Thursday, March 17, 2011
Updated: March 18, 11:17 AM ET
Bobby Valentine helping friends in Japan
NEW YORK -- Bobby Valentine has been working on little sleep since Japan was devastated by an earthquake and tsunami last week, devoting much of his time to tracking down friends and former players and figuring out a way to help from thousands of miles away.
"I'm feeling hopeless, helpless," Valentine told The Associated Press in a phone interview Thursday from his office in Stamford, Conn. "What I do have is a pretty good circle of friends who I reached out to. I think I'll be able to contribute."
The ESPN baseball analyst was manager of the Chiba Lotte Marines in 1995 and from 2004-09, leading them to a championship in 2005, and his ties to Japan are strong. Once Valentine began seeing images of the aftermath of the 8.9-magnitude quake that hit northern Japan last Friday, he began texting, e-mailing and calling for updates.
Valentine has spoken to Chiba Lotte team executives, friends with the Rakuten Golden Eagles in the heavily hit city Sendai and employees at a school he helped found seven years ago.
"The country is shaken, they're living in a very uncomfortable state," Valentine said.
The one friend he hasn't been able to reach firsthand is New York Mets scout Esao O'Jimi, who was Valentine's first interpreter in Japan. Mets spokesman Jay Horwitz said O'Jimi is OK.
Seeing YouTube videos of water rushing through the streets where he rode his bicycle every day, of the rising tides flooding the ballpark where his Marines played their home games, he knew he had to act.
So Valentine, the director of public health and safety for Stamford, began calling his friends in the financial industry and started reaching out to baseball people to set up a relief fund. He hopes to start a website where fans can buy memorabilia and make donations.
He's going to meet with the Japan Society and with charities such as Save the Children and the Japanese Red Cross to find a partner that will act quickly.
"I hope the charities of choice are ones that are recognized by many and can use the funds expediently," he said.
He's even trying to convince the board of directors of the Mickey Leone Fund, a local charity he is involved with, to donate the funds raised from a June 18 gala to the relief effort in Japan.
It's not the first time Valentine has raced to help out in a disaster. After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Valentine, then the manager of the Mets, stepped to the forefront, helping organize the staging area in the Shea Stadium parking lot for the relief effort.
Then he could get his hands dirty, getting involved that way. Far away from Chiba, which he says was built on the landfill of World War II and could be in jeopardy because of all the flooding, he's taking a different approach.
"I feel just as helpless as I did then," Valentine said, "and I hope I can do something."