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Mets - Cards To Open In Japan

The New York Mets and the St. Louis Cardinals are the leading candidates for a possible season-opening series in Tokyo next year.

Officials of the commissioner's office and the players' association were in Tokyo last week to discuss the unprecedented trip. They are expected to attempt to finalize details within a month.

"In concept, we certainly would support the exposure of major league baseball internationally," Cardinals president Mark Lamping said Tuesday. "I guess what they're trying to do is evaluate all aspects of the trip. Until such times as those details are made available to the teams, it's difficult to come to a position on it."

While nothing has been determined, the Mets and the Cardinals are the No. 1 choices for the two-game series, several officials with knowledge of the talks told The Associated Press on the condition they not be identified.

"I'm absolutely against it," said the Cardinals' Mark McGwire, who would be the game's top attraction. "Major league baseball belongs in the United States. The Japanese have Japanese baseball, so there's no reason for us to go over there. I have nothing against the way they play baseball. It's not the travel. As a player, I just don't like it. The game belongs here."

If the Mets and-or Cardinals decline, there are two or three additional teams on baseball's short list.

"It will be a nice long road trip, that's for sure," Mets closer John Franco said. "It should be nice though. I've been there twice before and I enjoyed it."

David Howard, the Mets' senior vice president of business and legal affairs, declined comment. Lamping said he had heard that the Cardinals and Mets were at the top of the list for the games but said he had not spoken yet with any of the officials who were in Japan for the meetings.

The 2000 season is set to start on Sunday night, April 2, or Monday, April 3. The games at the Tokyo Dome probably would be the previous Tuesday and Wednesday, or on Wednesday and Thursday, and the teams involved wouldn't resume regular-season games until the following Tuesday or Wednesday to give them time to recover.

Tokyo is 7,392 miles from West Palm Beach, Fla., the nearest major airport from the Mets' and Cardinals' spring training camps, and 14 time zones away.

"I think if it is done properly and we are given an appropriate amount of rest both before we go and after we get back, it would be good for the game," Mets pitcher Al Leiter said. "It would give baseball great exposure and it would be a great experience for the guys who haven't been there before"

For some, the mileage is too much.

"We do enough traveling as it is," said Cardinals pitcher Lance Painter, who went to Taiwan as a minor leaguer.

The Mets and Cardinals aren't set to open against each other, according to the draft schedule prepared by the National League, so there would have to be some switching to fit in the games.

In addition to the regular-season games, there also might be two or three exhibition games against Japanese clubs during the trip.

"The fans are the same," Leiter said. "The only difference is that you don't understand what they are yelling at you."

Lamping said that if the Cardinals are asked, he would have to talk to others in the organization before deciding whether St. Louis wanted to make the trip.

"Obviously, we would certainly need to solicit the opinion of our players and staff," he said.

Regular-season major league games have never been played outside North America. In 1997, the New York Mets and San Diego Padres met in the first regular-season games outside the United States and Canada, playing three times at Monterrey, Mexico.

Mark McGwire isn't happy with the idea of possibly trying to hit home runs in Japan at the start of next season.   <b>
Mark McGwire isn't happy with the idea of possibly trying to hit home runs in Japan at the start of next season. (AP)

In the first season opener outside the United States and Canada, the Padres played the Colorado Rockies this year at Monterrey.

The Seattle Mariners, whose majority owner is Hiroshi Yamauchi, chairman of the Nintendo Co. Ltd. of Kyoto, Japan, proposed starting the 1995 season in Japan, but that idea was scuttled by the 1994-95 strike. The Mariners were the first choice for next year's opener, but declined in order to start the season at home in their new stadium.

©1999 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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