Though there's still a question about whether Daisuke Matsuzaka will be the featured attraction, there is no longer any doubt that the Red Sox will begin the 2008 season in Japan against the Oakland A's. So, even though there are three months until spring training opens in Fort Myers, Fla., Red Sox fans can take comfort that, despite the possibility of an unusual game time, Opening Day is closer than ever.
March 25, to be exact.
The Sox released their 2008 schedule yesterday, with trips to Houston, Cincinnati, and Philadelphia highlighting their interleague itinerary, and Arizona, Milwaukee, and St. Louis stopping by Fenway Park. But the key component was the Asian portion.
"There was a lot of discussion," Red Sox president/CEO Larry Lucchino said. "A lot of back-and-forth because as much as [Major League Baseball] wanted us to go, we were of course concerned with what impact it would have on our players and the competitiveness of the schedule next year. So there was plenty of internal debate."
Despite questions regarding how the travel would affect the team's performance, the Red Sox agreed to the trip, the third time MLB has opened its season in Japan.
More questions surfaced regarding Matsuzaka's participation. With the Japanese righthander's second child due around the time of the trip to Tokyo in late March, baseball has been alerted to the potential conflict
"We're hopeful their second child will be born at such a time that will allow him to participate as well," Lucchino said. "But it's too far off to know what that schedule will be. We are hopeful but we do recognize he has an important obligation with respect to his child."
Still, that would leave reliever Hideki Okajima as an attraction in his homeland. And the newly popular Red Sox should be a draw in their own right.
"Opening our regular season in Japan for the third time is another example of Major League Baseball's commitment to the continued global growth of the game," commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement.
Within the agreement is a slightly unusual arrangement. The Red Sox will be allowed to leave three players, presumably pitchers, in the United States. Three replacements will travel to Japan, then will be replaced on the roster with the others for the American season opener in Oakland April 1.
Also factored into the schedule are a number of offdays that will facilitate the transition to the US. After four exhibition games against Japanese teams in Tokyo, doubleheaders March 22-23, the Red Sox will face the A's in regular-season games March 25-26. The game times have yet to be determined. The Sox will fly to Los Angeles after the game of the 26th, be off the 27th, then play exhibitions against the Dodgers March 28-30, one of which will promote the hosts' version of the Jimmy Fund.
The Sox will head to Oakland after the final Dodger exhibition, have another offday, then open their North American schedule. The home opener will be April 8 at 2 p.m. against the Tigers.
"They're trying to build in safeguards around it, and if they can do that, from a travel standpoint, it's a great idea," Curt Schilling told a Boston radio station, according to the Associated Press. "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."
Because the opener will be about a week earlier than normal, Lucchino said manager Terry Francona might consider summoning pitchers to spring training earlier than usual.