Photo/Illutration Hideki Kuriyama, second from right in front, and Samurai Japan members with the World Baseball Classic trophy in Miami on March 21 (Jin Nishioka)

Hideki Kuriyama built it, and they came.

The 61-year-old manager for Samurai Japan faced the daunting task of gathering together a team of star players from both Japan and overseas and getting them to jell in time for the World Baseball Classic.

Many of his picks had to make the tough choice of either representing their home country or sticking to their “real” jobs of preparing for the next baseball season.

But eventually, Kuriyama’s passion won them over.

“I will play in next year’s World Baseball Classic because Mr. Kuriyama told me to do so,” San Diego Padres pitcher Yu Darvish tweeted on Dec. 6.

Outfielder Masataka Yoshida had to cut short his very first major league camp with the Boston Red Sox to play for Japan.

After Japan defeated the United States 3-2 in Miami on March 21 to win its third WBC title, the players tossed Kuriyama in the air in celebration.

“It was great that we could give him ‘douage’ (victorious toss), and I am relieved,” Yoshida said.

At a news conference after the win, Kuriyama praised his players and expressed his appreciation: “They play for different teams, yet they have made a connection with each other.”

Kuriyama, who has long brought together people from different backgrounds, might have missed the magical moment in Miami had it not been for a “field of dreams” he created in Hokkaido more than a decade ago.


Kuriyama has often credited his successful career as a pro baseball manager to Kuri-no-ki Farm, a children’s baseball field in the town of Kuriyama, Hokkaido.

“Had I not built that field, I would not have become a manager,” he said.

Kuriyama was born and raised in Tokyo, and he played for the Tokyo Yakult Swallows for seven years.

He had no ties at all to the town, a one-hour drive from Sapporo, until 1999.

The town’s junior chamber asked Kuriyama to serve as the town’s tourism ambassador simply because they both had the same name.

Kuriyama, who was working as a sportscaster at the time, fell in love with the town. He thought it would be an ideal place to realize a dream that he had held since his retirement from baseball.

“I want to build a baseball field in the heart of nature, like the one in ‘Field of Dreams,’” he recalled thinking at the time.

He told the junior chamber members about the 1989 film starring Kevin Costner as a farmer who builds a baseball field in a cornfield for the ghosts of star players.

Kuriyama said he could relate to the scene in the movie where the protagonist plays catch with his father because that was how he himself started playing baseball.


Kuriyama once visited the cornfield in the movie in the U.S. state of Iowa. What he saw there had a lasting impression on him.

Children from Japan, Taiwan and the United States were at the famous field. They split up into two teams and started playing ball, despite the language barriers.

“It made me pause to realize what a baseball field means and what baseball means,” Kuriyama said. “Those children weren’t thinking like, ‘Let’s stay away from foreigners.’ Everybody is a friend. I was touched. And I realized we do need places like this.”

People in the town of Kuriyama understood his vision.

In a hilly area not far from the town’s center, Kuriyama and junior chamber members dug up the soil, spread grass seeds and set up a net behind home plate.

Kuriyama eventually settled in the town and put in his own money for the project.

The field, 70 meters long on both the left and right field sides, was completed in 2002. It has since been a venue for baseball clinics and tournaments.

Gloves and balls are available for free at the entrance so that every visitor can play catch.

In autumn 2011, the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters hired Kuriyama as its new manager.

The team’s management said it made the offer to Kuriyama because of his sincere attitude toward baseball, his work as a sportscaster, and his creation at the Kuri-no-ki Farm.

Kuriyama “loves baseball more than anyone,” a team official said.

In autumn 2012, a high school baseball star indicated that he wanted to skip Nippon Professional Baseball to chase his dream of becoming the world’s best baseball player in the major leagues.

Kuriyama visited the player several times, urging him to join the Fighters.

The player, Shohei Ohtani, agreed.

Kuriyama was one of few people in baseball who supported Ohtani’s desire to excel in both pitching and hitting.

In October 2016, the Fighters, led by Ohtani and Kuriyama, became NPB champion for the first time in a decade.


Kuriyama was named the Samurai Japan manager in December 2021.

He initially declined the offer, saying, “I am not the right person for the post.”

Kuriyama’s career as a player was not as glittering as those of Japan’s previous WBC managers, such as Sadaharu Oh and Tatsunori Hara.

The last time Japan won the WBC title was in 2009 under manager Hara, now skipper of the Yomiuri Giants.

Hara, who is three years older than Kuriyama, was a superstar in high school baseball and later with the Giants.

He was also Kuriyama’s hero.

Kuriyama still vividly remembers the excitement of visiting Hara’s school for a baseball selection tryout and seeing his idol.

Their eyes met, and Hara told the junior high student, “Good luck!”

Kuriyama stood there transfixed.

He had attended a different high school, and he never had a chance to play at the “Koshien” national high school tournament.

He regained his composure, took the tryout test, and started playing for the Yakult Swallows in 1984.

He said he was overwhelmed by star athletes and his teammates.

“I am so bad at this,” he said he told himself. “Why did I come to this world?”

He eventually won a regular position, but his career ended because of injuries and a diagnosis of Meniere’s disease.

He retired in 1990, and became a sportscaster, an unusual move for a former professional athlete at the time.

But he was motivated to learn more about baseball. Through his new job, he also could travel to ballparks around Japan and in the United States.

It was that love for baseball that made him finally take the baton from his hero and become the Samurai Japan manager.

Another reason was that he wanted to stop the decline in the number of people who play baseball due to falling birthrate and other factors.

“We have to do something to tell people about the appeal and joy of baseball,” Kuriyama had said. “I just don’t want this culture to disappear.”


Japan’s WBC team was billed as the strongest ever in the history of the baseball-loving nation. And Kuriyama was the unifying force.

Ohtani, the tournament’s MVP, summed up the team’s feelings after the victory over the United States.

“I am glad that we made (Kuriyama) win the championship,” he said.

Scenes of the Japanese celebrations on the field in Miami and all around Japan were the things Kuriyama has dreamed about.

Throughout the tournament, strangers connected and shared in the excitement in the stands and on the bench through the common language of baseball.

What Samurai Japan accomplished “made a difference,” Kuriyama said at the news conference.

He added: “Children all over Japan who watched (today’s game) must have found it so cool, and some of them now want to play baseball. I’m sure of that. And that makes me really happy.”