Friday, December 5, 2014

Bases Covered: MLB Player's Long-Term Support of Japan Earthquake Recovery

Presenters at the Nov. 15 MLB press conference to spotlight earthquake recovery.

It’s the Japan All-Star Series, an annual goodwill competition between America’s and Japan’s best baseball players, and the Americans are down 2-0. Game 3 at the Tokyo Dome is a must-win for the MLB All-Stars, who will need to win three in a row to emerge victorious in the best-of-five series.

Yet on November 15, the day of the game, twelve of the MLB players were not on the field warming up, but packed into a small room with representatives from Japan Society and the Major League Baseball Players Trust. Among the players present were Royals pitcher Jeremy Guthrie, Rays third baseman Evan Longoria, and Astros outfielder Dexter Fowler.

Also present were the people they were there to meet: representatives from organizations that the Players Trust supports through Japan Society’s Japan Earthquake Recovery Fund (JERF), created to aid victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake, which devastated Japan’s Tohoku region on March 11, 2011.

The Players Trust, which allocated $1 million in support following the earthquake, began a multi-year partnership with Japan Society in 2012, working with JERF on five recovery projects.

"We as players are very fortunate, and always very excited, to use the help of the Players Trust to make an impact on the world," Guthrie said at the press conference. "The slogan that we have is, 'Care. Act. Inspire.' Working with Japan Society has allowed us to be able to do this on an international level."

Chris Capuano and his wife enjoy a meal at Organ Dou. Via

Prior to the event, Guthrie, Pirates pitcher Mark Melancon, and free agent Chris Capuano, who is considering a move to Japan, visited Fukushima Organ Dou, a store set up by the Fukushima Organic Agriculture Network, to enjoy some of the farmers’ produce. Thanks to the support they received through JERF, the farmers were able to afford machines that thoroughly test their produce for significant levels of radiation, ensuring their customers that their food is safe to eat. Capuano said:
We're here today because as players, we're very happy to be able to support Fukushima. The area was hard hit by a tsunami back on March 11 of 2011, and there’s still a great need of recovery. A lot of these farmers in Fukushima need our help today. They need our support in showing that they've come a long way. The produce is safe and delicious to eat, and we're happy to be able to still support them.
As of September 3, 2014, JERF has received $13.89 million from over 23,600 individuals, companies and foundations from all 50 states and nearly 60 countries around the world. To date, it has distributed $13.6 million to 43 organizations in support of 64 projects

In addition to the Fukushima Organic Agriculture Network, the Players Trust through JERF also supports Ashoka Japan’s Tohoku Youth Venture program, which grants seed money to high-school and college students who devise viable creative and innovative ideas for revitalizing the Tohoku region; two mental-health care projects with the Japanese Medical Society that provide services and training in Fukushima and Iwate Prefectures; and a leadership development project led by Japan Society and ETIC that promotes entrepreneurship towards self-sustaining economic and community revitalization in Tohoku.

These and all  projects supported by JERF give a much-needed boost to Japan’s recovery in the wake of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters, which, according to the National Police Agency of Japan, left nearly 16,000 dead, more than 6,000 injured, and thousands still considered missing.  It also took a massive toll on buildings, with more than 120,000 totally destroyed. Today, nearly four years after the tragic events, more than 93,000 people are living in temporary housing, with construction plans facing delays.

The immediate concern has shifted from cleanup to reconstruction, as reviving the economies of the small towns hit hardest by the earthquake is a major priority. Since farming is a major part of Japan’s small-town economies, that means bringing in soil from other areas to cover ground rendered infertile by seawater– a process costing upwards of $90 million.

Though debris has been cleared, seawalls are being constructed, and in many highly populated areas a sense of normalcy has returned, the recovery process is far from over. In an interview with Reuters , Japan Society president Motoatsu Sakurai said, "it is very, very evident in Japan this recovery process will continue for more than 10 years."

And because it’s such a lengthy process, it needs all the attention it can get, as Players Trust director Melissa Persaud alluded to at the press conference.

"The players take a long-term approach to their disaster-relief support," Persaud said. "They have learned that too often, after the initial media spotlight fades on a region or people devastated by a disaster, the support fades as well. Yet the needs remain for quite some time."

--Mark Gallucci

Top photo courtesy of MLB. First Row (left to right): Akihiro Asami, Fukushima Organic Agriculture Network; Yoshiaki Ishikawa, ETIC; Shinichi Niwa, Kokoro no Care, Nagomi; Hiroshi Yamanaka, Kokorogake; Akiko Ito, Kokorogake; Toshikazu Abe; Mina Sato, Tohoku Youth Venturer; Nana Watanabe, Ashoka Japan. Second Row: Drew Butera, LA Dodgers; Jeremy Gutherie, KC Royals; Rob Wooten, Brewers; Chris Capuano, NY Yankees; Dexter Fowler, Houston Astros; Hisashi Iwakuma, Seattle Mariners; Salvador Perez, KC Royals; Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays; Mark Melancon, Pittsburgh Pirates; Tsuyoshi Wada, Chicago Cubs; Jerry Blevins, Washington Nationals; Jeff Beliveau, Tampa Bay Rays; Shoko Takamatsu, Fukushima Organic Agriculture Network; Koji Yamauchi, ETIC.

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