Nishioka plays in honor of countrymen

Nishioka plays in honor of countrymen

Nishioka plays in honor of countrymen
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Twins second baseman Tsuyoshi Nishioka arrived at Hammond Stadium on Friday morning unaware of the fact that Japan had been hit with the largest earthquake in his nation's history.

It wasn't until his teammates and the coaching staff started asking him if his family was OK that the new Twins infielder, who is in his first Spring Training away from his home country, received news of the magnitude-8.9 earthquake.

"I usually don't watch TV or read the internet before I come to the ballpark, so once I stepped into the clubhouse, all of my teammates and staff wondered if my family was all right," Nishioka said through interpreter Ryo Shinkawa. "That's when I first noticed that a huge earthquake had hit Japan."

It was difficult for Nishioka and many of the Japanese media following him to reach anyone back home by phone due to the disaster. Eventually Nishioka was able to get in touch with his wife, Naoko, who is in Tokyo, through e-mail, and he learned that his family was doing OK.

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This is Nishioka's first year away from Japan, and it certainly can't be easy to be far away when a crisis like this hits home.

Nishioka was penciled into the lineup for the Twins on Friday, and manager Ron Gardenhire asked him if he would prefer to take the day off in order to get in touch with more family and friends. The second baseman said he thought about it initially, but decided that he could best represent his fellow countrymen by playing in their honor.

"I understand that I'm in an occupation where I can relay dreams and hope and energy back home to Japan," said Nishioka, who went 1-for-2 with a walk. "So I wanted to be on the field and think about the people back home and give all-out on the field to give some of that back home."

Following the Twins' 3-2 victory over the Red Sox, the TV inside Gardenhire's office was tuned to CNN, which was airing continuous coverage of the disaster. Gardenhire took a moment to address the Japanese media before he started talking about the game.

"We hope all of your families over in Japan are safe, and our thoughts and prayers are with you and all of the families over in Japan," Gardenhire said. "I know that's really hard, and people can't get a hold [of their loved ones]. Our thoughts are with you, thinking about you and your family and friends."

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Kelly's Corner and follow her on Twitter at kellythesier. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.