Oakland A’s Japanese Heritage Day raises money and good wishes for Japan
on April 4, 2011
Fans cheered as performers beat large drums that clanged and rang like rhythmic kitchen tools in the warm afternoon air. Taiko drumming, a staple in Japanese classical and contemporary performance, is not the typical opening act for an American baseball game. But on Sunday, the Oakland Coliseum extended a welcome to the Japanese community at home and abroad with a disaster relief fundraiser that was also a celebration of culture.
The Oakland A’s Japanese Heritage Day was originally intended to stir excitement for a standoff with the Seattle Mariners—both teams have recently recruited high-profile Japanese players—but in light of the recent earthquake and tsunami overseas the event was converted into a fundraiser. Amidst a competitive game and sweeping 7-1 victory for Oakland, fans and sponsors raised over $65,000 through ticket sales, donations and silent auctions.
“I do think it’s a unique day for Major League Baseball,” said Bob Rose, director of public relations for the A’s. Supporters could contribute in several ways, including by simply buying a ticket to the game. One dollar was donated for each ticket sold, which alone raked in $22,292, over $2,000 more than expected. (As an incentive to attend, 10,000 free Hideki Matsui jersey t-shirts were presented to fans by Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition.) Online, fans could also donate to the A’s Community Fund, a nonprofit that will give 100 percent of that money to the American Red Cross for the Japanese relief effort.
At the game, used or autographed baseball equipment was available in a silent auction and signed photographs of A’s player Hideki Matsui could be bought for $50 on a first come, first served basis. The auction raised $12,295, including $6,015 for a jersey signed by the Mariners’ Ichiro Suzuki and $4,555 for one autographed by Matsui. All the money raised through the auction and sales will also be donated to the Red Cross.
Matsui and Suzuki are two of the best Japanese-born players today—“two real superstars” in modern baseball, according to Rose. Sunday’s game was broadcast for Japanese viewers, whose own baseball season was delayed by the turmoil caused by the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear scare that began in mid-March. “These are the first games they’ve seen,” said Rose. “We’re many miles away, but there’s a connection.”
“Sports are in the ‘toy department,’” continued Rose. “They’re not, in the grand scheme, important. But the impact sports have on people suffering to get them through—that’s important.”
Sunday’s game opened with several quick events to honor the Japanese. Once the Emeryville Taiko Drummers finished, a $50,000 check was presented on the field by Matsui, Consul General Hiroshi Inomata, the A’s Vice President Ken Pries and several corporate sponsors like Netsuite and Fujistu Management Services. Then, a ceremonial first pitch by Capcom USA CEO and President Kazuhiko Abe, who threw to Matsui, kicked off the game. Players rushed onto the field into their starting lineups along with the Foster City Little League team, who ran with the players and then were met in the stands with roaring applause. Following a moment of silence, the crowd was serenaded by Choral May, a San Francisco-based men’s chorus which sang the American national anthem. Finally, 2010 Cherry Blossom Queen Arisa Hiroi presented a home plate to A’s manager Bob Geren and Mariners third-base coach Mike Brumley.
Many attendees of the game, aware that people in Japan would be watching, also displayed messages of hope. From babies wrapped in Japanese flags to families holding large signs, it was clear that the audience was at the game for more than just baseball. “We are so happy—it’s a beautiful day,” said A’s fan Miyuki Tanaka. She said that she and her husband Shige had family in Japan at the time of the disaster, but their family abroad is now safe. Tanaka donated to the American Red Cross at the game.
Masaru and Mayu Kogawa brought their children to the game to enjoy baseball and help the Japanese relief cause. “Our relatives were damaged, but they all live farther away in Hong Kong,” said Masaru Kogawa, who is a big Matsui fan. “I’m the same age as Hideki—the Matsui generation!” The Kogawas said they had already donated to the relief effort in Japan, but were still excited to attend. “We’re really happy to be here, and that the Americans set up the event.”
“The American people want so much to help the Japanese,” said John Rabold, an American Red Cross Disaster Services volunteer, who was working at a table near the concession stands to provide information to fans and collect additional donations.
Musician Tomoya Yamashita was in Japan during the earthquake while touring with his band, All Ages. After the disaster, he began a “message board” on a set of four bed sheets. Wherever he traveled, he would bring a large sheet with him that anyone could sign with permanent marker. So far, he has collected over 1,500 encouraging messages in over 22 languages—sayings like “Never Give Up” and “One for All, All for One” as well as drawings both serious and light-hearted cover the white sheets.
At Sunday’s game, he hung one of the sheets over a banister so that people in Japan could see the messages people had written. Yamashita supports both the A’s and Mariners, and is a fan of the Japanese players. “I care about baseball,” he said, “but more about Japan and family and friends.”
Text by Micki Boden
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