Mariners, A's might open 2012 in Japan

Mariners, A's might open 2012 in Japan

Mariners, A's might open 2012 in Japan
MINNEAPOLIS -- Mariners players and coaches gathered in a pregame meeting Wednesday to discuss the possibility of traveling to Japan to open next season against the A's, an initial step in what could be the club's first road trip outside North America.

Though it's only in the discussion stage at this point, the Mariners could begin 2012 with a two-game series against Oakland in Tokyo if details can be worked out by Major League Baseball.

Randy Adamack, the Mariners vice president of communications, confirmed on Tuesday that the club has been contacted by MLB about the potential of the international series.

"We have been approached by MLB about participating in a season-opening trip to Japan in 2012," Adamack said. "We have been advised that if this all comes together, we would play two regular-season games and a couple of exhibition games in Japan. Any other updates and information will come from MLB."

Chris Gimenez, the Mariners' assistant player representative, said the MLB Players Association asked him to raise the issue with the team to get some feedback.

"There's nothing set in stone," Gimenez said. "The Players Association is having a meeting on it [Wednesday night] and they asked me to get the guys and coaching staff together and see if anybody has any questions, and say it could happen and get guys opinions. So until further, there's not a ton of news, other than it could happen."

The Mariners and A's had a similar series scheduled for 2003 in Tokyo, but the trip was canceled by Commissioner Bud Selig at the last minute due to concerns over travel safety when the U.S. began an invasion of Iraq the day before their planned departure.

There are still numerous hurdles to be cleared before a 2012 series could occur, including working out agreements with the MLB Players Association, Japanese Baseball and potential sponsors. But the Mariners and A's appear open to the possibility, which could also include exhibition games against the Japanese national team and one of the country's professional teams.

The A's played the Red Sox in the Tokyo Dome in March of 2008, juggling the schedule so that games in Japan were played after a shortened Spring Training. The two clubs then came back and played exhibition games in the U.S. before resuming their regular-season schedules.

In the tentative 2012 schedule released last week by MLB, the Mariners and A's are slated to open the season in Oakland with a three-game series starting April 6.

If the teams meet in Tokyo prior to that, the two regular-season games would be taken away from the A's home schedule, but not necessarily from that April 6-8 series. The Mariners are also scheduled to play in Oakland on July 5-8, just prior to the All-Star break, as well as Sept. 28-30.

The Mariners are a natural fit for an appearance in Japan, something MLB has done three times before.  The Cubs and Mets played in Tokyo in 2000, the Yankees and Rays faced off in '04 and the A's and Red Sox met in '08.

Nintendo founder Hiroshi Yamauchi of Kyoto, Japan, helped keep the Mariners in Seattle by becoming majority owner of the club in 1992. Nintendo remains the majority owner and Yamauchi, 83, has never seen the team play in person.

Additionally, 10-time Mariners All-Star right fielder Ichiro Suzuki will be entering the final year of his five-year contract next season and remains extremely popular in Japan.

Hideki Matsui currently plays for the A's. The Japanese slugger is on a one-year contract and becomes a free agent after this season, but there is a possibility he could re-sign with Oakland.

Greg Johns is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.