By Philip Haldiman
The Seattle Mariners will open their 2019 regular season against the Oakland Athletics at the Tokyo Dome in Japan, much to the excitement of Major League Baseball fans in Asia.
But the opening series in the Far East March 20-21 means there will have to be some adjustments in the team’s spring training schedule, said Peoria Sports Facilities Manager Chris Calcaterra.
The Mariners play at the Peoria Sports Complex, a long-time economic engine for the city, where spring training games brought nearly $8 million into the city’s coffers this year.
Total attendance for Mariners games reached 118,851 in 16 games, averaging 7,428 per game during spring training this year. This was the sixth-highest attendance average of the 15 teams in the Cactus League.
The San Diego Padres, who share the Peoria Sports Complex with the Mariners, averaged 5,887 in 14 games, the fourth lowest.
It has yet to be seen if any games will be lost because the spring training schedule isn’t finalized until the fall, but Mr. Calcaterra said the city is working with Major League Baseball officials to front-load most of the Mariners spring training games to the beginning of the season. The San Diego Padres could play most of their home games at the end of the season, he said.
Peoria brought in an average of more than $255,000 in revenue per game in 30 games this year.
If the city does lose games, Mr. Calcaterra said, the city will work to recoup revenue for any games lost.
“We’re hoping we don’t have to do that and are pretty confident that won’t happen,” he said.
Regular season schedules are finalized every two years, while spring training schedules are finalized annually. The Mariners are contractually obligated to play 14 away games and 14 home games at the Peoria Sports Complex in 2019.
This year, spring training began Feb. 23 and ended March 25. The regular season began March 29.
Next year, spring training’s opening day will likely be Feb. 23, but the Mariners may open their spring training season Feb. 22 in light of the regular season debut, Mr. Calcaterra said.
The Mariners and Athletics will play two exhibition games each against Japanese teams on March 17-18 in doubleheaders at the Tokyo Dome. Then they will open their regular season with a two-game series against the Athletics March 20-21. Tokyo has been an opening day site four previous times, most recently a two-game series between the Mariners and Athletics in 2012.
Mr. Calcaterra said the Mariners also front-loaded that spring training schedule.
“Fortunately we have done this before,” Mr. Calcaterra said.
Officials with the city are confident 2019 will bring a fruitful spring training season.
Deputy City Manager Erik Strunk stated in an email that although the Mariners have the opportunity to play overseas next season, the city has yet to receive any formal dates.
“We look forward to planning another full and successful spring training experience at the Peoria Sports Complex,” Mr. Strunk stated. “They continue to be wonderful partners and one more reason to visit and experience Peoria during the 2019 Cactus League season.”
This will be the eighth time MLB has played its season opener internationally, having opened in Monterrey, Mexico in 1999; Tokyo in 2000, 2004, 2008, 2012; San Juan, Puerto Rico in 2001; and Sydney, Australia in 2014.
John Blundell, MLB vice president of communications, said the league has been having games at international venues for nearly 20 years now, but Commissioner Rob Manfred launched the Play Ball initiative in 2015 to encourage participation in youth baseball and softball.
Mr. Blundell said the initiative includes the play of more international games to promote the reach of Major League Baseball.
“Yes, it expands the fan base, but it is also a commitment to our youth and to teach the game at a grassroots level and share baseball not only throughout the U.S., but all over the world and to teach baseball from the ground up,” Mr. Blundell said.
Editor’s note: News Editor Mark Carlisle contributed to this report.
The following is a list of season openers played at international venues by Major League Baseball teams.
April 4, 1999
Rockies at Padres
One day off, then played the remaining two games of the series in San Diego April 6-7
March 29-30, 2000
Cubs vs. Mets
One home game each
Three days off. Started series against other teams April 3
April 1, 2001
Rangers at Blue Jays
San Juan, Puerto Rico
One day off, then started series against different teams on April 3
March 30-31, 2004
Yankees at Devil Rays
Four days off. Played two more games against each other April 5-6 in St. Petersburg, Florida (@TB).
March 25-26, 2008
Red Sox at Athletics
Five days off. Played two more games against each other April 1-2 at Oakland
March 28-29, 2012
Mariners at Athletics
Seven days off. Played two more games against each other April 6-7 at Oakland
March 22-23, 2014
Dodgers at Diamondbacks
Dodgers – Six days off. Played at Padres March 30, April 1-2 (three games, interrupted by off day)
D-backs – Seven days off. Played Giants at home March 31-April 3 (four games)