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Rays in Japan

MARC TOPKIN
Published March 30, 2004

Now that Times photographer Toni Sandys and I have gotten out a few times, walking around Tokyo has been cool. It's an interesting scene with Japanese versions of U.S. franchises such as Starbucks, 7-Eleven and Subway sprinkled in among the native-run businesses.

Flying over Tokyo (as we did Monday for a visit to a nearby Navy base) in a U.S. Army Blackhawk helicopter was downright wild, and even more so with the doors of my chopper open on the way back. It's staggering how large the city is. From the air, it makes New York look like Des Moines, Iowa.

Sayonara, Marc

CAN YOU EAT THAT?

Determined to eat a Japanese lunch, we found a place near the hotel with authentic food and English descriptions on the menu. And then we ordered weird stuff anyway. The take wasabi was small pieces of octopus that may, or may not, have been cooked. It had the look and consistency of bait.

Taste: Worse than it looked.

Other review: Edible, but that's about it.

HOW MUCH IS THAT?

Determined not to eat a Japanese dinner, I went straight to the special MLB-mandated American room service menu and ordered the classic burger (which was anything but classic) and two Diet Cokes. The bill? A mere 4,158 yen (about $39).

TRAVEL TIP

We asked some players who went to Japan in 2000 with the Mets and the Cubs for their best stories. Mets reliever Mark Guthrie remembers spending lots of money. "My wife and I ate lunch at Trader Vic's, the Polynesian restaurant in the hotel, like every day," Guthrie said. "It was like $200-$250. The servings were really small, so we were ordering two entrees. Then we went out for Kobe beef. It was like $200 a steak. But I'll never eat it again, so it was worth it."

WELCOME BACK

Tom Foley is one of six uniformed Rays who have been to Japan. Foley lived on the Camp Zama U.S. Army base from ages 5-10. He said it was an interesting place to grow up, with lots of neat experiences. Once a year, the top youth league team from his base would play a top Japanese team. "Every year they beat us," he said, "and bad."

QUOTE OF THE DAY

"The only thing that kept me going was talking so I didn't think about it."

- infielder Geoff Blum on the uneasy experience of flying on a Blackhawk helicopter

WHAT TIME IS IT?

Tokyo is 14 hours ahead of Tampa Bay, so when it's 5 a.m. Tuesday here, it's 7 p.m. Tuesday there. And when it's 10 p.m. Monday here, it's noon Tuesday there.

WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING . . .

In an unusual place at an odd time, the Rays opened the regular season against the Yankees in a game that started at 7 Tuesday night (5 a.m. Tampa Bay time).

COMING UP

Before playing the second regular-season game against the Yankees on Wednesday night (5 a.m. Tampa Bay time), a group of Rays will go to a reception at the U.S. Embassy. Managing general partner Vince Naimoli, GM Chuck LaMar, manager Lou Piniella, senior adviser Don Zimmer, and players Lance Carter, Tino Martinez, Rocco Baldelli, Carl Crawford, Aubrey Huff and Jose Cruz are expected to present Ambassador Howard Baker with a Rays jersey.

THE REST OF THE SCHEDULE

Tokyo time Tampa Bay time

U.S. Embassy reception Noon Wednesday 10 p.m. Tuesday

Game 2 vs. Yankees 7 p.m. Wednesday 5 a.m. Wednesday

The Rays and Yankees leave after the Wednesday game and will get back to the Tampa Bay area at roughly the same time they take off in Tokyo, approximately 12:30 a.m. Thursday
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