A's, Red Sox to open season in Japan

The Boston Red Sox will open their World Series title defense in Tokyo. Following months of negotiations, the Red Sox agreed to a two-game series against the Oakland Athletics in Japan on March 25-26, and the commissioner's office announced the trip early Wednesday.

With Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima, the Red Sox figure to be an attractive draw for the games at the Tokyo Dome. The Red Sox and A's also will play exhibition games on March 23-24 against Japanese teams.

After the trip, the teams return to the United States and open the rest of their regular-season schedules with a two-game series at Oakland on April 1-2. That originally was to be a four-game set.

Oakland will be the home team for the games in Japan.

The Japan visit is one of two Asian trips Major League Baseball hopes to make next year. Talks have been under way for months to have the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres play exhibition games in Beijing, most likely on March 14-15, at the ballpark to be used for the 2008 Olympics. That would be Major League Baseball's first trip to China.

If the Beijing games take place, the Dodgers likely would then travel to Arizona for most of their remaining spring training games. Next spring is their last at Vero Beach, Fla., where they first trained in 1949. They switch their training base in 2009 to Glendale, Ariz.

Boston and Oakland will be the third set of teams to open the regular season at the Tokyo Dome, following the New York Mets and Chicago Cubs (2000), and the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Devil Rays (2004). A scheduled 2003 series between Oakland and Seattle at the Tokyo Dome was canceled because of the threat of war in Iraq.

“Opening our regular season in Japan for the third time is another example of Major League Baseball's commitment to continue the global growth of the game,” commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement.

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