Ichiro to play in World Baseball Classic
Mariners right fielder will represent Japan in 2009 tournament
SEATTLE -- Mariners right fielder Ichiro Suzuki plans to play for Team Japan in the World Baseball Classic next spring.Ichiro confirmed his plans to the Kyodo News Service on Sunday. "I will try to win the WBC in earnest again," said Ichiro, who helped lead Team Japan to the inaugural WBC championship in 2006. The eight-time Major League All-Star batted .364, scored seven runs in eight games and was a vocal leader on a team that defeated Cuba in the title game played at PETCO Park in San Diego. Afterwards, Ichiro ranked the Classic as a highlight of all of his career accomplishments. "Apart from the Olympics, I really wanted this WBC tournament to be the event that decides the true world champions, so that's why I participated in this event," he said. "And at the end, I was able to be on the championship team, and this is probably the biggest moment of my baseball career." Since then, Ichiro has accumulated three more seasons with 200-plus hits, tying the MLB record Willie Keeler held for more than 100 years. While Ichiro is the first Mariners player to verbally commit to playing in the second WBC, which begins at the Tokyo Dome on March 5 and ends on March 23 at Dodger Stadium, several other Mariners are expected to participate in the hugely popular event. Catcher Kenji Johjima, who declined an invitation to play for Team Japan in '06 so he could attend Spring Training and learn Seattle's pitchers, is expected to get another invitation this time. Elsewhere, third baseman Adrian Beltre said he would like to play for his native Dominican Republic team again, and right-handed starter Felix Hernandez figures to be on Team Venezuela's roster, along with second baseman Jose Lopez. Left-hander Ryan Rowland-Smith wants to play for Team Australia and outfielder Wladimir Balentien, from Curacao, could be included on the Netherlands roster for the second time. Team rosters won't be determined until early next year.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.