Globe trekkers: Sox arrive in Japan

Globe trekkers: Sox arrive in Japan

TOKYO -- Red Sox Nation is indeed an international phenomenon. That became clear the instant the defending World Series champions cleared customs and retrieved their bags at Tokyo's Haneda Airport in the wee hours of Friday morning.

By the time the weary Sox cleared their final checkpoint at the airport, a mob of cameras clicked their every step. It didn't matter that it was nearly 1 a.m. Tokyo time. The Red Sox, entering this baseball-crazed land for the first time in their long and storied history, was big news.

As star players like David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Jason Varitek and Curt Schilling made their way outside, the small throng of fans cheered them toward the bus.

But the biggest roar of all was saved for Daisuke Matsuzaka, who has been a legend in these parts for the last decade.

Sox center fielder Coco Crisp happened to be standing right by Matsuzaka amid the shrieks and quipped, "I feel pretty special."

With a Friday afternoon workout looming, the Red Sox boarded the bus, took a 35-minute ride to the hotel and presumably got ready to catch up on some sleep.

To recap their madcapped adventure, the Sox left City of Palms roughly an hour after Wednesday's exhibition finale against the Toronto Blue Jays. After a ceremonious sendoff to the bus from the fans in Fort Myers, Fla., the team got a police escort to the airport.

The Red Sox were dropped off on the tarmac and went through security before settling into their Japan Airlines 747 plane, which had two floors.

The players, manager Terry Francona, the coaches and their families all settled into the lower cabin of the plane, with business class seats that turned into beds. Owner John W. Henry, club president/CEO Larry Lucchino, general manager Theo Epstein and several other front office members were also on board.

The upper deck was reserved for members of the traveling media party, as well as some club employees.

The wheels of the plane went up in Fort Myers at 6:42 p.m. ET on Wednesday and landed in Chicago for a fuel stop at 9:03 p.m. At that point, everyone got off the plane for about an hour and sat in a reserved area for some refreshments.

Then it was back on board, and the non-stop portion of journey to Tokyo began in earnest at 10:48 p.m. ET, or 11:48 Thursday morning in Japan. A flight attendant informed everyone that the flight from Chicago to Tokyo would take roughly 12 hours and 30 minutes.

The Red Sox advised their players to sleep for the first few hours of the flight and then stay up so their bodies would start to become acclimated to the new time zone by the time they arrived.

Some, such as catcher Jason Varitek and outfielder Bobby Kielty, were successful in that mission. Others might have lost the fight.

When a media member mentioned to Varitek that the beds might have been uncomfortable, the catcher noted that everyone he saw sprawled out was fast asleep, so "they couldn't have been too uncomfortable."

Varitek and Henry were the two members of the team who ventured up to the plane's upper deck during the flight. Ortiz and Julio Lugo checked it out before takeoff.

"Just walking around the plane," said Varitek.

Henry made multiple visits upstairs and mingled with media members to pass the time.

"This is going to be an exciting week," said Henry.

Downstairs, the players who stayed awake passed the time in various ways, be it games of cribbage (Francona's favorite) or poker. Others read and listened to music.

Reliever Manny Delcarmen had his six-month-old son on board who, according to several witnesses, was amazingly tolerant of the long flight.

One thing nobody on the flight could complain about was the food. There were choices aplenty, from entrees (filet, salmon, chicken and select Japanese dishes) to appetizers (soup, shrimp cocktail, noodles) light snacks (fruit, vegetables, cheese) to comfort food (chips, candy bars, etc.).

The long and winding day -- or days -- at last reached the stretch drive when the plane landed at 12:15 a.m. Friday in Tokyo. At that point, it was 11:15 a.m. Thursday on the ET clocks the players had been living on from the start of Spring Training.

The Sox will have their first workout at Tokyo Dome on Friday before playing exhibition games against the Hanshin Tigers and Yomiuri Giants the following two days.

The main events for the trip take place March 25-26, when the Red Sox and Oakland Athletics face off in the season-opening series for Major League Baseball.

Ian Browne is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.