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MLB All-Stars take in all Kyoto has to offer on travel day

Players check out sites, culture of city before heading to Tokyo for Game 2
MLB.com @AnthonyDiComo

TOKYO -- Having finished his green tea soft-serve ice cream cone, Mark Melancon took a bite of the cucumber spear he purchased from a local shop, then turned toward the woman trying to get his attention. She wanted a picture. Melancon obliged. She wanted an autograph. Melancon shifted the cucumber to his other hand and signed.

"Thank you," the woman said. "You are very famous."

TOKYO -- Having finished his green tea soft-serve ice cream cone, Mark Melancon took a bite of the cucumber spear he purchased from a local shop, then turned toward the woman trying to get his attention. She wanted a picture. Melancon obliged. She wanted an autograph. Melancon shifted the cucumber to his other hand and signed.

"Thank you," the woman said. "You are very famous."

For the dozen-plus ballplayers who spent Thursday taking a side trip to Kyoto, Japan's imperial capital for a millennium and the epicenter of its history to this day, fame bubbled to a level that some had never before experienced. As Melancon walked down Chawan-zaka, a narrow tourist street lined with shops and food stands, group after group stopped the Pirates' closer for pictures.

Nearby, Royals catcher Salvador Perez signed autographs after browsing a selection of ornamental paper fans. Once Japanese locals and tourists began recognizing the players, pockets of schoolchildren surrounded them. Many asked for signatures on the backs of their cell phones.

"It's unreal," Melancon said. "They're true baseball fans. They get a kick out of seeing Americans. They're thrilled to have us in the country, and that's what makes it so fun. They're very respectful and accommodating. They're just thrilled to have us here."

The respect and appreciation went both ways. Thursday's tour was a brief stop for players en route from Osaka to Tokyo, winding through Sanjusangendo Hall with its 1,000 Buddha statues -- no shoes allowed -- and the Kiyomizu-dera Temple. The latter sat atop Chawan-zaka (literally "Teapot Lane"), where Melancon, Perez, Yasiel Puig and others stopped to sign for Japanese baseball fans.

After snacking on green tea candies, mochi bites filled with red bean paste and, yes, cucumber spears (fried octopus was also available, though there were no reports of players trying it), as well as browsing gift shops (Puig and Alcides Escobar challenged each other to a mock samurai swordfight; Escobar won), the entire group walked to The Sodoh Higashiyama for a buffet lunch -- sushi, ramen topped with shrimp tempura, jellied vegetables and other cultural bites. They posed for pictures with red-, purple- and orange-robed geisha, who performed traditional dances and led the group in a rock-paper-scissors game.

"The culture is just totally different," Melancon said. "You just can't really do it anywhere else."

From there, players boarded a bullet train that would head to Tokyo at nearly 200 mph, whizzing past Mount Fuji and the city of Yokohama.

Video: Jose Altuve sees Mt. Fuji en route to Tokyo

Though the side trip was optional, the majority of Major League Baseball's 29-man All-Star team sacrificed a morning of sleep to take part. So many of them are curious about the Japanese culture, which is partially why they signed onto this tour in the first place. In many cases, their wives, girlfriends, children and parents accompanied them.

"This makes me want to travel more," said pitcher Chris Capuano, who took part in the trip with his wife. "This makes me want to go to Europe and some other places that we have on our bucket list. Once you get out here, you have a lot more energy than you think to get out and explore."

With seven games spread over an 11-day trip spanning most of Japan's geography, plus a handful of scheduled public appearances, MLB's All-Stars have precious little time to sightsee. Thursday afforded them that opportunity, juxtaposing ancient landmarks and centuries-old culture with the modernity of a Japanese bullet train.

For many, the highlight was Kiyomizu-dera, with its sweeping views of Kyoto and the mountains beyond. For others, it was the geisha performance, prompting players to abandon their lunches and reach for their cameras.

As the group left through an exit abutting the kitchen, Indians first baseman Carlos Santana turned toward one of the chefs, pressed his hands together and bowed.

"Arigato," he said. Thank you, in Japanese.

Upcoming Japan All-Star Series schedule
• Game No. 1: Japan 2, MLB 0
• Thursday: Travel day
• Friday: Game No. 2 at Tokyo Dome, Tokyo (6 p.m. JT/4 a.m. ET)
• Saturday: Game No. 3 at Tokyo Dome, Tokyo (6 p.m. JT/4 a.m. ET)
• Sunday: Game No. 4 at Tokyo Dome, Tokyo (6 p.m. JT/4 a.m. ET)
• Monday: Travel day
• Tuesday, Nov. 18: Game No. 5 at Sapporo Dome, Sapporo (7 p.m. JT/5 a.m. ET)
• Wednesday, Nov. 19: Travel day
• Thursday, Nov. 20: Exhibition game vs. Samurai Japan, Okinawa Cellular Stadium, Okinawa (6 p.m. JT/4 a.m. ET)

MLB Network will broadcast all games of the Japan All-Star Series, and MLB.TV subscribers in the U.S. and around the world can watch live and on-demand streams of every game as well.

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Chris Capuano, Alcides Escobar, Mark Melancon, Salvador Perez, Yasiel Puig, Carlos Santana