Yanks, Rays in Japan on March 30, 31

Updated: December 18, 2003, 1:08 AM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Hideki Matsui is going back to Japan -- with the rest of the New York Yankees.

The Yankees and Tampa Bay Devil Rays will open next season in Tokyo on March 30 and 31 under an agreement finalized Wednesday by the commissioner's office and the players' association.

On March 28 and 29, the Yankees and Devil Rays will play split doubleheaders against the Yomiuri Giants and the Hanshin Tigers, also at the Tokyo Dome.

These will be the first games played by the Yankees outside the United States and Canada since 1955, according to the baseball Hall of Fame.

Among the Yankees' regulars is Hideki Matsui, a three-time MVP for the Yomiuri Giants.

"I have always opposed such a trip because of the stress it puts on the players," Yankees owner George Steinbrenner said in a statement, "but I have accepted the invitation this year because of my deep respect and friendship for Mr. Watanabe."

Tsuneo Watanabe owns the Yomiuri Giants.

The Yankees originally were to have opened at home against Tampa Bay on April 5 and 7, then traveled to Tampa Bay for a four-game series the following week.

Under the revised schedule, the teams will return to spring training from Japan and resume their season at Tampa Bay on April 6 and 7. They then will play at Yankee Stadium on April 13 and 14.

"I think it will be all right because the tentative thing I looked at looks like we should be able to get back physically," Yankees manager Joe Torre said.

This will be only the second time regular-season major league games are played in Japan. The New York Mets and Chicago Cubs played a two-game series in 2000.

Oakland and Seattle were to start the 2003 season in Tokyo, but the trip was called off because of the impending war in Iraq. The commissioner's office originally thought of having the Athletics and Mariners start 2004 in Japan, but Seattle decided against the trip.

Baseball then turned to the Yankees and chose the Devil Rays as the opponent, partly because Boston, Baltimore and Toronto were thought to be unwilling to give up home games against New York, a top draw.

"We're proud to be a part of the advances major league baseball is making internationally," Devil Rays owner Vince Naimoli said. "As a member of MLB's international committee, I think these games are important to the future of major league baseball."

It will be the fourth time in six seasons that baseball opened its season outside the United States and Canada. Colorado and San Diego started 1999 in Monterrey, Mexico, and Texas and Toronto opened 2001 in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Because of the early opener, the Yankees and Devil Rays can start spring training workouts for pitchers, catchers and injured players on Feb. 14, with position players reporting Feb. 19. Other teams can open Feb. 19.


Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press