2008 MLB Season to Open in Japan

The 2008 Major League season will open the regular season in Japan. The first game will be played between defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox facing the Oakland Athlethics in the 55,000-seat Tokyo Dome.

The baseball opener will be highlighted by five days of festivities which include regular-season games between the two clubs on March 25 and 26, exhibition day-night doubleheaders against Nippon Professional Baseball teams on March 22 and 23, and an off-day workout sandwiched in between on March 24.

“We were proud to get the invitation from MLB and Yomiuri,” Red Sox president Larry Lucchino told MLB.com on Wednesday. “It comes at a good time for us, because we want to express our gratitude to the Japanese baseball world for the contribution their two pitchers made to our World Series championship.”

As it has been done in the past, Yomiuri, which owns the Central League’s Giants and is one of the largest media corporations in the world, will sponsor and host the games in Tokyo Dome.

It is the fifth time that a major league game is opening the season abroad. The first time it occurred was in 199, when the Padres opened against the Rockies in Monterrey, Mexico. For the Red Sox and the A’s it will be the first time they play a regular-season game outside of North America.

The Red Sox, with former Japanese League pitchers Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima, are anticipated to draw large crowds in Tokyo. When the Yankees played in Japan in 2004 (against the Tampa Bay Rays), former Yomiuri Giants slugger Hideki Matsui returned to his home country for the first time and received heavy attention in Tokyo.

In 2001, the Blue Jays and Rangers opened in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where the Expos also played 22 of their “home games” during each of the 2003 and 2004 seasons. The Padres and the Mets were the first teams to play a regular-season series internationally when they met in Monterrey during the 1996 season.

Lucchino was the president of the Padres on both occasions when they played in Mexico and was a staunch proponent of obtaining Matsuzaka and Okajima, who both left Japan as free agents to join the Red Sox prior to the 2007 season. The Red Sox have also recently developed a working agreement with the Chiba Lotte club in Japan’s Pacific League.

“I was very pleased we were able to work that out,” Bob DuPuy, MLB’s president and chief operating officer, said on Wednesday about the March matchup in Japan. “We are pleased that we were able to bring together our sponsor, the Red Sox and Oakland, and work out the logistics. This is the third time we’re opening the season in Japan. We’re bringing back two Japanese stars to Japan, and the world champions to boot. It will make this a very special event for us.”

Oakland had the opportunity to play in Japan in 2003, but the events were canceled due to the war in Iraq.  It looks like there won’t be any problems in 2008, even though we are a long way away.

“The Oakland A’s are very excited and honored to be opening the 2008 season in Japan,” Michael Crowley, the team’s president, said. “Baseball is truly a game without borders, and we are pleased to have the opportunity to be a part of the game’s growth on the international level.”

Both the A’s and Red Sox will return to the U.S. to conclude Spring Training before resuming their regular-season schedules.

It is also possible that the Dodgers will play against the Padres in a exhibition games in Beijing, China on March 15-16, 2008. As we all know, Beijing will be host to the Summer Olympics in 2008. The Olympics are slated to run from August 8-24. Beijing has two facilities for baseball, the larger of which holds about 12,000 people. When these games are going to be played in Japan, it will be the first in MLB games of any kind in China, which banned baseball during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s.

I think this is great news to Japan, China, and the world. Baseball is becoming a more popular sport by the day (2007 saw the highest attendance figures in MLB history; these numbers are projected to increase in 2008), and it is good that MLB is taking a proactive approach in making the sport more popular across the globe.

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~ by mlb2007playoffs on November 15, 2007.

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