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Baseball clinic helps kids feel safe at home again

One year after a 9.0 earthquake - the 4th largest in recorded world history - hit Japan, a community struggles to return to normalcy.

It's a sunny day in Ishinomaki, a city located in Miyagi Prefecture, around 210 miles northeast of Tokyo. Boeing and the Seattle Mariners have come here to provide a clinic for 100 elementary school baseball players from the city.

"These children and their families have been through so much in the last year," said Mary Foerster, vice president, communications and marketing, Commercial Airplanes. "We want them to know they weren't forgotten and that the world cares about them."

Many of the children lost their homes and loved ones. Neighborhoods were decimated and more than 50,000 people were left homeless. Baseball has been a grounding force for them and on Tuesday they got to meet their idols, including Mariners pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma, who is from Ishinomaki.

"It's amazing to be here and help these families and see how they're recovering," said Eric Wedge, Mariners manager. "It truly is a message of hope."

Boeing is a major sponsor of Japan Opening Series 2012, featuring the Mariners and Oakland Athletics in a two-game series opening the Major League Season, during which the Mariners have worn a Boeing jersey patch on their sleeves. Boeing partnered with Major League Baseball to host the children's clinic. After the tsunami and earthquake last year, Boeing employees donated $1.3 million, and the company pledged $1 million toward recovery efforts.

After the baseball clinic in Ishinomaki, several children were selected for a trip to Tokyo where they watched the Mariners and Oakland Athletics in the season opening game of Major League Baseball. The children also gave ceremonial baseballs to the players.

It was exciting yet emotional for sixth grader Ryuto Abe. He lost his mother in the tsunami.

"I'm quite sure she was watching down on me as I was with the players," he said through a Japanese translator. "For that I am very thankful."