Seven Major League stars highlight the 34-man preliminary roster of the Japanese Baseball National Team for the 2009 World Baseball Classic. 2006 WBC MVP Daisuke Matsuzaka of the Boston Red Sox and Ichiro Suzuki of the Seattle Mariners lead the team in the hunt to defend their title from three years ago.
Besides the two superstars, outfielder Kosuke Fukudome (Chicago Cubs), second baseman Akinori Iwamura (Rays), catcher Kenji Johjima (Mariners), starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda (Dodgers) and reliever Takashi Saito (free agent) round up the portion of American-based players. Fellow Major League professionals Hideki Matsui (Yankees, knee injury) and Hideki Okajima (Red Sox, no reason) were left off.
The other 27 players are all playing in Japan. The 2008 Pacific League MVP Hisashi Iwakuma, a right-handed pitcher, is also aboard as well as Yu Darvish and the homerun leader of the Central League Shuichi Murata. The new manager Tatsunori Hara will start training camp in Miyazaki, Japan on February 16. The final roster has to be submitted by February 25th. Japan is hosting Pool A of the World Baseball Classic at the Tokyo Dome from March 5th on and is playing against 2008 Olympic champion South Korea, Taiwan and China.
Pitcher: Daisuke Matsuzaka (Boston Red Sox), Hiroki Kuroda (Los Angeles Dodgers), Takashi Saito (free agent), Takayuki Kishi (Seibu Lions), Hideaki Wakui (Seibu Lions), Satoshi Komatsu (Orix Buffaloes), Yu Darvish (Nippon Ham Fighters), Shunsuke Watanabe (Lotte Marines), Masahiro Tanaka (Rakuten Eagles), Hisashi Iwakuma (Rakuten Eagles), Takahiro Mahara (Softbank Hawks), Tsuyoshi Wada (Softbank Hawks), Toshiya Sugiuchi (Softbank Hawks), Tetsuya Utsumi (Yomiuri Giants), Tetsuya Yamaguchi (Yomiuri Giants), Kyuji Fujikawa (Hanshin Tigers)
Catcher: Kenji Johjima (Seattle Mariners), Toru Hosokawa (Seibu Lions), Shinnosuke Abe (Yomiuri Giants), Yoshiyuki Ishihara (Hiroshima Carp)
Infielder: Akinori Iwamura (Tampa Bay Rays), Hiroyuki Nakajima (Seibu Lions), Yasuyuki Kataoka (Seibu Lions), Nobuhiko Matsunaka (Softbank Hawks), Munenori Kawasaki (Softbank Hawks), Michihiro Ogasawara (Yomiuri Giants), Kenta Kurihara (Hiroshima Carp), Shuichi Murata (Yokohama BayStars)
Outfielder: Ichiro Suzuki (Seattle Mariners), Kosuke Fukudome (Chicago Cubs), Atsunori Inaba (Nippon Ham Fighters), Yoshiyuki Kamei (Yomiuri Giants), Norichika Aoki (Yakult Swallows), Seichi Uchikawa (Yokohama BayStars)
Hat tip to JapanBall.com