The relationship between Japan and Major League Baseball stretches back over a century with a number of highs and lows dotting the landscape along the way.
So after seeing the destruction wrought by last week’s 9.0 magnitude earthquake and the devastating tsunami that followed, MLB has stepped to the plate ready to do what it can to aid the country’s recovery.
“MLB and Japan have ties reaching back more than 100 years,” MLB’s vice president for Asia Jim Small told The Japan Times via e-mail. “Through our shared love of baseball, Japan is a particularly special place to us, and we are deeply saddened by the disaster that has confronted the nation. Major League Baseball will certainly provide aid with the relief efforts in the days and weeks ahead. We will do everything we can to help Japan.”
The history between Japan and MLB is a rich one with highlights from 17-year-old high schooler Eiji Sawamura striking out nine and holding a lineup featuring Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth and Jimmie Foxx to one run over five innings during a MLB tour in 1934, to Tsuyoshi Nishioka becoming the latest Japanese star to don an MLB uniform this spring.
MLB commissioner Bud Selig released a statement on Friday to express his sadness at the situation. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the league is working on ways it can help.
“MLB and its clubs have been in touch with the U.S. government, the Japanese government, the NPB and many NGO’s about the best way we can help with Japan’s recovery from this disaster,” Small said. “We will announce our plans in the coming days, but I also expect that the support will be ongoing in the months and perhaps years to come.”
Already, major league teams and players have stepped up to do their part.
The New York Yankees donated $100,000 to relief efforts, while the Seattle Mariners have pledged at least $100,000.
Mariners star Ichiro Suzuki is giving roughly $1.24 million and Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Hiroki Kuroda is contributing $50,000. The Boston Red Sox’s Japanese contingent, led by Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima, collected donations outside the gates prior to a recent Red Sox spring training contest.
The MLB’s Asia office has also been in contact with Japanese baseball officials throughout the recent crisis.
“At commissioner Selig’s direction, I spoke to (NPB) commissioner (Ryozo) Kato shortly after the earthquake hit and offered not only our concern and sympathies but also any assistance we could provide during these difficult times,” Small said. “I have also spoken with officials at several NPB teams and extended the same sentiments.”
Even against the backdrop of the events that led to a tragic loss of life in the country last week, Small, who has been based in Tokyo for some time, commended the courage and resilience of the Japanese people.
“I have been amazed, but not surprised, to see the incredible gaman (perseverance) that the people of Japan have exhibited this past week,” Small said. “I don’t think there is another country in the world that would handle this terrible tragedy in precisely this way. I believe this attitude will serve Japan well as it rebuilds. Japan and Japanese baseball will rise from this tragedy and will be strong once again.”
Players want delay KYODO The NPB players’ union has called on the Central League to reverse its decision to open the season as scheduled on March 25 as the nation is struggling to deal with the aftermath of the catastrophic quake and tsunami.
The CL will discuss the issue at an extraordinary executive meeting Saturday and may postpone its Opening Day, sources familiar with the matter said.
The union made the move after Takahiro Arai, the head of the union, held hearings Friday with player representatives from all 12 clubs regarding the CL’s view that the league is ready to go since last week’s massive earthquake in northeastern Japan had a limited impact on CL teams.
“A lot of players voiced strong opposition to the CL’s decision,” Arai said. “We decided to demand a postponement.”
The Pacific League has postponed its Opening Day from March 25 to April 12 as Sendai, the home of the Rakuten Eagles, was hit hard by the earthquake.