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Tokyo Doze 

Major League Baseball Opens The Season Half The World Away At The Ungodly Hour Of 3 A.M.

ON THE SAME day that the government released a study claiming that each year more than 100,000 auto accidents are caused by drivers who didn't get enough sleep, major league baseball had its season opener between the New York Mets and Chicago Cubs televised live at 3 a.m., Tucson time.

New slogan: Baseball -- doing its part for population control!

The game was being played at 7 p.m. in Tokyo, which, before Daylight Savings Time, was eight hours behind and one day ahead of us here. I don't understand it, either. Some things you just have to take on faith.

I've always wondered who made up that system. Maybe it was just a big practical joke and, like in the "The Emperor's New Clothes," no one wanted to question it. All I know is that, somehow, Tokyo is behind and ahead of us at the same time. If you ever figure that one out, maybe you can explain how it is that when it's 5 p.m. in Tucson, it's 3:30 a.m. in Iran and 5:45(!) in Nepal. Plus there's a strip that goes right down the middle of Australia that's on the half-hour.

These are the kinds of things you think about when you're waiting for a baseball game to start at 3 in the morning.

Meanwhile, all over Chicago and New York, millions of men and women who all look like Luca Brasi faced an incredible dilemma -- stay up all night and risk falling into a deep sleep if Fox Sports decided to use Tim McCarver as the announcer, or go to bed way too early and try to get up at some ungodly hour to catch a couple hours of the game before trudging off to work, where they would yawn for eight hours, causing the entire waste-management system to grind to a halt.

Of course, there was a third option, that of programming the VCR to tape the game, but we're talking about Chicago and New York here. The only thing those people know about VCRs is that they're sold off the back of a truck.

I thought about taping the game and watching it in the morning, but I realized I just couldn't do it. I used to have great affection for baseball. And even today, as long as people are playing hockey and soccer somewhere in the world, baseball will never be my least-favorite game.

No, I had to stay up and watch it. It's my duty as a sort-of sportswriter. Heck, I'm up until 1 a.m. every night anyway, trying to win Ben Stein's money.

To get ready for the game (and to help me stay up until 3 a.m.), I rented Mr. Baseball with Tom Selleck. I wanted to have a good idea what to expect from the upcoming game, and I knew that Tom Selleck wouldn't be associated with anything that isn't top-notch and completely accurate. After all, he's been the spokesman for both William F. Buckley's National Review and the National Rifle Association. If the title says Mr. Baseball, you can bet your last dollar it's going to be about baseball...and Misters.

(The only exception to this rule was when Selleck starred in Quigley Down Under and it turned out not to be a porno movie.)

Selleck portrays an aging American player who tries to extend his career by playing a season in Japan in hopes of landing one last big contract back in the States after moiderin' Japanese pitching. Well, ugly American that he is, he clashes with his teammates, his team owners and, mostly, his manager. I was going to say that his manager looks just like the guy who starred with Michael Douglas and Andy Garcia in Black Rain, but if I were to say that two Japanese people look alike, I'd probably get hate mail.

Just by coincidence, Black Rain was on USA Network last week, so I looked at the credits and I'll be darned if the actor in that movie didn't have THE EXACT SAME NAME as the one in Mr. Baseball! What are the odds?!

Of course, you can't suggest that two Japanese men have the same name, because you'd probably get a letter from the consulate or something. Anyway, both of those guys were good actors.

As for Selleck, he falls in love with the manager's daughter, has PG-13 sex with her (no aereola), and then wins the Big Game by playing The Japanese Way. How this thing avoided Oscar attention is a mystery. Can we say "liberal conspiracy"?

Finally, the game came on. It was being played indoors, on artificial turf, in Japan. Somehow, that bothered baseball purists. The right-wing crank Papa Joe Chevalier on Sports Talk radio about had a seizure talking about it. Big deal. The NBA and NFL have been doing it for years and the world hasn't come to an end. The only difference is that those two sports have enough clout to have the games played at a time when it can be shown live in prime time back in the States. Baseball might eventually work its way up to that level some day.

Fox's announcing team of Thom Brenneman and Bob Brenly (thank God!), kept talking about how it was a "historical" series. Word police! Word police!

The game was sponsored by am/pm stores, which I guess is somebody's idea of a joke. The players' helmets even said "am/pm" on them. Next stop: NASCAR, with full-uniform advertising.

Throughout the game, the fans chanted "Sa-mi So-sa! Sa-mi So-sa!" Sammy was thrilled to hear it, but he didn't realize that, in Japanese, his name means "We want to exacerbate your trade imbalance by refusing to import American beef."

The Cubs took an early lead, then I really can't remember, then Mike Piazza hit a home run, then my wife's alarm clock went off. It was all kinda fuzzy, just like baseball games you watch on TV at normal hours.

There was another game on the next morning, but it wasn't nearly as "historical."

It was all good fun, but how much do you want to bet that if the Mets fall just short of a pennant in October, Bobby Valentine will use the phrase "jet lag" in his explanation?

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