dan shaughnessy

Happy landing in Tokyo for exhausted Sox

Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka (left) arrives at Tokyo's Haneda airport March 21, 2008. The Boston Red Sox flew into Tokyo on Friday, arriving just after midnight. Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka (left) arrives at Tokyo's Haneda airport March 21, 2008. The Boston Red Sox flew into Tokyo on Friday, arriving just after midnight. (Reuters Photo)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / March 20, 2008

TOKYO -- There was no daylight to tell the Red Sox what time it was when they touched down in the Land of the Rising Sun. It was early Friday morning in Japan, late Thursday morning back in Boston, and infinitely timeless in the minds and bodies of the exhausted world champions.

"Saddle up, partner," said reliever Jonathan Papelbon as he waited in an immigration line after the 20-hour journey from City of Palms Park in Fort Myers, Fla., to the team's massive hotel headquarters near the Tokyo Dome. "This is going to be some road trip."

The 18-day, three-country, 31,000-mile sojourn started eventfully when the Red Sox threatened to boycott their final exhibition game Wednesday afternoon. In support of coaches and staff who weren't receiving the $40,000 compensation being offered to players, the Sox were prepared to cancel the game and stay in Florida until the matter was settled.

"We weren't going to Japan," said player representative Kevin Youkilis. "We were really strong about it."

After a settlement was reached, the Sox came out of their dugout an hour late, then lost to the Blue Jays, 4-3. Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima, both of whom pitched in the afternoon, canceled media appearances after the game.

At 4:45 p.m. EST, four buses filled with players, wives, children, Sox employees, and media members, wheeled out of the players parking lot, advanced by a police escort. A few fans who had lingered stood along Edison Avenue, waving good-bye as Japanese television crews recorded the start of the journey.

All traffic on Interstate 75 South was halted when the baseball caravan reached the highway ramp, and there was no annoying airport security wait for the Red Sox. The buses rolled directly onto the tarmac and 160 members of the traveling party submitted to a quick pat-down and bag check before boarding a Japan Airlines Boeing 747.

The massive aircraft looked out of place at the modest terminal, like a Hummer parked outside a one-room, country schoolhouse. The plane seats 382, including a 72-passenger upper deck. Think Austin Powers meets Bull Durham.

Papelbon walked up the jetway stairs toting a nifty set of poker chips and a Tilt Brothers custom poker table. Behind Papelbon, Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury made plans for a marathon cribbage tournament. Once on board, team physician Larry Ronan (one of three team doctors making the trip) offered anti-embolism compression socks to anyone interested. Tim Wakefield rolled a pair of the old-man black stockings over his calves.

It took more than an hour to load the aircraft with assorted bags, bats, balls, a car-seat for 5-month old Manny Delcarmen Jr., eight cases of Red Bull (four regular and four sugar free), and the Wally the Green Monster suit.

"We have the costume, but we don't have Wally yet," said Sox executive Meg Vaillancourt. "Any volunteers?"

"I did that once already," said Kyle Snyder. "When I pitched in Wilmington, I was Mr. Celery for one game. It was hot in there."

At 6:41 p.m., the airplane chugged down the runway and lifted off for Chicago. Once aloft, John Henry circulated, shaking hands with many of the people on board. Still reeling from the chaotic events at the ballpark earlier in the day, chief executive officer Larry Lucchino sighed and said, "All's well that ends well."

The Sox landed in Chicago just after 9 p.m. and spilled off the plane into a holding area that had been stocked with good-old American hamburgers and hot dogs. David Ortiz engaged in a lengthy conversation with Lucchino while Curt Schilling chatted with Jason Varitek. Pedroia drew stares and laughter as he walked around wearing powder-blue shorts and knee-high black anti-embolism compression socks. Looking equally ridiculous, Papelbon padded around in red Crocs.

Proud dad Delcarmen charmed everyone, showing off Manny Jr., who was dangling from a chest-high pouch. Manny Ramírez walked arm-in-arm with his wife, Juliana, while many players took advantage of a final opportunity to make cellphone calls. Theo Epstein convened with his baseball ops mafia. Alex Cora asked a reporter about the Celtics' big win over Houston. Not many hamburgers were eaten.

When the Sox lifted off from O'Hare at 10:49 EST (still Wednesday), Veteran equipment czar Joe Cochran said, "Just think of this as two Tampa-to-Seattle trips, back-to-back."

There wasn't much activity on the 12-hour Chicago to Tokyo flight. A few laptops flickered, but otherwise the cabins were dark and quiet. These could have been the 1946 Red Sox riding the sleeper car train home from the World Series.

The ever-nocturnal Henry was up for much of the flight and when the aircraft approached airspace above Alaska, Henry, Wakefield, and Cora climbed to the upper compartment for a better view of the Northern Lights.

"I started a book at the beginning of this flight and now I'm almost finished," said the owner. As he spoke, Jerry Remy passed though, clutching three Snickers bars.

"Who knows what room service will be like," cautioned the RemDawg.

It was 11:15 a.m. in Boston when the Sox plane touched down on runway 34 at Haneda Airport in Tokyo. In Japan, it was early Friday morning (shortly after midnight). Players had changed back into their traveling clothes (shoes, collared shirts) as they lined up at the immigration station. Matsuzaka and Okajima sailed through the barren checkpoint reserved for those with Japanese passports while their teammates shuffled along the crowded ropes.

After immigration, players retrieved their own luggage (shades of Roger Clemens), then proceeded through customs and into the public sector, where dozens of photographers and a few autograph seekers were gathered. When he boarded the bus bound for the team hotel, Varitek was carrying the same pillow he had back in Fort Myers.

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