Happy New Year, and expect announcement real soon of details concerning the New York Yankees-Tampa Bay Devil Rays American League openers at Tokyo Dome on March 30-31. You know, who will be the sponsor? How much will the ticket prices be? Stuff like that.
I’ve already gotten four e-mails asking various questions about the tour, including one from a couple of female Yankees fans in Bridgeport, Conn., who already have their airline tickets for the round-trip from Kennedy to Narita and back but are worried about getting seats to the game.
I wonder if the girls realize their Dome entrance tickets may cost more than their hotel rooms and, for the four games including exhibitions pitting the Yanks and Hideki Matsui against the Yomiuri Giants and Hanshin Tigers, maybe more than their airfare.
There were three other e-mails, two from fans in Asian countries outside Japan who plan to fly in and take advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the Bronx Bombers play official games in Tokyo, and one from a guy in Australia. They, too, are anxious about getting tickets to the games before they are sold out, and they will be sold out, and fast.
If this were a Rolling Stones concert tour or a series of Paul McCartney gigs, they would add extra dates because, if the Yankees were to play five games in Tokyo, or even 10, they would still sell out. All of them.
According to the office handling details for the games, seat prices have not yet been decided, but announcement of the cost and directions on how to get the tickets is expected “around the middle of January.” So look for that sometime next week.
It has often been suggested in this column that Japanese teams looking for new foreign players during the off-season take a peek at what’s on the “scrap heap” before going through the hassle and expense of scouting and signing guys who must begin the indoctrination of going to Japan and starting from scratch with the language, culture, practice methods and other various idiosyncrasies of Japanese baseball.
That “scrap heap” is the pile of Japan-experienced gaikokujin players, discarded for various reasons by Central and Pacific League teams after the previous season, who are available for the taking by any team.
So far this winter, six men have been retrieved from the junkyard which, this year, is not very junky or scrappy. Included are a three-time league home run king; a 30-homer, 100-RBI, .300-average hitter; a pitcher who won in double figures two years in a row, a hurler who, in 2002, led Japan in victories and another who, in 2003, set a team record for wins in a season.
The Yomiuri Giants had the money to pull Tuffy Rhodes off the hill after he was left there by the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes, who could not agree on a contract with the 1999, 2001 and 2003 Pacific League home run leader.
The Seibu Lions hauled in third baseman Jose Fernandez, let go by the Chiba Lotte Marines, despite his 2003 performance of 32 homers, 100 runs batted in and a .303 batting percentage.
Colorful and crafty lefty Trey Moore won 10 games for the Hanshin Tigers in each of the 2002 and (championship) 2003 seasons, but was cut and picked up by the Orix BlueWave.
Right-hander Domingo Guzman won eight games for the lowly Yokohama BayStars last season, but that was the most in a season by a foreign pitcher for that franchise. (The old record was six, established by Joe Stanka for the Taiyo Whales in 1966 and matched by Chris Holt for the BayStars in 2002.) The Chunichi Dragons have pulled Guzman out of the Yokohama trash bin.
Also to be given another chance are pitcher Brian Sikorski, let go by the Marines and hauled in by the Giants, and switch-hitter Fernando Seguignol who returns to Japan and the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters after having played in 2002 for the BlueWave.
Sikorski was 9-16 with three saves and a 3.90 ERA in 106 appearances over three seasons with Lotte.
Seguignol hit 23 homers but had only 47 RBIs and batted just .204 for Orix two years ago, but the Fighters must be hoping he will hit more like he did in 2003 as the designated hitter for the Yankees’ Triple A team at Columbus, Ohio. His .341, 28, 87 stats earned him the Most Valuable Player award in the International League.
Not reclaimed from the litter basket was 2002 Japan-leading 17-game winner Kevin Hodges, cast off by the Yakult Swallows after slumping to a 5-9 mark in 2003. But he has signed with a team in the Korean Baseball Organization.
Funny thing about Holt. Late last season he said the Dragons told his agent they were looking for a pitcher “similar to Chris Holt.”
So, the agent said, “How about Chris Holt?!” But when Holt was released in September, Chunichi made no move to sign the workhorse right-hander and, later, they went for his former teammate, Guzman.
As for Moore, it will be interesting to see how Orix manager Haruki Ihara will use his new southpaw, in light of the fact the BlueWave have reportedly put a bonus clause in Moore’s contract that will pay him extra for bunts and RBIs. Moore is known as a real good hitting pitcher (batted .326 for the Tigers last season), but are they going to put him in the starting lineup when it’s his turn to pitch?
Orix is in the Pacific League which has a DH rule, and doing that would preclude Ihara from using a designated hitter for the entire game.
Spring training starts in 25 days.
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