Kuriyama selected catcher Yuhei Nakamura (32 years old) for the final because the manager wanted to increase Japan’s offensive power.

*During the final game, manager Kuriyama heard from Ohtani that he had not made sure their signs were exchanged yet with catcher Yuhei Nakamura. So the manager asked the coach, “please manage to exchange signs between catcher Yuhei Nakamura and pitcher Ohtani during the game.”

However, manager Kuriyama changed pitchers one after another in the final. Manager Kuriyama said,” (catcher) Yuhei must have had a tough time.”
Shohei Ohtani is a two-way player. “He also had an at-bat.
(As a result) the two made sure they exchanged signs on the mound.

The final game seemed like a scary game, so I was afraid of changing the catcher at the time. So I just kept going (laughs).”

*Manager Kuriyama told the WBC, “Participation of major leaguers will be difficult as it is.”
There are too many conditions (participation period, number of pitches, insurance, etc.), and it is really difficult to adjust. There are things we have to make sure of behind the scenes, so I’ll keep on telling them.”

*”I will do my best so that baseball in Asia will develop.”

*” ‘Can I do this? or not?’  I think that if you think you can do it or not is wrong at that moment. The important thing is whether you do or don’t. The decision doesn’t depend on whether you can do it or not, it depends on when ‘you do if you decided to.’ “

*”Both Ohtani and I ( manager Kuriya) don’t talk about really important things (laughs).”


Additional Episodes on 19th of April,2023

*About Quarter-Finals: Samurai Japan vs. Team Italy

Manager Kuriyama said one interview about that;
Manager Kuriyama went to the mound for the first time (in his life?) when Ohtani was leaving the mound. Shohei Ohtani had pitched by 71 balls against Team Italy.

Pitching coach Yoshii, “Manager, please go to the mound.”

Manager Kuriyama “Oh, really?”

There was a conversation like that, and Manager Kuriyama went to the mound where pitcher Ohtani was at for the first time.

Shohei said “I’m sorry.” (for the first time).

Manager Kuriyama “No, no, good job.”

He (Shohei himself) was probably regretting it so much that he had turned it into such a situation. “Manager, I’m so sorry. I’m here trying to make us win.” I think he really wanted to win. I believe he said those words honestly.

So, those were strong words for me to hear. Those were words I heard for the first time during the games. He’s a person who wouldn’t apologize in situations like that. He’s the type to think “It’s not time for apologies. I’ll do what I’ll have to do to win this game.” I really felt that he was really upset about something.



Episodes from [WBC Bullpen Catcher Shinya Tsuruoka]

*Mr. Shinya Tsuruoka (age 41) received an offer directly from Manager Kuriyama about the WBC bullpen catcher.

Mr. Shinya Tsuruoka said, “I was worried (at first) whether I could catch the balls of super-first-class pitchers.”

*The WBC bullpen catchers were Yuji Kajiwara (Nippon-Ham bullpen catcher since 2010) (38 years old) and Shinya Tsuruoka. They and manager Kuriyama were all related to the Nippon-Ham Fighters.

*Pitcher Yu Darvish said (before), “Mr. Tsuruoka was the easiest catcher for me to play with in Japan and the United States.” They teamed up together as pitcher Darvish and catcher Tsuruoka for seven years when they were in the Nippon-Ham era.

*Tsuruoka said, “Pitcher Darvish seems like a person made of a mass of ambition. He’s 37 years old now, but he’s been taking in a lot of good stuff.”

*At the time of the Nippon-Ham era.
Mr. Tsuruoka said, “Darvish used so many signs, so I didn’t have enough fingers. Even in the game, he changed various curveballs. So I hoped ‘Please pitch it as the right sign’ in my mind.”

*Tsuruoka (32 years old at that time) was the catcher when Shohei Ohtani (18 years old at that time) pitched for the first time (May 23, 2013).

Mr. Tsuruoka was told by the general manager, “Be sure to throw the ball you caught from Shohei Ohtani to our dugout as it would be Ohtani‘s first pitch ball.”
The reason was “Pitcher Ohtani‘s first pitch ball will be displayed at the Baseball Hall of Fame Museum.”

*When Ohtani and Tsuruoka met for the first time at the WBC,
Ohtani: “Tsuru-san (bullpen catcher Tsuruoka), why are you here now? Anyway, Daru-san(= Yu Darvish) called you, right?”
Mr. Tsuruoka: No, Shohei, no. Manager Kuriyama
asked me (to join Team Japan.)

Mr. Tsuruoka said,
” I didn’t know how to talk to Shohei. Because he became such a star. I was his senior (when we played together in the Nippon-Ham era). I can’t help getting defensive of him. However, I felt that the distance between Shohei and I has shortened owing to his that words to me.”


*The WBC championship game against the United States is on March 22, 2023, Japan time.
Tsuruoka bullpen catcher was receiving pitcher Darvish‘s balls in the bullpen. The other bullpen catcher Kajiwara was receiving Ohtani‘s balls there. These pairs were batteries from the days of Nippon-Ham.


*Mr. Tsuruoka had heard from his bullpen coach, “If Japan is in the lead, it’s Darvish in the 8th inning, Ohtani in the 9th inning.”

*Ohtani usually throws with 50-60% power in the bullpen and adjusts.
However, in the final (Ohtani pitched in the bullpen and didn’t throw in the 5th inning. The 6th inning seemed that he tossed the ball back and forth.) It took for about 25 minutes from the bottom of the 7th inning to his third mount, he threw each ball with all his might while shouting.

*Catcher Nakamura (in the final game against Team USA) had never caught Ohtani‘s ball even for warming up in the bullpen.

Bullpen catcher Tsuruoka said,
“I’m scared of catching the pitcher’s balls that I take for the first time.
However, catcher Nakamura was so calm. It was hard to believe that he won the ball from Shohei for the first time, and his skill as a catcher is amazing!”

*Pitcher Darvish gives advice to young pitchers during this WBC.
In November 2022, Darvish gave pitcher Rouki Sasaki slider advice. Pitcher Sasaki‘s slider turned into a completely different slider at the time of the 2023 WBC. I was surprised that pitcher Togo also turned out to be a very good slider. I think pitcher Darvish is good at teaching. In the old days, Darvish was not the person who taught something to people.

*Manager Kuriyama has not blamed the players (no matter what happens).

*Lars Taylor-Tatsuji NootbaarLars (25 years old) is a sincere and kind player.

*Outfield coach Shimizu suggested calling NootbaarTacchan” to Samurai Japan because it was easier for him to blend in with the members, and manager Kuriyama agreed with the idea.

*Samurai Japan coaches, bullpen catchers and interpreters also received the gold medals.

*Mr. Tsuruoka said,” Mr. Ohtani is my junior, but he is a superstar.”

*About clean-up hitter Masanao Yoshida (29 years old).
Mr. Tsuruoka said, “Yoshida World is amazing.
There were quite a lot of opportunities to talk with him nearby.
At the Tokyo Dome, our lockers were close.
Even after the meeting time had passed, he kept changing his clothes at his own pace (laughs).
I thought that this kind of player does not flinch and achieves good results in any situation.”

*Manager Kuriyama said to Samurai Japan before the final game of the 2023 WBC, “I chose the members to win against the United States. That’s you guys. I believe that we can definitely win.”


Episodes from [Infielder Kazuma Okamoto]

From TV News “news zero” on March 23, 2023, Japan time

*Announcer Udo asked Mr. Kazuma Okamoto (26 years old),
“What kind of tournament was this WBC in your baseball life?”

Mr. Kazuma Okamoto said,
“I don’t have many opportunities to listen to top-notch players about their way of thinking and how they approach things. My eagerness and motivation become very high.”


*Announcer Udo asked Mr. Kazuma Okamoto,
“(In the semi-final game against Mexico) I thought it might be a home run, but it was blocked by the opponent’s defense (by Arozarena‘s super catch on the left)…”

Okamoto answered, “Honestly, when I hit the ball, I thought, ‘Ah, it’s a left fly ball.’ But the ball was going far than I expected. I didn’t know. I was already in front of third base. ‘Oh, oh, it’s going? going? What!?’ I seriously didn’t understand the situation. I reached almost the 3rd base. But it was out.”

From TV Sports News “Going Sports” on March 25, 2023, Japan time

Q. “Who did you get along with the most (in WBC)?”

A. Okamoto: “Ah, I wonder who it is. Ah, of course, Ⅰgot along with (Takumu) Nakano (age 26) who is in the same grade and was close to my locker. Murakami was also close to my locker, and Maki (Shugo, age 24 in March 2023) was also close to my locker. (After all) our team got along well with each other, and are all good teammates .”


Epecides from [Samurai Japan’s Youngest Pitcher Hiroto Takahashi]

*Regarding the “bullpen lost child” in the semi-final against Mexico on March 21, 2023, Japan time.
He said that he didn’t know the entrance to the bullpen at all, and the game was about to start, so he was extremely in a hurry.

*Samurai Japan’s youngest pitcher Hiroto Takahashi (age 20) received a bottle of champagne from Mr. Kazunari Ninomiya (of the Japanese super idol group Arashi) through Johnny’s agency.

Picher Takahashi said that maybe Mr. Kazunari Ninomiya knew that he was unable to participate in the Champagne Fight because of his age.

*Pitcher Hiroto Takahashi: “If Mr. Yu Darvish was not a member of Samurai Japan, we wouldn’t have been able to win, and he was such a big presence.”

*About the Kickoff Party on 5th March 2023, in Osaka. (All players & interpreter Ippei Mizuhara)
Seats and people who took the lead were decided by lottery.

*Pitcher (Shota) Imanaga (age 29) pitched three times in this WBC. He started in the final against the United States.

Picher Takahashi said, “I was surprised at pitcher (Shota) Imanaga (age 29). Because his belonging was so small when we were leaving Japan for America.

I wondered if he will go on a 2-day trip? His luggage was so little. Everyone carries different things by themselves, and we even used a cart. But only pitcher Imanaga carried one bag only. Mr. Imanaga was the only one with the carry-on baggage. I brought 2 suitcases because I’m worried about something I will need just in case.”


To be continued.

*Shohei Ohtani movie

*Shohei Ohtani’s movie 2