Ichiro played for Team Japan in both World Baseball Classic tournaments held thus far. The WBC is an international competition between teams representing 16 countries, and is the first such tourney to feature current Major League ballplayers.
The inaugural Classic was held in March 2006. In the first round, played in the Tokyo Dome, Japan beat China and Chinese Taipei, but lost to Korea. In the second round, played at Anaheim’s Angel Stadium, Japan beat Mexico but lost to the U.S. and Korea (again). Still, with a 3-3 record, Japan advanced to the semifinals at San Diego’s Petco Park, where they finally beat Korea and advanced to the finals.
During those three Japan-Korea games, Ichiro was booed by some Korean fans for stating that he wanted “to beat South Korea so badly that the South Koreans won’t want to play Japan for another 30 years.” However, some felt his words were inaccurately translated into English, and what he actually said was, “I want to win in a way that the opponent would think, ‘we cannot catch up with Japan for the coming 30 years.’ We should not merely win the games.”
Whatever he said, the quote stirred up a bit of anti-Ichiro hostility among some Koreans, who likened him to a monkey. Apparently a Korean referring to a Japanese person as a monkey is a common insult, if not an outright ethnic slur.
In the March 20 final, Japan beat Cuba 10-6, also at Petco Park. Ichiro hit in all six games of the series, batting 12-for-33 (.364) with a double and a home run. He also scored seven runs and drove in five, stole four bases, and had a .932 OPS. Ichiro was named to the tournament’s All-WBC team, but Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka won the tournament’s MVP award.
Uniform note: Ichiro had always worn long pants over his socks during his professional career, both with the Orix BlueWave and the Mariners. However, he switched to wearing his socks high at the ’06 WBC, and he’s worn them that way ever since.
Stay tuned for the 2009 WBC recap.