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Opening Day questions: Players express disappointment over CL season starting as scheduled

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Opening Day questions: Players express disappointment over CL season starting as scheduled

by Jim Allen (Mar 19, 2011)

A day after Nippon Professional Baseball's leagues announced when they would begin their seasons, players on Friday were left with more questions than answers.

In the wake of the last week's earthquake and tsunami that devastated the Tohoku region, the Pacific League abandoned its March 25 Opening Day in favor of April 12. The Central League, none of whose stadiums were affected by the disaster, stuck to its March 25 start.

The PL will postpone its first 44 games and begin with those currently on the calendar for April 12. The league plans to complete its 144-game schedule by making up the games in the season's second half.

The players union had asked both leagues to delay Opening Day in consideration of the disaster, and was disappointed with the CL's announcement.

"I was completely taken back. It is regrettable," said Saburo Omura, the Chiba Lotte Marines' players rep on Friday at Yokohama Stadium.

Giants representative Hidetoshi Kiyotake recognized there would be those who might disagree with the CL's stance.

"I completely understand the feelings of those hit by the disaster and the feelings of the players," Kiyotake said. "But I believe that by contributing to the process of returning to normal, we can give the rebuilding a boost.

"Here and there, some will support [us] and some will criticize. But rather than stand still, we have chosen to move forward."

When commissioner Ryozo Kato had suggested Tuesday that both leagues move together as one, players had taken heart it might mean a delay for both leagues--out of concern for disaster victims.

Although the commissioner said Thursday that he bore the responsibility for each league going its own way, Omura was unimpressed.

"I don't see how we can play when I look in the paper and see so much suffering," the outfielder said. "I guess the commissioner's statement was nothing but words."

Although Lotte's home ground, QVC Marine Field, is intact, the plumbing was damaged by the earthquake. Many players who live in the area are still without water.

Marines reliever Yasuhiko Yabuta, who lives in Urayasu, Chiba Prefecture, is one benefactor of the PL's delayed start.

"It is hard to imagine how I could start the season [next week] when I don't have running water at home," he said. "It makes you think of what our fans are going through. I've got it easy.

"I don't have water, but so many people don't have that or gas or electricity. It is heartbreaking. You really want to do whatever you can."

BayStars players rep Shinji Niinuma, whose hometown is tsunami-ravaged Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, expressed concern for baseball's image.

"The neighborhoods around Yokohama are affected by these scheduled blackouts," he said. "How would it look if people were without power and we were here playing ball games [with the lights on]?"

On the other hand, Niinuma is eager to do something positive.

"It is very hard to think of baseball when so much is going on," he said. "We wonder what is the best thing we can do. It is easy to ask, 'Should we be playing at all?' But by playing, perhaps we can give people courage.

"We don't know what kind of effect we can have by playing ball, but baseball is a sport that can communicate a message, and perhaps that communication gives [our playing] value."

When the PL season does start, the Eagles will likely be calling Kobe's Hotto Motto Field their home away from home from April 15 against Orix, the club that used to make its home there.

"It's going to take a little while, but I want to do whatever we can if it means we can return to Sendai one game earlier and play before our home fans," acting Eagles owner Tomoharu Inoue said Thursday.

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