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Thoughts miles away

Matsuzaka, Okajima concerned for those in Japan

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / March 12, 2011

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FORT MYERS, Fla. — As he usually does, Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka checked his e-mail shortly after he woke yesterday. One of his messages contained word of a massive earthquake off the coast of northeast Japan.

His thoughts immediately went to family and friends back home, including his parents.

“I wasn’t able to take in exactly what it was. Once I turned on the television and saw what was going on, it was very shocking, very scary to see that,’’ Matsuzaka said.

By the time he arrived at City of Palms Park, Matsuzaka had learned his parents were fine. He could not get through to them via telephone, but they exchanged e-mails.

“I contacted my family and a few of my friends, and they all seem to be all right,’’ he said. “I haven’t been able to get in touch with my grandmother, who lives in Aomori, which is close to where the earthquake was.’’

The same was largely true of reliever Hideki Okajima. His parents live in Kansai, an area well south of where the earthquake hit and too far inland to be affected by the tsunami that followed. But his in-laws are from Kanto, a region that was hit harder.

“I’m not sure, but they are probably OK,’’ Okajima said. “There’s probably some sort of damage to their house or living situation. I’m also concerned for my house in Japan. There’s quite a bit of damage in Tokyo, too.’’

Matsuzaka and Okajima said their wives and children were in Boston when the disaster struck.

“It’s not a good situation, to say the least,’’ Okajima said. “I’m a little worried. This was a big one, so I am worried . . . You can’t control nature. When something like this happens, you really realize the power of nature.’’

The Red Sox reached out to two pitchers in their minor league camp, Junichi Tazawa and Itsuki Shoda. Both said their families had survived.

Along with the four players, the team has four staffers of Japanese descent. General manager Theo Epstein made sure all were contacted in case any assistance was needed.

Jeff Cutler, who interpreted questions from reporters for Matsuzaka and Okajima, had connected with his family and ascertained they were safe. Kenta Yamada, another team interpreter, also was trying to get word to Japan.

Mikio Yoshimura, the team’s Japanese media liaison, said his family was fine, but he was anxious to get news of others.

According to Cutler, who spoke to his brother in Japan, commuters walked for two or three hours to return home when trains stopped running.

Manager Terry Francona also checked in with the players before he left with a split-squad for a game in Kissimmee against the Astros.

“It’s tragic, just looking at it on TV, it’s pretty devastating,’’ bench coach DeMarlo Hale said. “You hope and pray. I’m sure the country will come together, and other countries, too. It’s a tragedy, a disaster.’’

Televisions in the clubhouse, which usually show sports news, were turned to news channels. Several players stopped to ask Matsuzaka and Okajima about their families.

Former Red Sox reliever Takashi Saito left Milwaukee’s camp in Arizona in the wake of the earthquake. According to the Brewers, Saito has been able to reach his wife, Yukiko, and three daughters, but not his parents. He received permission to leave camp for an indefinite period.

Major League Baseball released a statement from commissioner Bud Selig extending condolences to those affected and promising to aid relief efforts. Several teams, including the Athletics and Yankees, have already pledged funding.

“Through our shared love of baseball for more than a century, Japan is a particularly special place to us, and we are deeply saddened by the disaster that has confronted the nation,’’ Selig said.

There was a moment of silence before the Red Sox faced the Minnesota Twins at Hammond Stadium. Twins second baseman Tsuyoshi Nishioka, who also spent the morning trying to contact his family, was 1 for 2 with a walk.

Okajima pitched the sixth inning and did not give up a run, leaving two runners stranded.

“It was definitely tough,’’ Okajima said. “It’s not just me who is struggling with this. The people in Japan are struggling even more and it’s tougher over there. I had to fight through it today. Hopefully the people in Japan can overcome this tragedy and things will work out.’’

Nick Cafardo of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.

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