Jingu Stadium was alive for the first time in weeks.
Tokyo Yakult Swallows fans showed up to cheer on their team and a sea of red-clad Hiroshima Carp supporters took over the left-field stands as beer girls made the rounds and the ouendan sang their hearts out.
All in all, the scene at Jingu Stadium was strikingly normal. Which is saying a lot these days.
Baseball made its return with a slate of charity games on Saturday, as all 12 Nippon Professional Baseball teams competed on the same day for the first time since the devastating earthquake and tsunami hit Japan on March 11.
The Swallows were 3-0 winners over the Carp — in a game highlighted by a solid day on the mound by Yakult’s Shohei Tateyama and a solo homer from Osamu Hamanaka — but the most important thing was the cause for which the teams played. The NPB’s charity contests were staged to help Japan recover from the disaster and most of the proceeds from the games will go to aid relief efforts.
“This is a good thing,” said Carp third baseman Kenta Kurihara, a native of Yamagata Prefecture. “It helps.”
Black strips of cloth were pinned to the right sleeve of each player’s jersey to honor the victims of the disaster and Hiroshima’s Yoshiyuki Ishihara and Yakult’s Masanori Ishikawa made brief remarks to the crowd prior to the contest.
“Everybody’s wearing these for the earthquake victims,” Carp shortstop Eishin Soyogi said. “I think this game can help.”
Swallows players and, briefly, manager Junji Ogawa, also lined up outside of the stadium and took donations from fans a few hours before the game.
“It’s nice to be able to give back,” Yakult first baseman Josh Whitesell said.
Most of the players seemed happy to play in front of a crowd again, after playing practice games in empty stadiums, and the 9,434 fans in attendance also seemed pleased to see things get back to normal, if only for a few hours.
“I think it’s good,” said Tetsuya Nakamura, a 32-year-old resident of Tokyo. “It’s good to be able to spend ¥2,000 for something I enjoy that can also help people. We should have more things like this.
“As long as it’s in the daytime,” Nakamura added. “I’m against night games, because they consume a lot of electricity. I don’t think they should do that.”
All 12 NPB clubs were scheduled to play a second round of charity games on Sunday.
The regular season for the Central and Pacific Leagues will begin on April 12.