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Japanese baseball players in U.S. try to contact friends, family after deadly earthquake

March 11, 2011 | 12:15 pm

Ripples from the earthquake that devastated parts of Japan were being felt as far away as Arizona and Florida on Friday as Japanese players tried, sometimes in vain, to reach friends and family members.

The quake, the largest recorded temblor to strike Japan and the fifth-largest in history, caused power failures and fires, shuttered airports and paralyzed transit systems, killing hundreds and setting off a massive tsunami.

Former Dodgers pitcher Takashi Saito took an indefinite leave from the Milwaukee Brewers' facility in Phoenix after being unable to contact his parents. Saito was born and attended college in the northern city of Sendai, home to 1 million people. The city, on Japan's northeast coast, was the closest population center to the epicenter of the 8.9-magnitude quake. And though Saito has been in contact with his wife, Yukiko, and three daughters, he has been unable to reach his parents, team officials said.

Kei Igawa, in minor league camp with the Yankees in Tampa, Fla., also left the team after failing to get information about his family.

Igawa's family lives in Ibaraki, which was also hit hard.

Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki and Boston Red Sox pitchers Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima also spent much of Friday trying unsuccessful to get through to their relatives although they said they believed their families were safe. Matsuzaka said he made contact with friends in Japan through e-mail but not by phone.

"Cellphones and power are down. There are 4 million people without power in Tokyo," Suzuki told reporters at the Mariners' camp outside Phoenix. "I have not gotten ahold of my family yet."

Former Angel Hideki Matsui, now with the Oakland A's, has also been unable to reach relatives but said he was not worried because they were believed to be far from the epicenter.

Dodgers pitcher Hiroki Kuroda said early Friday that he hadn’t been able contact his brother yet, “but the rest of my family is OK.”

Kuroda's brother lives near Tokyo, about 240 miles from the epicenter, but he often travels north on business.

“I think he’s OK but I don’t know his whereabouts so I’d really like to contact him,” Kuroda said through an interpreter.

Kuroda’s wife and children live with him in Los Angeles.

Kuroda also said he was “worried because there’s a baseball team in Sendai [Rakuten Golden Eagles] and there’s a lot of friends on that team, so I’m worried about them and their families. When I saw the pictures on TV I was really shocked, I didn’t expect that it was this big."

Among the players on the Golden Eagles' roster are former big-league infielders Kaz Matsui and Akinori Iwamura.

Angels reliever Hisanori Takahashi actually saw the quake hit because he was online using Skype to talk to his wife, Yeyol, in Tokyo. The quake struck in midafternoon Japanese time.

"The monitor was shaking," he said through interpreter Yoichi Terada. "Then this morning I checked the Internet again and I saw the video. It was horrible so I called them again. They’re fine.

"So I'm fortunate. I'm happy. Of course I worry about what happened in Japan. But I cannot do anything about it. So I'm just trying to focus on baseball."

But for Angels Manager Mike Scioscia, the news from Japan made baseball far less important.

"This is a livelihood and these guys take it serious," he said. "But there are things more important to everybody’s lives. And it gives you perspective."

Fans and players at Friday's Angels-Arizona Diamondbacks game in Tempe, Ariz., observed a moment of silence for earthquake victims.

-- Kevin Baxter in Tempe, Ariz., and James Peltz in Phoenix, Ariz.

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