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Uehara: Timing of exhibition games is puzzling

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Although it was inevitable in this borderless era of baseball, it could’ve been taken care of.

As two major-league teams are visiting Japan to play their season openers and have played exhibition games against Japanese clubs, some suspicious voices about the timing of the series have been heard.

“Why, around this time just after the Pacific League season started, do we have to play these exhibitions?” Yomiuri Giants starter Koji Uehara said after his outing in Saturday’s game against the Oakland Athletics.

“It gives me no idea but a question.”

The Pacific League opened its season last Thursday, the day that both big-league teams arrived in Japan.

How much influence the Major League Baseball tour had on the Pacific League’s schedule is uncertain.

But who could say it’s had no impact on the Japanese league games for sure? Or who could be so sure that major-league fans don’t watch the Japanese games?

Well, the figures tell you something.

The PL had three season-opening series last week. One of them was a three-game set between the Orix Buffaloes and Saitama Seibu Lions, which was held at Seibu Dome. What’s more, it was the only matchup played in the Tokyo Metropolitan area.

The Lions and Buffaloes drew 27,137 fans for Thursday’s opener at the 35,879-capacity stadium of the Lions, ex-club of Red Sox hurler Daisuke Matsuzaka. But the numbers showed a steep decline on the second day (a crowd of 12,288), and for the third game, it was 12,632, despite those being played on Saturday and Sunday under fairy moderate weather.

In reality, the low figures may be because because it was a series between two clubs that were mediocre a year ago — Seibu posted a 66-76-2 record; Orix finished with a PL—worst 62-77-5 mark.

It may have also been because of the absence of superstars like Dice-K and Kazuo Matsui, who currently plays for the Houston Astros.

But who knows how the numbers would’ve changed if there was no MLB series this week or if the timing of it changed?

“If possible,” Matsuzaka said on Friday after the Red Sox’ workout at Tokyo Dome, “it would’ve been nice if we played this series at a different time from the games of the Japanese league.”

Three PL series are scheduled — although all will be played away from Tokyo — on Tuesday and Wednesday, the nights the Red Sox and Athletics play in Major League Baseball’s 2008 opening series.