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Tuesday, March 18, 2003
Updated: March 19, 11:04 AM ET
Japan's baseball commissioner: It's 'unfortunate'

Associated Press

TOKYO -- To many Japanese, tensions between the United States and Iraq have seemed a distant storm. On Wednesday, thousands of baseball fans here got a taste of it when a long-awaited two-game series between Oakland and Seattle was cancelled.

"I find it extremely unfortunate, but it's because of war and there is little we can do," Japan's baseball commissioner, Hiromori Kawashima, said.

"I understand they wanted to be careful because of uncertainty involving a war," he added. "I heard major league officials held discussions with officials at the White House and other related organizations until the last minute."

The Mariners and Athletics were to open the season March 25-26 at the Tokyo Dome.

"It can't be helped,'' said Moriyoshi Kaneko, a fishmonger in Tokyo. "I guess the threat of terrorism is frightening."

The cancellation of the Mariners' visit was especially disappointing because the team features Japanese star Ichiro Suzuki and pitchers Kazuhiro Sasaki and Shigetoshi Hasegawa. The series would have been the first time Mariners owner Hiroshi Yamauchi, who lives in Japan, saw his team play.

"Japanese baseball fans who were looking forward to the event must find it extremely disappointing," Kawashima said.

"I like Ichiro, so I wanted him to come," said Akinori Yoshihiro, a 20-year-old college student. "All the good players in Japan have gone to the States."

Tokyo Dome officials said the two opening games at the dome were sold out. A capacity crowd at the Tokyo Dome is about 55,000.

The teams also scheduled exhibition games against three top Japanese professional teams: the Yomiuri Giants, Daiei Hawks and Seibu Lions.

"It is a big disappointment, and it will cause us financial loss," said Yuichi Sato, a dome spokesman. "But we don't yet know how much."

Yoshiaki Hotaka, a spokesman for the Yomiuri newspaper sponsoring the games, said 200,000 tickets had been sold overall, and fans will be refunded.

"This was to be the first homecoming games for Ichiro and Sasaki," said Takao Ouchi, a Yomiuri executive in charge of the event. "We hope we can hold these games at the soonest possible opportunity."

The major leagues held their first season-opening games in Japan in 2000 when the New York Mets played the Chicago Cubs.

"It was probably best to cancel the games before everyone got to Japan," Hasegawa was quoted as saying by Japan's public television network, NHK. "It's disappointing."