Saito returns to camp, unsure of next step
Pitcher had short conversation with family members in Japan
PHOENIX -- You don't have to speak Japanese to understand Takashi Saito's fear, his frustration and his downright fatigue. After two long days and nights of trying to account for the safety of his extended family amid earthquake and tsunami devastation in Japan, you can see it on his face."I feel powerless and not able to do anything," Saito said. "Being away from my family, it's very tough." General manager Doug Melvin and manager Ron Roenicke have told Saito he is free to leave the team to return home to Japan if necessary. Saito's wife and three daughters are safe in Yokohama, south of the area devastated by the largest earthquake ever recorded in Japan, but his parents, brothers and other extended family members are in Sendai, the city north of Tokyo that was hardest hit. By midday Friday, Saito was sure that everybody was alive, but little else. Saito wants to evacuate his family from Sendai, but communication is next to impossible. If he does travel home to Japan, he might not be able to get to his family. "I'm not sure what my next best decision is," he said through translator Kosuke Inaji, whose own extended family is safe on Japan's western coast. Information has been painfully hard to come by. Saito learned about the earthquake late Thursday night local time in Phoenix. He was able to reach his wife, Yukiko, and their three daughters, 16, 13 and 15 months, in Yokohama, where Saito lives in the offseason. His wife and girls have been experiencing some of the aftershocks that have rattled Japan in the days since the big earthquake hit. "I heard that they are safe, but I don't really know what they need or what they are missing," Saito said. "I don't know anything about that." He does know one thing. "I could tell they are really scared," Saito said, his eyes down. It's his extended family that has Saito really worried. His parents, two older brothers and a number of aunts, uncles and cousins live on low ground in Sendai, the city north of Tokyo hit hardest by the 8.9 magnitude earthquake and the tsunami that followed. Most of Saito's family is together, at a house owned by one of his brothers. But there is no electricity, and when he finally received a call from his oldest brother at 6 a.m. MST, the conversation lasted for only five minutes of battery life. "All I know is they are alive," Saito said. Information has mostly come from the Internet, and it's heartbreaking. All morning Saturday, CNN talked with a reporter in Sendai and showed footage of neighborhoods familiar to Saito. He has seen the video of Sendai Airport being engulfed by water, and other footage showing his hometown essentially in ruin. Saito knows well the beach on which authorities found 200-300 bodies of people who apparently drowned. "I'm just really worried about the people there," Saito said. "I just picture my family that lives there, and I feel terrible." Saito knows something of what his family is going through. He was 8 years old in 1978, when a 7.7 magnitude quake and subsequent tsunami caused 28 deaths and 1,325 injuries. The loss of life from this week's event will be much more severe, Saito knows. "From what I hear, this doesn't even compare to what I experienced when I was younger," Saito said. Baseball did not provide an outlet for his worry on Saturday. Saito, whose outing against the D-backs was canceled, played catch with Jonathan Lucroy, and the young catcher could tell Saito was hurting. Lucroy received good news about his fractured right finger on Friday, but when a reporter asked about that, he pointed toward Saito's corner of the clubhouse and said, "I'm not important right now. That guy's important." "When I was playing catch outside, I couldn't get anything out of my mind," Saito said.
He was back at his Spring Training residence by mid-morning to work on evacuating his extended family from Sendai. If there was progress in that area Saturday, Roenicke said Saito may start Sunday's Cactus League game against the Royals at Maryvale Baseball Park. Right-hander Wily Peralta would start for the Brewers if Saito does not."He wants to get his parents and his brothers in a safe area, and once he does that, mentally, he's going to feel better about coming back to the baseball part of it," Roenicke said Saturday morning. "If everything goes right today, that he hears everybody is OK, he's planning to pitch an inning [on Sunday]. "If there are still things he's uncomfortable with and he's not sure what's going on, he probably won't pitch. He'll come in and work out again. ... "He doesn't need to be at the ballpark right now," Roenicke added. "He needs to take care of his family, make sure he's OK upstairs. He's getting 2-3 hours of sleep a night, and that's not good. We'll make sure he stays in shape enough, but he needs to take care of his family."