Pop star Shiori Kubo, a very special Samurai Japan baseball fan

Pop star Shiori Kubo, a very special Samurai Japan baseball fan
"Because of baseball, I exist," stated the 21-year-old member of the female group Nogizaka46 who will throw the ceremonial first pitch ahead of Japan v China on Thursday.

Samurai Japan announced that an exceptional fan would throw the ceremonial first pitch of their first World Baseball Classic game.

Shiori Kubo of Nogizaka46, a female pop group which sold 18 million albums in Japan, is a dedicated baseball fan.

"Because of baseball, I exist," said the 21-year-old during a radio show.

"When I was four years old, the Rakuten baseball team was formed in my hometown of the Miyagi Prefecture," said Kubo to the Samurai Japan website, "That triggered me to go to the stadium. My father played baseball, and my mother played softball, so baseball was on our TV at home since I was born."

As a 12-year-old, Kubo saw the Rakuten Golden Eagles win the 2013 Japan Series. "It was the first time I was moved to tears of joy."

The love for baseball took her to cheerlead. "I thought that if I started dancing, my family would go to baseball games more often, so I started dancing. I couldn't watch the games. We practised until the last minute behind the scenes. Before going out, they told me whether they were winning or losing, so I was very aware of how the game was progressing."

After becoming a pop star, Kubo has limited her ballpark experience but she said the opportunities to watch baseball on TV have increased dramatically. "There are other baseball fans in the group, so we sometimes watch live broadcasts together in the dressing room, and when we have a chance, we go to the ballpark together."

With Japan taking on China on Thursday in the World Baseball Classic, Kubo is looking forward to seeing her team play, especially veteran pitcher Yu Darvish. "I think it's amazing that Darvish, who helped Japan win in 2009, is returning in 2023. I also like the fact that great young players like Hiroki Sasaki and Hiroya Miyagi are on the roster. They are my age. I know they will fight for Japan. I will be watching with respect."

What about the ceremonial first pitch? "It will be a different kind of tension."