Valentine upset MLB games will compete with Japan league games

Bobby Valentine has nothing against the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics opening Major League Baseball's 2008 season in Japan. It's just the timing of it he can't understand.

The former Texas Rangers and New York Mets manager will be on the bench as his Chiba Lotte Marines take on Sadaharu Oh's Softbank Hawks in Fukuoka just as the Red Sox and A's meet at Tokyo Dome next week in their MLB season opener.

Few people are better qualified to comment on the merits of Japanese and American baseball than Valentine, who believes Japan is selling itself short by hosting MLB games while launching its own season.

"I hope the Red Sox and A's have a great time here and I'm sure everyone will enjoy it but it's ludicrous that our games will be going on at the same time," Valentine said. "The timing is a mistake and I guess that's something that slipped through the cracks when they were planning the schedules."

With all the fanfare surrounding the arrival in Japan of World Series champion Boston and its Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, the opening of Japan's professional baseball season on Thursday seems like an afterthought.

Not for Valentine.

Entering his sixth season as manager of the Marines, Valentine is as big a booster of Japanese baseball as he is of his own team and thinks the game here is letting the major leagues steal the spotlight on its home turf.

"The [Japanese] players are proving that the talent level here is on par with Major League Baseball but the Japan Professional Baseball business model is lagging behind," said Valentine.

Valentine has 1,117 wins over 15 seasons as a manager in the majors with the Rangers and Mets.

He led the Marines to the Japan Series championship in 2005 and the team has been a contender ever since.

He is one of three American managers in Japanese baseball this season. The others are Terry Collins with the Orix Buffaloes and Marty Brown with the Hiroshima Carp.

After winning the Japan Series, Valentine proposed his team take on the 2005 World Series champion Chicago White Sox in a seven-game series in Hawaii.

Major League Baseball, which was getting set to launch the 2006 World Baseball Classic, balked at the idea but it's one Valentine is still passionate about.

Off the field, Valentine has done everything he can to help promote Japanese baseball and his club does a better job than most teams in Japan of getting more fans out to the ballpark.

The dual challenge of getting his team to the Japan Series and helping to invigorate the game in Japan is something that appeals to the 57-year-old Valentine, who could have made himself available for consideration for several major league jobs during the offseason including the chance to manage the New York Yankees.

But he chooses to stay in Japan.

"I love the Lotte organization," Valentine said Tuesday. "I love the direction the team is going in and I love my life here in Japan on and off the field."