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Early start to the season

by Matt Smith

The marquee opener to the 2008 season sees the Atlanta Braves facing the Nationals in the first game at Washington’s new stadium on Sunday 30 March. This will be a Sunday Night game on ESPN (which means Jon Miller – hooray! – and Joe Morgan – boo!) and screened live on Five, and probably also on NASN, here in the U.K in the early hours of Monday 31st. After three seasons in rented accommodation, this will mark the real start to baseball’s return to the U.S. capital.

However, the regular season actually kicks-off in Japan, with the Red Sox playing two games against the Oakland A’s. These take place on Tuesday 25th and Wednesday 26th of March . Due to the time difference, New Englanders will have to wake up early for their World Series winning heroes. Both games are scheduled for a 06.07 a.m. start, Boston time (19.07 in Japan). That means the two MLB opening games from Japan will begin at 10.07 a.m. for us Brits.

The games come just after the Easter Bank Holiday, so MLB.TV subscribers might want to book up a longer Easter break and take in the games live. Rest assured there’s nothing wrong in planning leave from work around the baseball season, despite what your colleagues may say!

The Tokyo Dome, home of the Yomiuri Giants, will be the venue for both games and they should be a fitting way to begin another exciting season. After months of inaction, any game would catch the attention, but seeing Matsuzaka and Okajima head back to their homeland as defending champs should make for quite a spectacle. Matsuzaka is likely to start one of the two games and it’s possible that Josh Beckett, who would otherwise be the opening day starter, will be shifted to the second game so that Dice-K can make the starring role.

As for Oakland’s starter, it’s probably going to be Joe Blanton but keep a check on the hot stove as very few players on the A’s roster are immune from Billy Beane’s rebuilding project. The latest version of Beane’s ‘Island of Misfit Toys’ may pose a sterner test to the knowledgeable Japanese crowd than they do to the Red Sox on the field (even A’s fans might struggle to recognise some of their players at this rate). But that’s just the pessimistic Oakland fan in me writing. If MLB fans know anything, it’s that any team can beat another on any given day. The World Series champs will be expecting a victorious start to the season, with the locals cheering on their favourite sons. The A’s will be intent on crashing the party and proving the naysayers wrong, if only for a few days.

Sounds like the makings of two great games of baseball. Put 10.07 on Tuesday 25 March in your diaries and start counting down the days.

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