Ichiro’s Mariners will face Billy Beane’s Oakland A’s in a two-game series. (Beane, the A’s general manager, was recently portrayed by Brad Pitt in director Bennet Miller’s Oscar-nominated film Moneyball).
The MLB games will count in the standings, and will mark the first time that Major League teams have started a season in Japan since 2008, when the A’s battled the Boston Red Sox at Tokyo Dome.
The big attraction this time, however, will be in seeing Ichiro—perhaps Japan’s most popular player—in a big league game.
“It allows (Japanese fans) to see Ichiro playing in a Mariner’s uniform for the first time,” says Jim Small, vice president Asia for MLB. “We almost provided this opportunity in 2003—but the games were cancelled due to the pending war in Iraq. Now they’ll get to see him with the Mariners. This is such a treat and rare opportunity.”
Small adds that the series will take on additional significance, being played as it is so close to the one-year anniversary of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
“We plan to commemorate the anniversary and recognize people who have done so much to rebuild the Tohoku area,” he says. “I think the great thing about baseball is that, because there is so much appetite for it, there is an opportunity for us to shine the light on the people who are the true heroes. Our plan is to recognize them and focus the light on them.”
MLB commissioner Bud Selig adds that, “Most importantly, with the shared love of baseball between our nations, I believe that we can use this event to further assist the ongoing relief efforts throughout Japan.”
Prior to the MLB opening series, the Mariners and A’s will play exhibition games against two of Japan’s top teams: the Yomiuri Giants and Hanshin Tigers, also at Tokyo Dome, March 25-26.
Tokyo Dome, Mar 25-29 (listing).