<
>

Way too Far East

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- This globalization of baseball is a beautiful thing. Let's make sure that's understood right out of the box.

Thanks to the miracle of globalization, in fact, baseball's high-ranking magicians have accomplished something many Americans have been dreaming of for decades now:

They've figured out a way to make the New York Yankees disappear for an entire day.

"We're just skipping Friday," Yankees pitcher Gabe White reported Thursday, as his team headed for the airport to begin its leisurely 18-hour journey to Tokyo. "It's true. We don't even have Friday. They don't even list Friday on the itinerary."

Yep, it's actually printed out for all of them to see, in official black ink: For the finest team 185 million U.S. dollars can buy, Friday will cease to exist. What a concept.

Now, if the Red Sox could just figure out how to pull off that trick for another 162 days, imagine what a happy summer they could have.

The bad news for them, though, is that the laws of nature won't permit that. After Friday, the Yankees will be allowed to exist again -- pretty much forever, in fact.

They woke up Thursday morning in Tampa. And the next thing they're scheduled to be aware of, they'll be getting off a plane across a real big ocean, and it will be early Saturday morning.

In between, according to their official documents, will be an experience that doesn't quite qualify as out-of-body but certainly qualifies as out-of-continent.

It involves many, many hours of flying, napping, flying, reading, flying, movie-watching, flying, computer-doodling, flying, eating, flying, drinking, flying, boredom and flying. Followed by more flying and more all of the above. And have we mentioned that, in the meantime, they'll be flying a while?

"I get jet lag going West Coast to East Coast," said first baseman Tony Clark. "So I can't imagine what this will be like."

Oh, it'll be the King Kong of jet lag, all right. But at least it's for a good cause:

Globalization.

We're all for it.

Just not in this case.

There are many tremendous justifications for sending the Yankees (not to mention your best supporting actors, the Devil Rays) to the Tokyo Dome to showcase the greatest sport on earth. We know that.

Just not in the regular season.

We admit it isn't politically correct to say this. We know there is money to be made and good will to be spread and fans to be converted.

But all of that -- 100 percent -- can be accomplished in other ways, and certainly in a different time of the year.

Those November All-Star tours? Tremendous.

Want to send the Yankees over to kick off spring training? Fabulous.

The World Cup? Bring it on. The bigger, the better.

But sending teams 7,000 miles to play games that count? Shouldn't happen.

Let's try to sum up just some of the reasons for that:

1) Face it. Japan, for all its baseball-loving citizens, has one minor problem: It just can't figure out a way to make itself conveniently located.

2) We have nothing against time differences, but 14 hours isn't an irritant. It's vertigo. Even if we ignore what it will do to the body clocks off all those players, there's still this:

Alex Rodriguez's first at-bat for the New York Yankees -- a debut we've spent more time hyping this spring than Dream Job -- will be AT 5 O'CLOCK IN THE STINKING MORNING, NEW YORK TIME. Market THAT.

3) You hate to bring up matters like this. But the world is a volatile place these days. And we know there are members of both teams' traveling parties who have privately expressed concern about those unspoken dangers. The Yankees are one of the ultimate symbols of America. So who knows what emotions their presence might inspire, aside from, "Yay, Matsui."

And 4) these two teams don't exist on an island. They exist in a sport with 28 other teams. And none of those 28 have to deal with any of these issues. They get to go through a regular old spring training, in the regular old places, in the regular old span of time. And then they open the season in the regular old way they always do.

The Yankees and Devil Rays, on the other hand, are stuck working on an entirely different playing field -- and not just over the next week. They've dealt with it for the last month and a half. And they'll be dealing with it even more over the next two weeks.

The Devil Rays were able to play exactly 18 spring-training games before getting on the plane Thursday. The Yankees, thanks to their split-squad drawing powers, played 22.

But a bunch of other teams out there will play more than 30 games this spring. That computes to more innings their starting pitchers will be able to go, more time to make the right roster decisions and, in general, just more normalcy.

Look, we know nobody will cry for the Yankees. Over anything. Their playing field isn't equal to anyone else's in about 2 zillion other areas, obviously. And they never apologize for any of that. They do their thing, and if you don't like it, tough.

But it's the principle of this issue that attracts our attention -- not the specifics of The Yankees Issue, which we can all resume debating some other time.

And on this issue, they're being asked to do things that even the New York Yankees shouldn't be asked to do.

Baseball is a rhythm sport. But over the next couple of weeks, the Yankees and Devil Rays will have trouble remembering that.

Both played games Thursday in Florida. They don't play again until Sunday, when both play exhibition games in Japan. Then they play exhibitions Sunday and Monday against Japanese teams, play games that count against each other Tuesday and Wednesday, get back on the plane and take two more days off.

After that, the Yankees will encounter the ideal cure for jet lag -- the Tigers. Whom they'll face April 3, in a Grapefruit League game, which will take place four days after their regular-season opener.

After which they'll play another exhibition game against some minor leaguers, take another day off and then start the regular season again, in Tampa Bay.

So by the time they play their first game at Yankee Stadium on April 8, they'll essentially be "starting the season three different times," said manager Joe Torre. "We have three Opening Days in three different cities" -- not to mention in two different countries.

"So that will be strange," Torre said. And if it turns out to be a 1-4 start kind of strange, we can pretty much assure you that you'll be hearing arguments just like this one from Boss Steinbrenner.

But in the meantime, the Yankees aren't complaining. About much of anything. They're just trying to deal with the challenges of commuting halfway around the planet -- a commute that will no doubt guarantee that none of them will ever complain about a bus ride to Fort Myers for the rest of their careers.

"I brought every car magazine and every hot-rod magazine I could think of," White said. "I brought 10 new DVDs. I even brought Game Boy Advanced."

Asked which eight or nine major motion pictures he planned to watch en route, White replied: "I brought nine or 10 I haven't seen. But you know, the biggest concern I think everyone has is: More movies than batteries."

Hmmm. That is trouble. But that will be a minor crisis compared with trying to follow the hour-by-hour schedule trainer Gene Monahan has put together for the trip.

There's a timetable for just about everything: Napping, serious sleeping, water and Gatorade guzzling, eating, stretching, recreation, even restroom visits.

"Instead of getting on the plane and just sleeping, we've got a little game plan to it," said catcher John Flaherty. "So we'll see how that works out."

Sure will. Then, five days later, just when they're getting used to Japan time, they have to get back on the plane and do it all over again.

"We lose Friday," White said. "But coming back, we get Groundhog's Day twice. We fly all day. And we still land about the same time we leave."

It's that second wave of Jet Lag II that the Mets and Cubs complained about after they opened in Japan a few years ago. And Torre admits he's worried about all the stories he has heard about travelers who return and "have a tough time" re-adjusting. The Yankees, he said, are determined not to hear so many of those tales that they "buy into that."

But it's one thing to be determined. It's another thing to actually pull it off.

We're sure if anyone has researched the science of doing that, it's the Yankees. But this is no Cleveland-Oakland-Baltimore road trip we're talking about. This is closer to a trip on the Mars probe. And why any team should have to be dealing with this when there's a season to play is a question we can't get a decent answer to.

But it's too late for those answers now. So there they were Thursday, playing a game in an intimate little Florida ballpark with a Tiki bar in left field. And then off they headed ... for the wild blue yonder.

"It'll be different," Tony Clark admitted. "That's for sure. It was different just packing up the suitcase last night -- and thinking, 'Boy, the next time we get off that plane, it'll be a whole new juego.' "

Will it ever. It's a juego so far from home, in fact, that ESPN will be televising it -- but using announcers sitting in a studio in Connecticut.

"Really?" joked one Yankees player when he heard that news recently. "Any chance we can do that?"

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Click here to send Jayson a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.