MIYAZAKI--Some pitchers are known to give their clubs a real shot in the arm when they take the mound.
When Softbank Hawks left-hander Tsuyoshi Wada goes to work, however, it's not only his team that's getting the shot, but also some needy kids in a developing nation.
Wada's stats in his five seasons of pro baseball--he has posted double-digits in wins each year since being the Hawks' No. 1 draft pick in 2003--tell you he's got game. What you might not know is that he's also got plenty of heart.
Over the past three seasons, Wada, who turned 27 last week, has donated more than 150,000 vaccinations to children in countries like Myanmar, Laos and Thailand.
"For every pitch I throw in a game I donate 10 vaccinations," said Wada during a break in the Hawks' spring camp in Kyushu. "If we win I make it 20 (vaccinations per pitch), for a complete game I increase it to 30 and if I pitch a shutout it goes up to 40 shots for every pitch."
In this day and age, when many pro ballplayers are squabbling with clubs over million-dollar bonuses and lucrative incentive clauses, it's refreshing to see there are still athletes out there like Wada, willing and eager to spread some of their wealth to those who need it most.
"Before I became a professional baseball player I was thinking of something I could do to help people if I did make it as a pro," said Wada, who likely would have become a high school teacher if his baseball career had not panned out. "Some of my friends were involved in various types of charity work, but providing vaccines to children is something I came up with and it's something I thought could really help people."
Wada, who won a dozen games for Softbank in 2007 and 14 the year before--posting sub-3.00 ERAs both seasons--provides inoculations against diseases such as the measles, smallpox, cholera, rabies and influenza through the Japan Committee Vaccines for the World's Children (JCV) aid organization.
"There are many types of vaccines and many places where people need them," said Wada, who was born in Shimane Prefecture. "That is all decided by the JCV. They let me know, for instance, that they need 100 shots of this vaccine or 1,000 shots of another vaccine and then I provide the money for it."
That means for every pitch Wada throws, there's a good chance lives are being saved. While Wada doesn't do it for any personal attention--in fact some of his teammates had no idea he was involved in charity work--he says he does get a sense of satisfaction when he sees the faces of the children he has helped.
"So far I haven't had a chance to visit those places in person because I'm quite busy here but people from the JCV have shown me videotapes of the kids getting the shots. In the future I definitely want to go over and check it out.
"In the videos the kids thank me and say hello," continued Wada, smiling as he remembers some of the faces from those tapes. "Before I saw the videos I was not sure exactly where the vaccine was going, but after watching the tapes of the kids getting their shots, and hearing the kids and their parents thanking me, telling me how much they appreciate it, that makes me very happy and makes me feel great inside."
(IHT/Asahi: February 25,2008)