For the first time since March 11, two school teams from Natori, Miyagi Prefecture, were back in uniform and dreaming of baseball on Saturday.
The Yuriage Primary and Middle School teams were on the field at Tokyo Dome before Yomiuri's night game against the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. A pitcher from each team threw out a ceremonial first pitch.
"I was really nervous because of all the people in the stands and the noise the supporters were making," said middle school hurler Keisuke Matsuura. "I was happy I could make a good pitch."
The teams, whose members are living in evacuation centers, are in Tokyo for a baseball weekend as guests of Major League Baseball and the American School in Japan. Having lost so much in the March 11 tsunami, the teams received new uniforms on Friday night after arriving by bus from Miyagi.
"When I first saw our uniforms, I thought they were so cool," said sixth-grader Ken Takahashi, who also delivered a strike despite battling some nerves.
With the facilities the two schools normally share off limits after the tsunami, the teams have had to borrow a practice field from a primary school.
"We've had a few practices, but it's cramped," said middle school coach Hironori Hachiya.
His charges took the field for real on Saturday morning against the American School in Japan's junior varsity team and beat their hosts 15-0.
"It [the trip] has gone very, very well," said Jim Small, MLB's vice president for Asia. "[My son] John said that when they announced the lineups, he saw some of the kids crying. In the dougout, they had the uniform and picture of a teammate who had died.
"But once the game started it was classic Japanese baseball versus American baseball. They bunted well and ran well and Japanese baseball beat us."
The primary school squad, which will play a Tokyo youth team today, practiced for two hours before enjoying a cookout with the middle schoolers at ASIJ.
"It was so great to spend time with these people from foreign countries," Takahashi said. "I really want to win tomorrow."