While the Yankees think so little of the World Baseball Classic they’re apologizing to Spring Training ticket holders for the absence of Johnny Damon, A-Rod and Derek Jeter, in Tokyo, management of the Yomiuri Giants seem to consider the tournament to be a credible competition. From the New York Daily News’ Sam Borden.

When Hideki Matsui declined to join the Japanese team, he did so knowing that it would disappoint a legion of fans and could even hurt his iconic reputation – particularly since Seattle’s Ichiro Suzuki (above, left), a rival of Matsui’s when they both played in Japan, agreed to play.

Ramifications of Matsui’s and Ichiro’s decisions are already becoming apparent. Shortly after Ichiro arrived in Japan to begin training for the tournament, he had a meeting with Tsuneo Watanabe, the CEO of the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun and powerful executive for the Yomiuri Giants – Matsui’s old team.

According to Robert Whiting, an expert on Japanese baseball and author of “The Samurai Way of Baseball,” who is currently living in Kamakura – a town less than an hour south of Tokyo – Watanabe told Ichiro that he was a “smart guy” and should consider managing the Giants in the future.

“Imagine, a 32-year-old youngster teaching an 80-year-old something,” Watanabe said, according to Japanese reports. “Do I want him to come to the Giants? Yes, I want him. I want him to be our manager.”

The conversation was surprising since Ichiro did not play for the Giants and was harshly criticized by Watanabe when he left Japan for the Mariners – the general assumption was that Watanabe would have had such a talk with Matsui, not Ichiro.

“Certainly it looks like a slam at Matsui,” says Whiting via telephone.

Japan are leading Korea, 2-0 in the top of the 3rd inning this morning. Munenori Kawasaki connected for a solo HR off former Expos/Nationals P Sunny Kim.