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Athletics showing commitment to Japan

by Jason Coskrey

Oakland Athletics slugger Hideki Matsui and Seattle Mariners superstar Ichiro Suzuki, have already contributed to the ongoing relief efforts in Japan. With the help of the A’s, they’ll be able to do a little more.

Japan’s two biggest baseball stars were already scheduled to compete against each other on Japanese Heritage Day on Sunday in Oakland. In light of the disaster that struck Japan recently, the A’s have stepped in with plans to use the platform to help the nation heal.

The A’s are planning to donate $1 of every ticket purchase from Sunday’s game to the Red Cross to aid relief efforts. Oakland is expecting a crowd of at least 20,000.

Oakland will also donate 100 percent of the proceeds from a silent auction to be held prior to Sunday’s contest to the Red Cross. The auction will feature game-used equipment from Oakland players, but the highlights will be signed jerseys scheduled to be worn by Ichiro and Matsui on 2011 Opening Night.

The franchise announced on Tuesday it had already raised $50,000 for relief efforts. Matsui has personally pledged ¥50 million, while Ichiro has promised ¥100 million.

On hallowed ground: As repairs continue on Kleenex Stadium, the displaced Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles will instead play their home opener on April 15 at Koshien Stadium, the most revered venue in Japan.

The team will play its second home series in the much-less heralded, but Ogi Magic infused, Hotto Motto Field in Kobe against Hokkaido Nippon Ham April 22-24.

Rakuten is tentatively scheduled to play its true home opener against the Buffaloes in Sendai on April 29.

Sweet relief: Wrestling with Nippon Professional Baseball officials over when to start the season has consumed a great deal of Takahiro Arai’s time since the disaster hit Japan. It’s showed on the diamond as well, where the Hanshin Tigers third baseman went 25 straight spring plate appearances without a hit.

So it was likely a huge weight off Arai’s shoulders when the Central League start date was settled upon last weekend. The Tigers star celebrated by promptly snapping his hitless streak in the first inning of a game against the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters on Tuesday.

Looking good: Fighters pitcher Yu Darvish was supposed to have started the season by now. The 2011 campaign may not have officially opened yet, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at Darvish’s stats.

The Fighters ace has been impressive in recent outings, and through Wednesday had thrown 16 consecutive innings without yielding a run. Darvish allowed a pair of hits, struck out six and topped out at 154 kph in five innings against the Orix Buffaloes in his latest outing on Tuesday.

Pre-emptive strike: With the schedule already crunched, the Orix Buffaloes are hoping to avoid a rainout later in the year by moving their interleague series with the Yokohama BayStars, scheduled to begin on May 31, from Hotto Motto Field to Osaka’s Kyocera Dome.