ALAMEDA, Calif. –
A Bay Area high school baseball team is searching for three games to fill its schedule after a long-planned trip to Japan was canceled by the earthquake and tsunami that ravaged the country on March 11. Alameda
had planned for its second nine-day trip to Fukuoka in four seasons, starting on Friday.
Though Fukuoka is roughly 700 miles north of the epicenter, the State Department's recommendations for Americans not to travel to Japan on Sunday sealed the cancellation.
Alameda's 18 players, five-man coaching staff and eight parents who were going to make the trip were disappointed, but understanding. The Hornets were to play Japan power Fukuoka Tech in a three-game series starting on Monday.
"Of course we wanted to go and we are disappointed, but our hearts go out to all of those people affected by the tragedy," Alameda coach Ken Arnerich said. "We're fortunate in so many ways that we didn't schedule the trip a week earlier."
The team was scheduled to fly out on Friday, land in Tokyo late that night and stay to the next morning before catching a connecting flight to Fukuoka Saturday morning.
Officials were going to drive the team directly to the Fukuoka Dome, to watch the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks open their Nippon Professional Baseball season.
The Alameda players were to stay at a Fukuoka Tech dorm during the trip, which included several cultural exchanges.
High school baseball in Japan is nationally recognized, with an 80-team national tournament at the end of the year. Arnerich said the games are nationally televised and championship games draw 30,000 to 40,000 fans.
Alameda junior pitcher and second baseman Trent Yee
, who fired a no-hitter with nine strikeouts and one walk in a 3-2 win over Montgomery on Saturday, was scheduled to pitch in one of the three games in Fukuoka.
He was also scheduled to meet for the first time some distant cousins from Japan who had planned to attend the games.
"I was looking forward to meeting them and just the entire trip overall," Yee said. "The whole team was. We wanted to see a new place and play some new competition. It just wasn't meant to be I guess."
Alameda, a perennial North Coast Section power which is 4-0 in the early going this season, won a combined 105 games over the previous five seasons and captured the NCS crown in 2006. The Hornets returned 16 players from last year's 21-9 squad. They went 1-2 against Fukuoka Tech during the 2008 trip.
"It was truly an awesome experience," Arnerich said. "We were treated like royalty. The learning curve both culturally and in baseball was off the charts. It's a shame our boys won't experience it this year."
Officials in Fukuoka told Arnerich life in their city is normal and there were no apparent dangers. The nearest nuclear site from Fukuoka is more than 400 miles away.
"Everyone on the ground there said it was safe to come," Arnerich said. "But when our State Department recommended Americans not to go, our school board simply couldn't approve the trip. If something happened to us, they would be liable. Our parents understand."
The baseball program raised more than $18,000 for the trip and all but a night's stay in Tokyo and a small travel fee will be reimbursed, Arnerich said.
Now, Arnerich's focus is on getting games scheduled. With the raised money, the Hornets are able to travel – anywhere on the West Coast – for a tournament next week or individual games locally at any time.
Those interested in picking up a game should call assistant coach Rich Krinks at 510-381-3434. NOTES:
The Hornets have made an offer for Fukuoka Tech to travel to Alameda next year. "We don't have dorms, so players would stay with host families," Krinks said. … Krinks, whose son Kyle along with Arnerich's son Kenny was on the 2008 Alameda squad, said the 2008 trip "was one we will remember for the rest of our lives." … The connection between Alameda and Fukuoka Tech is a Hornets assistant coach who is a member of the Board of Trustees for Cal State East Bay. Fukuoka Tech is also a college and its sister school is Cal State East Bay. "He just happened to talk to someone there who said they had a pretty good baseball team and one thing led to another," Arnerich said. "Hopefully we can keep this going." … Among the differences in baseball, according to the Alameda coach, is that Japanese pitchers don't go to the dugout between innings but rather go to the bullpen and continue to pitch to stay loose. … One other big difference is that the players bow to the coaches after every half-inning. "I tried to get our guys to go for it, but it didn't stick," Arnerich said.