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League officials asked for Yankee move

NEW YORK -- Hideki Matsui may be going back to Japan next season -- and taking the rest of the New York Yankees with him.

The baseball commissioner's office asked the American League
champions on Monday to consider moving their 2004 season opener to
Japan, where the outfielder won three Most Valuable Player awards
with the Yomiuri Giants.

While no public announcement was made, the talks were confirmed
by two baseball officials who spoke on the condition they not be
identified.

The Yankees received a letter Monday from Bob DuPuy, baseball's
chief operating officer, asking them to consider shifting games
against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays to Japan, one of the officials
said.

The letter said the league also was considering other teams for
the trip but did not elaborate, the official said.

The talks between the Yankees and the commissioner's officer
were described as being in "their infancy." Both teams and the
players' association would have to agree to the shift.

New York currently is scheduled to open at home against Tampa
Bay on April 5 and 7, then play a four-game series at Tampa Bay
from April 12-15.

The Yankees have never played regular-season games outside the
United States and Canada.

Following Matsui's decision to sign with the Yankees, the
commissioner's office asked the Yankees last January to consider a
Japanese opener in 2004.

But after the scheduled Tokyo series between Oakland and Seattle
in March was scrapped because of the looming war in Iraq, baseball
wanted to give the Athletics and Mariners the chance at the next
Japan trip.

Seattle did not want to make the trip in 2004, one of the
officials said.

Matsui had a stellar first season in New York, hitting .287 with
16 homers and 106 RBIs. He finished second to Kansas City shortstop
Angel Berroa in close voting for the AL Rookie of the Year.

Two writers left Matsui off their ballots, saying veterans from
Japan's major leagues shouldn't be eligible. Yankees owner George
Steinbrenner then criticized the pair, saying Matsui should have
won.

Two other writers left Berroa off their ballots. In addition,
Matsui was bypassed by managers for the outfield on the All-Rookie
Team, finishing behind Tampa Bay's Rocco Baldelli, Cleveland's Jody
Gerut and Milwaukee's Scott Podsednik.