Originally created 04/02/04

Tokyo trip eye-opening for Yankees, Devil Rays



TOKYO - Derek Jeter walked around Tokyo and couldn't believe what he saw - or didn't see.

"I was shocked that there's no trash," the New York Yankees' captain said. "Even though there's thousands and thousands of people, millions of people, walking the streets, there's no trash. That was amazing to me."

It sure was different from home.

Five days in Japan was an eye-opening experience for the Yankees and Tampa Bay Devil Rays, who got home early Thursday after splitting their opening two-game series in the Tokyo Dome.

They rode Black Hawk helicopters to U.S. military bases, attended an embassy reception, cracked open sake barrels at a party, checked out the night life in Roppongi, and shopped till they dropped in Akihabara, the neon-filled electronics district.

Gary Sheffield bought a new video camera and shipped home a massage chair.

"Sometimes, you can't get a massage," the New York outfielder said with a smile.

For the most part, players seemed to enjoy the 7,250-mile trip from spring training in Florida. Although it was a long way to go for a two-game series and the jet lag was brutal for many, they got a charge from experiencing the response of the Japanese fans.

The Yankees were like rock stars in this baseball-crazy land. Everywhere they went, people looked at them with awe, as if they were larger-than-life creatures. That's what Yankees closer Mariano Rivera will remember.

"Seeing the kids' faces, signing a baseball, tossing a baseball - it was nice," he said.

For some, there was dislocation. A few had the spaced-out look of Bill Murray in Lost in Translation.

Mike Mussina wasn't pleased with the journey and saw only the hotel and ballpark except for three quick trips for food. He subsisted mostly on Ritz crackers and chips, he said - perhaps jokingly, perhaps not. After he lost the opener 8-3, Mussina said he felt out of whack, unable to sleep normally.

Some loved the sushi and sake. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman had a great time at Inakaya, a robatayaki where diners sit at a U-shaped counter around a large grill.

Tampa Bay had a lower profile, but just as good a time.

"We really enjoyed our experience here in Japan," manager Lou Piniella said. "Tokyo is a beautiful city to visit."

At the center of everything was Hideki Matsui, the Yankees outfielder who starred for the Yomiuri Giants for 10 seasons. He homered against his old team in an exhibition game Sunday, then hit another in the Yankees' 12-1 rout Wednesday night.

"I'm really happy that he came home and showed people what Matsui is all about," Yankees catcher Jorge Posada said.