Wednesday, April 13, 2011



Something can't forget,but something must be's must continue!Built up a while...

In Disaster’s Shadow, Japan Plays Ball Again

Fans of the Rakuten Golden Eagles cheered during a baseball game between the Eagles and the Chiba Lotte Marines in Chiba prefecture, Japan, on Tuesday. 

CHIBA, Japan — The parking lots around QVC Marine Field were closed because the land underneath them liquefied in the March 11 earthquake. Some scoreboards were turned off to save electricity, and a new inning can go no longer begin after a game is three and a half hours old for the same reason. Flags at the stadium were flown at half staff, and players on one of the teams, the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, wore patches on their uniforms that in effect urged their fans to “stick with it.”

A strong aftershock in the morning delayed some trains heading to the stadium, which is about 45 minutes outside Tokyo, and another aftershock in the fourth inning forced the home plate umpire to call time.
But in the face of it all, they played ball here Tuesday. In the first six innings, each team spotted the other team a run. Then in a bit of storybook drama for the Eagles, who are from Sendai, a city not far from the epicenter of the giant quake last month, their spiritual leader, Motohiro Shima, hit a three-run home run into the team’s cheering section in left field, and Tohoku beat the Chiba Lotte Marines, 6-4.
“This is a victory for all of us, including the people trying their best in Tohoku,” said Hisashi Iwakuma, the starting pitcher for the Eagles.
And so it was on opening day, Japan style. There were staples of custom and optimism — fried soba noodles on the griddle, cheerleaders in pink satin outfits dancing in the early spring sun, long lines of fans eager to enter the stadium for the first time since last fall, when the hometown Lotte Marines won the Japan Series.
But the return of baseball has been infused with more poignant meaning this year as the country struggles to right itself after a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami leveled northeastern Japan a month and a day ago. For weeks, owners, players and fans debated whether to start the season on time when so many Japanese are still suffering. A very public discussion turned into a proxy for how the nation wanted to get back on its feet.
Ultimately, opening day was delayed nearly three weeks, enough time for stadiums to be patched up, players to move out of damaged homes, and fans to find it in themselves to seek solace at the ballpark.
This has been particularly true for the team from Tohoku. With their own stadium damaged, the Golden Eagles will play six home games in the Osaka area this month. But in their loss they have become the sympathetic favorite of the league and a beacon to their beleaguered fans.
“During the last month a lot of people have had it tough, but I’m hoping the team will give us some energy,” said Ryo Shishido, 33, a construction worker who drove eight hours from Fukushima City to see his team play Tuesday. “Usually, I’m so busy I can’t get to opening day, but there was no way I was going to miss it this year.”
After the final out, some of the Eagles players ran to the left-field stands to salute their fans, many of whom took off work so they could cheer the team on behalf of those back home who could not be here themselves.
“Winning will give us strength,” said Yu Yoshida, 30, an office worker from Tokyo whose family in Ishinomaki is living in a refugee center.
The players should play hard, he said, to inspire the people of Tohoku, a sentiment heard around Japan. Ryozo Kato, the commissioner of Nippon Professional Baseball and a former ambassador to the United States, saw an even greater, broader message.
“My strong feeling is that baseball will give a signal to the world that Japan is O.K.,” Mr. Kato said just moments before his assistant’s cellphone started beeping to indicate an impending earthquake.
Opening day, of course, is just one game in a long season for the fans and players. For the owners, much work remains. The Marines are looking to bring in diesel generators to power the lights when night games resume later this spring, said Akio Shigemitsu, the chairman of the Lotte group. In the meantime, attendance and advertising rates will suffer because of all the day games the team has to play, he said.
His problems pale next to those facing the Eagles. At their stadium in Sendai, walls and walkways were cracked, lounges and suites were flooded, and the ceilings in the team offices fell. Many of the team’s fans are out of work, living in refugee centers or worse. The nuclear crisis in neighboring Fukushima prefecture has heightened fears.
Given all of the obstacles, if the Eagles are in contention for the pennant in September, they are likely to become an inspiration not just for their fans but to a nation looking for encouragement.
“People in Tohoku are mentally a little bit tired and need something to get energized about,” said Hiroshi Mikitani, the chairman of Rakuten, which owns the Eagles. “If our team performs well, it’s going to be a great story.”
Kantaro Suzuki contributed reporting.
Life must goes on!