TOKYO (AP) — Members of Japan's World Baseball Classic team honored the victims of the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear catastrophe on the two-year anniversary of the disaster.
The team held a moment of silence before a Monday morning practice at Tokyo Dome.
"We've been able to return to our normal lives but there are a lot of people still struggling to return to a normal life," said Japan pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, who plays for a team in Sendai, a city hit hard by the disaster
More than 300,000 people remain displaced and very little rebuilding has begun along the battered northeastern coast, where the tsunami swept away entire communities.
Two-time defending champion Japan qualified for the semifinals of the tournament on Sunday with a 16-4 win over the Netherlands.
Memorial services were to be held Monday in Tokyo and in towns along the northeastern coast to mark the moment, at 2:46 p.m., when the magnitude 9.0 earthquake — the strongest recorded in Japan's history — struck off the coast, unleashing a massive tsunami that killed nearly 19,000 people.
"I imagine things have been tough for the past two years and there are still many tough days ahead," Japan manager Koji Yamamoto said. "We will do our best to play hard and send some happiness to the people who were hit by this terrible tragedy."
Japan won the first two versions of baseball's global tournament and are aiming to defend the title when the team travels to the United States for the March 17-19 championship round in San Francisco.