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Rob Smaal

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The Departed: Reactions may vary to NPB players who left Japan

by Rob Smaal (Mar 20, 2011)

With the Fukushima nuclear power plant crisis leaving many people with frayed nerves, several foreign athletes have decided better safe than sorry and have left Japan.

Some, such as the five American baseball players with the Yokohama BayStars--Brett Harper, Brent Leach, Clayton Hamilton, Brandon Mann and Terrmel Sledge--and the Yakult Swallows' Aaron Guiel, have done so with their club's permission.

Others, apparently, have left against their team's wishes.

Brian Bannister, an American pitcher in his first season in Japan with the Yomiuri Giants, was one of the first to leave. Brian Sikorski, Dee Brown, Alex Graman and Jose Fernandez of the Seibu Lions also left the country after the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake.

Bannister did not clear his departure with his club and Lions manager Hisanobu Watanabe was quoted as telling reporters that his foreign players left on their own, without club approval.

With the Central League sticking to plans to open its season on March 25 and the Pacific League throwing out the first pitch April 12, it will be interesting to see how some of these players will be received by teammates, management and fans when--or if--they return to Japan. The BayStars players were told to be back on Tuesday, March 22, but with the nuclear crisis still ongoing, it remains to be seen if they will comply or if the club will expect them to.

An issue like this could prove to be divisive in the clubhouse once the dust settles. In the United States, players like Kevin Millar, scabs who crossed picket lines in 1995 during the MLB players' strike, were never allowed into the players' union after that and many of them were never again fully accepted by their teammates.

This is a different situation, of course, with major health risks at stake. Self-preservation is a pretty strong instinct, so reactions may vary. Some of the players who stayed will undoubtedly not look too favorably on their teammates who bolted. Others will be more understanding.

Yomiuri Giants pitcher Seth Greisinger, who is single, decided to stay, but he can see why some guys left, particularly players with families to consider.

"Several players have chosen to leave Japan until the Fukushima issue gets resolved, and I can't judge or presume whether they made the right decision or not," said Greisinger, an American citizen. "Each player has his own issues to contend with. For many, the role of husband or father trumps all else and must take precedent. I can't speak for anyone else as to how they will be received upon their return, but from myself they will be met with a great deal of understanding. I do my utmost to respect the decisions of my teammates, both on and off the field."

It is unlikely that all the other players will be quite as understanding.


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