Entries in Disaster Victims (1)


Japan Delays First Pitch, Players Rally Around Disaster Victims

Junko Kimura/Getty Images(TOKYO) -- The professional baseball season has been delayed twice in Japan. This country's national pastime was forced to take a back seat to a national tragedy, despite initial pleas from the league to play on.

Japan's players, including stars who are now playing in America, have rallied to help the victims of the disaster.

Boston Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka donated $1 million to the Japanese Red Cross. Seattle Mariners outfielder Ichiro Suzuki donated about $1.2 million to the Red Cross, as well. The Mariners planned to dedicate the first six games to northern Japan's relief efforts.

The region's struggles are personal for Suzuki, whose former team, the Orix Blue Wave, inspired the city of Kobe by winning the Pacific League in 1995, the year another massive earthquake killed more than 6,000 people and devastated the region.

In the aftermath of Japan's worst natural disaster, the powerful Central League -- home to the dominant Yomiuri Giants, the Yankees of Japan -- lobbied to open the season as scheduled. In exchange, the league offered to scrap night games in areas suffering from power shortages, and dim the lights in other night games.

That push to play was met with criticism and a boycott of the games, especially after the rival Pacific League agreed to push back their opening day.

"I think the games can lift the spirits of victims who were hit hardest," said Giants fan Kiyoshi Yamada. "But we must be mindful those same people are crying and struggling every day."

The government pressured the Central League to reconsider. The league initially postponed the season start to March 29. Last week, the Central League caved in further, postponing the season to mid-April, in line with the Pacific League.

The Central and Pacific Leagues are now scheduled to throw out the first pitch on April 12. The Rakuten Eagles will plan to play their first six home games of the season in the country's southern Hyogo Prefecture. If repairs to the stadium move fast enough, players could be back in their real home by the summer.

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