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Making a difference: Mariners, A's to visit disaster-struck area before season-opening series

by Jim Allen (Mar 25, 2012)

The Oakland A's and Seattle Mariners have arrived in Japan to do more than just play some ball and wave the flag for their clubs and Major League Baseball.

While most of the players are focused on preparing for their first two games of the 2012 season, there is another agenda on the table, Mariners chief executive officer Howard Lincoln said.

"One of the things that I hope this opening series will bring is some small measure of help to all of the victims of the great earthquake and tsunami of last year," Lincoln said.

"Let's hope that all of the people who are still suffering get some small measure of joy from these games."

The Athletics will take on the Hanshin Tigers in Sunday's first exhibition at noon, with the Mariners and Yomiuri Giants to follow at 7 p.m. The Mariners, with a trio from Japan's World Baseball Classic-winning team in Ichiro Suzuki, Hisashi Iwakuma and Munenori Kawasaki, will play the Tigers at noon on Monday, while the A's play the Giants in the final exhibition later that evening.

On Tuesday, players from both major league clubs will travel to Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, to conduct a baseball clinic before playing their season-opening games on Wednesday and Thursday.

"I'm honored to be here," said Mariners ace "King" Felix Hernandez, the 2010 American League Cy Young Award winner.

"I'm just looking forward to pitching on Opening Day."

Although Suzuki is an established star in entering his 12th major league season and Iwakuma came to camp with a major- league contract, infielder Kawasaki signed a minor-league deal over the winter and needed to stand out in the spring to get this far, and he has done just that.

"Kawasaki had a great camp and made a great impression on all of us with his attitude and his ability," Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. "Obviously he had to come to spring training and make the ball club. He's still with us here and he's part of our club right now.

"I think it's exciting for him as well as for Kuma to have a chance to come back to Japan and play in their homeland with their new teammates.

"We're excited to have both of them."

Iwakuma, who as a member of the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles had a closer view than many of the devastation wrought by last year's Great East Japan Earthquake, is keen on making a difference.

"Because I was playing baseball in that area, I really want to give something back to the local community," said the right-hander. "To do that, I thought I'd need to make the [25-man] roster and play there and perhaps give courage to people in the disaster area."

It is the second trip to Japan for Athletics outfielder Coco Crisp, who played against the A's in 2008 as a member of the Boston Red Sox.

"In 2008, it was like a dream come true," Crisp said. "When I was growing up, I always thought I wanted to play out here--and here I am again."

A's general manager Billy Beane said the advantages of opening the season in Japan outweighed the difficulties involved in the schedule and travel.

"Coming here the first time gave us a template for how to prepare," Beane said.

"The baseball is great, but for me as the general manager it's about the growth of the game and spreading the game and I think this is a real part of that.

"It would be great if we saw more and more of these games. Is it a little bit of an inconvenience? It's different, but I don't think it's something that would ever put us in a position where we wouldn't want to come back again and again."


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