During baseball’s postseason I posted about the apparent contribution to Boston’s resilience and recovery following the Marathon bombings provided by the Red Sox. I said it then and I’ll repeat it now: while difficult to quantify or even confirm, it seems that local sports teams can be particularly helpful in aiding a region’s recovery from a particularly bad event.
With that note of caution in mind, I’d like to share another similar story. Baseball again, but this time in Japan.
Dean of baseball writers, Peter Gammons, recently penned a piece for the Boston Globe on the impact that a Japanese League baseball team had in the area hardest hit by the tsunami of 2011. I want to just note up front that this is a piece from a Boston-based baseball writer on the impact of a baseball team on a region’s recovery. While he has few peers in writing about baseball, he does not have any background in recovery, nor is his piece explicitly linking the magnitude of what took place in Japan with Boston (just wanted to get that out of the way…).
(For you baseball fans, the team involved in this story also is the one that would/could/may post a coveted Japanese pitcher, Masahiro Tanaka, he of the 24-0 season.)
Hiroshi Mikitani was in Boston a week after April’s horrific Marathon bombings, so he had a sense of the scars that were inflicted to the city and region where he had studied twenty years earlier. Months later, in Sendai, Japan, he watched on television as his friend Koji Uehara closed out the United States World Series, then, four days later proudly watched in person as ace pitcher Masahiro Tanaka came out of the bullpen—a day after throwing 160 pitches—to close out Mikitani’s Rakuten Golden Eagles’ seventh game 3-0 victory over the Yomiuri Giants to finish the Japan Series and give Sendai its first championship.
The point of future research perhaps?
“I understood the similarities in terms of what each championship meant to their regions, their communities,” says Mikitani.
The value added:
“I know how sports teams can be a symbol of recovery,” Mikitani says. He knows very well, first hand. He got into the sports business in 1995 when he took over the Visser Football Club in Kobe when an earthquake had rendered so much damage that the city could no longer afford to maintain the team in Japanese professional soccer and made it a symbol of recovery.
And when the Golden Eagles won that seventh game of the Japan Series championship, there may have been no greater symbol of a region’s recovery than Rakuten. Two years earlier, the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami devastated Sendai and the Tohoku region, resulting in what the National Police Agency estimated as close to 16,000 deaths, 340,000 people displaced and more than $120B in damage.
“It was very emotional when we won,” says Mikitani. “It was a great, historical moment. There had been so much interaction between the fans, the people of the region and the players, there was a feeling that they won not just for themselves, but for hundreds of thousands of people whose lives had been devastated. Our baseball people did everything they could do to take part in the recovery from 2011 on. They visited shelters. They donated food and blood and money, they volunteered, they tried to aid in the coordination of the recovery, always saying ‘we’ll do whatever we can do.’ And they became more than a baseball team.”
My question, is this valid?
The Rakuten Golden Eagles became the soul of the once-devastated city of Sendai and Tohoku region. So the 2013 champions of the major league baseball cultures of the West and East are effectively soul mates, fellow symbols and participants in their constituents’ recoveries that extend far beyond “championship ring” significance.
Don’t get me wrong, I love baseball. However, I’m still lukewarm on resilience as a concept/strategy/anything other than a buzzword. Regardless, I’d like to believe the following is true:
“To get to this championship was a great moment,” Mikitani says. “Personally, it was very satisfying. For all the people with the team, it means so much. Most important, for the fans and the people of Sendai and the region, it was the fulfillment of hope.”