Keep your eyes on the players participating for the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics in this week’s exhibitions and regular-season American League games at Tokyo Dome. Someone from those rosters will come back to play for a Japanese team, and you can take that to the bank.
It may not be David Ortiz or Manny Ramirez, but somebody getting a taste of baseball in Japan will return to work for a club in the Central or Pacific League.
How do I know?
Because, from every major league tour of Japan since the 1950s, at least one guy came back to play in the Japanese leagues. Five players, so far, from the two previous MLB opening series in Japan have already done so.
Benny Agbayani and Matt Franco, from manager Bobby Valentine’s 2000 New York Mets team that played the Chicago Cubs in Tokyo, later joined Valentine and the Chiba Lotte Marines in 2004.
Agbayani is still here.
From the 2004 New York Yankees-Tampa Bay Devil Rays’ Japan-opening series, we have Alex Graman (then with the Yanks but not registered to play in the regular-season games) currently pitching (in his third season) for the Saitama Seibu Lions, and Jason Standridge (with the Rays four years ago) is a second-year pitcher with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks.
Another pitcher, Geremi Gonzalez, was with Tampa in 2004 and threw for the Yomiuri Giants last season under the registered name of “G.G.”
Here are more examples of trivia and oddities in the history of the MLB Japan openers:
One man, Eduardo Perez, played on an MLB tour in Japan after having played here. He was with the Hanshin Tigers in 2001 and with Tampa Bay on the 2004 Japan trip.
Reliever Bryan Corey pitched for the Yomiuri Giants in 2004, is here now with the Red Sox and may appear in Sunday’s game against his old team. He may also be activated for duty in the official games with Oakland.
In 2004 during batting practice, Tony Clark, then with the Yankees, hit a blast that broke a light on the Tokyo Dome video screen, and it cost $5,000 to repair that single bulb.
If either the Red Sox or Athletics win both the official games this week, they will be the first team to sweep a major league opening series in Japan. The Mets-Cubs in 2000 and Yankees-Rays in 2004 split their series 1-1.
Boston and Oakland will have it a lot easier travel-wise than the Mets and Cubs did eight years ago. New York and Chicago each played one of their exhibition games against the Seibu Lions at the Seibu Dome in Tokorozawa, and they had to take buses out there from Tokyo, putting up with that awful traffic.
Shortstop Julio Lugo and pitcher Chad Gaudin were teammates with Tampa Bay on the 2004 journey to Japan but will oppose each other this time. Lugo is now in the Boston lineup; Gaudin on the Oakland mound staff.
The year 2003 saw the openers that never happened. The Athletics, then managed by former Chunichi Dragons third baseman Ken Macha, were to meet Ichiro Suzuki and the Seattle Mariners in AL lid-lifters at Tokyo Dome on the exact same dates as the A’s and Red Sox will play this year on March 25-26.
But, one day prior to scheduled departures by the two teams, the whole shebang was canceled after war broke out in Iraq.
While there is no official connection, the 2008 MLB Japan games coincide with the 20th anniversary of the opening of the Tokyo Dome on March 18, 1988.
Can you name the player who hit the first home run in an official game at the Big Egg?
Hint: It was an American on a visiting Central League team playing against the Yomiuri Giants. Answer at the end of the column.
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Friends & Fans: My 2008 Japan Pro Baseball Fan Handbook & Media Guide is now available.
It is the complete English-language guide to Japanese baseball and includes league and team directories, team rosters, league schedules, profiles of the foreign managers, coaches and players, statistics from past seasons, directions to the stadiums, ticket prices and much more, packed into 128 pages.
The quickest way to get your copy is to order directly from me. Please send ¥1,000 in cash, Japanese postage stamps or postal check kawase, along with your name and address, to: Wayne Graczyk, 1-12-18 Kichijoji Higashi-cho, Musashino-shi, Tokyo-to 180-0002.
Fans outside Japan can order through Bob Bavasi’s JapanBall.com Web site.
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Semi-finally this week, happy days are here again. Pizza is back in the Tokyo Dome.
California Pizza Kitchen has opened a stand on the third-base side in the concourse. It features your choice of traditional cheese pizza, pepperoni or BBQ chicken pizza for ¥800 per portion.
It was a year ago on March 31 when the Pizza Hut contract ran out, and we went the entire 2007 season with no pizza in Tokyo Dome, and I cannot imagine how we survived.
Yomiuri Giants closer Marc Kroon knows full well. Prior to the March 18 exhibition game against the Chunichi Dragons, when he heard CPK had set up shop at Tokyo Dome, Kroon ordered eight pies.
Either he was that hungry, or he decided to treat his fellow relievers in the Giants bullpen to a hot snack before they were called to warm up.
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Finally this week, the answer to the trivia question above: Doug DeCinces of the Yakult Swallows hit the first home run in an official game at Tokyo Dome on April 8, 1988.
Please note the column will not appear next week, as we take a break on the fifth Sunday of the month. We’ll see you again on April 6.
Contact Wayne Graczyk at: wayne@JapanBall.com