The Yokohama BayStars and Hanshin Tigers resumed their progress toward Opening Day on Saturday with a charity game at Yokohama Stadium--one of six across the country.
Ten days before Opening Day, players from both teams collected donations in front of the park before the BayStars whipped the Tigers 9-2.
The fund drive proved as popular as the first real game here since the March 11 earthquake halted a game in progress. Lines of fans waiting to chip in and meet players snaked around the stadium hours before game time.
Tigers third baseman Takahiro Arai, the head of the players association, was one of the players fans were most eager to meet before the game.
"I am appreciative that so many fans came to donate," said Arai, who in the wake of the disaster had pleaded for Nippon Professional Baseball to delay Opening Day.
"An amazing number of people told me, 'Let's do this together, Let's work hard for the sake of Japan.' Because people really believe this, it makes one want to do his best during the game."
A native of Fukushima Prefecture, 15-year-old Takehiro Sekine, threw out the first pitch. Afterward, he was met by commissioner Ryozo Kato.
"I told him he threw well," Kato said. "I said, 'What has occurred is beyond our ability to imagine. Pro baseball wants to do whatever it can to help.'"
Once the game started, the BayStars were led by Terrmel Sledge, who went 4-for-5 with two doubles and a three-run homer, and 19-year-old lefty Takayuki Makka, who allowed two runs in seven innings.
Makka, whose curveball was very sharp, was happy he could pitch a fast-paced game against quality competition.
"My last game was on the farm and I had a good tempo, but unlike last time, I faced a lineup full of top-quality players," said Makka, who allowed four hits, all of them singles, and two walks. "My goal was to focus on that tempo.
"Because of this [charity event] it was a great crowd, a terrific atmosphere. I am just a 19-year-old and my level is still pretty low. In this kind of situation, I just wanted to show what I could do."
Few looked happier afterward than BayStars manager Takao Obana.
"I feel lucky to be a part of baseball because it allows me to contribute," Obana said.
"This is great motivation for the players, too. We hit well, ran the bases well and fielded well. They got to show a good crowd that this is a team unlike the one that has played here in recent seasons--a changed team."
Leach declared restricted
Nippon Professional Baseball commissioner Ryozo Kato Friday said the Yokohama BayStars have invoked a rare rule, declaring hurler Brent Leach a restricted player.
This is the first time the restricted player rule, which allows the teams to maintain a player's rights without having to pay him, has been enacted since being adopted in 1998.
The 28-year-old was among five Yokohama foreign players who left the country in the wake of the nuclear crisis that arose following the March 11 quake and tsunami. Leach was expected to compete for a spot in the rotation, but while stateside, family members urged him to remain there and he has no plans to return to Japan. He signed a two-year deal with the club.
In other Japanese baseball news:
--The Chiba Lotte Marines signed reliever Carlos Rosa, the team said Friday.
Chiba, which lost closer Hiroyuki Kobayashi to free agency after its Japan Series championship run last year, hopes to bolster its bullpen with the righty.
Rosa, formerly with the Arizona Diamondbacks, reportedly signed a one-year deal for 37.8 million yen. The 26-year-old is 0-2 with one save and a 3.97 ERA in 31 outings over three seasons.
--The Tohoku Rakuten Eagles also said they signed reliever Romulo Sanchez to a one-year deal reportedly worth 40 million yen.
Sanchez, who had major league stints with the New York Yankees and the Pittsburgh Pirates, is expected to compete for the closer role.
Kyushu reaches 1st final
Takumi Miyoshi hit a two-run homer un and tossed his fourth straight complete game as Kyushu International University of Fukuoka routed Tokyo's Nichidai San 9-2 on Saturday to reach its first-ever national high school invitational tournament final.
Kyushu becomes the first school from the region to advance to the spring final since 1954, and faces Kanagawa's Tokaidai Sagami, which thrashed Osaka's Riseisha 16-2 in the second semifinal at Koshien Stadium.