When the Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics open up the Major League season on March 28th in Japan, it’ll in some ways feel like a home game.
The connection between the Mariners and Japan runs deeper than any other MLB team. With all the Japanese players of past and present on the Mariners’ roster and Seattle located on the Pacific Rim, the Mariners have been the most televised MLB team in Japan during the last ten years. All eyes will be on them when they open up the season in the coming weeks.
Hiroshi Yamauchi, 83, has owned the Mariners since 1992 but hasn’t seen them play in person. However, the former CEO of Nintendo is expected to be at the Tokyo Dome when the Mariners face-off against the Athletics.
This will be the first time the Mariners play in Japan but it’s not the first time they were scheduled to play there. Back in 2003, 17 hours before the Mariners were due to board their flight, Commissioner Bud Selig canceled the trip. The United States had begun Operation Iraqi Freedom. It was a tough decision for the commissioner to make at the time, but he erred on the side of safety for both teams by keeping both teams home.
The M’s now have a chance to make up for lost time. They’ll be in Japan for nine days with the Athletics. Both teams are scheduled to play a couple of pre-season double headers against two Japanese Central League clubs, Yomiuri Giants and Hanshin Tigers.
Throughout the years, the Mariners have had a slew of Japanese players on their roster. They include Kazuhiro Sasaki 2000-2003, Mac Suzuki in 2002, Shigetoshi Hasegawa 2002-2005, Masao Kida 2004, and Kenji Johjima 2006-2009.
Currently, the Mariners have superstar Ichiro, who has been in right field since 2001. Also on this year’s roster is newcomer Hisashi Iwakuma, who is slotted to be the number 3 or 4 pitcher in the rotation. Munenori Kawaski is in camp competing with Luis Rodriguez for the back-up infielder spot.
The Oakland Athletics also have a Japanese legend in camp. If Hideki Matsui (nicknamed Godzilla) makes the trip to Japan it’ll be a dream come true for local fans. Right now it’s uncertain whether he’ll make the team as the back-up outfielder. The Athletics have a big decision ahead of them before they make the trip across the Pacific.
If Matsui goes up against the Mariners, it’ll be a homecoming of two Japanese baseball legends in the twilight of their American baseball careers to showcase their talents and charisma. Matsui and Ichiro have never faced each other in Japan, where they both played before coming to America.
The Mariners and the Athletics will face off for two games in Tokyo at the Tokyo Dome, March 28th at 3:10 AM PST; and March 29th at 2:10 AM PST. Felix Hernandez and Jason Vargas are expected to start the two games.