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[JAPAN SPORTS NOTEBOOK] Shohei Ohtani is the AL's Top Vote-Getter for the MLB All-Star Game

Shohei Ohtani received more than 2.6 million votes from fans in the first phase of voting. He'll start at DH and will likely be picked as a pitcher, too.

Shohei Ohtani is a fan favorite. And here's a vivid example: He is the American League's leading vote-getter for the 2023 MLB All-Star Game, which will be held on July 11 in Seattle.

With 2,646,307 votes as of Thursday, June 22, Ohtani will be the AL's starting designated hitter for the Midsummer Classic at Safeco Field. The Seattle ballpark previously hosted the 2001 All-Star Game, when Seattle Mariners outfielder Ichiro Suzuki received more than 3.3 million votes via paper ballots and the internet. 

Ichiro became the first MLB rookie to have the most votes for the MLB All-Star Game, which was first held in 1933.

Ohtani, who will be making his third consecutive All-Star Game appearance, leads MLB with 25 home runs (through Friday) and is batting .298 with 59 RBIs and 10 stolen bases in 75 games. A dynamic starting pitcher, he's 6-3 with a 3.13 ERA and 117 strikeouts in 99 innings in 15 starts for the Angels.

The pride of Iwate Prefecture homered in the fifth inning on Friday against the Colorado Rockies in Denver, giving him a combined 200 career homers in NPB and MLB.

In 2021, Ohtani was the AL starting pitcher and DH, unprecedented double duty for an MLB All-Star Game.

A year later, he was selected as a DH and pitcher. But he didn't pitch in the game held at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.

Shohei Ohtani hits a solo home run in the fifth inning against the Colorado Rockies on June 23 at Denver's Coors Field. (Isaiah J. Downing/USA TODAY SPORTS)

Info on All-Star Voting

The first phase of All-Star voting concluded on Thursday. After the initial phase of voting ended, the top vote-getter in each league not counting pitchers (who are not chosen by fan balloting) received automatic spots in the starting lineup. Outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr of the Atlanta Braves was the top vote-getter (3,082,600 votes), in the National League.

A second phase of balloting (June 26-29) will determine the rest of the starters. MLB players and the commissioner's office select the All-Star reserves and pitchers. More information is posted on MLB.com.

Ohtani Expresses Gratitude to Baseball Fans

"I would like to thank all the fans that voted for me, this is a huge honor," Ohtani said in a statement. 

The 2021 American League MVP and 2023 World Baseball Classic MVP added, "I will use this as motivation and will continue to give it my all on the field."

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Minnesota Twins starter Kenta Maeda pitches to a Detroit Tigers batter on June 23 in Detroit. (GETTY IMAGES/via KYODO)

Maeda Makes Winning Return for Twins

In his first MLB start since April 26, Minnesota Twins right-hander Kenta Maeda pitched five scoreless innings in a 4-1 road victory over the Detroit Tigers on Friday, June 23.

Maeda (1-4) allowed three hits and walked two batters. He struck out eight.

"It was awesome to come back and get a win for my teammates," Maeda said through an interpreter, according to The Associated Press. "I had made some adjustments during minor-league rehab and it felt good."

The 35-year-old pitcher was placed on the injured list with a triceps strain in late April. He made four rehab starts with the Triple-A St. Paul Saints before rejoining the Twins.

Kazuto Ioka punches Joshua Franco in the eighth round of their super flyweight fight on June 24 at Tokyo's Ota City General Gymnasium. (ⒸSANKEI)

Boxing

Ioka Defeats Franco in Rematch, Claims WBA Super Flyweight Title

Kazuto Ioka captured the WBA super flyweight title on Saturday, June 24, beating Joshua Franco in their 12-round bout at Tokyo's Ota City General Gymnasium.

Ioka earned a unanimous decision over his 27-year-old American opponent. Two of the judges scored the fight 116-112 in Ioka's favor. The other judge called it 115-113 for Ioka.

Ioka and Franco previously fought on December 31, 2022, at the same venue. The bout was declared a draw, and Ioka retained his WBO super flyweight title, while Franco held on to his WBA crown.

Ioka vacated his WBO title after opting against facing a mandatory challenger. Instead, he wanted to fight a rematch with Franco (18-2-3, eight KOs).

This time, the outcome was clear.

Kazuto Ioka displays his WBA super flyweight championship belt after the fight. (ⒸSANKEI)

"I'm glad I got the result," Ioka was quoted as saying by Kyodo News after improving to 30-2-1 with 15 KOs in his illustrious career. 

The veteran Japanese fighter added, "I knew I had to keep throwing punches. Franco was as strong as last time, with a wide range of punches."

Pre-Fight Drama

A day before their rematch, after Ioka stepped on the scale weighing 52 kg, there was drama when his opponent did the same. Franco weighed 55.2 kg, which is 3.1 kg over the limit of 52.1 kg (115 pounds), and then stepped on the scale again two hours later. For his second weigh-in, Franco was again over the limit at 55.0 kg.

As a result, Franco was stripped of his WBA title belt. This meant that if Franco had won the rematch or if it was declared a draw the title would've still been vacant.

Instead, Ioka secured the WBA title with an effective mix of punches.

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Peter Cklamovski (KYODO)

Soccer

New FC Tokyo Manager Cklamovski Vows to Lead Turnaround

FC Tokyo won only five of its first 17 matches this season.

The team finished in sixth place during the 2022 J.League season, and its poor start in the 2023 season led to manager Albert Puig's resignation on June 14. Two days later, Australian Peter Cklamovski was named the Spaniard's replacement.

With FC Tokyo in 12th place in the 18-team league, Cklamovski's first match in charge was against visiting second-place club Nagoya Grampus on Saturday, June 24. Diego Oliveira scored in the 18th and 80 minutes to lead FC Tokyo to a 2-0 win.

Discussing his vision for FC Tokyo in the run-up to the Grampus match, Cklamovski said that the team would make improvements under his leadership.

"I am honored, proud, and excited to be appointed as the manager of this special football club," Cklamovski said, according to Australian soccer website Keep Up.

"A lot has to be done to get to the club's dream location. We will work hard together with the players, staff, and everyone involved in the club, and do our best to reach the destination as soon as possible."

Cklamovski, who previously managed the J.League first-division club Shimizu S-Pulse and second-division side Montedio Yamagata, worked as an assistant under former Yokohama F. Marinos boss Ange Postecoglou from January 2018 to February 2019.

"Our promise to all of our fans and supporters is to become a team that everyone fears," Cklamovski said. "Players have a strong mentality to achieve something special. And we have great fans and supporters who walk alongside us, creating a magical and great atmosphere in the stadium. Please keep cheering for our players and we will always fight with passion." 

Samurai Blue
Japan's Hiroki Ito scores a goal in the 22nd minute against Peru in an international friendly on June 20 at Panasonic Stadium Suita in Suita, Osaka Prefecture. (ⒸSANKEI)

Japan Cruises Past Peru in Friendly

For the second time in less than a week, the Japan men's national team had plenty of reasons to celebrate its offensive performance.

The Samurai Blue scored two goals in the first half and two more in the second half before Peru answered in the 83rd minute on Tuesday, June 20. By that point, it was too late for the South American squad to mount a comeback in the international friendly. Japan manager Hajime Moriyasu's team, which was eliminated by Croatia in a penalty shootout at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in the round of 16, walked off the field with a 4-1 victory in Suita, Osaka Prefecture.

Hiroki Ito (22nd minute) and Kaoru Mitoma (37th) staked Japan to a 2-0 lead before halftime. Junya Ito (63rd) and Daizen Maeda (75th) extended the advantage to 4-0. Christofer Rodrigues scored Peru's lone goal.

"Our players prepared well and expressed our football, each of them stringing passes together to win," Moriyasu was quoted as saying by Kyodo News. "We want to build on this win against a strong South American side.

"Players battled in one-on-ones and fulfilled their roles both individually and collectively to build a good attack from good defense."

On June 15, Japan defeated El Salvador 6-0 in Toyota, Aichi Prefecture in its first friendly of the month. The Samurai Blue also had two friendlies in late March, when they played Uruguay to a 1-1 draw in Tokyo and lost 2-1 to Colombia in Osaka.

Kotaro Matsushima (center) and other Japan rugby national team players participate in a training camp practice on June 22 in Urayasu, Chiba Prefecture. (ⒸSANKEI)

Rugby

Brave Blossoms to Play First Test Match Against England in Japan

The Brave Blossoms, aka the Japan men's rugby national team, will play host to England on June 22, 2024, in the first test match between the teams to be held in Japan, the Japan Rugby Football Union announced on Thursday, June 22.

But first, they will meet on the sport's biggest stage, the 2023 Rugby World Cup, on September 17 in their Group D opening match in Nice, France.

Then, in 2024, the Japan-England match will be contested as part of the Lipovitan D Challenge Cup. Further details will be announced at a later date. 

The 2023 Lipovitan D Challenge Cup features five nations' teams: Japan, New Zealand, Samoa, Tonga, and Fiji. Five matches are on the schedule in July and early August.

England is Unbeaten Against Japan

Japan is 0-10 against England in all rugby matches, starting in 1971. In their most recent clash, England routed Japan 52-13 on November 12, 2022, at London's Twickenham Stadium. 

"We are delighted to welcome England to Japan next year for this historic test match and to have the opportunity to test ourselves against one of the world's best teams," said Masato Tsuchida, the JRFU president, in a statement. 

"The JRFU and Japanese rugby fans have great respect for English rugby and recognize England as the birthplace of our great sport. We fondly remember England's performances at the World Cup in 2019, especially their incredible semifinal victory [over New Zealand] in Yokohama." 

Tsuchida added: "English fans made a fantastic contribution to the atmosphere of the tournament, making up the largest contingent of visiting international fans. They left a wonderfully positive impression on the Japanese public, and we look forward to welcoming the team and English fans back to Japan and renewing the great rugby connection between our two nations."

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Japan's Saori Miyazaki shoots a layup in the third quarter against Denmark on June 18 in Takasaki, Gunma Prefecture. (KYODO)

Basketball

Japan Women Complete Three-Game Sweep of Denmark

In preparation for the 2023 FIBA Women's Asia Cup, the Japan women's national basketball team played a three-game series against Denmark on June 16-18 in Takasaki, Gunma Prefecture.

Japan recorded 101-39, 87-63, and 102-49 victories in succession over the world's 52nd-ranked women's national squad.

In the opener, Japan, ranked ninth in the world, raced out to a 32-6 lead by the end of the first quarter en route to a runaway win at Takasaki Arena.

Japan, the Olympic runner-up two years ago in Tokyo, outscored Denmark 30-7 in the third quarter in the second game to build an insurmountable lead.

Japan's Saki Hayashi drives to the basket against Denmark's Alberte Rimdal on June 18. (KYODO)

The series ended with the hosts putting 27 points on the board in the fourth quarter of the final game and holding Denmark to nine in the period.

Tokyo 2020 participant Saori Miyazaki, who plays for the WJBL's Eneos Sunflowers, scored a team-best 20 points in the weekend finale. The veteran guard made 4 of 7 3-point shots, and Japan sank 15 of 31 from beyond the 3-point arc.

Japan is the five-time reigning FIBA Women's Asia Cup champion. And this year's tournament is set to get underway on Monday, June 26, when it faces Taiwan. The Women's Asia Cup runs through July 2 in Sydney.

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Author: Ed Odeven

Find Ed on JAPAN Forward's dedicated website, SportsLook. Follow his [Japan Sports Notebook] on Sundays, [Odds and Evens] during the week, and Twitter @ed_odeven.

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