It was almost a month ago now, but Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics played an Opening Series in Japan. I was lucky enough to go to Japan for Opening Series between Boston Red Sox and Athletics in 2008 (photo from the trip here), but it seems that this year’s Opening Series was a big success. MLB.com had an interesting and entertaining blog around baseball and Japanese culture at Far East Division.
Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci had a great piece titled Starting season in Japan with A’s-Mariners a smart move by MLB. It talks about economic of why MLB should play in Japan (“Almost 70 percent of MLB’s international revenues are derived from the Japanese market.) but what is amazing is his description of the interest that MLB draws in Japan:
Japan is, simply put, crazy about baseball. When Japan beat Cuba in the inaugural WBC, the end of the game drew an audience share of 56 percent, a percentage the World Series has not seen in the states since 1980. A game televised at 8:30 a.m. in Japan when Diasuke Matsuzaka of Boston pitched against Ichiro Suzuki of Seattle rated a 13.3 — better than Game 3 of the World Series in prime time here last year. The 2003 World Series, featuring former NPB star Hideki Matsui with the Yankees, drew an audience of 12.5 million viewers — compared to 20 million in the United States in prime time. Japan (about 127 million people) has less than half the population of the U.S. (311 million).
Art Thiel, former Seattle Post Intelligencer sports writer and author of 2003 book about the Seattle Mariners, “Out of Left Field,” had great run of blog post while he was in Japan. Starting with really, really interesting two part series about Mariners’ Japanese connection at the top — Mariners majority owner Hiroshi Yamauchi of Nintendo — and his future.
He wrote quite a bit while in Japan: Ichiro’s arrival, Ichiro’s 4-hit opener, baseball clinic near Sendai attended by manager Eric Wedge, him meeting Masanori Murakami, his debate about future of Ichiro, about new M’s backup infielder Munenori Kawasaki, his reaction to owner Yamauchi’s absence to the game, difference in U.S. and Japan baseball, and his reflection on devastation caused by earthquake and tsunami a year ago, March 11, 2011. They are all excellent readings.
ISHINOMAKI, Japan – Busing swiftly through the detritus of devastation is hardly a good way to get a feeling for the loss, in the space of a few hours, of about 20,000 people from a town of 160,000.
But then, what is a good way to comprehend the unimaginable?
Major League Baseball made an attempt Tuesday, creating a tightly choreographed gesture with manager Eric Wedge and some players from the Mariners and Oakland A’s on an off-day before the start of the regular season between the teams Wednesday in Tokyo.
At a brief baseball clinic for youngsters, MLB and the players union pledged $500,000 to help restore the town’s municipal ballpark in this old port city of fishing, whaling and paper mills.
The stadium was far enough inland to be damaged “only” by an earthquake so potent it shifted the earth on its axis. At the Pacific shoreline of this town five driving hours north of Tokyo — the time halved via bullet train taken to nearby Sendai by the baseballers and a media entourage — an epic tsunami launched by the quake scraped from the shorelines much of the civilization that made its living from the water that killed many of them.
The Japanese touchstone for the day is “3/11,” an echo of a disaster more political. This was an event known by seismologists to be coming. But the where, when and how was not knowable or comprehensible. The world’s most prepared nation was unprepared.
“The money is fine,” Wedge would say later, sipping a beer on the bullet train as it put physical distance to the tragedy. “But they need a lot more help with awareness. Hopefully, it was one of many points of healing.”
People in this country, as do people in America, pay a lot of attention to baseball. Part of the appeal is annual renewal. Imagine a life, and a community and region, that does not know how to renew.
Makes for a hard hollowness that aches for attention. Some was given. The hole in the soul of Japan craves more.