Following a long day in Tempe, Ariz., last Thursday, Angels pitcher Hisanori Takahashi booted up his computer and initiated a video chat with his wife, Yeyol, who lives in Takahashi's native Tokyo. Suddenly, jarringly, the image shook as Skype captured live the strongest earthquake in Japan's history, an 8.9 on the Richter scale. Scared as he was, Takahashi at least had visual confirmation of the safety of his wife and two children, Sena and Aoba. "The videos and the pictures were horrible," he told SI. "It is sad I cannot do anything right now in my country."
Now, as much as ever, Japan needs help, its northeastern region devastated by the quake and an ensuing tsunami. As of Monday, death toll estimates had reached 10,000, and two nuclear plants north of Tokyo were on the verge of meltdown, prompting Prime Minister Naoto Kan to deem the catastrophe Japan's greatest crisis since World War II. Across the country sporting events have been suspended, a decision affecting Asian Champions League soccer and Nippon Professional Baseball games alike. And in Tokyo, figure skating officials postponed hosting next week's world championships.
Back in the U.S. few of baseball's 15 Japanese players shared Takahashi's immediate peace of mind. The Mariners' Ichiro Suzuki and the Red Sox' Daisuke Matsuzaka initially struggled to contact loved ones across the Pacific, where phone service was overloaded and Internet often down. Brewers reliever Takashi Saito found out that his wife and three daughters were out of harm's way in Yokohama but that his hometown of Sendai, where his parents and brothers live, was hard-hit. "They have a strong will to recover," he said. "They told me not to worry." A few of Saito's relatives and a high school teammate remain missing, prompting the pitcher to ask for a moment of silence before a game last Sunday. Said Saito, "I still haven't given up hope yet." Some 6,000 miles away a broken nation tries to follow suit.