Come the end of March, Tokyo Dome will once more be the place to be as the Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics open their season in Japan.
Following day-night exhibition doubleheaders against the Hanshin Tigers and Yomiuri Giants on March 25 and 26, the Mariners and A's will square off in a pair of night games from March 28.
"There are multiple reasons we're over here," said Mariners skipper Eric Wedge at a Monday press conference in Tokyo.
"One is to play baseball, but maybe more importantly, to honor the fallen of the tsunami that was just under a year ago, to raise money, raise awareness, really try to help that community out and this country out."
The Mariners, who recently signed a pair of Pacific League stars, right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma and shortstop Munenori Kawasaki, are led by hit machine Ichiro Suzuki.
Although Suzuki is 38 and coming off his worst major league season since joining the Mariners in 2001, Ken Griffey Jr thinks that by next spring, his former teammate will be hitting the way people are used to.
"With Ichiro, you're looking at a guy who's a special athlete," said Griffey, a special consultant with the Mariners. "He's going to come out determined and with a special fire.
"Last year was just a little hiccup in his career. A year from now, we won't be having this conversation [about a poor season from him]."
For Bob Melvin, who took over the A's last June, it's a chance to finally bring a team here nine years after he was supposed to lead the Mariners to Tokyo Dome against the A's. That 2003 trip was canceled at the last minute over security concerns prior to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
Having managed two of Japan's biggest major league names, Suzuki and Hideki Matsui, Melvin said the trip is a special opportunity
"One of the most intriguing things for me is I have managed some great Japanese players. I'm excited about the exhibition games as well, to see a complete Japanese team," Melvin said.
"What you see on TV, you don't really get a feel for when you're there in person. [Having witnessed] the work ethic, the commitment, the talent and desire of the Japanese players I've managed, being able to play against a full team is really intriguing for us."
On top of getting ready for and starting his team's 162-game season, Wedge is eager to soak up the local ballpark experience.
"When you come this far and you have the opportunity to play teams in Japan, and Major League Baseball games over here, we get the best of both worlds," he said.
"I'm looking forward to seeing the environment, come to the ballpark, the pregame, during the game, the fans involvement, and the overall Japanese baseball game, the discipline and everything that goes along with that."
Tickets will go on sale from Feb. 4 through Lawson Ticket, Ticket Pia, e Entertainment Plus, the 2012 MLB Opening Series in Japan official website, Seven-
Eleven, and the Tokyo Dome ticket office.
Excite seats will be available exclusively through lottery on Lawson Ticket's website through 11 pm tonight. The same site will accept lottery requests for other tickets from Jan. 19 through Jan. 25.