Alex Ramirez says Japan has been very good to him over his baseball career. And now, he says, in this country's time of need, it's time to give a little back.
More than a little, actually.
Ramirez, the Yomiuri Giants' popular cleanup hitter and chief entertainer, has pledged to donate $1 million (81 million yen) to the victims of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Tohoku. And that's not all.
"The other thing is we're going to get some T-shirts made, about 1,000, and whatever we sell, all that money is going to be donated to the same organization to help those people," the two-time Central League MVP from Venezuela said Thursday at Jingu Stadium. "Also, we already sent a truck up there (to the Sendai area) with medicine, stuff like that. The doctors (we're working with on medical relief) are doctors that I've been visiting since I've been here in Japan. We have a good relationship, and they were very pleased with the idea of getting the medicine and stuff to send up there."
Ramirez, who was in Hiroshima when the big quake hit, said he was horrified and saddened when he saw news reports of the massive damage. Even though he wasn't in an area directly affected by the earthquake or tsunami when it occurred, he felt like he was.
"All these fans, all these people have supported me in my career in Japan, so for me to see something like that, it was very sad, very painful," he said.
"A couple of years ago I was in a big earthquake in Sendai and it was really bad. This time we were in Hiroshima, but even though I was down there I felt I went through it because a couple of minutes before it happened I called my wife (in Tokyo) and I went through the whole earthquake on the phone with her. I was telling her not to look out the window because we live on the 31st floor, stay in the doorway, stuff like that. I tried to calm her down a little bit, but it was hard because she was crying the whole time."
On Thursday, the Central League finally bowed to public pressure--not to mention pressure from the players' union and government--and agreed to bump back its Opening Day to April 12, the same day the Pacific League will start. That news was welcomed by Ramirez and the other players.
"All these people (affected by the disaster), they need a lot of things--they need electricity, transportation is hard," Ramirez said. "This country right now is not thinking about baseball and things like that. For me, my personal opinion is that it's kind of hard to play in this situation--we should just try to help however we can, that's the main thing."
Ramirez has become famous in Japan for his post-home run dance performances over the years, something the fans really enjoy. This season, he had been planning something with an Okinawa theme, but circumstances have changed. He now wants to do something more positive.
"The performance I put together this year is going to be something like, 'We are one, Ganbaro Nippon,'" he said. "I'm still working on how I'm going to do it, but Ganbaro Nippon. The T-shirts I'm going to make, they're going to have the same design.
"The message (I want to convey to the people of Tohoku) is to stay positive, have faith, everything is going to be OK--we just pray for those people who lost their loved ones in this tragedy. This is the time for us to be together, to stay united, to be one. That's the message, to stay together, because this is when we need to be together."