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Red Sox, A's to start '08 season in Japan; Will Dice-K be there?

BOSTON -- The Boston Red Sox will open the 2008 season in
Tokyo, and the World Series champions could be leaving Japan's
biggest baseball star behind.

Pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka might miss Boston's March 25-26 series
against the Oakland Athletics at the Tokyo Dome because his wife is
expecting to deliver their second baby around that time. Red Sox
president Larry Lucchino said the team and the commissioner's
office were aware of the potential conflict.

"We're hopeful that their second child will be born at such a
time to allow him to participate," Lucchino said Wednesday in a
conference call. "We are hopeful, but we do recognize that he has
an important obligation with respect to the birth of that child."

Matsuzaka's first child was born in Japan. It's not clear
whether the Matsuzakas plan to deliver in Japan or the United
States this time.

The Red Sox paid a record $51.11 million for the rights to talk
to Matsuzaka last offseason and another $52 million to sign him for
six years. He went 15-12 with a 4.40 ERA as a rookie, and after
stumbling in his first two playoff starts he won his last two to
help the Red Sox win their second World Series in four seasons.

Even if he can't pitch in his homeland, the Red Sox won't be
visiting empty-handed. Lefty Hideki Okajima, who was a key part of
the Boston bullpen in the regular and postseason, could return to
the stadium where he spent most of his 12-year Japanese big league
career.

The Japan trip had been in the planning for months as baseball
officials tried to make the trip more comfortable for the players
and gain their consent. Lucchino said the team would fly on a
"bigger, better" plane, and stop in California on the way back
for three exhibition games against the Dodgers and their U.S.
opener at the A's on April 1.

Pitcher Curt Schilling said on a Boston radio stadium the
players met last week and discussed their concerns.

"They're trying to build in safeguards around it, and if they
can do that, from a travel standpoint, it's a great idea," he
said. "I'm not going to pitch over there, so I'm going to have
fun. But this is definitely going to present a challenge and the
one thing I know is this organization will do everything it can to
make sure we're rested and ready to go when it kicks off for
real."

To ease the discomfort, there will be days off after crossing
the Pacific and before the games in Oakland. Also, the Red Sox and
A's will be allowed to leave three players, probably pitchers,
behind and add three others to their roster for the Japanese
portion of the trip.

"As much as MLB wanted us to go, and thought it was important
that we go, we were concerned with what impact it would have on our
players and the competitiveness of the schedule next year,"
Lucchino said. "Only recently when the details were made concrete
could we consider it."

Here's how the schedule works out:

_The Red Sox and A's will play exhibition games on March 22-23
against Japanese teams.

_Boston and Oakland will open the 2008 season with games on
March 25-26; Oakland will be the home team. The Red Sox will leave
after the second game and, because they cross the international
date line, arrive in Los Angeles the same day.

_Boston will take March 27 off and then play a three-game
exhibition series against the Dodgers, with two games at Dodger
Stadium and one planned for the Los Angeles Coliseum, where the
Dodgers played for four seasons after moving West from Brooklyn 50
years ago.

_The Red Sox and A's will resume their regular-season schedule
with a two-game series at Oakland from April 1-2.

The Japan visit is one of two Asian trips Major League Baseball
hopes to make next year. Talks have been under way for months to
have the Dodgers and San Diego Padres play exhibition games in
Beijing, most likely on March 14-15, at the ballpark to be used for
the 2008 Olympics.

That would be Major League Baseball's first trip to China.

"We'll have all the tired teams playing each other," new
Dodgers manager Joe Torre said at a charity function in New York.

Boston and Oakland will be the third set of teams to open the
regular season at the Tokyo Dome, following the New York Mets and
Chicago Cubs (2000), and the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Devil
Rays (2004). A scheduled 2003 series between Oakland and Seattle at
the Tokyo Dome was canceled because of the threat of war in Iraq.

"Opening our regular season in Japan for the third time is
another example of Major League Baseball's commitment to continue
the global growth of the game," commissioner Bud Selig said in a
statement.

Also Wednesday, the Red Sox announced their 2008 schedule and
ticket prices, which rose about 9 percent. Field box seats will
cost $125, up from $105, while upper bleachers and standing room
remain at $12 and $20, respectively.

"We need revenue to fuel the vision that we have, and the
vision is for a competitive, entertaining, winning team, year-in
and year-out," Lucchino said. "Revenue is the gasoline that makes
the car go in those directions."

Lucchino also raised the specter of the New York Yankees, who
will move into a new stadium in 2009.

"We're also aware that there will be some major changes in our
division," he said. "They will have a gigantic increase in
revenue."