Ichiro won’t play World Baseball Classic

TOKYO — Ichiro Suzuki told Japanese baseball officials Monday he has decided not to take part in next year’s World Baseball Classic.

“I appreciate being asked to play for Japan again at the WBC,” Suzuki said. “But after the second tournament in 2009 I never considered playing in the third event. My feelings have not changed to this day, and it’s where things stand.”

The 39-year-old Suzuki, who was instrumental in helping Japan win the WBC in 2006 and 2009, joins fellow Japanese major leaguers Yu Darvish of the Texas Rangers and Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Norichika Aoki in opting out of the March 2-19 tournament.

Suzuki, a free agent, was traded from the Seattle Mariners to the New York Yankees in July. Yankees’ pitcher Hiroki Kuroda, another free agent, also said Monday he would not play in the 2013 WBC.

Suzuki hit .322 in 67 games for the Yankees and was one of the team’s most consistent hitters.

In the final of the 2009 WBC, Suzuki drove in the winning run with a line drive to center in the 10th inning as Japan beat South Korea 5-3 to claim its second straight title.

With many major league players opting out, Japan will likely field a team made up entirely of players from the domestic professional league.

Japan beat first-round WBC opponent Cuba in two exhibition games over the weekend by scores of 2-0 and 3-1 with players from the Central and Pacific leagues.

Japan opens defense of its WBC title on March 2 in Pool A in Fukuoka, Japan, where it will face Cuba, China and a yet-to-be-determined qualifier.

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