Giving back is great
The pluses of playing regular-season games overseas far outweigh the minuses, especially as they pertain to Japan. Considering how much that country has contributed to Major League Baseball over the past two decades — Hideo Nomo, Hideki Matsui, Ichiro Suzuki, now Yu Darvish, extensive media coverage of the game and fertile marketing terrain — it's important that the game give something back.
It's good for younger, less-traveled players and those living more of a sheltered existence, to gain the cultural experience of going to another country, of visiting areas hit by the 2011 tsunami and connecting with families of storm victims. And it's great for the fans of Japan to see their homegrown stars perform against major league competition.
It's tiring but worth it
If you poll the A's and Mariners, who open the season Wednesday at the Tokyo Dome, and those who've played in Japan before, they don't like the travel and resulting fatigue. Having to go back to spring training after two games is a detriment.
On the positive side, Ichiro Suzuki returning to Japan with the Mariners is a revenue-maker for all. The exposure in Japan and Asia will help MLB, as it banks on fans buying more souvenirs and watching more games on TV.
More importantly, a million-dollar donation by MLB, its players association and other entities will be used to refurbish Ishinomaki Municipal Stadium in a region that had been devastated by the earthquake and tsunami last year.
That alone makes the trip worth it.
Cons outweigh pros
The Morning Call
Opening the season in Japan will help MLB's global marketing, and the change of scenery could give a temporary boost to the Mariners and Athletics, who lately have struggled. But there are more cons than pros for teams opening their seasons overseas.
Much has been made about West Coast swings wreaking havoc on East Coast teams, and vice versa, with time changes and brutal travel schedules. And playing in Japan is a West Coast swing on steroids. The M's and A's have been forced to interrupt spring training, adjust to an eight-hour time change to play in Asia and then resume spring training — with another eight-hour time change. Starting, stopping, then restarting a season won't help players with their timing and routine.
Should be yearly staple
The baseball schedule is relentless. Week after week of games, with only three or four days around the All-Star Game breaking up the grind. Why not add some variety by taking the game on the road?
International series, like the ones that the Athletics and Mariners are playing in Tokyo, aren't the most convenient but they take the game to places where otherwise, at this level, it can just be viewed on television.
If the facilities can be found, MLB should play an international opener every year, hopefully at some point in Europe or even Australia and South Africa.
It's good marketing and it's good to expose players and other baseball personnel to new environments.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun