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Baseballers defy quakes to begin 2011 season in Japan

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A sporting tribute in Japan
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Japanese baseball season finally gets under way in Chiba, Greater Tokyo
  • Rakuten Eagles beat Lotte Marines despite more quakes before and during game
  • Some games being held during the day to conserve electricity in disaster-hit nation
  • Japanese Football Association rethinking decision to pull out of Copa America

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(CNN) -- Despite more earthquakes rocking Japan on Tuesday, the devastated country's delayed baseball season was finally able to begin.

Sendai-based Rakuten Eagles, unable to use their own stadium due to damage from last month's initial quake, triumphed 6-4 away to Japan Series champions Lotte Marines in a game held during the day to conserve electricity.

A quake centered in northeastern Chiba registered before the game, while another of magnitude 6.3 which hit Fukushima and Ibaraki Prefectures caused a short delay in the fourth innings, the Mainichi Times reported.

The decisive moment came when Motohiro Shima hit a tie-breaking three-run home run in the seventh innings.

We fought together as a team and were able to pull out victory. The cheers of the fans reached me
--Hisashi Iwakuma
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"For me, this game felt as if we were playing our first game in Sendai," Eagles pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma said in quotes reported by the newspaper's website as he celebrated his 30th birthday.

"We fought together as a team and were able to pull out victory. The cheers of the fans reached me."

Japan nuclear disaster tops scale

In the opening match of the Central League competition, the Yokohama BayStars beat the Chunichi Dragons 5-4.

The president of Japan Professional Baseball Players' Association said the teams hoped to lift morale in a country where 400,000 have been left homeless and more than 27,000 dead or missing.

"We'll fight through the season with the feelings of disaster victims on our minds," Hanshin Tigers infielder Takahiro Arai told AFP.

"We will play our hearts out in chasing the ball, that way we can encourage people affected by the disaster."

Japan's top football competition, the J-League, has been suspended until April 23.

However, the country's football association is rethinking its decision to pull out of July's Copa America tournament in Argentina, where the "Samurai Blue" had initially requested to play as one of two guest teams.

"The Japanese association for its part has not reached a final conclusion," JFA vice-president Kozo Tashima told the Jiji Press news agency on Tuesday.

"We will reconsider whether we can send a national team by using our wisdom more than ever."

The JFA has until April 15 to make a final decision.

"We will take part on condition that we call up a certain number of overseas-based players in a way to minimize the impact on the J-League," JFA technical director Hiromi Hara told Japanese media, AFP reported.