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All-Star Sato honored to pitch in hometown

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

For Yoshinori Sato, this is such a special All-Star Series.

Not because he came back in time for the Japanese version of the Mid-Summer Classic series from an injury, but because he is pleased to be able to pitch in front of the crowd in his native Sendai.

“Ever since it was revealed that Sendai would be one of the sites (for the All-Star Series), I’ve been aiming at pitching there,” said Sato, who hurt the abdominal fascia on his left side in early June, before Game 2 of the All-Star Series at QVC Marine Stadium on Saturday.

The 21-year-old Tokyo Yakult Swallows right-hander has been named to start for the Central League in Sunday’s final game of the series at Sendai’s Kleenex Stadium.

Sato grew up in Sendai and played for Sendai Ikuei High School, one of the baseball powerhouses in Tohoku.

His parents’ home has sustained damaged and many of his relatives and friends have suffered from the disaster.

Sato was also saddened by the death of his elder high school teammate, who would catch Sato’s balls behind the plate.

So Sato, representing the city and region, hopes to deliver a positive message to the victims in Tohoku and even the whole nation with his pitching.

That is, he said, his signature blazing fastball.

“I’d like to go with fastballs as much as I can,” said Sato, who clocked 161 kph on his fastball for the fastest record by a Japanese pitcher at Jingu Stadium last year.

“It’s my hometown. I’d certainly like to enjoy the moment as much as anyone.”

Also, Sato, who is 5-3 with a 2.66 ERA for the CL-leading Swallows, came into the All-Star Series with a special white and red glove embroidered with letters that read, “Ganbaro Nippon (Cheer up, Japan).”

Sato isn’t the only Tohoku-related All-Star that’s eager to make Game 3 special.

Masahiro Tanaka will start at his home stadium for the Pacific League in Game 3, while Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters ace Yu Darvish and Fukuoka Softbank Hawks starter Tadashi Settsu are also expected to pitch Sunday.

Darvish played for Tohoku High School in Sendai, and Settsu is an Akita native and suited up for a corporate club of JR East Tohoku, also in Sendai.

Among the batters, Tokyo Yakult Swallows slugger Kazuhiro Hatakeyama, the MVP in Game 1, is a native of Hanamaki, Iwate Prefecture, and Takeshi Yamasaki plays for the Eagles.