Japan welcomes start of baseball season

BY foxsports • April 12, 2011

Baseball-crazy Japan on Tuesday welcomed the start of a new season, more than two weeks behind schedule, after the country's biggest post-war natural disaster threw the sport into disarray.

There was jubilation in Sendai, which was devastated by last month's 9.0-magnitude quake and tsunami, as the city's Rakuten Golden Eagles beat Lotte Marines 6-4 in an away season opener, even as new aftershocks rocked the area.

The head of the Japan Professional Baseball Players Association dedicated the new season to the victims of the massive natural disaster, which killed thousands and triggered a crisis at a nuclear plant.

"We'll fight through the season with the feelings of disaster victims on our minds," said the association's president, Hanshin Tigers infielder Takahiro Arai.

"We will play our hearts out in chasing the ball, that way we can encourage people affected by the disaster," he added.

Several star athletes in Japan are dedicating their sporting efforts to the victims of the catastrophe, which ravaged the country's northeastern coast and disrupted an array of sports.

The teenage golfer Ryo Ishikawa has vowed to donate all his winnings this year to disaster survivors, including $93,200 he earned Sunday by finishing 20th at the US Masters.

Two day games, both played in greater Tokyo, were to be followed later Tuesday by four night games outside the affected northeastern region.

All the players involved -- many of whom are based in the disaster zone -- planned to wear helmets bearing the rallying cry "Gambaro Nippon!" ("Hang on Japan!").

Japan's twin disasters of March 11 knocked out mains electricity across swathes of the country and the nuclear crisis caused rolling blackouts, forcing the cancellation of night-time sporting events in the worst-affected northeast.

The power shortages have also forced the country's soccer J-League to suspend five rounds and the season will only restart on April 23.

Copyright 2011 AFP. All rights reserved.

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