Sunday, November 3, 2013

Who says there are no happy endings?

Sports will break your heart. That's what it does. For all the inspiring underdogs and feel-good stories it produces, only a vanishingly small number actually complete the journey and win the Big Game/Trophy/Tournament. That's not to say there is no value in sports other than winning, of course -- there's camaraderie, physical fitness, handling adversity, learning teamwork, winning and losing with equal grace, just plain having fun, etc. That said, no one watches "Hoosiers" to see Hickory High give a good accounting of themselves before making way for bigger schools with more realistic chances of a state championship. We want to see the underdog finish the job and revel in Eternal Glory.

Sunday brought one such story. The Rakuten Eagles beat the big, bad Yomiuri Giants (Japan's answer to the New York Yankees) to win the Japan Series in seven games and claim their first league title. This is great news for a few reasons: 1) The Eagles play at Kleenex Stadium. Seriously. 2) Ace pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, likely the next big Japanese prospect to make the move to Major League Baseball, won an unearthly 30 straight starts this season with a 1.08 ERA before losing in Game 6 of the Japan Series. In a nice touch, Eagles manager Senichi Hoshino brought Tanaka back to close out Game 7, giving the pitcher a chance to end his time with the club with a good performance as well as a championship.

The main reason to celebrate Rakuten's title, though, is that it's a welcome bit of good news for a region that is still recovering from the tsunami/earthquake/nuclear meltdown on March 11, 2011. Clean-up efforts by the company largely responsible for the mess are hardly worthy of the name and Corporate Japan seems determined to maintain the status quo regardless of the reality outside their gleaming offices, so every little lift helps.
The Eagles are the only professional baseball team located in the Tohoku region that was devastated by the March 11, 2011, disaster. The team's home stadium was severely damaged by the earthquake.
More than two years after the disaster that killed nearly 19,000 people, the region is still struggling and progress in recovery efforts is slow. More than 280,000 people remain living in temporary housing. Leaks of radioactive contaminated water at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant have been keeping people on edge. Sendai is only 36 miles from Fukushima.
''This is a great present for the people of the Tohoku region,'' Rakuten manager Senichi Hoshino said. ''I hope this victory will be an inspiration to the evacuees. There will be many tough days ahead but tonight I hope we can all enjoy this win.''
Yes, it's just sports. No, the Eagles winning won't fix the mess left by Tepco and the Japanese government or get the people of Tohoku back in their homes. But dammit, these people have been all but forgotten by a government more concerned with protecting their friends in the nuclear power industry than the people who helped vote them into power in the first place. If a nearby Sporting Club wins a championship and provides them a bit of respite in the process, who are we to complain?

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