MLB closer to games in China, Japan

MLB closer to games in China, Japan

TORONTO -- Major League Baseball is intent on playing games in Asia next year, including a season-opening series in Japan's Tokyo Dome and Spring Training games in Beijing, the home of the 2008 Olympics, the game's No. 2 official said on Wednesday.

"Our intent is to open the season in Japan next year if at all possible," said Bob DuPuy, MLB's president and chief operating officer, as the owners began their annual two days of summer meetings here. "And our intent is still to play exhibition games in China."

With the second World Baseball Classic scheduled for 2009, MLB officials have been studying this possibility for months and are now moving forward with the logistics. DuPuy said that MLB is still discussing which teams would play over there, but stipulated that different sets of teams would match up in China than the pair that open the season in Tokyo.

The Red Sox, with former Japanese League pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, have been reported as the principal draw in Tokyo. Their opponent could be one of the West Coast American League teams: Oakland, Seattle or the Angels.

China is up for grabs at this point, although the Padres have shown keen interest in playing in Beijing, where MLB is considering opening a permanent youth baseball academy.

"We're extremely interested in the China initiative," said Sandy Alderson, the team's chief executive and a member of MLB's international committee, which met on Wednesday.

The games in China would be played during the final days of Spring Training at the larger of the two Olympic baseball facilities that are currently under construction. The main venue seats 12,000 and both will be used to stage what could be the final baseball tournament in the summer games. Baseball is at present scheduled to be dropped from the roster of those games for the 2012 London Olympics.

MLB has already opened the season twice to sellout crowds with two-game sets in Tokyo Dome -- in 2000 when the Mets played the Cubs, and 2004, when the Yankees played the Devil Rays. The latter series was quickly organized when a 2003 series between Oakland and Seattle was canceled because of the start of the war in Iraq.

Boston, which has been setting up business and baseball ties in Japan, has been lobbying for the Japan portion of the trip. The Mariners, who are owned by Japan Nintendo's Hiroshi Yamauchi, have recently signed All-Star outfielder Ichiro Suzuki to a reported five-year, $90 million contract and would appear to be an attractive opponent.

Yamauchi, who purchased the team in 1992, has never seen the Mariners play live. Ichiro has been back to Japan to play only once since leaving after the 2000 season -- as a member of the MLB All-Star team that toured Japan in 2002.

The teams that ultimately agree to play in Japan will each have to give up a home game to accommodate the schedule.

As it has done numerous times in the past, Yomiuri, which owns the Central League's Giants and is one of the largest media corporations in the world, would sponsor and host the games again in Tokyo Dome.

DuPuy said that MLB's tentative 2008 master schedule for all 30 teams can be altered to include the Japan series.

"We would have to modify it," he said of the current schedule. "But we could modify it and have modified it as late as the winter."

As far as union approval of travel to Asia is concerned, DuPuy said that MLB officials met with their PA counterparts to discuss the matter as late as Tuesday. MLB and the union have long worked in tandem on the globalization of the sport and are in partnership to organize and market the World Baseball Classic, which had a successful inaugural run last year.

"We have had discussions with the union, which is positive about it," DuPuy said. "The union is committed to growing the game internationally. They've been supportive of Japan. They've been supportive of China."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.