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Rob Smaal

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Foreign ballplayers on edge after quake

by Rob Smaal (Mar 15, 2011)

When the big quake hit Friday, Yakult Swallows slugger Aaron Guiel was in the on-deck circle at Yokohama Stadium during a preseason game against the BayStars.

"It was like being in a Hollywood disaster movie," said the former New York Yankee. "We all walked out onto the field. The fans were rocking in the stands like they were on a Disneyland ride. People were screaming, buildings were swaying."

Guiel's teammate, pitcher Tony Barnette, was in a more precarious situation when it hit--he was taking a shower in the clubhouse when he was forced to bolt, dripping wet and barely covered.

Now, three days after the biggest quake in Japan's recorded history, Guiel and many of the other foreign players in Nippon Professional Baseball are wondering what their best move might be. Another powerful earthquake is being predicted for the area and there is the danger posed by the damaged nuclear reactors some 250 kilometers north of Tokyo in Fukushima.

"We're in a holding pattern right now," Guiel said Monday. "I've had worried calls from my wife and family (back in Vancouver) trying to find out if we're safe. The part that really worries me now is the situation at the nuclear power plants. I don't believe the Japanese government or CNN is telling the whole truth. You just don't know what's going on.

"My wife had tears in her eyes during her phone call. It really makes you think, 'Are we taking this seriously enough?' They are all saying I should get back home, it (baseball) is only a job. But we can't just take a week off--we're in a different situation. It's very hard to know what to do."

Barnette was concerned enough that he put his fiance, Hillary Jones, on a flight back to the United States on Sunday. Guiel's wife and kids were due to arrive in Japan on March 21, but that is now on hold until things settle down.

"I told her that if she didn't have to be here, might as well get out while you can," Barnette said of the decision to send Jones home.

Yomiuri Giants pitcher Seth Greisinger was in Tokyo when the quake struck, but many of his teammates were on the road in Osaka. Some of the club's American players were reluctant to come back to Tokyo, hoping to keep as much distance as possible between themselves and the faltering nuclear plants to the north.

Greisinger was also concerned.

"You don't want to panic (and try to leave the city or country) or overreact to the sensationalism of some of the media, but on the other hand you don't want to be the guy who plays it cool, (sticks around) and pays a price for it," said Greisinger, who makes his offseason home in Northern Virginia.

Guiel, whose team was practicing Monday, put it in perspective.

"We shouldn't be worried about baseball right now," said the Canadian veteran. "We should be concerned about the people up in Sendai who died or are still missing, not Opening Day."


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