As you might have heard, the Olympics are kicking off this Friday. This will be the final Olympics to feature baseball. Japan is sending a team made up of many players from NBP including Yu Darvish and Norichika Aoki. Baseball America has an Olympic baseball preview here. Sports Illustrated predicts that Cuba will take the Gold with Japan taking the Silver and the US taking the Bronze. Personally, I think Japan should be the medal favorites, but I thought that in 2004 also and they ended up with the Bronze after being upset by Australia in the medal round.
I haven't heard anything about baseball cards for this year's team yet. I thought I'd do an overview of the cards available from previous Japan National Teams.
As far as I know, there are no cards for teams prior to the 2000 Olympics. 2000 was the first year that professionals were allowed to play in the Olympics. Japan sent a team that featured 8 players from NPB along with a bunch of players from the industrial leagues (including Norihiro Akahoshi who is now with the Tigers). In 2001, Calbee did a subset featuring the 8 NPB players from the team - So Taguchi, Fumihiro Suzuki, Nobuhiko Matsunaka, Norihiro Nakamura, Yukio Tanaka, Masato Kawano, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Tomohiro Kuroki). Here's the Taguchi card (#J-01):
The following year, Japan sent a team to the Baseball World Cup. This team included Shinnosuke Abe, Tadahito Iguchi and Yoshinobu Takahashi among others.
BBM put out a 47 card box set in late 2001 - early 2002 to commemorate this team. I can't show you any cards from this set since I only just discovered that this set exists. However, BBM also included a 16 card subset featuring members of this team in the 2002 BBM 1st Version set. Here's Shinnosuke Abe's card (#412):
The next National team that BBM commemorated in baseball cards was the one that participated in the 2003 Asian Baseball Championship, which functioned as a qualifier for the 2004 Olympics. This was the first Japanese baseball dream team, featuring Daisuke Matsuzaka, Koji Uehara, Hiroki Kuroda, Kenji Johjima, Michihiro Ogasawara, Kazuo Matsui, Tomohiro Nioka and Kosuke Fukudome. It was also managed by Shigeo Nagashima.
BBM produced a 36 card box set in late 2003/early 2004. Here's the Nioka (#19) and Nagashima (#01) cards from the set:
In addition, BBM added a 22 card insert set to the 2004 1st Version set featuring members of this team. Here's the Kosuke Fukudome card (#AJ22):
Surprisingly, there was no set for the 2004 Olympic team. I often wondered if it was because the team had such a disappointing finish. In fact, there hasn't been any cards for any Japanese National Teams for any of the international tournements since 2003, with the exception of the 2006 World Baseball Classic.
As I've mentioned previously, the WBC had really crappy baseball cards. Upper Deck's 50 card box set had only 5 guys from Japanese team (Toshiaki Imai, Nobuhiko Matsunaka, Ichiro, Kazuhiro Wada and Shunsuke Watanabe). Here's the Matsunaka card (#30):
Upper Deck spread a bunch of insert cards (at least 3 different sets) throughout their 2006 sets. I've been trying to pick up some of these on Ebay, but I haven't been very successful. I've only managed to pick up the 30 card Inaugural Images set, which has 7 cards featuring 6 members of the team: Daisuke Matsuzaka (2 cards), Nobuhiko Matsunaka, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Tomoya Satozaki, Ichiro and Koji Uehara. Here's the Uehara card (#II-17):
So starting next Wednesday, we'll see what happens. Hopefully, BBM or someone will put out a set of cards for what is possibly the last Japanese Olympic baseball team. And hopefully the cards for next year's WBC won't suck this time.