A New Ball Game
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ANNOUNCER: The American league West Champs. The Seattle Mariners 2001! ( Cheers and applause )
LEE HOCHBERG: When Major League Baseball’s Seattle Mariners clinched the American League West division title only eight days after the terrorist hijackings, there were hugs but no wild pile-ups on the field diamond.
ANNOUNCER: …As the Mariners remember those who lost their lives in New York and in Washington
LEE HOCHBERG: Instead, the players knelt, and together with 45,000 fans, prayed. (Cheers and applause) They honored the U.S. with a solemn ceremony on the infield, Mariner Mark Maclemore placing the American flag and leading the team around the bases.
SPOKESMAN: You know what, folks? There is crying in baseball.
LEE HOCHBERG: The sobering celebration underlies the uncertain role of sports in America since the September 11 tragedies, especially in a city like Seattle, which is in the midst of an historic and joyous season. The Mariners entered the post-season play-offs tied for the all- time record of 116 wins. All summer, the wild success of a Mariner team whose superstars had left for greener pastures was a great story…
SPORTSCASTER: A 2-2 delivery on the way now…
LEE HOCHBERG: …Sweetened by the unusual international flavor of the players who filled their shoes.
SPORTSCASTER: Belted to right field. He reaches out and catches the baseball!
LEE HOCHBERG: Two imports from Japanese baseball ignite the team. Outfielder Ichiro Suzuki was a seven-time Japanese batting champion before coming to Seattle this year. Pitcher Kasahiro Sasaki is Japan’s all-time saves leader. Suzuki is an icon in Japan, known solely by his first name, Ichiro. He plays with a swiftness that agitates opposing teams until they come unglued.
SPOKESMAN: From the first baseline…
LEE HOCHBERG: In his rookie year in the U.S., Ichiro led the league in batting; Sasaki, meanwhile, the second in the league in saves this year. So beloved are the two in Japan that all Mariner home games are televised live to the Far East. As a result, Safeco Field has become a magnet for both Japanese Americans and many who travel all the way from Japan to see the game.
SPOKESPERSON: He made a big Ichiro sign for this game.
LEE HOCHBERG: Early last month, many Japanese fans waited hours with thousands of Seattleites to receive Kasuhiro Sasaki bobble head dolls.
SPOKESPERSON: He say they dam about going to see them in Safeco Field, and get the days off and then come all over from Japan.
LEE HOCHBERG: At the outfield sushi bar, fans line up to buy "ichi-rolls." Although Japanese tourism was down all year throughout most of the U.S., Seattle tourism boomed. Tour operator Haruko Mukasa says she brought 14,000 Japanese to Seattle this spring and summer, four times last year’s number.
SPOKESMAN: Before, some tourists came and asked for the White House tour because they thought it was Washington, you know, D.C., but that’s changed. Now Seattle is where Ichiro is.
LEE HOCHBERG: "Seattle Times" columnist Steve Kelly says Suzuki and Sasaki have been a perfect fit in Seattle.
STEVE KELLY: We think of ourselves as the hub of the Pacific Rim. The Mariners are owned by Nintendo, and the main owner is Mr. Yamauchi, who lives in Japan. So I think that it was logical that the first great Japanese player in Major League Baseball would be in Seattle.
NEWSCASTER: Well hit. Right centerfield. On the run, he dives and he makes the catch!
LEE HOCHBERG: For all of the intrigue around its Japanese stars, Seattle has had record seasons from many players. Eight played in the League’s all-star game, which in this magical Seattle season also took place at Safeco field.
SINGER: God bless America.
LEE HOCHBERG: But the wild ride slammed to a halt on September 11. The Mariners’ extraordinary play hasn’t changed, but the world has. Tour operators say Japanese tourism to Safeco Field stopped. Local fans kept coming, but some said their hearts were heavy.
FAN: There’s a lot of emotion there. I still feel that, you know, just thinking about it, it’s just emotional. But I think we need to get with our lives, and we can’t let these evil people defeat us.
LEE HOCHBERG: Mariner CEO Howard Lincoln says this greatest moment in Mariner history has been unalterably changed.
HOWARD LINCOLN: I think all of the Mariner records are going to have to be put in context with what happened on September 11, and that doesn’t mean that our players or our fans cannot be excited and cannot share the joy of what has happened, but they also will have to remember that some terrible, terrible things happened at about the same time.
LEE HOCHBERG: Indeed, as the regular season came to an end with more Mariner victories, fans may have appreciated and needed as never before the simple joy of watching baseball played at its best.