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MLB Selig cancels Japan opener due to war



Published: Sat, March 22, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



The games were rescheduled for April 3 and June 30.

PHOENIX (AP) -- Seattle Mariners closer Kazuhiro Sasaki's mother was coming from Sendai City and his wife and two children from Yokohama to watch him pitch in Tokyo.

Seattle reliever Shigetoshi Hasegawa had purchased 120 tickets for each game against the Oakland Athletics for relatives and friends in his homeland.

Major league baseball decided Tuesday that opening the season in Japan wasn't worth the risk in a time of possible war in Iraq, canceling next week's series between Seattle and Oakland.

Disappointed

"I was so disappointed," Sasaki said. "I was looking forward to meeting my family in Japan."

A's third base coach Ron Washington was excited to get a traditional Japanese massage, and manager Ken Macha couldn't wait to meet up with some old friends from his four years playing in Japan.

The teams were scheduled to leave today for games March 25-26 at the Tokyo Dome. Instead, they will stay in Arizona and juggle their Cactus League schedule -- they play each other Thursday.

"Given the uncertainty that now exists throughout the world, we believe the safest course of action for the players involved and the many staff personnel who must work the games is to reschedule the opening series," commissioner Bud Selig said. "It would be unfair and terribly unsettling for them to be half a world away -- away from their families at this critical juncture."

Baseball opened its 2000 season in Tokyo, with the New York Mets and Chicago Cubs playing two games.

"I'm disappointed," Macha said. "The safety of the players going over there and the spectators is utmost. A lot of things do happen. Whoever foresaw 9-11? Those people were just going to work. That was a huge wake-up call to this country -- anything can happen."

Seattle's visit was highly anticipated because of Suzuki and Sasaki. It also would have been the first time Seattle owner Hiroshi Yamauchi, who lives in Japan, saw his team play.

Some players were reluctant to make the trip.

"I don't like the idea of being out of the country when the country is going to war," Seattle first baseman John Olerud said.

New dates

The games were rescheduled for April 3 and June 30 in Oakland.

"With world tensions so high, this is the prudent course of action," union head Donald Fehr said.

Baseball had already been planning to have the New York Yankees open the 2004 season in Japan, probably against Tampa Bay, Toronto or Baltimore.

"I find it extremely unfortunate, but it's because of war and there is little we can do," Japanese baseball commissioner Hiromori Kawashima said. "Japanese baseball fans who were looking forward to the event must find it extremely disappointing."

Fans had bought 200,000 tickets for the two games, and for exhibition games in the days leading up to the opener.

"It can't be helped," said Moriyoshi Kaneko, a fishmonger in Tokyo. "I guess the threat of terrorism is frightening."

Other sports also discussed contingency plans, but the NCAA said Tuesday that it would not change its schedule for the men's and women's basketball tournaments, which start this week.




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