Star pitcher Tanaka wants Olympic gold with Japan fans

·2-min read
Masahiro Tanaka returned home this month after seven years with the New York Yankees

Japanese baseball star Masahiro Tanaka said Saturday he hopes to win a gold medal at the upcoming Tokyo Olympics and celebrate with Japan fans, as the pitcher returns home after a seven-year stint with the New York Yankees.

Speaking at a press conference in Tokyo, the 32-year-old -- now set to play for the Rakuten Eagles -- was asked about the possibility of him playing in the postponed Summer Games.

"If I ever have a chance to participate, there is no reason for me to reject," he said.

"I had a bitter feeling when I played in the Beijing Olympics... This time I want to win a gold medal" as part of the host country's team, he added.

"I'm very excited at the fact I will be able to pitch in front of fans in Japan."

The timing of this year's games is particularly meaningful, he said, as it comes 10 years after a 2011 tsunami that left thousands dead in Japan.

Star pitcher Tanaka played for the Eagles from 2007 until 2013, when the team won their first-ever "Japan Series" title to the joy of fans in its home city of Sendai, which was devastated by the disaster.

He began a seven-year $155 million contract with the Yankees the following year.

Rakuten's chairman Hiroshi Mikitani said he hoped Tanaka's pitching would "invigorate" Japan this year.

The Tokyo Olympics -- initially set to take place last year but postponed due to the coronavirus -- are set to begin on July 23.

Despite growing concern over the event's feasibility, organisers and the International Olympic Committee insist it can go ahead safely.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga vowed Friday that the Olympics would be held this summer "as a symbol of global unity" to "bring hope and courage to the world".

kh/oho/axn