03/26/2004 1:50 PM ET
Yanks reach Land of the Rising Sun
By Mark Feinsand / MLB.com
|Hideki Matsui arrives at Tokyo International Airport. (Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images)
TOKYO -- After an all-day journey from Tampa to Tokyo that skipped over Friday altogether, the New York Yankees officially hit Japan early Saturday morning.
The front doors of the New Otani Hotel opened at 2:12 a.m. local time -- 12:12 p.m. Friday in New York -- as pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre walked into the building that the Yankees will call home for much of the next week.
Players, coaches, staff and their wives strolled in -- some full of life, others bleary-eyed -- as the Yankees began their season-opening experience.
"This is an experience we're all looking forward to," said manager Joe Torre. "We're all curious. The flight was great, so now we'll see what tomorrow feels like, whether it feels like Friday, Saturday -- we're not sure."
"I'm a little tired," said Hideki Matsui, Japan's biggest baseball star who will play in his home country for the first time since leaving for the Major Leagues prior to last season. "I'm looking forward to the opening game."
The Yankees left Tampa on Thursday evening, following their exhibition game against the Phillies. The 18-hour trip included a stop in Chicago, and they landed in Tokyo shortly before 1:00 a.m. Japan time. Upon their arrival at the airport, the team was greeted by media, as well as a few autograph seekers.
Five buses pulled up to the hotel just after 2 a.m., as Stottlemyre was followed by Yogi Berra, general manager Brian Cashman, assistant GM Jean Afterman (who celebrated her March 26 birthday on the flight), Reggie Jackson and Don Mattingly. Players followed soon after, as fans, media and MLB officials welcomed them to the hotel.
Hotel personnel sported Yankees caps as the team entered the building, though they quickly changed into Devil Rays hats about 30 minutes later, as they prepped for Tampa Bay's arrival.
"It was nice," said Alex Rodriguez. "Being here in 1996, I know how passionate the fans are here about baseball."
Torre said that the flight went smoothly, with the exception of some brief turbulence. Although the team arrived in jackets and ties, they spent most of the flight in sweatsuits and slippers, as team trainer Gene Monahan made frequent trips around the plane to keep players hydrated.
"We slept a little bit on the plane," Torre said. "The instructions were to sleep a little so we were tired when we get in. Yogi and I are already making breakfast plans."
New York will work out and hold press conferences at the Tokyo Dome on Saturday, then play exhibition games against the Yomiuri Giants and Hanshin Tigers on Sunday and Monday. The season-opener is Tuesday against the Devil Rays, and the two teams will meet again on Wednesday before returning to the United States.
Torre said he wasn't concerned with the potential for jet lag, as both teams will face the same obstacles in preparing for this week's games.
"If you get caught up in it, you'll talk yourself into it," Torre said. "If there's jet lag, there's jet lag, and we'll just have to deal with it."
"I'm not too concerned," said Rodriguez. "It will take a day or two to get comfortable."
Yankees owner George Steinbrenner did not make the trip, but his son-in-law, general partner Steve Swindal, said that the Boss will keep a close eye on the events of the next week.
"It's a long trip for him. I'm sure he'll be watching us," Swindal said. "It's tremendous for the Yankees. Any time you get to broaden the brand, especially in a country like Japan where baseball is their national pastime like it's our national pastime, it's a tremendous opportunity. We're proud to be a part of it."
Mark Feinsand is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.