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Yes, I know, it’s fans prediction week for Japanese baseball, but there were more entries than expected from Japan, North America and even New Zealand, and there just is not enough space to include all the picks and comments. Instead, let me tell you something about the Major League tour set to begin in a few days, and I’ll summarize the predictions and acknowledge the participants at the end of the column.

The much-awaited MLB Opening Games in Japan 2003 are set to begin with the Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics due to arrive in Tokyo on Thursday to prepare for the first official American League games on March 25 and 26. The event promises to be busy and hectic.

Oakland should have the tougher time overcoming jet lag and adjusting to the Tokyo clock.

Seattle manager Bob Melvin and players Edgar Martinez, Kazuhiro Sasaki and Ichiro Suzuki are to appear at a press conference at their Tokyo hotel on Thursday evening at 6:30 P.M., but the Athletics’ media session is not until 10 p.m. Thursday night at Narita Airport.

As anxious as I am to see manager Ken Macha, 2002 A.L. MVP Miguel Tejada, slugger Eric Chavez and first game starter Barry Zito, I don’t think I’ll be going all the way out there at that hour.

The A’s also have to play their two exhibition games with a minimum amount of rest: they face the Yomiuri Giants at 7 p.m. Saturday, March 22, then get back on the Tokyo Dome field Sunday morning to prepare for a noon contest against the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks. That’s a family matchup, as Oakland and Fukuoka are Sister Cities.

The Mariners, meanwhile, get to play a day game Saturday at noon against the Seibu Lions and don’t have to get back out there until late Sunday afternoon for practice before a 7 p.m. nighter against the Yomiuri Giants.

According to the U.S. Armed Forces Eagle 810 Radio, Oakland players will visit U.S. Army Camp Zama on Saturday morning for clinics and autograph sessions.

Monday, March 24, is MLB Fan Day at the Big Egg, with 40,000 youngsters expected to fill the stands and watch the A’s and M’s workouts, play games and otherwise have a fun day. Then the going gets serious as the American League West rivals open the official championship season with games against each other at 7 p.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday, March 25 and 26.

After leaving, both clubs will return to exhibition play in the U.S. and resume their regular season schedule when the other major league clubs begin their official year at the end of the month.

Seats to the Seattle-Oakland games have been sold out for weeks, though I was told at the Tokyo Dome box office last week they would sell standing room. Same for the preseason games against the Giants.

At last check, some tickets were available for the Seattle-Seibu and Oakland-Fukuoka tuneups.

Of special interest to Japanese fans, of course, will be the appearances of Ichiro, Sasaki and Shigetoshi Hasegawa, the three former Japan league stars now working for the Mariners.

Also making a homecoming of sorts will be Oakland freshman skipper Macha who played for the Chunichi Dragons from 1982 through 1985 and was the third baseman and cleanup hitter of Nagoya’s Central League pennant winning club 21 years ago.

“Mokka,” as he’s called in Japan, is finally getting his chance to manage a big league club after narrowly missing out on jobs to head the Toronto Blue Jays, Philadelphia Phillies and Pittsburgh Pirates in recent years.

Oakland and Seattle are expected to contend in that strong A.L. West division with the defending World Series champion Anaheim Angels, and former A’s manager Art Howe who left the team to take over the New York Mets last November, thinks Macha, his bench coach last season, can get the job done.

Howe managed the MLB All-Stars on last autumn’s Japan tour and was asked how he thought Macha would do. “He should be fine,” said Howe. “I left him with a pretty darn good team.” Melvin is also a rookie pilot, taking over the Mariners from veteran Lou Piniella who left the Pacific Northwest for Tampa Bay to manage of the Devil Rays.

Rumors have surfaced already that the New York Yankees and Hideki Matsui are in line to open the 2004 season at Tokyo Dome. For now, though, it’s the A’s and M’s about to hit town for an action-packed week. Welcome to all, good luck and gambatte!

Now to the fans predictions for Japanese baseball, and thanks to: Junji Tsujimoto of Daly City, Calif. Chris Akroyd of Auckland, New Zealand. Takayuki Hamuro of Yokohama. Makoto Yamamura of Honolulu. Glen McCabe of Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture. Hideka Shoji of Kawasaki. Ken Smith, Peter Carlson and Roy Lew in Tokyo. Julian Litt in Funabashi, Chiba-ken. Association of American Baseball Research President Fumihiro Fujisawa and his son, Kazuhiro, of Higashi Murayama City.

For the record, my own predictions are as follows:

Central League

Giants

Hanshin Tigers

Yokohama BayStars

Chunichi Dragons

Yakult Swallows

Hiroshima Carp

Pacific League

Hawks

Seibu Lions

Nippon Ham Fighters

Kintetsu Buffaloes

Lotte Marines

Orix BlueWave

In compiling the readers’ predictions and using our system of awarding six points for a first-place pick, five for a second-place finish and so on, we come up with the following “staff” consensus:

Central League

Giants (69)

Hanshin Tigers (60)

Chunichi Dragons (49)

Yakult Swallows (41)

Yokohama BayStars (40)

Hiroshima Carp (14)

Pacific League

Lions (68)

Daiei Hawks (56)

Kintetsu Buffaloes (50)

Nippon Ham Fighters (42)

Orix BlueWave (36)

Lotte Marines (21)

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