Excited A's depart for Opening Series in Japan
Oakland to open regular season against Mariners in Tokyo
PHOENIX -- Traveling is a way of life for professional baseball players. The parameters of those journeys, though, typically trace an outline of the United States, give or take a stint in winter ball or a trip to Toronto.
The A's, then, were more than willing to venture out of that zone when approached last year about the opportunity to travel to Tokyo, where they're set to open the regular season with two games against the Mariners, beginning Wednesday at 3:10 a.m. PT.
The team will also play exhibition contests against the Yomiuri Giants and Hanshin Tigers over the weekend before the Opening Series.
"This is an experience not too many people get in their lifetime," A's second baseman Jemile Weeks said. "I think we all see this as an opportunity that may only come once."
Both teams departed Arizona for Japan on Thursday. A 12-hour flight will take them more than 6,000 miles from home and bring about a 16-hour time change -- numbers that can surely shake up an internal clock by way of jet lag.
But the A's consulted with sleep specialists in an effort to combat the problem, and the players have been recommended to sleep nearly half of the flight. Excitement may interrupt those plans, though.
"I'm definitely excited," third baseman Josh Donaldson said. "I can't wait to learn about their culture and watch the way they embrace the game of baseball."
"We're excited about it," manager Bob Melvin said. "And the fact that you're playing against a team that's going through the exact same thing, there are no excuses for anybody. I honestly am looking forward to the trip."
While at the helm in Seattle in 2003, Melvin and the Mariners were scheduled to open the '03 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 the trip.
"I was disappointed in that, and I'm looking forward to it this time," said Melvin, who is bringing his wife Kelly and daughter Alexi along.
The A's made the same journey in 2008, splitting two games with the Boston Red Sox at the Tokyo Dome. Catcher Kurt Suzuki is the only A's player from that '08 trip who is going this time, as first baseman Daric Barton and lefty Dallas Braden were on the trip but are staying behind because of injury.
Outfielder Coco Crisp has also been there, done that. He was in a Red Sox uniform in 2008 during the Opening Series in Japan, and though much of it remains a blur to him because of some jet-lag troubles, Crisp remembers it as "a really great time."
"The fans over there love the game," Crisp said. "You've got people hanging fishing rods over the wall with cards to sign, balls attached to all sorts of different things. They really get into it."
"It's pretty crazy over there," Suzuki said. "It's interesting to watch."
So, too, is eating Japanese food.
"I'm ready for anything," Weeks said. "Bring on the sushi. Everything about this trip is great. Just my love for wanting to see different cultures and different parts of the world, and beyond that, just being able to play in front of those people and understand their way of enjoying baseball. It will be a great experience."