Japanese Players Swing Big In Tokyo Fundraiser

March 24, 2011

Christopher Joyce

People in Japan are describing the earthquake and tsunami that rolled under and over eastern Japan as the gravest disaster since World War II. Television and newspapers are full of images of urban devastation, grieving survivors and smoking nuclear power plants. Editorials are calling for everyone to pull together to put the country back on its feet.

And who better to cheer up a weary nation than one of the country's preeminent baseball teams?

Word went out this week that the giants of Tokyo baseball — the Yomiuri Giants — wanted to raise money for victims of the tsunami in the Sendai region and evacuees from the nuclear danger zone.

The plan? Come to the Ochanomizu train station to donate and meet 16 members of the team.

Tatsuyoshi Tsutsumi, a spokesman for Giants management, was there early.

"The team of Giants decided to donate 30 million yen, and this will be on top of that," Tsutsumi says. "And we don't know how much we can get."

Trains pull into the station and afternoon commuters and baseball fans pour out onto the street.

The newspapers they're carrying are busy with a debate — with so many tsunami victims and refugees, should opening day be postponed? The rumor is that the league will postpone, but what about night games? With rolling blackouts around Tokyo, lighting up the Big Egg, as the home stadium is called, seems extravagant.

Tsutsumi says management is listening.

"The owners are discussing it at a meeting at the moment. It will be decided at the end of this week," he says.

Police keep eager fans lined up along the sidewalk. Mine Koyama, who's come to donate money and maybe see star pitcher Tetsuya Utsumi, says night games might be disrespectful.

"Probably you better ask the victims of the Sendai area," Koyama says. "Those refugees are really suffering, so it's really not the time to do the night games."

Finally the big moment comes. Sixteen players file out and stand behind a makeshift barrier. Cameras click, videos roll and fans envelope the players. The collection box fills. And for a few minutes, in a cold rain, Tokyo can put aside its worries about radiation and contaminated food and water, and just think about baseball. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.