After weeks of rumblings, MLB made it official on Wednesday. The Mariners and A’s will open next season in Japan, with a pair of regular-season games in the Tokyo Dome on March 28-29.
The two teams will spend nine days in Japan during their normal Spring Training time, playing two exhibition games against Japanese teams as well, before returning to the United States to resume their Cactus League schedules and then kicking off their normal regular-season on April 6 in Oakland.
The two regular-season games in Tokyo will be counted as A’s home games and replace two later-season contests previously scheduled for Oakland on Sunday, April 8 and Thursday, July 5.
Having April 8 off turns the original opening series in Oakland into a two-day set and gives the Mariners a day off before heading to Texas for their second road series of the season from April 9-11. The July 5 game would have been the opener of a four-game series in Oakland, so now the Mariners will have a day off between a Safeco series with Baltimore and the start of the final road trip before the All-Star break.
The Mariners 81-game home schedule is not affected and they’ll play their home opener on Friday, April 13, against the A’s as previously announced.
The Mariners were scheduled to open the 2003 season in Japan against the A’s, but that trip was canceled at the last minute due to safety concerns and flight restrictions when the U.S. began military actions against Iraq the day before.
Bob Melvin, who was manager of the Mariners at that time, now is the A’s skipper.
The only player still playing for Seattle from that time is Ichiro Suzuki, who will get the chance to play in his home country for the first time with the Mariners.
Mariners catcher Chris Gimenez, the team’s assistant player representative, spoke with the team last week about the possibility of the trip to get feedback and explain the situation. While there were questions about the travel arrangements and affect on the season, Gimenez said it would be a great opportunity for those on next year’s team.
“We get to see it every day with Ichiro, but it’ll be a chance immerse yourself in that culture and see what that place is all about,” Gimenez said. “Especially in the wake of the tsunami and all that, it’ll be important to help those fans, just like for us in 9/11, to forget and get back to their every-day life and have something to look forward to.”
The Mariners will fly from Phoenix to Tokyo on March 22. Details of the two exhibition games prior to the March 28-29 regular-season games have not yet been finalized.
This will be the fourth time MLB has opened a season with a two-game series in Japan. The Red Sox and A’s played in the Tokyo Dome in 2008. The Yankees and Rays played there in ’04 and the Mets and Cubs faced each other in the first Tokyo series in 2000.