Hirokazu Ibata, who was five times named his league's best overall shortstop, has been hired to manage Japan's senior men's national baseball team, Samurai Japan, through the 2024 Premier 12 tournament, NPB Enterprises Inc. announced Wednesday.

Ibata was an offensive and defensive cornerstone for the Chunichi Dragons with whom he won seven Central League Golden Gloves, before spending his final two seasons with the Yomiuri Giants, for whom he later coached.

The 48-year-old also coached for Japan's Tokyo Olympic gold medal-winning team, but his sole managing experience has been guiding the national under-12 team.

"I'm undeserving of this huge job, but I'll pour everything I have into it and serve with all my strength to honor my debt to Japanese baseball," Ibata told a press conference.

Hirokazu Ibata holds a press conference in Tokyo on Oct. 4, 2023. (Kyodo)

He replaces Hideki Kuriyama, who stepped down in May at the conclusion of his contract after winning the World Baseball Classic championship in March.

"Through this year's WBC, all of Japan became passionate about baseball," Ibata said. "I hope to make the most of the strength Samurai Japan gets from its unity, and make all of Japan's baseball fans and everyone in Japan excited again."

The national team's selectors have pointedly not yet tasked Ibata with managing Japan at the next WBC in 2026, a departure from past practice.

"I want people to evaluate me after my first year in the job, first of all," Ibata said. "My intent is to take it one year at a time."

Ibata's first games in charge will be at the Asia Professional Baseball Championship at Tokyo Dome, starting from Nov. 16.

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