The man who made Nintendo into a video gaming giant is warmly regarded in Seattle, and not just because the company's American headquarters are there. He purchased the Seattle Mariners in 1992, almost certainly saving the team from moving to Florida.
But Hiroshi Yamauchi, the third president of Nintendo, has never seen his team play. There are rumours, going back as far as 1992, that he doesn't even like baseball, which he didn't exactly knock down in one of his few interviews with western press.
Distance has something to do with it; Yamauchi is believed not to have stepped foot in the United States since he acquired the Mariners. At 84 years old, his trans-Pacific travelling days are quite likely over.
But Seattle and the Oakland Athletics open the Major League Baseball season on March 28 and 29 in Tokyo. This could be the last chance for Yamauchi to see the team he "has always viewed ... as a thank you to Seattle for being so welcoming to Nintendo of America," writes the Seattle Times' Larry Stone. A Japan visit the A's and M's planned for 2003 was scuttled by concerns about the impending war in Iraq.
Yamauchi has not been completely distant from the team. Stone notes that he was present at news conferences to announce the Mariners' signings of Japanese players, one of them future Hall-of-Famer Ichiro Suzuki. Ichiro is said to visit Yamauchi every off-season.
It's worth pointing out that Major League Baseball initially opposed his bid on the Mariners, not wanting to have a club owned by someone outside North America. He was required to have fewer than 50 per cent of the voting interest in the club at the time; it since increased to 55 per cent.
Maybe there's a grudge involved because of that. Perhaps MLB sending Yamauchi's team to his home soil on the 20th anniversary of the deal is a gesture of reconciliation. Officially, the team does not know if Yamauchi will attend.
Whatever the case is, it would be gracious of Yamauchi to attend one of the games of the team he saved. The Mariners, under his ownership, matured from a laughingstock expansion franchise into a contender, bringing must-watch stars such as Ken Griffey Jr, Randy Johnson and Ichiro to millions of viewers. Two extremely significant records are owned by the Mariners. And if you know a Mariners fan, you know they get choked up every time they see this, one of the greatest moments — any moment — in that city's history.
It never would have happened if Yamauchi had not thanked the city of Seattle by saving their baseball team. I'm pretty sure the team would like the chance to say thank you in person after all of these years, too.
Main image by AP; inset by Getty Images