Japanese players concerned following quake
Ichiro among players seeking information after disaster
From half a world away, the scene remains unsettling. Several Major League ballplayers went to work on Friday with an eye on the news, which brought word of the largest earthquake to hit Japan in more than 100 years.
Japan was hit by an earthquake that measured an 8.9 in magnitude on Friday, the fifth-strongest measurement in the world since 1900. The archipelago nation was also hit by a resulting tsunami in the aftermath of the earthquake, causing widespread damage and destruction and forcing the evacuation of thousands.
"All of us at Major League Baseball are thinking of our many dear friends and colleagues in Japan today," Commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement. "Major League Baseball extends its deepest condolences to all those who have been affected, and we have the families and friends of our players as well as our peers and business partners in our thoughts.
"We have been in communication with the members of our office in Tokyo. Through our shared love of baseball for more than a century, Japan is a particularly special place to us, and we are deeply saddened by the disaster that has confronted the nation.
"Major League Baseball will certainly provide aid with the relief efforts in the days and weeks ahead. We will do everything we can to help Japan."
Hundreds of people are believed to have perished in the natural disaster, and there's massive chaos in the region. Several of baseball's biggest stars -- including Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki and Boston's Daisuke Matsuzaka -- spent the morning trying to contact their loved ones across the Pacific.
Suzuki, speaking from Seattle's Spring Training facility in Peoria, Ariz., said he is still trying to reach his family.
"We don't know yet because cell phones and power are down. There are four million people without power in Tokyo," said the 10-time All-Star via interpreter Antony Suzuki. "I have not gotten ahold of my family yet."
Matsuzaka, a star with Japan's Seibu Lions from 1999 through 2006, found himself in a similar predicament. The right-hander said through interpreter Jeff Cutler that he was shocked to wake up and hear the news and that he immediately reacted by watching the non-stop television accounts and trying to communicate with his family on the other side of the Pacific.
"I woke up in the morning and tried calling them, but I wasn't able to get through," Matsuzaka said from Fort Myers, Fla. "I e-mailed them and was able to get through from that, so I contacted my family and a few of my friends and they all seem to be all right. I haven't been able to get in touch with my grandmother, who lives in Aomori, which is close to where the earthquake was."
Matsuzaka's wife and children are currently in Boston, partially easing his concerns. His teammate and countryman, Hideki Okajima, could say the same thing about his immediate family but still worried about his family in Japan. Okajima said his family is in Konsai, south of where the quake hit, but his wife's family lives in Kanto, in closer proximity to the epicenter.
"I'm not sure, but they are probably OK," Okajima said when asked about his relatives. "There's probably some sort of damage to house or living situation. I'm also concerned for my house in Japan."
Hideki Matsui, an icon in his homeland who now plays for the A's, said that he hasn't had a chance to speak to his family yet but that he anticipates they're fine because of how far away they are from the epicenter. Matsui, speaking from Oakland's spring home at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, said that he's concerned for his countrymen.
"It is a bit disturbing to see this and I'm worried about the people in the area who have been affected by the earthquake," he said via interpreter Roger Kahlon. "It's a bit difficult to watch, especially because you're away. It's tough seeing all that's going on knowing you have family and people you know in the area. So it's hard to watch."
Oakland manager Bob Geren said that the team is trying to keep the day's events in perspective.
"Our news here is nothing compared to that," said Geren. "This is just baseball."
Cubs outfielder Kosuke Fukudome, whose wife and son are in Chicago, spent the morning trying to reach his family across the Pacific. Fukudome was not able to reach his parents, but he did reach his brother, who assured him everyone is fine.
Things were just as tense for Hiasnori Takahashi, a Tokyo native who pitches for the Los Angeles Angels. Takahashi's wife and children are in Japan, but he was able to reach out and to make sure that everyone was safe.
"We talked to Hisanori this morning and Yoichi [Terada], his translator," said Angels manager Mike Scioscia. "Fortunately, their families weren't close to where it hit. ... This is their livelihood and guys take it serious. But there are things more important."
Veteran starter Hiroki Kuroda, who has spent three years with the Dodgers, spent the morning like many of his peers. Kuroda has been watching media reports and trying to get in touch with his brother, who lives near Tokyo. The right-hander said that his immediate family is in Los Angeles and that the rest of his extended family appears to be fine.
At the moment, the Osaka native is trying to track down his brother and make sure that he's all right. That effort has been met with a persistent busy signal every time he attempts to dial home, but Kuroda plans to keep trying throughout the day.
"I think he is OK," Kuroda said through translator Kenji Nimura. "But I don't know his whereabouts."
Koji Uehara, a former star with the Yomiuri Giants who now pitches stateside for the Orioles, is going through a similar situation as he attempts to get in touch with his family and friends. Uehara, speaking at Baltimore's Spring Training facility in Sarasota, Fla., said via interpreter Jiwon Bang that his family appears to be safe.
"Physically, they are fine," he said. "I have been through major earthquakes before. All I can say is it's really scary."
Uehara, like Matsuzaka and Okajima, said that his wife and children are currently in the U.S. The right-handed reliever said that he has communicated to his extended family via e-mail and that he'll worry until he can speak to them over the phone. He also said that he has a home in Japan that may have undergone some extensive damage in the storm.
"It was a different place, but there has been some damage where I live," said Uehara of his home. "At this moment, I don't really know all the details yet, but I am guessing that the damage will be huge so I am worried."
Hide Sueyoshi, Seattle's director of Minor League and International Administration, also weighed in on the impact of the natural disaster. Sueyoshi, a native of Osaka, said he is nervously awaiting any news he can find.
"I've talked to my mother and friends in Tokyo," Sueyoshi said. "I tried to reach my friend in the Sendai area who works for the Rakuten Eagles, but I could not reach him at all. The phone lines are just too busy, so I hope they are OK."
Kuroda, speaking from the Dodgers' spring home in Glendale, Ariz., related another concern close to the Sendai epicenter.
The 36-year-old said that he is worried about former big-leaguer infielders Kaz Matsui and Akinori Iwamura, who both signed with the Sendai-based Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles during the winter.
"I'm worried because there is a baseball team in Sendai and there are a lot of friends on that team. ... I worry about them and their families," he said. "I can only pray that there won't be any more casualties and people will be safe."
Mets pitcher Ryota Igarashi and Mike Peters, the pitcher's interpreter, had no first- or second-hand knowledge about their families in Japan by midday Friday. Igarashi's immediate family -- his wife and two daughters -- are here with the Mets' bullpen candidate.
Through Peters, Igarashi said he believes his family, situated 200 miles south of the center of the earthquake, is most likely unaffected by it.For some, the scene was just too much to endure and simultaneously concentrate on work. Milwaukee reliever Takashi Saito left Spring Training camp to attempt to contact loved ones with the full support of his team.
Saito has been in contact with his wife, Yukiko, and three daughters, according to the Brewers, but he had been unable to reach his parents. Early Friday morning, he asked for and received permission to be away from camp for an indefinite period of time. Later in the day, Saito informed the Brewers that his family had been accounted for and that Saito would return to the club Saturday.
The earthquake caused fires in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, a city of about 1 million along the country's Pacific coast, where Saito was born in 1970. He attended Tohoku Fukushi University there.
"We love that guy, and we obviously wish him the best," said Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder. "He was able to contact his wife and kids, which is awesome. That's a little bit of pressure off your chest.
"I wish him the best, and I hope he just takes his time and does whatever he needs to do to make sure the rest of his family is all right. [Baseball] is secondary right now. We're going to be fine. He needs to make sure everything is all right."
The Yankees extended the same courtesy to veteran Kei Igawa, who learned Friday that his hometown of Oarai in Ibaraki prefecture was destroyed by the combined effects of the earthquake and tsunami. Brian Cashman, New York's general manager, said that Igawa was allowed to leave the team's complex so he could concentrate on his family.
"He has family there and he's trying to reach out to them," Cashman said. "He's trying to find out if everyone he knows is OK and so he's home doing everything in his power trying to contact people. ... He's obviously glued to the TV and trying to find out every which way he can because right now the phones are down as of this morning still. It's a very difficult time."
Former Yankees Darrell Rasner and Jonathan Albaladejo, pitching for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles of the Japanese Pacific League and the Yomiuri Giants in Nippon Professional Baseball, respectively, are both safe.
In an e-mail, Rasner said, "We were not in town when that hit. The guys on the team were in Kobe and I was on the bullet train going to Tokyo when the earthquake hit. By the time the tsunami hit, I was in a hotel room glued to the TV, watching it unfold."
Albaladejo had just left Tokyo for Hiroshima, which was far from the epicenter, and he said he never felt the earthquake.
The tsunami has already reached Hawaii and, later, the California coast. Several native Hawaiians -- Philadelphia's Shane Victorino and Dane Sardinha among them -- spent the morning rapt in attention. Sardinha said his family is close to the shoreline in Oahu, but that he made contact with them and that they should be fine.
"My family is in a higher area," said Victorino, whose family lives in Maui, of the developing situation. "Everybody is coming up to them. My dad said people are parked on the streets, people from the lower grounds."
Oakland catcher Kurt Suzuki, a Hawaii native with relatives in Japan, reported a similar account.
"My parents still live in Hawaii. I talked to my parents this morning and they're fine," he said, relating that he believes his Japanese relatives to also be OK. "Hawaii is not as bad as Japan. It's more of a warning."
One needn't have been a native of Japan to feel an overwhelming sense of brotherhood with the affected. In baseball's shrinking world, numerous Americans have played professionally in the country and were concerned about their adopted second home.Texas pitcher Colby Lewis, who returned from two seasons in Japan last year, said, "I am definitely sad for those people. It's definitely a tragedy. Me personally, I have been in that part of the country and played baseball there. I was watching on TV, people couldn't go home and were camping out on the streets. It's a bad situation." A number of teams quickly responded to the disaster with pledges to assist. The Yankees donated $100,000 to support rescue and relief efforts -- $50,000 to the Salvation Army and $50,000 to the Red Cross. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected by the terrible earthquake in Japan," said Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner. "We hope that the international community does everything in its power to support and assist the Japanese people in their time of need." Oakland, which will play host to Seattle in the first series of the season, announced that it will raise funds to help victims of the disaster.
The A's said that the third game of their opening series -- which pits icons Suzuki and Hideki Matsui against each other -- will incorporate a fund-raising element in honor of Japanese Heritage Day. Details will be announced at a later date.
Howard Lincoln, Seattle's chairman and chief executive officer, released a statement in support of the relief effort.
"The Mariners would like to join with people from around the world in extending our sympathy to the many families affected by the devastating earthquake and tsunami centered in Sendai," it said.
"The Mariners and the city of Seattle have a long and close relationship with the people of Japan. Particularly close to all of us here at the Mariners are the many Nintendo employees and their families in Kyoto, Tokyo and other parts of Japan and the many, many Mariners fans all across the country. Our thoughts and best wishes are with the families as they face this great challenge."
The Padres announced on Friday that they will raise funds to aid victims of the disaster as part of their Japanese Heritage Night, scheduled for May 20 against the Mariners at PETCO Park. The club will also match donations via the Padres Foundation. President and chief operating officer Tom Garfinkel made the announcement.
"At a time like this, we feel that it is important for the global community to become involved and support the people of Japan," said Garfinkel. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to the individuals and families affected by the devastation and we pledge to help support the relief efforts as Japan begins to rebuild."
Spencer Fordin and Tom Singer are reporters for MLB.com. Ian Browne, Greg Johns, Adam McCalvy, Brittany Ghiroli, Rhett Bollinger, Jesse Sanchez and Todd Zolecki contributed. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.