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THE HOT CORNER: Disaster hits home for Eagles

by Jim Allen (Mar 17, 2011)

So much has changed since in largest recorded earthquake in Japan's history demolished a sizable area of the Tohoku coast on Friday.

As the news flashed around the world of the 9.0 magnitude quake and the ensuing tsunami, the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles were playing a preseason exhibition game in Akashi, Hyogo Prefecture.

When word reached the stadium, the game between the Eagles and Chiba Lotte Marines was abruptly halted after the top of the eighth inning.

"We were playing that exhibition game and they stopped...," Eagles first baseman Randy Ruiz told The Hot Corner on Sunday in Kawasaki.

"'What the hell happened here?' and they say about the earthquake and people's families. We had a couple of [foreign] teammates, we have [Kelvin] Jimenez over there [in Sendai] and [Juan] Morillo and they didn't know what to do. I think right now, they're staying in shelters."

The Eagles players were in no position to continue, given their fears for their families back in Sendai.

"I can't imagine if it were my family," said pitcher Darrell Rasner, whose family is not with him in Japan. "I can't imagine what it's like for guys with families up there."

In the quake's aftermath, all of last weekend's preseason games were canceled. Sunday morning in Yokohama, players and staff discussed their predicament and that of Sendai. That morning, they got a small firsthand taste of the fear when a quake shook their hotel.

"I was scared," Ruiz said. "I thought it was a subway going by. But wait a minute, we are right by the subway but we're all the way up on the 11th floor--no subways on the 11th floor."

The Eagles then traveled to the Yomiuri Giants' practice facility in Kawasaki for an afternoon workout. The short procession from the buses to the indoor practice ground took place in total silence. There was none of the usual chatter among the players, and not a word from reporters, who had been requested not to ask intrusive questions of the players.

Eagles captain Teppei Tsuchiya and players rep Motohiro Shima briefly met the press after the workout.

"We are concerned for the people of Miyagi, Sendai and the entire Tohoku region and how they are fairing, so frankly we are not 100 percent focused [on baseball]," Tsuchiya said.

In addition to battering several prefectures, the earthquake, tsunami and subsequent power shortages have wreaked havoc with transportation and logistics.

Always road-bound this time of year because Sendai in March is too cold to attract preseason opponents, the Eagles may be in the midst of the longest road trip in Japan history. There is no word when Nippon Seishi Kleenex Stadium, the Eagles' home ground--or Sendai, for that matter--will be ready.

"I don't know what's going to happen," pitcher Rasner said. "Are we going to be one of those teams that doesn't have any home games?"

That question was left unanswered on Tuesday, when executives from each of Nippon Professional Baseball's 12 teams met in special sessions. The Pacific League wants to delay the scheduled March 25 start to the season, but the Central League hopes to go ahead.

The most important thing is that they do play, somewhere, somehow.

A child's game played by men is trivial in the big picture, but baseball is also a big part of the culture, and depriving the nation of pro ball would just add cruel insult to injury. There are many more important things to do, but when it is safe and fears have subsided, baseball can lift spirits and bring an amount of joy.

Until Sendai and its park are ready, the Eagles might find themselves playing home games in Kobe, which was devastated by a January 1995 earthquake and since 2005 is without a full-time team.

The 1995 Orix BlueWave, wearing "Gambaro Kobe" patches, won the PL pennant.

On Sunday, a reporter suggested to Eagles skipper Senichi Hoshino that his team's theme this season could be "Gambaro Sendai." But Hoshino wasn't ready to talk about it and just grunted at the temerity of broaching the topic.

It will be time for baseball soon, but that time is not here yet for the Eagles.


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