SEATTLE (CBS/AP) — Ichiro Suzuki and possibly Hideki Matsui will begin the 2012 season playing before their countrymen.
The Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics will open next season in Japan with a two-game series at the Tokyo Dome on March 28 and 29 the commissioner’s office announced on Wednesday. The teams will also play two yet-to-be scheduled exhibition games during the trip.
The teams will leave their spring training homes in Arizona on March 22 and return to Arizona on March 30.
Seattle and Oakland had been scheduled to play there in March 2003, but the series was scrapped because of the threat of war in Iraq. The A’s will be the home team in both games this time around.
And the series could feature a pair of Japanese stars if Matsui – who is a free agent – decides to return to Oakland, along with Suzuki.
“I think the fans in Japan are really looking forward to it. There’s a lot of Major League Baseball fans over there, and with what happened in March with the earthquake, it’s even more encouraging to be able to watch the games live in person,” Matsui said through an interpreter. “Obviously I don’t know if I’m going to be there.”
After Wednesday night’s season finale, Suzuki declined to go in depth about the games in Japan.
“We just heard about that today. It’s hard to think about how to look forward to that because we just finished our season now and we have a lot of time till that day so you want to prepare,” Suzuki said through his interpreter. “I’m not ready to say anything about Japan at this point.”
Asked if the games would potentially lead the A’s to make a stronger push to re-sign him, Matsui was realistic about the possible reaction in Japan.
“I think there’s going to be a lot of fans who would look forward to that kind of matchup—Ichiro vs. Matsui,” he said.
This will be the fourth Japan opener, following the New York Mets and Chicago Cubs (2000), the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay (2004), and Boston and Oakland (2008).
MLB and the players’ association said the series will be dedicated to assisting rebuilding in Japan following this year’s earthquake.
The Mariners were first briefed about the trip a week ago. Seattle player representative Chris Gimenez said there were a few concerns raised, but for the most part everyone was supportive of the chance to visit Japan.
“I love it. Personally I think it’s a great opportunity,” Gimenez said. “I don’t know how many other opportunities I’ll have to go to Japan and for us to be doing it for a charitable cause is always another good thing.”
The one oddity with the trip is that both teams will return to Arizona for more of spring training when they return on March 30. The Mariners and A’s play on April 6 in Oakland in the previously scheduled season opener.
The two games in Japan will come out of Oakland’s home schedule.
The Mariners and A’s will now have off days on April 8 and July 5.
“That’ll be more travel than I’ve ever experienced in a short amount of time,” Seattle second baseman Dustin Ackley said. “Definitely trying to get your rest after those plane flights and coming back will probably be harder with the spring training games and the season about to start. It’ll be a challenge.”
For Bob Melvin, it brings him full circle. He was the Mariners’ manager back in 2003 and was disappointed when the trip was scraped at the last minute.
“I want them to look forward and enjoy the experience. You don’t often get to do something like that,” Melvin said. “I hope some of what baseball, the way it’s played in Japan, the attitude rubs off on our guys because I know that Japanese players take it very seriously and baseball fields are sacred ground there and respect the game very much and I’d like our guys to be a part of that and feel it first hand.”
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