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Originally published September 20, 2011 at 7:09 PM | Page modified September 21, 2011 at 3:58 PM

Mariners may open 2012 season in Japan

The Mariners appear again be in the plans for a season-opening series in Japan against the A's next spring, one that could pit that country's two biggest baseball stars — Ichiro and Hideki Matsui — against each other.

Seattle Times staff reporter

quotes Make Rizz the tv announcer and bring back my favorite, Red Fairly in some capacity. Read more
quotes "I think the purpose was to provide continuity and familiarity, and we did... Read more
quotes In 2003 this would have been worth watching. Now Itchi and Mutsui are washed up old hacks. Read more

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In 2003, the Mariners were a mere 17 hours from boarding a plane to Tokyo for a two-game, season-opening series with the Oakland A's at the Tokyo Dome.

But with tension building over safety issues related to the impending U.S. invasion of Iraq, commissioner Bud Selig abruptly canceled the trip on March 18.

Now the Mariners again appear be in the plans for a season-opening series in Japan against the A's next spring, one which could pit that country's two biggest baseball stars — Ichiro and Hideki Matsui — against each other.

The San Francisco Chronicle first reported that the Major League Baseball Players Association has had conversations with the two teams about opening the season with a pair of games at the Tokyo Dome.

Randy Adamack, the Mariners' vice president of communications, confirmed that the club has been contacted by MLB about the possibility of playing a series in Japan, but added, "It's still far from having a deal done."

Some logistical challenges remain. Numerous constituencies have to get together for the trip to become a reality — the promoter, the union, MLB and the Japanese professional league, as well as the two clubs.

In the past, scheduling and payment have been issues. In 2008, the Red Sox were on the verge of boycotting their flight to Tokyo for a series with the A's over the issue of payment to coaches. The boycott was averted when MLB agreed to pay managers, coaches and trainers $20,000 from management's proceeds (half of the amount received by each player).

The Chronicle reported that the Mariners have apparent concerns about safety issues related to radiation leaks from power plants damaged in the major earthquake last March.

If the issues can be worked out, there are indications the Mariners are willing to participate. It might be an opportunity for Kyoto-based Hiroshi Yamauchi, founder of Nintendo, to see his team play for the first time since he became majority owner in 1992. Yamauchi turns 84 in November.

Ichiro is to return in 2012 for the final year of the five-year, $90 million contract he signed in 2008. Matsui is a free agent, but the Chronicle said there is a "strong possibility" he will return to the A's.

MLB has opened the season in Japan on three previous occasions — in 2000 (Cubs and Mets), 2004 (Rays and Yankees) and 2008 (A's and Red Sox). The league released a preliminary 2012 schedule last week, and the Mariners are scheduled to open the season with a three-game series in Oakland beginning April 6.

The games would likely come off Oakland's home schedule, as they did in 2008, the Chronicle said. The two teams would probably play about a week ahead of the currently scheduled opener to allow them to recover from the travel, then play a couple of exhibition games before resuming their regular season.

M's extend radio deal

The Mariners announced Tuesday that they have signed a multiyear contract extension with the Bonneville Seattle Media Group to keep 710 ESPN as their flagship radio station.

Team president Chuck Armstrong said the deal will keep the Mariners on 710 for three more years. The M's returned three years ago to 710, which was their radio home from 1985 to 2002 before a stint with KOMO 1000.

"We like the partnership," Armstrong said. "Their strong signal and devotion to sports worked well. I think the fact they also have the Seahawks and Sounders, you do get true synergy. They focus on sports and put together a strong network for us."

The new agreement includes all Mariners regular-season games, a minimum of 20 spring-training games and pregame and postgame programming, as well as offseason Hot Stove League Shows. The Mariners will continue to employ the announcers and producer-engineer for the game coverage.

"It has been a pleasure working with the Seattle Mariners for the past three years and we look forward to continuing this partnership in the years to come," Dave Pridemore, 710 ESPN Seattle general manager, said in a news release.

Adamack said the team has not yet decided how it will proceed with its announcing team after a transitional year following the death of veteran play-by-play man Dave Niehaus.

This season, the Mariners brought back several former announcers to work on the radio side with Niehaus' longtime partner, Rick Rizzs.

"I think the purpose was to provide continuity and familiarity, and we did that," Adamack said. "The feedback from fans has mostly been positive about hearing familiar voices and having variety over the course of the year."

While Rizzs is expected to return, Adamack said the Mariners are still mulling various options for the broadcast.

"We have to decide the direction first, and once we decide that, we'll move on and decide who," he said. "There's no timetable."

Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or lstone@seattletimes.com

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