The Boston Red Sox will open the 2008 season in Tokyo, and the World Series champions could be leaving behind Japan's biggest baseball star.
Pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka might miss Boston's March 25 to March 26 series against the Oakland Athletics at the Tokyo Dome because his wife is expecting to deliver their second baby around that time. Red Sox president Larry Lucchino said the team and the Major League Baseball commissioner's office were aware of the potential conflict.
"We're hopeful that their second child will be born at such a time to allow him to participate," Lucchino said on Wednesday in a conference call. "We are hopeful, but we do recognize that he has an important obligation with respect to the birth of that child."
Matsuzaka's first child was born in Japan. It's not clear whether the Matsuzakas plan to deliver in Japan or the US this time.
The Red Sox paid a record US$51.11 million for the rights to talk to Matsuzaka last offseason and another US$52 million to sign him for six years. He went 15-12 with a 4.40 ERA as a rookie, and after stumbling in his first two playoff starts he won his last two to help the Red Sox win their second World Series in four seasons.
Even if Matsuzaka can't pitch in his homeland, the Red Sox won't be visiting empty-handed. Lefty Hideki Okajima, who was a key part of the Boston bullpen in the regular and postseason, could return to the stadium where he spent most of his 12-year Japanese big league career.
The Japan trip had been in the planning for months as MLB officials tried to make the trip more comfortable for the players and gain their consent. Lucchino said the team would fly on a "bigger, better" plane, and stop in California on the way back for three exhibition games against the Dodgers and their US opener at the As on April 1.
Pitcher Curt Schilling said on a Boston radio station the players met last week and discussed their concerns.
"They're trying to build in safeguards around it, and if they can do that, from a travel standpoint, it's a great idea," he said. "I'm not going to pitch over there, so I'm going to have fun. But this is definitely going to present a challenge and the one thing I know is this organization will do everything it can to make sure we're rested and ready to go when it kicks off for real."
To ease the discomfort, there will be days off after crossing the Pacific and before the games in Oakland. Also, the Red Sox and As will be allowed to leave three players, probably pitchers, behind and add three others to their roster for the Japanese portion of the trip.
Here's how the schedule works out:
* The Red Sox and As will play exhibition games on March 22 and March 23 against Japanese teams.
* Boston and Oakland will open the 2008 season with games on March 25 and March 26; Oakland will be the home team. The Red Sox will leave after the second game and, because they cross the international date line, arrive in Los Angeles the same day.
* Boston will take March 27 off and then play a three-game exhibition series against the Dodgers, with two games at Dodgers Stadium and one planned for the Los Angeles Coliseum, where the Dodgers played for four seasons after moving West from Brooklyn 50 years ago.
* The Red Sox and As will resume their regular-season schedule with a two-game series at Oakland on April 1 and April 2.