Ohtani targets World Baseball Classic glory with Japan

Los Angeles Angels superstar Shohei Ohtani said he was "thinking only about winning" the World Baseball Classic title after being named in Japan's squad for the March tournament on Friday.

Ohtani, who has earned comparisons with the great Babe Ruth for his talent as both a pitcher and a hitter since his meteoric rise to fame in Major League Baseball, will make his World Baseball Classic debut after missing the 2017 edition through injury.

The 28-year-old was one of a first raft of 12 players announced by Japan manager Hideki Kuriyama, alongside veteran San Diego Padres pitcher Yu Darvish and 21-year-old domestic sensation Roki Sasaki.

The quadrennial World Cup-like tournament, which will be held in Japan, Taiwan and the United States, is taking place for the first time since 2017 following delays due to the pandemic.

Japan has won the title twice since the competition began in 2006 and Ohtani said it had been "a dream" to take part since watching the tournament growing up.

"I was playing baseball at school and I think that's when you enjoy it the most," Ohtani, the 2021 American League MVP, told reporters in Tokyo.

"Just watching the best players in Japan playing together as a team against the best in the world was so exciting.

"Now that I'm in that position, I want to show people what I can do."

This year's World Baseball Classic promises to be a stronger competition than in previous years, with several Major League Baseball stars announcing their intention to take part.

Ohtani's Angels teammate Mike Trout will headline what is likely to be a star-studded US squad, with Los Angeles Dodgers slugger Mookie Betts, two-time All Star Pete Alonso and 2022 National League MVP Paul Goldschmidt all expected to play.

Ohtani said he "didn't really expect so many top players to be involved" and is relishing the challenge.

"It's not just the US -- other countries have also called up top, top players," he said.

"It will be difficult but I want to give everything for Japanese baseball."

The competition will be split into four first-round groups of five teams, with eight teams going through to the next round.

The tournament then becomes a knock-out competition, with the semi-finals and final being held in Miami.

Japan have won the title twice before, while the Dominican Republic and the US have won it once each.