Games in China, Japan almost set

Games in China, Japan almost set

BOSTON -- Major League Baseball is moving forward on playing Spring Training games this coming March in Beijing, the home of the 2008 Olympics, and the season opener in Japan a week later.

A pair of exhibition games at the Olympic venue in China are tentatively slated for the weekend of March 15-16, with the season-opening two-game series at Tokyo Dome on March 22-23. Different pairs of teams will compete in the two series, said Bob DuPuy, MLB's president and chief operating officer, before Wednesday night's Game 1 of the World Series at Fenway Park.

The Dodgers and Padres are a possibility for MLB's historic first games in China, while the American League champion Red Sox could play the A's in Japan, where MLB has opened the season twice before -- in 2000 and 2004. All four teams would then return to the U.S. to conclude Spring Training before starting the regular season over here.

"There's still logistics to be worked out, so nothing is definite yet," DuPuy said before the Sox clobbered the Rockies, 13-1. "We should have something to announce by the next owners' meetings."

The owners gather for their final quarterly meetings of the year on Nov. 14-15 in Florida.

With the second World Baseball Classic scheduled for 2009, MLB officials have been working feverishly for months to set up next year's Asian extravaganza. China, which will be host to the summer Olympics next August, is staging what may be the final baseball medal competition in two small baseball stadiums that are under construction. The exhibition games would be played in the larger of the two ballparks, which will hold 12,000 people.

The Red Sox, with former Japanese League pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, are anticipated to be the principal draw in Tokyo. Their opponent could be the A's, whose scheduled two-game opener of the 2003 season against the Mariners at Tokyo Dome was canceled because of the beginning of the war in Iraq.

The Padres, who played the first regular-season games outside of the U.S. and Canada against the Mets at Monterrey, Mexico, in 1996, have long been vying to be included in MLB's opening of China.

When told via e-mail on Wednesday that there was a possibility that his team could play over there, John Moores, the Padres' majority owner, responded: "That is what I expect."

The Dodgers, who have a rich history playing in China and Japan when the O'Malley family owned the team, is their chief rival in the National League West and a natural opponent. But their March schedule is packed, considering that it's their final Spring Training in Vero Beach, Fla., and that several games in the annual preseason Freeway Series against the Angels may be staged at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Next year is the 50th anniversary of the Dodgers moving from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, and they played from 1958-61 at the Coliseum prior to the unveiling of Dodger Stadium.

MLB has already opened the season twice to sellout crowds with two-game sets at Tokyo Dome -- in 2000 when the Mets played the Cubs, and 2004 when the Yankees played the Devil Rays.

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 at Tokyo Dome.

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.