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Eagles chairman Mikitani enjoys day at the park

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Golden Eagles chairman Hiroshi Mikitani is a widely known top entrepreneur in Japan. But Tuesday, he was so emotional as his ballclub finally opened its 2011 season after the massive earthquake hit the franchise’s home city, Sendai.

Unlike in customary business settings, the 46-year-old Mikitani had to murmur in order to respond to reporters’ questions after his Tohoku Rakuten’s 6-4 come-from-behind victory over the Chiba Lotte Marines on Opening Day of the NPB’s 2011 season.

“It was … pretty good as our players played full-heartedly,” said Mikitani, who seemed to be slightly sobbing. “We didn’t hit very well early on, but the batters were trying to manage something.”

The team’s ballpark, Kleenex Stadium, was damaged by the catastrophic natural disaster on March 11, which is Mikitani’s birthday. The ballclub said that the stadium had destruction at 47 places, including its lights and outside walls, and it is under the restoration.

“There was some luck today,” Mikitani said. “But for those who are suffering in Tohoku, I think we played a great ballgame today.”

According to the team’s manager Senichi Hoshino, Mikitani gave a speech to the players and coaches before taking off for the stadium.

“He gave big instructions, saying, ‘Today’s game is not just one of the 144 games,’ ” Hoshino said. “So I’m so relieved that we won.”

The ballclub had set up big TV sets at some 20 different refuge sites so the victims would be able to watch the Eagles games on a satellite channel.

Mikitani said that he hopes to give the region’s victims something fun by watching his performing at its best to represent Tohoku.

“Hopefully, they can forget their reality they are facing when they are watching a baseball game,” he said. “If your heads are dwelling on baseball, you feel some joy. It doesn’t matter if we win or lose.

“(The refugees) are in cruel situation, so it was rewarding that we could present the victory to them.”

Toru Shimada, the ballclub owner and president, was also in the house for the game.