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September 14, 2014

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Diary of opening day in Tokyo

4:45 a.m. ‹ I woke up early, resigned that the 16 hour time change is too hard to overcome. I'm not sure what clock my body is on, but I'm not alone. Boston's Terry Francona is a frequent early morning partner at the hotel exercise room, which provides some solitude for the Red Sox manager. By his own admission, Francona has no life away from baseball once the season starts, but his calm, professional demeanor is perfect for the demands of Red Sox Nation.

6 a.m. ‹ The buffet breakfast at the New Otani Hotel is excellent, but the cost is 2,880 yen, or about $28. Manny Ramirez takes a seat in the restaurant at 6:15. During the regular season, there is no way a player is up before 10 on the morning of a night game. Will Manny be tired tonight or geared up and ready to play? (Sixteen hours later he will emphatically answer that he's ready.)

11:45 a.m. ‹ Two buses take members of the A's and Red Sox traveling parties to the U.S. Embassy for an opening day reception, hosted by Ambassador Tom Schieffer. Schieffer was part of a group that owned the Texas Rangers, which included George W. Bush. Connect the dots. There is plenty of memorabilia on display from past visits from major league players, including a glove that Lou Gehrig used in 1934 during a tour in which a team, which also featured Babe Ruth and Jimmy Foxx, swept a series of games against Japanese college all-stars. The ambassador hosts a lunch and my favorite dish was the seared tuna. Tuna is very big in Japan. A favorite excursion for members of the A's group was a 5 a.m. trip to the Tokyo Fish Market, where the daily catch is auctioned off. They slice open the giant tuna to determine a "grade," much like beef, which helps set the price for the auction.

3 p.m. ‹ The A’s team bus departs the New Otani for the Tokyo Dome. The drive takes about 30 minutes. The hotel is in the Akasaka section of the city and the Dome is downtown, although it is hard to determine where downtown Tokyo ends. The city is vast, but functions as well as possible, considering that 35 million people live in the metropolitan area. The Japanese people have been kind and helpful.

6:30 p.m. ‹ The pregame ceremony begins on the field, featuring colorful Japanese costumes and music. Both teams are introduced along the foul lines and the two managers receive a gift of flowers. The public address is in English with occasional Japanese translation. We are well into our pregame show on the A's Radio Network, leading up to a first pitch at 3:08 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time. Our booth is cramped but not the worst I've ever worked in, and located to the right of home plate and under the overhang from the second deck, which makes calling fly balls a challenge. The Dome holds 50,000 and is gray and uninspiring but utilitarian. The place is full, and A's manger Bob Geren would say it felt like a cross between opening day and the postseason.

I love the Japanese food at the concession stands, and my favorite is a chicken and rice dish with onions and a thick, spicy sauce. Luckily they have pictures of each available item or I would have been lost. My daughter Emilee finds the California Pizza Kitchen on the lower level.

In the bottom of the first, local hero Daisuke Matsuzaka takes the mound. He delivers his first pitch amid the light from thousands of flash bulbs, but by the bottom of the second, with his pitch count mounting, Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell is compelled to make a trip to the mound. Visiting Matsuzaka is not an easy decision. Francona told me that going to the mound is considered, in Japanese baseball custom, insulting to a pitcher of Matsuzaka's stature. He lasts five innings and would have been on the hook for the loss until the Red Sox tie the game in the ninth and win it in the 10th on Manny Ramirez' double to right center. Manny takes home $10,000 after being named the "star of the game." Manny receives 1 million yen, which he calls "gas money." Poor Jack Hannanhan. Major League baseball had already determined that the A’s rookie third baseman, making the minimum salary, would have won the award if the A's had won the game. Ironically, with all the attention on Matsuzaka, the other Red Sox Japanese pitcher, Hideki Okajima, is the winning pitcher.

11:45 p.m. ‹ The bus leaves for the hotel, and I am hoping for a good night sleep. Wednesday will be a 40-hour day. Game time for the second game of the series is 7 p.m. in Tokyo and our flight arrives in Oakland at 5:30 p.m. PDT earlier the same day.

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