Opponent still not decided for Red Sox 2008 opener in Japan

Updated: August 1, 2007, 10:07 PM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Running away with the AL East this year, the Boston Red Sox may open next season in the Far East.

The Red Sox, with ace pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, could start the 2008 season at the Tokyo Dome, the No. 2 official of the players' association said Wednesday. The Los Angeles Angels and Oakland Athletics are the most likely opponent, with the Seattle Mariners also a possibility, several people familiar with the discussions said.

"It's going to be exciting," Boston third baseman Mike Lowell said. "We've got some marquee names that are going to bring a lot of attention over there. So in that sense it's great, but I don't think guys are too happy to go 22 hours on a plane to play games that count. It's not the game itself. It's the aftereffects."

The Chicago Cubs and the New York Mets started the 2000 season with a two-game series in Tokyo, and the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Devil Rays opened the 2004 season with two games in Japan. A 2003 series between Seattle and Oakland at the Tokyo Dome was scrapped because of the threat of war in Iraq.

Gene Orza, the union's chief operating officer, said that players did not want to disrupt spring training, making exhibition games in Beijing unlikely next year. Major League Baseball has been hoping to stage preseason games at the stadium that will be used for next year's Olympics.

"Going to Beijing would be nice, and we're going to still try to work through that, but I just don't think it fits in with the concept of spring training," Orza said. "The two are at odds with each other given the routine that spring training represents."

Officials from Yomiuri, which hosts the games in Japan, are to meet with baseball officials in New York on Friday.

"I have only briefly spoken with the Red Sox players, so I don't know what their view on the matter is. But the Red Sox are a logical choice given Matsuzaka," Orza said.

If the Red Sox open in Japan, that likely would be followed by a series on the West Coast against the same club they play in Tokyo.

"Any comment would be premature," Red Sox president Larry Lucchino said.

While veterans such as the Yankees' Mike Mussina squawked about past Japan trips, younger players were thrilled.

"We're excited about it." Oakland closer Huston Street said.

"I've talked to most of the guys about it, and they all think it's a good thing. It just recently came to our attention, and I know the league has some decisions to make, but if we get chosen we'd love to be a part of it."

Lowell said the distance was the problem for him.

"I know we want to get the game globalized and all that," he said, "but from a player standpoint East Coast-West Coast is tough enough, and going to the other end of the world is another thing."

Angels player representative John Lackey had the same sentiment.

"It'd be a long trip, man," said Lackey, who went to Japan after last season with a touring team of major leaguers. "I think we'd rather just stay here."

Mariners catcher Kenji Johjima said it might not make sense to include Seattle, which also features Ichiro Suzuki.

"I don't think we should worry about it, because it probably won't happen," Johjima said. "I'm sure, if you look at the Boston side of it, they wouldn't want to play us because it would take a lot of the attention away from Matsuzaka."

Paul Archey, a senior vice president of Major League Baseball International, cautioned that talks were ongoing.

"We're still working through the process on both events," he said. "Nothing has been decided either way."

Players postponed the deadline for management to present a draft schedule from June 30 to Aug. 15. Because many teams open against division rivals, having Boston play an AL West team poses difficulties.

"Whenever you try and force a series in a specific place, it's not just the two teams involved that are impacted, it's going to have a domino or ripple effect throughout the schedule," said Katy Feeney, baseball's vice president in charge of scheduling. "You try to minimize it. You do what you can do."

A's president Mike Crowley said his team hadn't had any discussions yet but would be interested in going to Japan.

"We certainly are in favor of expanding the game internationally," he said. "I think you have to play games internationally to do that."

The Angels also are interested.

"It's intriguing to hear of any potential discussions involving this organization," vice president Tim Mead said.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press