03/27/2004 10:02 AM ET
Rays get settled into Tokyo Dome
By Paul C. Smith / MLB.com
TOKYO -- As the sun rose on Saturday morning in Tokyo, the Devil Rays got their first look at the capital of Japan. Soon thereafter, they got their first look at the city's "Big Egg."
|Victor Zambrano signs autographs for Japanese children on Saturday. (Katsumi Kasahara/AP)
The Rays arrived in Tokyo in the dark, at about 1:30 Saturday morning. They were bused to their hotel and most of them slept until it was time to go to the Tokyo Dome for a workout.
"I haven't been out much yet but I'll walk around, the shops and the food, take in whatever I can," said Rocco Baldelli. "But Tokyo so far is amazing. It's the cleanest place I've been in my life."
Aubrey Huff was in Tokyo for a short time about a month ago for a promotional tour. He said he has been amazed both trips.
"People go out of their way for you here," Huff said. "You don't get that kind of treatment in the states."
Huff also noted the presence of many fans at the airport and the hotel when the Rays arrived.
"I'm a little surprised to see people out at three in the morning," Huff said.
Carl Crawford, a 22-year-old native of Houston, has never experienced anything like the culture and diversity of Japan.
"This is my first time and it's a pretty exciting town," Crawford said. "Hopefully, I'll learn something new. I'm not sure where to go or what to do, but whatever they have for us to see, I'll follow the train [of Rays]."
Tino Martinez came to Tokyo in 1988 and '89 as a member of Team USA baseball.
"Before, we were on the go the whole time," Martinez said. "We were traveling quite a bit and taking the bullet train. Everything is as beautiful as I remember, though."
By the time the Rays got to their workout at the Tokyo Dome, it was filled with approximately 35,000 people, mostly young children there for a special "Kids Day." The children were well behaved but never missed a chance to cheer as the Rays took infield and batting practice.
"It's festive," said Geoff Blum.
The players started the session throwing T-shirts into the crowd. There are 10-foot high fences all around the field, so the players had to loft the shirts high over the fence and into the eager hands of the children.
The surface of the Tokyo Dome is FieldTurf, the same as the surface at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, the Rays' home.
The roof tiles are almost the same color as the ones at the Trop but they are separated and should help the outfielder track the ball better, several players said.
"At first glance, it looks like the Metrodome," said pitcher Paul Abbott, who started his Major League career with the Twins.
"It's loud," said Lance Carter. "It reminds me a lot of the Metrodome."
There also was another aspect that reminded Carter of the Metrodome -- the short dimensions, which resulted in balls being drilled by Huff, Baldelli and Toby Hall off the back wall of the stadium and the bottom of the roof.
"If you're a pitcher, you've got to keep the ball down," Carter said. "And I don't even know if that will help."
Rays hitting coach Lee Elia was asked about the hitting conditions at the Tokyo Dome and broke out in a big smile.
"It's a hitter's dream," Elia said. "The balls are jumping off hitters' bats. If you hit the ball to left-center or right-center here, the park's not going to hold it."
Elia has been working with the young Rays on strike zone discipline but with a backdrop like this, he may tell his hitters to swing away.
"This could be fun," Elia said.
Paul C. Smith is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.