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Of Baseball and Healing

Discussion in the Bayside West: Yokohama forum
Of Baseball and Healing
You know things are getting back to normal when, after the starting lineups are announced, someone jokes, "This marks the first time this battery has been seen in 50 years."

No, I not talking about the pros. I'm talking about spending the day at the annual Kanazawa-ku (Yokohama) Spring Softball Tournament. The battery in question was our local team's Kawashima-san on the mound and Kurokawa-san behind the plate. Kawashima-san later commented that he had more break in his slider somewhere around 45-50 years ago at Kanazawa Junior High School.

It's now been a two weeks and a couple days since the big Tohoku Disaster hit. After being numb with shock from the scenes of the flooding of the countryside up north, witnessing runs on bread and toilet paper at the local supermarket, and living in the cold and dark to conserve energy while living under the threat of nuclear meltdown (a threat that still hasn't gone away), it's really good to go out onto the field with 8 other guys and toss the ball around.

Over this unsure period, there was a bit of a debate about whether or not Pro Yakyu should start up again right away, to help the healing of this nation begin. By starting back up, the NPB would be showing people that we aren't down and out. Life goes on, in the affected and unaffected areas, and on the diamond as well as in the shelters holding the 10s of thousands that now find themselves homeless.

Based on what I just said above, one would think that I would be in the camp that wanted no or little delay to the start of the NPB season. However, I'm afraid that that's not the case.

You see, after the disaster struck, the 12 team owners got together to decide what they should do about the impending start of the season (which should have been a couple of days ago). The Pacific League owners, of which two had suffered damage to their home parks, essentially said that this was a huge problem which was going to take some time to solve, so let's postpone the start of the season to April 12.

The Central League, on the other hand, wanted to go along with Opening Day as planned. After protest by many organizations, the Central League owners canceled the first 3-game series of the season "in respect to those who passed away," and vowed to play day games (to reduce reliance on the severely over-burdened remaining electric grid in eastern Japan) up until April 4. This token concession was not taken as enough by the Players' Association, some managers, or the government. While the Tokyo Yakult Swallows wanted more time to work out how to deal with being unable to play day games at Jingu due to the universities having a priority for stadium use during the morning and afternoon, the other five Central League teams were steadfast against any further changes. It was as if the Central League owners couldn't be bothered to deal with change. (I've more than once referred to them as dinosaurs for this attitude.)

More so than the four day delay to the start of the season, it was the teams' flagrant disregard for the power shortage that outraged many people in Japan. A night game at Tokyo Dome takes an estimated equivalent power of 6,000 homes. Tokyo Electric certainly doesn't want to have to choose to power a game at Tokyo Dome on a cold spring evening while blacking out 6,000 homes to make up for the energy usage. It took a scolding by the government, pointing out this obvious point, for the Central League to grudgingly see reason and vow to not play night games in the affected area through the end of April.

The Giants' owner this past week commented that it seemed to him that everyone saw the Pacific League a being saints and the Giants as the cold hearted devil in all of this. I think that that's a fair assessment of the situation. Whereas the Pacific League dropped everything to help others, the Giants seemed to be mule-headdedly obsessed with going on with business as usual, as though nothing had happened. I think that the repercussions of that were reflected in the Central League conceding to do everything that the Pacific League had decided to do. Furthermore, after another owners' meeting on Saturday, the Commissioner and a Rakuten representative made a statement to the press while all the other participants walked away with no comment. My guess is that not all of the representatives agreed with each other, but that the need to show unity kept their mouths shut.

All along in this drama, the Central League was trying to stress that their motive was to help lift the spirits of the people. Some have accused them of greed, but I have a hard time seeing how a delay will affect revenue. Not broadcasting in prime time may hit the bottom line, but most shows on TV still don't have sponsors, the Ad Council's public service messages driving many people nuts. I doubt that showing games in the afternoon instead of prime time will make any difference during this time period in revenue. While lifting the peoples' spirit sounds like a noble gesture by the teams, I'm not believing it as the motivator any more than I believe that greed is.

But what about the Spring Invitational at Koshien? How is that different?

Well, for the kids who were invited, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity for most of them. If they miss this chance, there won't be another. What will canceling do to the spirits of the teams and communities around them? In my opinion, more harm than good. That's why the high school tournament should go on as planned. Being in a region not affected by power outages is also a huge plus for the tournament.

But the pros don't face this same dilemma as these high school kids. Their fan base will still be there, hopefully with power to their TV sets, when the NPB season does start. Whether that start is this week or the second week of April doesn't matter to the spirits of the people. Professional baseball will help many, but it won't be the main force of healing that those in charge of NPB would like to think it will be.

How will the healing begin for the people? By getting out of doors and participating in community events. Professional baseball is one of those events. Since the quake, schools around the country had graduation ceremonies, some delayed by a couple of weeks. In the coming weeks will be entrance ceremonies. People will come together for too many funerals in the coming weeks as well. And local baseball and softball tournaments and leagues will be held. The key to healing, to lifting the spirits of the people in the near future, will be people getting out of their houses and mixing with other people. The more involved they are in the activity, the more meaning and emotional lifting the event will have.

I've been a member of the Nojima softball team for 15 years now. This is the team's 40th year anniversary. Members of the team have been playing baseball with each other for 50 years or more. When looking at the continuity of the game, it is easy to see why participating has a healing effect for society. Participating in something that extends back in time to before one is born and will continue long after one has passed can have such an affect.
Re: Of Baseball and Healing
[ Author: westbaystars | Posted: Mar 28, 2011 11:34 PM | YBS Fan ]

The following was originally posted to Christopher's Tiger Tails blog, but I think that it also need to go here to clarify some of the things I've said about the two leagues' handling of the current crisis.


I'm still not seeing greed as the Central League's motivation in starting the season on time. Too many people fled Tokyo, and many still have not returned. That's not going to do anything for them. The hikes in kw/h electric rates to run Tokyo Dome will also cut the big club's income. And watching TV, the only advertisements are currently AC (Ad Council) public service propaganda. Starting the season now will not see any profits from televised games. And just to light up Tokyo Dome for a night game will cut at least 6,000 homes' power, so their TV audience will also be cut off.

No. It doesn't take much thought to realize that money couldn't be a motivator for starting the season on time. The later the start, the more likely money can be made. But not in the current atmosphere.

I attribute the Central League's desire to go with the current schedule to laziness. The owners can rarely work together to get anything done as it is, so to have to remake the schedule will be that much more arguing and work that they'd rather not do. The dinosaurs in charge of the CL can't move very fast, so they'd rather not move at all.

I think that the Pacific League's initial reaction was the right one. They saw a huge disaster with possibly two stadiums out of order. They knew that it would take time to resolve the numerous problems facing them, so they allotted a month to come up with solutions before the start of the season. They haven't been sitting on their haunches. Other than being dragged into the CL squabbles, they've been working on getting stadiums in shape and rearranging the schedule as best they can, focusing on optimizing travel time to alternative stadiums where needed.

The Giants' owner was griping about how everyone thought the Pacific League was so virtuous and the Giants evil. While I think that that's a fairly good generalization as a whole, in the whole handling of this situation, I think it boils down more to The PL thought smart about it while the CL, led by the Giants, tried to ignore the situation everyone is in as best they could. No need for good vs. evil here. It's smart vs. lazy.

This is a site about Pro Yakyu (Japanese Baseball), not about who the next player to go over to MLB is. It's a community of Pro Yakyu fans who have come together to share their knowledge and opinions with the world. It's a place to follow teams and individuals playing baseball in Japan (and Asia), and to learn about Japanese (and Asian) culture through baseball.

It is my sincere hope that once you learn a bit about what we're about here that you will join the community of contributors.

Michael Westbay
(aka westbaystars)

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