The Seattle Mariners will open their 2019 season in Japan.
They announced the schedule move Tuesday morning, saying they’ll face the Oakland Athletics next March 20-21 in Tokyo as part of a two-game series in the Tokyo Dome.
Rumors of the overseas venture had circulated for a while, and the official announcement marks their second schedule trip to the Toyko Dome since the Mariners played their opening series there in 2012 against the A's.
“Our organization has a long and special relationship with Japan,” Mariners president and CEO Kevin Mather said in a press release. “This will be another memorable experience for our players, our organization and Major League Baseball.”
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This is the fifth time the MLB season has opened in Japan since the Mariners and A's played there in 2012.
The Mariners have as many Japanese ties as any organization in baseball, with Nintendo once owning a majority stake in the organization. The Japanese video-game company is credited with saving baseball in the Northwest when its then-president Hiroshi Yamauchi bought the team in 1992.
After signing with the Mariners out of Japan, Ichiro Suzuki went on to become their franchise icon and the now 44-year-old re-signed with the Mariners on a minor-league contract this season. He broke George Sisler’s 84-year-old record for most hits in a single season when he had 262 in 2004.
A couple of other Japanese players to pave their way onto the Mariners: Hisashi Iwakuma, who threw a no-hitter in 2015; Kazuhiro Sasaki, who earned rookie of the year in 2000 before Ichiro earned that in 2001; and Mac Suzuki was the first native-born Japanese player in the American League when he debuted with the Mariners in 1996.
The Mariners have had at least one player from Japan on their roster since 1996.
The Mariners will fly from their spring training facility in Peoria, Arizona, to Tokyo for some exhibition games against teams from Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball teams from March 17-18 before beginning the 2019 season with two games against the Athletics from March 20-21.
Nintendo sold the Mariners almost two years ago and Howard Lincoln, the former chairman of Nintendo America, stepping down as the Mariners’ chairman and CEO. Nintendo still retains a 10 percent stake in the club’s ownership group.
Western Wireless Corp. founder John Stanton has since taken over as the Mariners’ chairman and managing partner.
“It’s an honor for our team to return for the Opening Series in 2019, and we look forward to this opportunity,” Stanton said.
The Mariners were also scheduled to open the 2003 season in Japan against Oakland, but 12 hours before they were set to leave from Phoenix to Tokyo the trip was canceled because the Iraq war had broken out the previous day.
"We were packed and ready to go — literally less than a day away," said Bob Melvin on Tuesday. He was then the Mariners' manager but is now with the Athletics. "And then the war started and we didn't go."
Mariners manager Scott Servais said he last traveled to Japan as a player when he was on the U.S. Olympic team in 1988, spending five days there before heading to Seoul, South Korea.
"I'm very excited," Servais said. "Trips like that tend to bring your entire team and organization together. You go over there and the travel and time away from the ball park with different family members. It's a good trip. I"m excited for it."