ISHINOWAKI, Japan – Awkward as the thing was, Eric Wedge caught a glimpse.
“The best thing was to see the looks on the kids’ faces, and even some of the adults,” said the Mariners manager of his brief afternoon stop in Downtown Bleakness. “It was probably the most enjoyable day they’ve had since the devastation. It was worth our time and then some.”
Time has become an issue of the moment for the Mariners. There’s not enough of it. Not on this season-opening trip, not with the 30 hours of round-trip travel time, four ballgames, various events, ceremonies, invites and the perpetuity and ubiquitousness of the always-polite, always gargantuan Japanese media.
By Friday afternoon, they will have returned to Peoria, Ariz., where they resume spring training, then resume the regular season on the road before finally opening at home April 13. If the Mariners want an excuse to start 2012 poorly, Major League Baseball has given them a big, fat greasy one.
And truth be told, it’s kinda exhausting to stay up on your niceness to keep pace with the mega-niceness of your hosts.
Certainly time was sparse Tuesday in this town blasted a year ago by an earthquake and tsunami. Wedge and three players of international heritage – Italian Alex Liddi, Japanese Hisashi Iwakuma and Dominican Hector Noesi – spent six hours on buses and trains to give less than 90 minutes of hope to some people who forgot what it looked like.
As much as their effort on a blustery afternoon seemed to be appreciated by the hundred or so Little Leaguers, their coaches, parents and other community leaders, the “clinic” seemed a little too much for media and MLB and not enough for the kids.
“I felt a little guilty about getting in and out,” said Wedge on the bullet train back to Tokyo. “It was all we could do. I wish we could have spent more time there.”
Turns out that even that time was too much. Slowed by traffic, the bus from Ishinomaki to the train station in Sendai arrived six minutes before scheduled departure. That meant that a traveling party of about 30, packing gear, had to go on a near sprint through the station, led by a travel host bearing one of those tourists-in-tow flags.
The train actually held for an extra couple of minutes, almost unheard of in Japan. And it wasn’t enough. Three in the party didn’t make it – the Mariners players.
Nevertheless, accompanied by MLB security, the three were aboard the next train in 20 minutes. None of the players were scheduled to play in the regular season openers at the Tokyo Dome.
Wedge was finally able to smile about it, but having three players stranded, however temporarily, in a foreign country, didn’t help his blood pressure already elevated from the station sprint.
“We were pressed,” he said, “to the very end.”
MARINERS ROSTER AT 28
Because of the early start to their season, the Mariners and A’s were permitted to carry 30 players for the two exhibition games in Tokyo, but had to cut to 28 Wednesday prior to the opener against Oakland.
The Mariners optioned outfielder Carlos Peguero and right-handed pitcher Chance Ruffin to AAA Tacoma and catcher Guillermo Quiroz was re-assigned to minor league camp.
Infielder Munenori Kawasaki and pitchers Kevin Millwood (still in Arizona) and Erasmo Ramirez were selected from Tacoma. That also fills the major league 40-man roster to the max.