TOKYO (AP) -Boston reliever Hideki Okajima is looking forward to starting the 2008 season on home soil - even though he'll be thousands of miles from Fenway Park.
Okajima was in Tokyo on Wednesday promoting Boston's season-opening series with Oakland at Tokyo Dome on March 25-26.
Okajima is no stranger to Tokyo Dome. He pitched there over 12 seasons in Japan professional baseball with the Yomiuri Giants and the Nippon Ham Fighters before leaving for the majors last year when he helped the Red Sox win the 2007 World Series.
``It's great that Japanese fans will get to see the No. 1 team in the world,'' Okajima said. ``It will be a great experience for me and the other players as well.''
Lefty Okajima may be the lone Japanese pitcher for the Red Sox in the two-game series. Pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka might miss the series because his wife is expecting to deliver their second baby around that time.
The Red Sox and A's also will play exhibition games against the two most popular teams in the Japan - the Hanshin Tigers and the Yomiuri Giants - on March 22-23 also at Tokyo Dome.
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.
Okajima was a pleasant surprise for the Red Sox last year, posting a 3-2 record with five saves and 2.22 ERA in his first season in the majors. He was added to the American League All-Star roster as the winner of an Internet vote by fans.
Okajima did have a late-season meltdown in which he allowed nine runs in seven outings. The MLB schedule is longer than the season in Japan, and Okajima found that tough in his first season.
``It was a long season with few holidays and a lot of travel,'' said Okajima. ``But the biggest problem for me in the first year was the communication problems and getting used to the food.''
Okajima's major league career got off to a rough start. With his first pitch, he gave up a home run to Kansas City's John Buck on April 2.
``After that ball went out, I said to myself 'Oh no!''' Okajima said. ``My mind went blank. I went back to my hotel room that night and that's when I realized the major leagues are no piece of cake.''
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