TOKYO (AP) – The Boston Red Sox are happy to start the season with a road trip worthy of the title World Series champions. The Oakland Athletics are just glad to finally get the chance to play in Japan.

The Red Sox and the A’s will open the 2008 regular season with a two-game series on March 25-26 at Tokyo Dome, thousands of miles from home.

“We want to expand Red Sox Nation and further establish it in one of the greatest baseball nations in the world – Japan,” Red Sox president Larry Lucchino said Tuesday at a news conference to promote the trip.

The Red Sox and A’s will tune up for the series with exhibition games against the two most popular teams in Japan – the Hanshin Tigers and the Yomiuri Giants – on March 22-23, also at Tokyo Dome.

Boston will take March 27 off and then play a three-game exhibition series in Los Angeles against the Dodgers from March 28-30.

The Red Sox and A’s will resume their regular-season schedule with a two-game series at Oakland on April 1-2.

Red Sox fans back home will have to get up early to watch their team start its title defense. The major league season opener will start at 6:07 a.m. EDT.

Boston’s home opener will be on April 8 against the Detroit Tigers at Fenway.

Boston left-hander Hideki Okajima may be the lone Japanese pitcher for the Red Sox in the two-game series. Pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka may miss the series because his wife is expecting to deliver their second baby around that time.

“As the CEO of the team, I try to stay on top of details but the due date is beyond my job description. I know he wants to play here and we want him to play here,” Lucchino said.

Boston and Oakland will be the third set of teams to open the regular season at the Tokyo Dome, following the New York Mets and Chicago Cubs (2000), and the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay (2004). A scheduled 2003 series between Oakland and Seattle at the Tokyo Dome was canceled because of the threat of war in Iraq.

“We were disappointed when the series was canceled in 2003,” Oakland manager Bob Geren said.

“When we got the opportunity this time, it took us about two seconds to say we’re happy to come.”

AP-ES-01-22-08 1856EST

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