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Sports bolster spirits in time of national crisis

Japanese professional baseball’s regular season starts Tuesday as the 12 teams of the Central and Pacific leagues play their openers. The pennant race begins, though belatedly, while wounds from the March 11 catastrophe remain fresh.

As the nation faces a difficult time, players are urged all the more to do their best to give hope and vigor to disaster victims and the nation as a whole.

Both leagues were originally scheduled to start the season on March 25. This was the first time for the opening days to be changed since Japanese pro baseball was divided into two leagues in 1950.

The PL decided early on to postpone the start of the season because the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles’ home ballpark in Sendai was damaged in the Great East Japan Earthquake.

The CL, which tried to launch its pennant race before the end of March, drew criticism for reasons including a shortage of electric power.

Players, clubs and fans share the desire to invigorate society through baseball as soon as possible.

As Rakuten catcher Motohiro Shima put it, “Let’s demonstrate the potential power of baseball, players and fans!” Shima, head of the Rakuten players’ association, gave this exhortation during a ceremony before an April 2 charity game with the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters in Sapporo. Similar charity games were also held elsewhere that day and the next.

The players of all 12 clubs will have the message “Hang on, Japan!” written on their helmets throughout the season.

Players must put on exciting games so pro baseball, supported widely by the people, can serve as a shot in the arm for recovery from the disaster.

Many people are looking forward to seeing spectacular performances by “golden generation” rookies, including pitchers Yuki Saito of the Fighters and Hirokazu Sawamura of the Yomiuri Giants.

Needless to say, care must be taken to pay maximum consideration to the serious electricity supply situation in holding games.

As part of measures to economize on electricity consumption, such as for lighting, no night games will be held this month in ballparks located in areas served by Tokyo Electric Power Co. and Tohoku Electric Power Co. Even day games will not be held at Tokyo Dome and Seibu Dome in Tokorozawa, Saitama Prefecture.

If the power supply becomes tighter in summer, rescheduling or other flexible measures will be called for.

When the simultaneous terrorist attacks on the United States occurred on Sept. 11, 2001, the major leagues resumed games six days later. New York Mets catcher and slugger Mike Piazza delivered a message to the spectators urging them to forget the terrible incident for the two or three hours of the game.

Everyone in the Japanese baseball world shares this feeling.

Tohoku High School in disaster-stricken Sendai took part in the recent national high school baseball invitational tournament. The team’s level of play impressed the people.

In soccer, the Japan national team and a team of players selected from J.League clubs recently played a charity match. Ratings for the TV broadcast of the game reached 30.1 percent at one point in the Sendai district.

At a time of national crisis, the role that sports can play is far from small.

(The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 11)
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