Manager Hideki Kuriyama, who led the Japan team to their third title in three tournaments at the WBC = World Baseball Classic baseball team, held a press conference at the Japan Press Club in Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo on Wednesday. We will provide plenty of questions and answers at the press conference.
Q.What kind of pressure do you feel as the coach of the Japan National Team?
A.This time, I went to listen to the stories of seniors in the baseball world who have experienced "Hinomaru" so far. Thanks to the advice of my seniors, I am very grateful that I was able to approach the match with an image of what it would be like to prepare myself mentally.
However, I knew that my facial expressions and standing posture would inflame the players' anxiety as much as possible, so I tried to have as much fun as possible to have them see me saying, "I'm going to do my job as usual."
Conversely, in the first four qualifying rounds, as I was playing on behalf of the Japan professional baseball team, there was a lot of pressure, including the fact that we couldn't afford to fail to qualify.
It was my first time to carry the Japanese flag on my back, but I also talked with the soccer coach Moriyasu before the match, and he told me that the moment you see the Japanese flag and hear the national anthem at the start of the match, the switch will always be turned on.
For me, the feeling of the national anthem at the first match was special, and I have to win the match under pressure and responsibility, while trying not to let people know as much as possible.
When I was the manager of the Japan-Ham Fighters professional baseball team, I always felt that the fact that we had to win was completely different.
However, in the end, I had to believe in the players, thinking that if I was going to win, I would be the players. In that sense, to some extent, the top players from the Japan came to us, so we were able to believe in that when we entered the match. It's hard to express how much pressure I had, but I don't think I'll ever be pushed into that kind of situation in my life.
Q.How did you invite and use Shohei Otani?
A.When I was given the opportunity to coach the national team this time, it was a big mission for me to create a team that everyone could dream of, not only Shohei but also some players who are playing in the top league and major leagues, for the sake of baseball in Japan and for the sports world of Japan. In my mind, it was something quite big.
However, to be honest, we really got there, Seiya Suzuki was unable to participate due to injury, but five major leaguers including Nootbar will come, and there are so many dramas that we can't easily talk about here, and in the process of finally deciding on those members, especially with Shohei, Of course, we talked to each other for a long time, but they understood what I had to do for the baseball world more than I did.
I really trust him in a player who thinks about the baseball world more than I do and thinks about what I have to do. In that sense, he was a really good double-wielding player, and I knew it was physically tough after playing as many games as he could in the major leagues for the last two years, but I think he made a good decision.
It's hard to tell you what happened to that, but I think his sense of mission and responsibility simply drove him to do a really good job this time.
Q.Was there a sense of balance such as attentiveness to other players?
A.This time, especially with Darvish coming to the team, he really led the team and put it together. Especially in the first half, the fact that Darvish led the way, including the topic of conversation, was very important to me.
However, even when I was with Fighters, I was very careful when I was really talking, and when it was okay to speak in front of people and when I wasn't, but this time there were really many top fighters, and I was conscious that I was doing it to win. Of course, I thought about a lot of things, but I really feel that the players did a good job with each other.
It was important to have a sense of equality in terms of a sense of balance and the sincerity and thoughts of the players, but each player had a mission to do what they should do to help the team win.
Q. What was Darvish→Ohtani's pitching relay in the final?
A.First of all, when everyone assumed that they were going to be the manager of Japan, and when they really thought they were going to do it, and when they thought about how they wanted to finish in the end, it ended in the United States, and I knew that major leaguers would have star players.
If you ask me who can be restrained to defeat it, I think those two are probably the first people that come to mind.
It's not "can you do it or can't do it," but "do it or don't do it."
I just run straight to realize that. However, in the end, it was decided to go to the practice field for the final match and see if he could throw it. I'm thinking about giving it a lot of breadth until the end.
Also, in the final final, the young pitchers kept ramming in, and when I really heard each and every one of them, they were like, "My legs trembled, I don't remember at all."
Even if you go to the mound and talk, you can understand. It's like I don't hear it at all. I'm so nervous, and the more I go behind, the more pressure I get. At the end, I thought I could only surpass those two players, so I took a one-point lead. But I thought that was my job.
I don't want to think so if those two guys are put on the mound and they beat me, but if I go that far, I'm really convinced. If they can do it, that's a way of saying that it can't be helped, but I trust them that much.
I wasn't worried at all, and the two of them were thinking more about people and Japan baseball than about me, because that was a big thing.
When I sent him out there, I thought my job was done. I'm just grateful that they won the match.
Q.How did you remove Munetaka Murakami from No. 4? What was your reaction when you told them?
A.Before you play or when you become a manager, there are a few things you have to do in order to win whatever form you take, and the first is to Japan baseball to be the best in the world.
After that, I decided on my own mission that I had to do. Among them, for example, pitchers like Darvish, players like Ohtani, and Seiya Suzuki, in that sense, there will always be some players who will represent Japan when this tournament is over. I had a mission to believe that this form was necessary for the Japan baseball world in the future.
There were several pitchers and several fielders, and I think the first of them was Murakami, who won the Triple Crown at that young age.
When we actually played a training game in November, he was in good shape after winning the Triple Crown, and his greatness was great because I watched him from the outside, and when we worked together, his aim, his attitude towards baseball, everything was wonderful.
No matter what kind of player comes, I think I can hit No. 11 in the Japan, so I keep going every day.
When it was over, people all over the world were moving forward thinking that they could finish the game in a way that said, "Murakami is the number four in the Japan, isn't he?" I knew that it would be a very difficult March for players because there are a lot of things that happen in early spring, such as changing their form to evolve during the off-season.
Murakami probably suffered more than I expected, but I was thinking about how best it would be if the team could win the championship in the end, but I was thinking about how best it would be if the team won while inspiring him every game, and I was thinking about it from the practice matches.
Eventually, when I came back to Japan and parted, I told Murakami that I would finish with my homework.
I don't know how I conveyed the fact that in order to surpass all the major leaguers who came out this time, to become the best, I said, "People can move forward better if they have homework," but that's how we parted. He said, 'I'll definitely hit No. 4 next time.'
We've been talking about that for a long time during the tournament, and the only thing I really felt was that there weren't many videos of players like Shohei Otani and Masanao Yoshida, but when Murakami came home from an at-bat during a game and was in bad shape, the two of them taught him batting, or rather, "It's like this. I've been talking about things like that for a long time.
So, more than me, everyone wants these young players to improve at the world, and the players felt that if there were not many such players, they would not be the best in the world.
I don't know if what I thought about was good or bad, but I think it's true that they felt what I was trying to do more than I did and moved forward.
At that moment, when I was watching such a scene, I thought that this team could really become the best in the world.
That's why I changed from No. 4 at that time, because there are a lot of things.
While talking to Murakami one by one, I would call him to the coach's office, make a phone call, or send him a message on the line.
As for the batting order, there are various ways to make a player angry without telling them their intentions, but this time I am not a player who has been playing all the time, so I tried to move forward while properly conveying my intentions.
Again, I don't know if that was a good way to do it, honestly. I regret that there could have been a different way, but I didn't doubt that he would always come out on top. I just wanted to do something to help with that.
I think Murakami also felt that he was not able to contribute in all the matches as a result, but I think he is very relieved that the team won the match.
Conversely, I believe that even a player like that can suffer, that I have to keep working hard and evolve to aim higher, and that when he retires, he will say, "That early spring of 2023 made me who I am today."
Q.Semi-final Didn't you think of pinch hitter when you had a chance to say goodbye?
A.As a coach, there are always two directions, what you want to do and what you have to do as a coach, and there is always a struggle to do it, and there is always a struggle to do this, and there is always a struggle to do what you want to do but you have to increase your chances of winning. In that case, we were defending with a one-run lead, and before we went to the last attack, we told the coach that we were preparing for a bunt. With two runners on and no outs at first base and second base, Murakami would be in the batting order, so I was thinking about the case of a bunt, so of course I was preparing for a bunt.
In the end, while preparing for this, he will make his own decisions while looking at what kind of ball is used to make a foreball, such as how to send a foreball to the previous batter, Masanao Yoshida. The worst thing is that I'm not ready for that, and if I let you prepare for this, even though it was a bunt here, I won't let this happen, that's the first thing at work.
If you are prepared, there is a high probability that anyone can see it at that moment, but of course there are various ways of thinking about that case. However, in the end, while preparing for that, I thought it was a match for Murakami, so that's how I felt about it.
I don't know if there is a possibility that if we are going to win, we need a story, or if we don't come out with something like this, we won't be able to win the championship, but I have an image in my mind.
Q.When big leaguers will participate, etc. What are the challenges for the next time and beyond?
A.For example, this time, pitcher Darvish was able to ask us from the beginning, and if you think about it in terms of normal adjustments, it is not normal to throw that number of pitches, so we were going to the game while throwing once a week and having the number of pitches increased, and suddenly Chunichi played only one practice game. I really apologized at the end of the match because I had to go to the match against Korea Republic, but there is no doubt that I couldn't improve my condition because I couldn't adjust myself.
I'm sorry, I'm sorry, but it's really difficult for major leaguers to participate if that happens, so I told the baseball organization Japan ask the big leagues to do that kind of thing, and that would make it difficult for players who go to the United States to participate in the WBC in the current format. Or you can only play over there until the last minute and get together in a one-shot game.
I don't think that's very interesting for Japan fans. We worked various issues such as insurance, but I will firmly say that if we do this, it will be a better tournament and that it will be easier for players to play.
Q.Did you feel that the opposing team admired Japan players?
A.I didn't really feel longing for it. It's Japan culture, Japan baseball culture. Politeness, acknowledgment of the other person, and so on. I also talked to the Czech coach. I was glad to have baseball. I wondered if this was how we would interact with each other.
To be honest, I was very hesitant when I asked Nootbar to participate. I wondered if this approach was good or bad for professional baseball to have foreigners, so-called players who grew up in the United States, join Japan teams.
It's just a really bossy way of saying it, but I was thinking about how many things happen in the world in times like this, and if I think that the people I worked with as a child are from what country they are from, and that they are friends, I can make something happen. Even if they complained, they really wanted to go global, and that's why they came to me.
Rather than admiring the Japan players of the other teams, I really felt that they were able to play in such an environment and that everyone would support them. I thought that I had to leave an environment where people around the world could think that Japan was good.
Q.Professional baseball will start soon, please cheer on.
A.There are quite a few people who say that the stadium where the semifinals and finals were held this time, the stadium in Miami, is similar to the new stadium Escon Field, where Japan Ham is based, but as far as I know, if you look at all the baseball stadiums in the United States, I think the next baseball stadium in Hokkaido will be the number one stadium in the world.
ESCON FIELD HOKKAIDO
Personally, I think that this will be the starting point for the Japan stadium to change rapidly, and that it will be an opportunity for the meaning of not only baseball stadiums but also sports stadiums to change steadily.
If we build such a facility, the players will have a sense of responsibility to respond to it, and I think the fans will be happy.
In that sense, the players who told us that baseball is interesting and amazing through the players' hard work will do the same thing again during the season, perhaps as many people visited the stadium, and just like they did in Japan, what impressed me the most may be their ability and technique, but they are working together. I thought that the sight of one person risking everything and doing his best, covered in mud, was very moving.
There was definitely one player from each team, one player from each of the 1 clubs. I think these players will make professional baseball exciting again and convey such things.
Finally, Mr. Shigeo Nagashima said to the Japanese players when the Japan team was first formed, "You are the evangelists of the baseball world," and I was able to convey that to the players again.
I told the players that you should carry the baseball of Japan on your back, and I believe that in response to that, such wonderful players will play great and the fans will be happy.
Q.Do you have any tips for winning the hearts of young people such as new employees?
A.I would be very happy if I could find the answer. However, what I really think is that when we were young, we were told "what are the young people of today," and I think that in the Edo period, we were told the same thing as "the young people of today."
Of course, the environment is different and the way of thinking may be different, for example, in the age of SNS, but I think that if you can sincerely confront the other person with what you are thinking, you can convey what you can convey even if it takes time. They don't do it that way because they're young today.
To be honest, I thought that was the case for the Japanese players this time as well, but when I watch the video and talk to the players, I try to go straight to them and get close to them and talk to them head-on, but from the players' point of view, I think it's a hassle because they can come in a hurry. Sometimes I talk to the players head-on as if I were going to hit them. I think I have to do that work myself. I think I have to convey my thoughts head-on.
Q.What do I need to do to be successful?
A.This is really my feeling, but what I always tell young players is that the moment you think you can or can't do this, or if you can do it, it's out. Do it or don't do it. I don't do it because I can make a decision, but if I decide to do it, I do it.
Q.What is the excitement after returning to Japan?
A.When I came back, so many people watched baseball. I'm really grateful that you were interested.
I am happy that they watched baseball so much, and that maybe one or two children will play baseball.
Q.Do you plan to continue for a while?
A.It's not that easy. Now that the pennant race is about to start, the players have to continue to play with their lives. There's no way this good shape will last. I don't think so at all.
Q.What about the future?
A.I don't have any track record. He wasn't a good player. If they ask me to do this, I'm going to return the favor, so of course I'll think about it.
I don't think I should stay, not just in baseball, so there are still a lot of things I need to do. I have to work hard towards my dream, or what I have to do.
First, I went to university with the intention of becoming a teacher, so I just feel like I have to do something for the children. If no one tells me to do something, I'm just really looking for something and working hard.
I'm not thinking ahead.