Seiichi Uchikawa had to pause during his hero interview Friday night following the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks’ victory over the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. A rush of emotions had left the Hawks captain searching for words, as tears welled up in his eyes while he answered a question about the situation in Kumamoto Prefecture, where a series of earthquakes and aftershocks have devastated the region and surrounding areas since Thursday night.
Uchikawa, who hails from neighboring Oita Prefecture, was like many who saw images of residents evacuating their homes and of buildings collapsed and cars overturned. The death toll as of Monday stood at 42 with many hundreds more injured.
“Being the father of one child, and seeing people carrying their children and evacuating and seeing people doing their best to leave, I really wish things like this didn’t happen,” a clearly choked-up Uchikawa said.
Like the rest of Japan, many in the baseball world have begun to react to the situation in Kyushu.
While most games over the weekend went on as planned (the Hawks-Eagles contest scheduled for Saturday in Fukuoka was called off), some teams sent their players out to greet fans and collect donations to aid relief efforts before taking the field. There were also moments of silence at many games.
“You kind of see what happened, the devastation, the next day,” Hiroshima Carp outfielder Brad Eldred said. “You hope as people, you do the best you can to try to help everybody out when you can. That’s the most important thing, having good-quality lives and helping people out as much as you can. Baseball is secondary when something tragic is going on.”
Tragedy has a way of putting things in perspective, and it’s no different for athletes. Like Eldred, the players know where the games stand in the grand scheme of things alongside something like the aftermath of the Kumamoto earthquakes. At the same time, there is a sense of duty among many to try and do whatever they can through sports.
“We are baseball players,” Uchikawa said from the podium. “All we can do is try to lift people’s spirits. We’ll do our best to try to make people smile even for just a short time while they’re watching baseball games.”
That’s not always easy, because some players also have families and relatives in affected areas. Yomiuri Giants third baseman Shuichi Murata, who is from Fukuoka Prefecture, said it was a little difficult to focus on Sunday’s game against the Carp, during which he hit a tiebreaking RBI single in the eighth inning of a 2-1 victory. Murata said he had talked to his parents, who live in Kumamoto, but has other relatives in or near the affected areas.
“Right now they are living in a difficult situation,” he said. “I have to do my best for them.”
Baseball players weren’t alone in their concern.
Soccer star Maya Yoshida, a defender for the Japan national team and Premier League side Southampton, told Kyodo News from England that he hoped to help out through charitable actions. Retired NBA star and basketball Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman, who is currently visiting Japan, also expressed his condolences in a video message taped by satellite television station WOWOW.
“I hope everybody who got hurt, I hope you guys come together, like you always do in the history of this country,” Rodman said. “Hope you guys come together and be as one. I hope that everything will be OK. My heart, my blessing is for your family and your country.”