Never has another another nation so impacted the fortunes of a major league baseball team as Japan has the Seattle Mariners.
From an ownership of 20 years to a star player of 10 years to a steady stream of roster contributors, Japan has, for good as well as not-so-good, changed the course of pro ball in our mossy metropolis.
Baseball fans throughout the Northwest owe a debt of gratitude to Hiroshi Yamauchi, the creator of Nintendo, who stepped forward in 1992 to purchase a majority interest in the franchise and save it from moving. Yet he has never seen a game in person.
He’s never seen play the man to whom he has helped pay more than $100 million, Ichiro, whose dazzling acumen opened the baseball doors to America for more than two dozen of his countrymen, while he became Japan’s first global pop export.
The void in the relationship could change this month, when the Mariners travel to Tokyo with the Oakland A’s. The Mariners aren’t saying if Yamauchi will be in attendance at the Tokyo Dome when the club opens the Major League Baseball season March 28-29. If he isn’t, well, the Mariners saga will just get weirder.
Weird or wonderful, Sportspress Northwest will be there to bring you the story. Photographer Drew Sellers and I will chronicle, via text, photos, videos, tweets and Facebook postings, the experience of the club’s first games in Japan, of Ichiro’s first return in uniform, and the customs, traditions and culture of baseball that are so much alike, and so different from, those in America.
We’ll also break away from baseball to look at the scenes from Japan’s eastern coast, where almost a year ago an earthquake and tsunami devastated a nation more prepared than any for nature’s havoc. The lessons there will inform decisions here, where we sit perched on the same Pacific Ring of Fire, waiting.
But baseball is the draw, Japan and Yamauchi the mysteries. SPNW readers will be the first to know if the opportunity presents for a a couple of Seattle journos to say in person, “Domo arigato, Mr. Yamauchi.”
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The Mariners arrive March 23. So will Sportspress Northwest. Someone needs to explain the Mariners to Japan. Then again, maybe Japan will explain the Mariners to us.