Sox, A's getting MLB back to business
Players, fans gearing up for season-opening Japan Series
PHOENIX -- With a seemingly long offseason in the game's rearview mirror, it's almost time to crank back up everything beloved about big league ball: everything between the white lines.The Boston Red Sox, fresh off a second World Series sweep in four years and looking built to dynastic specifications, and the Oakland A's, fresh off an offseason that completely changed the direction of the perennial Little Engine That Could of an organization, jumped onto charter flights from their respective Spring Training homes in Florida and Arizona on Wednesday. Their destination: Tokyo, for Japan Opening Series 2008, to kick off Major League Baseball's regular season with a two-game series March 25-26. It follows the league's recent foray into China, where the Padres and Dodgers recently wrapped up an exhibition excursion. "Baseball has, over the years, has become an increasingly global game," A's general manager Billy Beane said when details of the trip were formalized in the offseason. "We're thrilled to be a part of this, we're thrilled to be playing the defending champions, and I'm sure the fans in Japan are going to be thrilled. "But especially in the United States, I think fans -- even if they can't see it live because of the time difference -- are going to be thrilled just to have the focus back on baseball." This marks the third time MLB has opened its regular season in Japan, the first time coming in 2000, with the Cubs and Mets at the center of the baseball universe. In 2004 it was the Yankees and Rays. With the Red Sox the obvious headliners this time around, the focus of Japanese fans, who also will be treated to a paid of exhibition doubleheaders pitting the A's and Sox against Japanese League teams March 22-23, likely will be on native son Daisuke Matsuzaka, who will start the official lid-lifter on March 25 opposite Oakland's Joe Blanton. Also drawing his fair share of attention figures to be another former Japanese League standout, Red Sox reliever Hideki Okajima. And while virtually everyone involved with both teams seems to be mindful that winning the two games that count in the regular-season standings is the top priority, they understand the excitement with which they'll be greeted and say the feeling will be mutual.
Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.