Here's everything you need to know about the Opening Series in Japan
The 2019 Major League Baseball regular season will begin bright and early Wednesday morning, as the A's and Mariners will square off in the first of their two-game Opening Series in Tokyo, Japan.
With games starting at 5:35 a.m. ET and Opening Day for the remaining 28 teams still over a week away, we understand that you may have some questions regarding this whole enterprise. That's perfectly natural. Fortunately, we have the answers to all your burning questions.
What is the schedule for the Opening Series?
The two-game series will take place Wednesday and Thursday with both games starting at 5:35 a.m. ET.
There's still a week of Spring Training left. Do these games count in the Cactus League standings?
Even better! They count in the regular-season standings. If either the A's or Mariners sweep the Opening Series, they will enjoy a full week of unchallenged supremacy as the best team in baseball. Who cares about the Cactus League when the title of best team in baseball is on the line?
Why are they playing in Japan anyway?
Well, to start, this isn't the first time MLB has done an Opening Series abroad. The Dodgers and D-backs opened things up in Australia in 2014 and the season opened in the Tokyo Dome in the four summer Olympic years from 2000-2012. This will be a rematch of the 2012 Opening Series between the A's and the Mariners, which the teams split. This will be the third Opening Series for the A's.
But back to the question of why they're playing in Japan. The simple answer is that baseball is very popular in the country. Babe Ruth went on some barnstorming tours of Japan in the 1920s and '30s. Japan's all-time home run king, Sadaharu Oh, has more home runs than Barry Bonds with 868. And, of course, many Japanese players like Hideo Nomo, Yu Darvish, Hideki Matsui, Shohei Ohtani and, yes, Ichiro have gone on to star in MLB
Given that the largest ocean in the world separates North America and Japan, it would also be hard to fit a Japan Series into a busy regular-season schedule. A week before the rest of baseball starts its regular season is the perfect time to give the fans in Japan some MLB action.
Are any Japanese players playing in this series?
To start, you may have noticed that the A's and Mariners have been playing exhibition games against teams from the NPB in the lead-up to the Opening Series. The A's played two games against the Nippon Fighters and the Mariners played two games against the Yomiuri Giants over the weekend.
The Mariners roster features two notable Japanese players in Ichiro and Yusei Kikuchi. Kikuchi just came over to MLB this offseason after an eight-year career with the Seibu Lions of the NPB. In fact, Kikuchi will make his Major League debut on Thursday in the second game of the Opening Series.
So, what's the deal with Ichiro?
We're glad you asked. Ichiro didn't come over to MLB until 2001, after he had played nine seasons in Japan. Those nine seasons made him a star. He won three consecutive MVP awards and seven consecutive batting titles. He became the first player in NPB to record 200 hits in a season. He was the player everyone idolized as a kid.
The Mariners and Ichiro have been sort of cagey with what exactly the deal with Ichiro is. But, the important thing is that he will be playing in the Opening Series and, if the weekend's exhibition performance is any indication, he's still got some gas in the tank.
Ichiro still has a cannon. pic.twitter.com/m3T1tZ69Z9— ً (@NYYDJ2) March 18, 2019
Beyond these two games, however, is a different question entirely. There have been rumors that the Series will mark the end of his professional career, but this is Ichiro we're talking about. Are we really going to rule out the possibility that he keeps playing?
How will these games be different from any game in the United States or Canada?
I mean, it's starting at 5:35 a.m., for crying out loud! That's pretty darn different.
I was asking whether I'll be able to notice any differences while watching the game.
For the most part, probably not. It's still baseball, after all!
That said, the experience of a baseball game in Japan is unique. For one thing, their mascots tend to be a little more outside the box than those in MLB:
And the fan experience is a bit different as well. You likely won't see beer girls roaming the stands with kegs strapped to their backs to keep fans well hydrated. But you very well might hear the fans throughout the game. They'll be loud like fans everywhere else, but that's not all. They're going to have drums and trumpets. At the very least, those should help you wake up at 5:30 in the morning.
Why should I wake up before dawn to watch it?
For years, soccer fans have been waking up early to watch their clubs. Most major marathons start in the wee hours of the morning in the U.S. The Opening Series provides a nice opportunity to see what early-morning sports viewing is all about. You may find a cup of coffee and a ballgame is the ideal way to start your day.
Also, these could well be the final games of Ichiro's career. He has more than 3,000 hits and is going to be in the Hall of Fame. Think of all the cred you'll get when you tell people you woke up early to watch Ichiro's final games in Japan!
Most important, these are the first meaningful baseball games we've had since the Red Sox won the World Series in October. That's nearly five months without an MLB game. After the Opening Series is over, we'll have to wait a whole week before we get more. The Opening Series is the perfect way to take the edge off.
Eric Chesterton is a writer for MLB.com. He is an appreciator of the stolen base, the bunt against the shift and nearly every unconventional uniform design. He eagerly awaits Jamie Moyer's inevitable comeback.