Brian VanderBeek

Opening day ... 13 time zones away?

A's closer Huston Street exits past manager Bob Geren and catcher Kurt Suzuki in the 10 th inning of Tuesday's MLB opener against the Red Sox in Tokyo.  The Red Sox won 6-5.
A's closer Huston Street exits past manager Bob Geren and catcher Kurt Suzuki in the 10 th inning of Tuesday's MLB opener against the Red Sox in Tokyo. The Red Sox won 6-5. AP

The Oakland A's were wearing their white uniforms. Either that, or my eyes were too tired and bloodshot to be able to tell the difference.

But that and the fact the A's hit in the bottom of the inning were dead giveaways that the A's were the designated home team when they opened the season in Tokyo against the Boston Red Sox.

It was a 7:05 p.m. start Tuesday at the Tokyo Dome, but because of the weak dollar and rising price of crude oil, first pitch came at 3:05 a.m. in home sweet California.

Yes, when in doubt blame the economy, because there's really no rational reason for these two teams to play any games that count away from American soil. More on that later.

Being the curious sort, I decided to watch the game live. I caught the 11 o'clock news and spread out to nap on the sofa until the game started.

My internal clock woke me just in time to watch the opening of the telecast, and it was immediately apparent I was in for three hours of ESPN2 fawning over its home team.

Five minutes of primarily Boston-related images opened the Eastern Seaboard Programming Network2 telecast, including a lengthy hero worship of Red Sox starting pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, before the telecast got around to acknowledging the existence of the home team.

Then they showed a wide-angle shot of the Tokyo Dome, and it was immediately evident the A's weren't in Oakland anymore. The stadium had an upper deck, and it wasn't covered by a tarp. In fact, the stands were full.

Must have been $1 sushi night.

Actually, Japan's fascination with the Red Sox is completely understandable. Dice-K — a national hero since high school — left Japan following the 2006 season and was returning as a World Series champion.

But the connection between Tokyo and Boston runs longer and deeper than that. After all, Japan's most famous movie franchise — 28 installments and counting — is about an imposing Green Monster.

The arrival of a nameless group of players from Oakland wasn't about to touch that revered relationship.

During a commercial break, I flipped through the channels. I'm never up at 4 a.m., so I have no clue what's on television at that hour. Oh, so this is where sitcoms go to die. There's the Cosby Show, Night Court and Saved by the Bell. What? No Barney Miller?

Just before 5 a.m., in a game crawling along at the typical American League pace, Manny Ramirez lines a double to tie the game 2-2. When he scores moments later, it's noted not that the Red Sox had taken the lead in the sixth inning, but that "Dice-K has the chance to be the winning pitcher."

Then, after someone named Jack Hannahan homered in the bottom of the inning to return the lead to the A's, the first shot was of Matsuzaka in the Boston dugout.

OK, I understand the need to promote American sports on an international stage. There's big money out there and the team owners just aren't rich enough, so home fans be dammed because you've just had your most sacred of spring sports moments — opening day — exported to Japan like a can of Smokehouse almonds.

Remember how baseball stole opening day when your favorite team — no matter who it is — opens August 28 games out of first place and is running television spots begging you to come out and watch their exciting young players.

You want games that count played in foreign countries? Go ahead and ship Tampa Bay and Kansas City to Guam in September.

Don't send your World Series champion to begin its title defense 13 time zones west of Fenway.

On the one day every team in baseball is in first place, when this year's game is yet pristine, baseball turned on its fans and slapped ads on the batting helmets.

By the time this column reaches print, the A's and Red Sox already will have played their second game in Japan and may even be on a plane back home, where both teams will resume exhibition play before taking the field for their next games that count.

And even though that second Tokyo game has yet to be played while I write this, I know what the result was in my living room.

I slept through it.

Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at bvanderbeek@modbee.com or 578-2300.

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