Japanese MLB players feel powerless

FORT MYERS, Fla. – Social networking, email and good, old-fashioned telephone calls helped connect the dozen or so Japanese major league players with their families thousands of miles and an ocean away. Since the magnitude-8.9 earthquake and resulting tsunami devastated Japan early Friday, players have frantically used every means possible to determine whether their loved ones are safe.

The good news: It appears that all close family members survived the ordeal, although a few players – including Seattle Mariners superstar outfielder Ichiro Suzuki(notes) – remain unsure.

The bad news: Thousands of their countrymen have died, thousands more are missing and the quake centered on the east coast of Japan caused massive flooding and untold damage. Six million households are without electricity; it could be several days before the extent of the destruction is fully known.

"I feel powerless and not able to do anything," said Takashi Saito(notes), a Milwaukee Brewers relief pitcher who is from Sendai, a coastal town struck by the tsunami. Though his wife and three daughters are in Yokohama, well south of the devastation, his parents, brothers and other relatives are in the flooded region and have no electrical power. He spoke to one of his brothers Saturday morning over the phone but the connection died after five minutes.

"Being away from my family, it's very tough," Saito said. "All I know is that they are alive."

Several teams announced fundraising efforts. Proceeds from a regular-season game between the Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners on April 3 will go to earthquake and tsunami relief, and the New York Yankees donated $100,000 to rescue efforts.

Here's what every MLB player from Japan knows today:

• Ichiro Suzuki: By far the most prominent Japanese player in the big leagues, Suzuki has been unable to reach family members. "Cell phones and power are down," he said. "There are 4 million homes without power in Tokyo."

Mariners manager Eric Wedge said that Suzuki told him he thought his close relatives would all be OK, but that he's been unable to contact them.

Suzuki, an 11-year major league veteran, spent time in the Mariners' clubhouse in Peoria, Ariz., watching updates on TV. He grew up in an area that experienced a 6.8-magnitude earthquake in 1995 which killed more than 6,000 people.

Several Mariners front-office employees are Japanese and the team is owned by Nintendo, the Japanese video-game corporation. The Mariners' CEO issued a statement extending best wishes to the company's employees.

Hideki Matsui(notes): Like Suzuki, Matsui was an iconic Japanese star before coming to the United States. As the damage is assessed and recovery begins, he will be at the forefront of MLB relief efforts.

"I am deeply concerned and affected by what is happening in Japan," Matsui said. "I pray for the safety of all the people that have been affected and continue to be affected by this disaster."

Matsui, a designated hitter beginning his ninth major league season and first with the Athletics, said his relatives are on the western coast of Japan, an area relatively unaffected by the earthquake.

Hisanori Takahashi(notes): The Angels reliever might have been the only MLB player to experience the earthquake live: He was online using Skype, video conferencing with his Tokyo-based wife, Yeyol, when the picture started shaking. She was in Tokyo, far from the epicenter, and his family is OK.

Koji Uehara(notes): The Baltimore Orioles relief pitcher felt fortunate that his wife and son are in Baltimore while he is in Sarasota, Fla., for spring training. But like every Japanese player, he has extended family and friends back home.

"[The earthquake] was in a different place, but there has been some damage where I live," he said. "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."

Daisuke Matsuzaka(notes): The hardest family members to reach after a natural disaster can be grandparents, who might not be computer savvy or even able to use a telephone. Matsuzaka, a starting pitcher in the fifth year of a six-year, $52 million contract with the Boston Red Sox, had difficulty reaching his grandmother.

"There is no time to alert people," he said. "That is what makes it so difficult and scary."

Though his wife and kids are in the United States, Matsuzaka's grandmother and other relatives on his mother's side live in Aomori, a region north of the earthquake epicenter that has lost electrical power. He sent emails to numerous friends and planned to spend the weekend gathering as much information as possible.

Hideki Okajima(notes): The Red Sox reliever's immediate family is in the United States and his Tokyo-based parents are fine, and for a moment concern gave way to awe.

"You can't control nature, but when something like this happens, you really realize the power of nature," he said.

Kosuke Fukudome(notes): The Chicago Cubs outfielder used his bat handle to tap the television set in the team's Mesa, Ariz., clubhouse and explain the earthquake damage. Earlier he had reached his brother in Japan and determined that everyone in his family was safe.

Hiroki Kuroda(notes): The veteran Los Angeles Dodgers starter was worried about a brother who travels frequently to the ravaged area in the north of Japan.

"I think he's OK, but I don't know his whereabouts," he said.

Kuroda added that he has many friends playing for the Golden Eagles of the Japanese Pacific League, including former major leaguers Akinori Iwamura and Kazuo Matsui(notes). The Golden Eagles are based in Sendai, but according to reports the team was playing a game in Osaka when the earthquake struck and the players were safe. The bullet train to Sendai wasn't running, however, and the players – like anyone in Japan separated from loved ones – were anxious to get home.

Tsuyoshi Nishioka(notes): The Minnesota Twins rookie infielder was unaware of the earthquake when he walked into the clubhouse in Fort Myers, Fla., on Friday morning. He jumped online and had an email from his wife, saying his family was not in danger. Nishioka decided to play in an exhibition against the Red Sox to "provide something positive for the people of Japan."

Yoshinori Tateyama(notes): The Texas Rangers pitcher used his fingers to draw a map of Japan on a table in the clubhouse, trying to show Rangers teammates Josh Hamilton(notes) and Mitch Moreland(notes) where the damage occurred.

Ryota Igarashi(notes): A relief pitcher trying to hang on with the New York Mets after a disappointing 2010 season, Igarashi said he found Japanese live stream on the Internet and was able to determine that the quake took place more than 200 miles from his closest relatives. His wife, daughter and son are with him during spring training.

"All the lines are shut down and you can't get through, so there's no way to get in touch directly with your family," Igarashi said. "But the likelihood they are OK is very high based on where they live."

• Kei Igawa: A pitcher who has had trouble sticking with the New York Yankees, Igawa has been unable to reach his family in Ibaraki, where the tsunami struck. Igawa is from Oarai, a town that is partly submerged.

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman gave Igawa permission to return to his homeland, saying: "I think the entire world has Japan in their hearts and minds."

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