March 25th, 2012
When we arrived at Tokyo’s outlet of Oshman’s Sporting Goods store this morning, the line of green-and-gold adorned A’s fans was almost out the door. One by one, Bartolo Colon, Brandon McCarthy and Kurt Suzuki—batterymates for the team’s first two games of the season against the Mariners later this week—strolled past security guards and a roped off area to the back of the store, where they were seated at a table behind a huge photo backdrop that trumpeted the upcoming Opening Series Japan 2012. As they approached their destination, rock music blared from large speakers nearby. And I guess that was a special touch clearly appropriate for the occasion, for these three Athletics were truly being received like “rock stars.” As excited as everyone seemed, I was expecting a spontaneous chant of “Let’s Go Oakland” to break out more than 5,000 miles away from the Coliseum.
As you might expect in a country where precision and politeness seems to be a born trait, the autograph signing sponsored by MLB and Majestic ran quite smoothly. McCarthy and Suzuki addressed the adoring crowd with opening pleasantries, and then they joined Colon in getting down to business. They signed miniature posters that were provided, as well as A’s merchandise presented by the fans. And after every time they spoke, the crowd erupted into applause. The look on our guys’ faces suggested they were all thinking the same thing: “Hey, I could get used to this!” Meanwhile, their every move was captured on video by MLB Productions and by our very own Senior Manager of Digital Marketing, Travis LoDolce, who shot photo stills for his daily A’s blog during the trip. Of course, both were receiving stiff competition from Brandon McCarthy’s wife, Amanda, who jockeyed for position to shoot her own video of Brandon while he was interacting with everyone. Bartolo’s wife, Rosanna, also accompanied the McCarthys in the van from the hotel, while Kurt’s wife, Renee, arrived separately at the store with family members to witness the remarkable scene. Zuk told me about his sister living one year here in Tokyo, and how he would coax her to always buy the latest athletic shoes and ship them home. Now, he can do that in person.
As is always the case when I travel to another country, you reach the same conclusion before long. No matter our culture or language differences, it becomes so clear that people around the world share many more similarities than differences. There were fathers and sons there today, two generations of baseball fans who not only relate through their love of the sport, but also share the connection between Japanese and Major League Baseball. Through the massive coverage by Japanese network television and newspapers of the A’s last year—thanks primarily to the addition of the great Hideki Matsui, along with the launch of the movie Moneyball—the common baseball fan here is quite familiar with our players and team. Just like many of us, they know everything about their favorite players—nicknames, mannerisms, jersey number—whether it be Jemile, Coco, Dallas or Zuk. As we drove back to the New Otani Hotel afterwards, basking in a brilliant day of sunshine in this great metropolis, I think everyone in our party was grateful for this unique experience. That experience will continue tonight, as we kick off our playing schedule with a much-awaited exhibition game against the legendary Yomiuri Giants, long regarded as the “New York Yankees of Japan.” This evening, we will be both visitors on the diamond and visitors in this proud country. As Japan continues to recover from the disaster of last year, for one night, there will be no boundaries or worries for the thousands of people who will attend this international matchup at the Tokyo dome—only avid fans of the sport of baseball. Play ball!