10 Ways Starting the Season in Japan Could Help the Seattle Mariners

Marcelo Villa@@_marcelovillaCorrespondent IIMarch 26, 2012

10 Ways Starting the Season in Japan Could Help the Seattle Mariners

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    Beginning the 2012 MLB season in Japan is a new experience for the Seattle Mariners, but it will likely lead to better things for the team once they return home.

    Having already played against the Hanshin Tigers of Nippon Professional Baseball, the Mariners are getting ready to start the season with a two-game series against the Oakland Athletics at the Tokyo Dome in Japan. The games were scheduled for Japan as a way to advertise the MLB to another audience. Part of MLB's marketing plan to expand is to take games worldwide.

    While the travel plans are a bit rough, considering the significant amount of time spent in the air, the opportunity to play in Japan gives both teams a chance to expand their popularity. That's something the Mariners could definitely use in 2012.

    Here are 10 ways starting the season in Japan could help the Mariners.

10. Nice Change to Things

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    A typical start to the season involves a long stay in Arizona to get in some spring-training games before teams get into the swing of things on the road or at home. The Mariners and Oakland Athletics will be adding one more stop to their travel schedule with the visit to Japan.

    Just breaking away from the normal routine can breathe life into players who are so used to doing the same thing every season. The trip to Japan is an experience and a chance to try something new.

    It may seem simple to say that a change to the schedule will help the Mariners this season, but every little thing counts. Playing abroad will give this team a fresh start in 2012.

9. Playing in Front of a Packed House

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    Playing in front of a packed house in Japan will be a lot more exciting for players than playing at Safeco Field in front of a moderate crowd.

    Japanese fans are thrilled to watch MLB players, making it more than likely that the Mariners and Oakland Athletics will be getting a lot of reaction from fans during the game.

    It's not that MLB fans aren't faithful, but every game during the regular season is going to have some empty seats. The Tokyo Dome will be rocking for the two MLB games scheduled there.

8. Mentally Prepared

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    Not only will the Mariners be starting the regular season against the Oakland Athletics in Japan, but exhibition games against Japanese teams will also mentally prepare them for the 2012 season.

    The MLB season is one of the longest in sports and any mental edge at the beginning of the season is a huge advantage. Playing competitive games early will start to develop team chemistry and get things going for Seattle at the start of the season.

    Other than a bad case of jet lag in their first couple games, the Mariners will start 2012 as one of the more tested teams.

7. Hyping Up the Japanese

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    Among the few Japanese players on the Seattle roster, pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma is looking to break into the 2012 starting rotation, but he hasn't had a strong enough outing to show coaches that he's ready to be an MLB starter. There couldn't be a better place than Japan for Iwakuma and other natives to have a strong performance.

    Getting production out of these guys right out of the starting gate will not only help the Mariners but benefit these individuals as far as playing time and confidence in 2012. Playing at home usually pushes players to play at their absolute best. This should be no different.

    Young and old, the Japanese players will make a statement in these games in Japan.

6. Drawing Interest from Japanese Players

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    Setting foot on Japanese soil this season will allow the Mariners to attract the interest of Japanese stars who may be considering a jump to the MLB.

    Many stars from Japan are leaving their former teams to play at the next level in the U.S., and when MLB teams come to visit there's always an opportunity to draw interest from players.

    The Mariners have a few Japanese players on their roster, including spring-training invitee Munenori Kawasaki, who previously played in Nippon Professional Baseball. Seeing former teammates on an MLB team makes the possible transition much more comforting and shows players why they should join visiting teams.

    The Mariners aren't in Japan to do too much recruiting, but why not kill two birds with one stone while  there and send a good message with a positive trip.

5. Revenue Revamp

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    According to a list compiled by Forbes magazine, the Seattle Mariners ranked near the middle of the pack of the MLB's most valuable teams with a current value of $585 million and operating income of $2.2 million.

    Six of the top-10 most valuable teams were regular playoff contenders. The Mariners have made good use of clearing cap space and adding youth to the roster, but empty seats due to losing are killing their value.

    I wouldn't say the franchise is doomed unless something drastic happens, but frequent losing seasons could easily put this team in a hole.

    By venturing to Japan, the Mariners look to gain exposure worldwide, thus increasing their revenue potential in the U.S.

4. Ichiro Homecoming

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    After finishing what was a disappointing year by Ichiro Suzuki's standards, the 38-year-old Kasugai, Japan, native returns home to play in front of his biggest fans. If coming home to start the MLB season is what it takes to revive Ichiro's career, the Mariners will be in store for a big season from their all-star center fielder.

    A .272 average with five home runs and 47 RBI are not typical Ichiro numbers. Seattle skipper Eric Wedge is attempting to solve that problem by batting Ichiro third in the lineup. Ichiro is a highly underrated power hitter because of his ability to hit for contact, but stepping into the No. 3 hole from his customary leadoff spot gives him that chance to boost his home-run numbers.

    Japanese fans will get first look of that power when they cheer Ichiro in the first regular-season game of 2012.


3. No Home-Field Advantage

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    The pressure to win in front of the home crowd won't be on in Japan nor will the Oakland Athletics have the added advantage of being at home. The season opener will take place on a neutral field where neither team is favored over the other.

    Playing the first game away from home allows the Mariners to get a feel for a regular-season game before they return home. Spring training is usually the time to work out the kinks and figure out who will play where. But during the first couple games of the season, there's still work to be done.

    If the Mariners do start the season with a weak performance, at least they won't embarrass themselves at home.

2. A Rare Opportunity

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    For many of these players, this will be their first time playing in another country, and the rare opportunity to start the season overseas won't be a wasted one.

    Here in the U.S., a regular-season game between the Mariners and Oakland Athletics wouldn't catch the eye of too many viewers. But that same matchup in Japan would have the opposite effect. Watching U.S. teams in different venues around the world keeps things fresh for audiences and lets them experience a new perspective on a sport they so regularly follow.

    As for players, starting the season in a foreign country adds to the desire to win and show the Japanese fans what MLB is all about. The trip alone is a life-changing experience for some. But playing in front of fans who view MLB players as worldwide stars, now that's something special.

1. Expanding the Mariners Fanbase

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    It's not that the great people of Seattle don't love their baseball, but it's apparent the Mariners fanbase has decreased since 2005. Extending the team's brand to Japan is the perfect opportunity to revive it.

    Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez had a hand in making the Mariners popular during the 1990s. But the new millennium hasn't been as generous to Seattle.

    Ichiro Suzuki's arrival in 2001 ignited the team's following. For three straight years, the Mariners ranked near the top of MLB in average attendance. The highest average attendance for the Mariners came in Suzuki's second season when the team averaged 43,709.

    Suzuki is still a well-known Mariner, along with pitcher Felix Hernandez. But losing seasons have contributed to the decrease in attendance. Last season the Mariners ranked 23rd with an average of 23,411. That's a little more than half what they drew in 2002.

    With so many talented players and teams to watch in Nippon Professional Baseball, Japanese fans are wild about baseball. But they still relish the opportunity to watch MLB teams when they visit,

    Beginning the season in Japan allows the Mariners to tap into that interest and possibly add to their fanbase overseas.