FUKUSHIMA, Japan: U.S. softball pitcher Monica Abbott had one regret on a day she threw a dazzling shutout to beat Canada: She had no idea she was supposed to be on the lookout for a bear.
Locked in for her Tokyo Olympics start on Thursday, Abbott must have missed headlines late Wednesday in which local authorities said security near Fukushima's softball venue saw a brown bear two consecutive mornings this week.
"I'm kind of disappointed I didn't get to see it," Abbott, who has played in Japan's national league since 2009, told a news conference after her start.
Teammates and coach Ken Eriksen treated the bus ride to the stadium like a tour back home of Yellowstone National Park.
"We were actually looking to see if we could find another bear," said Eriksen, who comes from Florida. "We don't have a lot of bears back where we are at."
Amanda Chidester said she woke up to text messages about the unexpected visitor at a Games where spectators are banned.
"I was able to report back to my family and say it is indeed true there was a bear in the area," Chidester said, though she did not lay eyes on one herself.
Set against the Arakawa River near the Azuma mountain range, the sprawling sports park includes a gym and an athletics stadium. Trees stand inches away from the softball venue's outfield fences, giving any bears an entryway if they can sneak past security roaming the bleachers.
Japan's bear population has been increasing in recent years. With food in the mountains decreasing, more are venturing into settled areas and there are several maulings and deaths each year.
On their bus out after a 1-0 win, U.S. players seemed less interested in the bear. They donned headphones and waved back at about 50 local volunteers holding "GO USA!" signs at the exit.
(Reporting by Paresh Dave; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)