12/17/2003 7:01 PM ET
Rays looking forward to Japan
ST. PETERSBURG -- The Devil Rays are excited about the opportunity to open the 2004 Major League season against the Yankees in Japan and happy to adjust their schedule to make it work.
By Paul C. Smith / MLB.com
"Playing in Japan will give the team and the [Tampa Bay] area great international publicity," Rays managing general partner Vince Naimoli said. "I also think these games are important to the future of Major League Baseball, Major League Baseball International, the City of St. Petersburg and its sister city in Japan, Takamatsu, as well as the U.S. economy."
Naimoli is a member of Major League Baseball's International committee.
"I think think international exposure is very important to Major League Baseball," said Naimoli, who has made 27 trips to Japan. "Baseball is the national pastime of the U.S. and we'd like to make it the national pastime of the world. Our marketing research tells us that 75 million people in Japan regularly watch baseball."
The Rays and Yankees players are expected to get an extra $25-30,000 each from the players union for playing in Japan. And most of them will be allowed to take their wives or girlfriends.
"I am really looking forward to it," said Rays infielder Eduardo Perez, who played the 2001 season with Hanshin of the Japanese League. "I made a few friends over there in the time we were there."
Perez said the Rays may be designated as the home team for the games with the Yankees, but the Japanese fans might not see it that way.
"[The Japan Dome] is where Hideki Matsui played his home games," Perez said. "One thing I do know is the dome over there will be very lound. Then again, it always feels good to silence a crowd."
Perez added that there are some things the players will have to get used to.
"The down side is the long travel and time change," Perez said. "It is going to be tough to adapt. And, once we do adapt, we must come back home."
The schedule will be tight. The Yankees and Rays will travel to Tokyo on March 25. They will play a pair of exhibition games against teams from Nippon Professional Baseball. The teams will play split doubleheaders against the Hanshin Tigers and the Yomiuri Giants on Sunday, March 28 and Monday, March 29 at the Tokyo Dome.
The Rays and Yankees then will open the 2004 Major League season on March 30-31 in Tokyo.
"We look forward to going to Japan," said Lou Piniella, who went with the Reds to Japan for a week of exhibitions in 1990. "It will be a wonderful trip for our players and good exposure for our ballclub. Hopefully, the Yankees won't play as well outside the country."
Both teams will travel back to the Tampa Bay area to complete a short exhibition schedule before starting their regular-season schedules again. To accomodate the trip, the Rays swapped series with the Yankees.
As a result, the Rays' home opener will now be Tuesday, April 6 at 7:15 p.m. at Tropicana Field. Tickets to that game only will go on sale Saturday at 10 a.m. Tickets will be available online at devilrays.com or at the Tropicana Field Box Office, the Devil Rays Dugout Store at WestShore Plaza, and all Ticketmaster outlets and via Ticketmaster phonecharge and ticketmaster.com.
The phone numbers are 727-898-RAYS (in Pinellas, Manatee, Pasco and Sarasota counties) and 813-282-RAYS (in Hillsborough, Polk, Hernando and Citrus counties).
The Yankees and Rays will play again at the Trop on Wednesday, April 7 at 4:15. After an off day, the Rays will host the Orioles that weekend and then go to New York for a two-game series April 13-14.
Because of the changes to the schedule, the Rays will play 79 regular-season games at Tropicana Field. Information on how the revised schedule will affect season ticket holders will be announced later.
Paul C. Smith is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.