The Associated Press
Boston pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka tried to get in touch with his grandmother. Oakland slugger Hideki Matsui prayed for the victims. Mets reliever Ryota Igarashi stayed up all night to see the devastation.
All across spring training, Japanese ballplayers worried about those at home. Hundreds of people were killed or missing after Japan was struck by its biggest recorded earthquake and a massive tsunami.
“It’s a tough situation,” Red Sox reliever Hideki Okajima said through a translator. “You can’t control nature, but when something like this happens, you really realize the power of nature.”
Matsuzaka said his parents in Tokyo were all right, but “I haven’t been able to get in touch with my grandmother,” he said.
At the Texas camp, pitcher Yoshinori Tateyama stood in front of a TV tuned to CNN. As he watched the pictures, he used his fingers to draw a map of Japan on a table, trying to show Rangers teammates Josh Hamilton and Mitch Moreland where the damage occurred.
Tateyama said he found out what happened in an e-mail from a friend after the morning workouts. “At that time, I realized how big it was,” he said through a translator.
More than a dozen players from Japan played in the majors last season. Through his translator, Seattle star Ichiro Suzuki said he hadn’t been able to reach his family with so many cell phone towers down.
“I am deeply concerned and affected by what is happening in Japan,” Matsui said in a statement before the A’s played the Dodgers. “I pray for the safety of all the people that have been affected and continue to be affected by this disaster.”
Commissioner Bud Selig said his staff had been in contact with its office in Tokyo. In Japan, baseball games in Tokyo, Chiba, and Yokohama were called off, as were all pro sports in the country.
“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,” Selig said in a statement.
The New York Yankees donated $100,000 for relief efforts in Japan, splitting the total between the Salvation Army and Red Cross.
The Oakland Athletics said they would help relief aid by adding a fundraising effort to the previously scheduled Japanese Heritage Day on April 3, when Ichiro and the Mariners visit Matsui and the A’s at the Coliseum. The San Diego Padres are pledged to raise money during their Japanese Heritage Night on May 20 against Seattle.
Beyond baseball, other sports were affected by the magnitude-8.9 earthquake.
There was a moment of silence before NBA games in Charlotte, North Carolina, Minneapolis, and Oakland, Calif.
Golfer Ryo Ishikawa woke up and heard about the destruction. He managed to keep his focus and shot a 7-under 65 at the first round of the Cadillac Championship in Doral, Fla.
“I was able to communicate with my family,” Ishikawa said. “If not for that, it would have been extremely difficult.”
At the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament in Indian Wells, Calif., Kimiko Date-Krumm worried about loved ones back in Tokyo.
“I tried to call my mother, and she was OK. And this morning, my family sent me an e-mail and said everyone was fine,” she said. “But I saw the news and it is very horrible.”
“I’m still in shock. I hope there isn’t anything else coming,” she said.
Jenson Button, the 2009 Formula One world champion, said he was relieved after reaching his girlfriend by Twitter. The driver said Japanese model Jessica Michibata had been in an underground photo shoot in Tokyo when tremors began to rock the building.
“She’s fine, very shaken,” Button said in Spain. “Right now, my thoughts go out to everybody in Japan, particularly in the worst-affected area of Sendai. My heart is with them.”
At the Yankees’ training complex in Tampa, Fla., minor league pitcher Kei Igawa was excused from workouts to return to his apartment and attempt to reach his family.
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said the team had given Igawa permission to return home if he wants. Cashman lived in Japan as part of an exchange program and went there several years ago when the Yankees opened the regular season in Tokyo.
“It’s difficult to watch,” Cashman said. “I think the entire world has Japan in their hearts and minds. We have a lot of friends, relationships there.”
Baltimore pitcher Koji Uehara said his family was safe, but hadn’t been able to contact some friends.
“At this moment, I don’t really know all the details yet, but I am guessing that the damage will be huge, so I am worried,” he said through a translator.
Former St. Louis outfielder So Taguchi sent an e-mail from Japan to an American friend.
“We are all safe, but some of our friends are having a hard time. We have been sticking to the TV since it happened,” he said.
At the Mets’ camp in Port St. Lucie, Fla., Igarashi was with his wife, son, and daughter. He tried in the morning to contact family and friends in Japan, but found communication lines shut. By late afternoon, he was able to get through.
Igarashi said he learned of the earthquake about 2:30 a.m. in a call from his translator. He put on CNN, but because his English is limited, the pitcher said he turned to the Internet.
“It’s pretty obvious from watching the imagery on the television screen of what’s going on,” he said. “But to get the details of the tremors in certain areas and the damage, I went to the Japanese live stream to find out,” he said.
Minnesota second baseman Tsuyoshi Nishioka said he did not know about the damage until getting to the ballpark. He found out his family was safe, then debated whether he should play. He did.
“I understand that I’m in an occupation where I can bring hope and energy back home to Japan,” Nishioka said through a translator. “So I wanted to be on the field and think about people back home and give it all out on the field to try and give something back.” ♦