It was easily the most cluttered area of the Seattle Mariners’ clubhouse at Peoria Sports Complex on Tuesday — rows of suitcases, with a sign above them reading “Japan luggage.”
By the end of the day’s game against the Chicago Cubs, all that luggage space was rendered obsolete by the small sign on the clubhouse door: “Wednesday, March 19: stretch, 9:30 a.m.”
This morning will be just another one of work for the Mariners, who were supposed to depart for Japan for next week’s season-opening series against the Oakland Athletics. Major League Baseball canceled the trip on Tuesday due to the imminent U.S. military action against Iraq.
“Given the uncertainty that now exists throughout the world, we believe the safest course of action for the players involved and the many staff personnel who must work the games is to reschedule the opening series,” commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement.
“It would be unfair and terribly unsettling for them to be a half a world away — away from their families — at this critical juncture.”
The two Mariners-Athletics games, scheduled to be played in the Tokyo Dome on March 25 and 26, have been rescheduled for Oakland on April 3 and June 30.
With both teams staying in Arizona, the entire remaining Cactus League schedule has been revised. The changes affect two games involving the Diamondbacks, on Saturday and March 26.
“As excited as we were to represent our league in Japan, we certainly understand the decision, especially with when it’s compared with what’s going in the real world,” Athletics president Mike Crowley said. “This is a prudent decision.”
The Mariners were scheduled to leave for Japan this morning, with the A’s departing after their scheduled game against Milwaukee in Phoenix. They would have left at about the time President Bush’s 48-hour ultimatum for Saddam Hussein to leave Iraq expires.
“To be in the air for 12 hours when you don’t know what’s going on below would’ve been pretty surreal,” Oakland general manager Billy Beane said.
Even before the trip cancellation was announced Tuesday, some players expressed hesitancy about leaving for Japan.
“I don’t like the idea of being out of the country when it’s going to war,” Seattle first baseman John Olerud said. “Ultimately, you have to know you would be safe. . . . We’d be closer to (the area of conflict).”
Mariners center fielder Mike Cameron had originally planned to bring his family to Japan but changed his mind.
“My family would have gone on commercial flights, and that was a worry for me,” Cameron said. “If they were on a commercial flight, and something happened that they had to get out of (Japan), they might have been stuck there. So, I put those fears to rest.”
Other players, such as Oakland third baseman Eric Chavez, wrestled with whether it was appropriate to go.
“I want to be here. I really do,” Chavez said. “We’ve got guys that are going to war for our country. I want to be here. Call me patriotic or whatever. But this is where I want to be.”
The decision was no doubt met with disappointment among baseball fans in Japan, as Mariners outfielder Ichiro Suzuki and pitchers Kazuhiro Sasaki and Shigetoshi Hasegawa formerly played there.
Also, the two games would have been the first time that Mariners owner Hiroshi Yamauchi, who lives in Japan, had personally seen his team play.
“There’s been a lot of work put into this trip, a lot of hours of planning, not only in Seattle and Oakland, but in Japan,” Seattle outfielder John Mabry said. “I know a lot of people are disappointed. It affects a lot of people. But I guess what’s more important is what’s going on in America.”
Bob DuPuy, MLB’s president and chief operating officer, said baseball will return to Japan “as soon as possible.” Plans have been in the works for the 2004 season to open there, with the New York Yankees facing probably Baltimore, Tampa Bay or Toronto.