Hirokazu Ibata, head coach of Japan’s U-12 national baseball team, has been tapped as the new head coach of Japan’s national baseball team, according to reports.
Japanese media outlet Junichi Shimbun reported on March 25 that “the candidates for the new head coach of Japan’s national baseball team ‘Samurai Japan’ have been narrowed down to Hirokazu Ibata, who played for Junichi and Yomiuri. The Nippon Baseball Organization (NPB) has been looking for a replacement for Hideki Kuriyama, who won the World Baseball Classic (WBC) in March. Ibata, who has a wealth of experience as a player and coach with the national team, has been tapped to take the helm. Negotiations are expected to continue until the third Premier12, which will be held next November.”
The Japanese national team reached its peak in March when they won the WBC in a sweep. Head coach Hideki Kuriyama led the team to the top of the standings with Japanese players playing in the major leagues, including Shohei Ohtani (Angels) and Darvish Yu (San Diego). However, Kuriyama stepped down as manager of the national team after winning the WBC in May when his term expired. The NPB asked Kuriyama for a second term, but he declined, saying he wanted to give the next generation a chance.
After Kuriyama turned down a second term as national team coach, the NPB immediately began the search for his successor, creating a list of 40-50 candidates based on criteria such as “youth,” “experience playing for multiple clubs,” and “international experience with the national team. “Many candidates were considered, including former Chiba Lotte manager Tadahito Iguchi, Daisuke Matsuzaka, who played for Seibu and Junichi and has major league experience, and Chiba Lotte manager Masato Yoshii, but in the end, the consensus was on Ibata,” the Junichi Shimbun explained.
Ibata, who played for Junichi (1998-2013) and Yomiuri (2014-2015)스포츠토토 during his playing career, retired from active duty in 2015. He was the Yomiuri first base coach from 2016 to 2018, and the Japan National Team infield and first base coach from 2017 to 2021. Last year and this year, he was the head coach of Japan’s U-12 national team.
According to the Junichi Shimbun, “As a player, he participated in the 2003 Athens Olympic Games Asian Qualifier, the 2007 Beijing Olympic Games Asian Qualifier, and the 2013 WBC. At the WBC, he hit a game-winning single in the bottom of the ninth inning with Japan down by one run against Taiwan in the second round. He batted 5-for-5 in the tournament and was named the Best Nine Designated Hitter and the MVP of the Tokyo round,” said Ibata.
Ibata has also experienced many international tournaments as a coach. According to the Junichi Shimbun, “He coached the Japanese national team to victory at the 2017 Asian Professional Baseball Championship (APBC), the 2019 Premier12, and the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. Last year and this year, he coached the U-12 Japan National Team for the second consecutive year, and this year he improved their ranking from 7th to 4th.” “His baseball theory and coaching skills are highly regarded. He has been called upon as an interim coach for Japan’s university and high school national teams, all of which have contributed to championships.”
If Ibata accepts the job, he will most likely make his official international debut at the APBC in Tokyo, Japan, in November. The APBC will feature South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Australia.