Last year, the Oakland A's and Seattle Mariners were supposed to play a short series of baseball games in Japan to kick off the new season. Because of the Iraq war, however, baseball officials decided to cancel those games.
At the time, I thought it was unnecessary. Iraq had no weapons that could reach Japan and had no allies. The risk of a terrorist strike against a Japanese target seemed pretty low, especially since Iraq and al Qaida are completely separate entities. Granted, I thought jihadists might be angered by the US launching war in the middle east, but it seemed very unlikely that they would pick these events for a terror strike. There wouldn't have been much time to plan, for example.
In any case, baseball decided to be safe.
This year, baseball is beginning its season next Tuesday, with a short series in Japan between the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Each team will prepare for these games that count in the AL East standings by first playing a couple of exhibition games against Japanese teams.
So, instead of seeing the return of Ichiro, Japanese fans get the return of Matsui.
It would be great if Matsui does well, but I've got to root for the Devil Rays in these games. Who wants to see the Yankees succeed all the time? Not me.
They are the evil empire, after all.
Someday, I'm going to do some halfway serious work on the globalization of baseball. Major League Baseball is obviously trying hard to globalize its fan base -- and labor pool. The marketing effort may already be paying off.
Last year's World Series achieved higher ratings in Japan that it did in the US. And MLB has sold the Japanese TV rights to the next 6 baseball seasons for $275 million. That is up about 15 times the prior agreement!