A's wowed by visit to U.S. Embassy
Before Oakland kicks off season, club makes cultural visit
TOKYO -- With their massive traveling flock of fans complementing the swarms in Japan who have signed up for the unofficial Far East chapter of Red Sox Nation, the defending World Series champions are clearly the headliners of Japan Opening Series 2008.
And that's been mostly fine by the A's, who understand what the presence of native sons Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima on the Red Sox's roster means to the locals. Besides, the A's have been treated like rock stars here, too.
On Tuesday, seven hours before the two teams kicked off the 2008 regular season with the first game of a two-game series at Tokyo Dome, some of them got another little taste of the high life when they represented the team at a reception at the American Embassy residence of U.S. Ambassador Tom Schieffer.
Veteran reliever Alan Embree, outfielder Travis Buck and closer Huston Street joined A's management and ownership, their Red Sox counterparts and Commissioner Bud Selig at a gathering that left Embree gushing.
"It was awesome," Embree said. "Beautiful place, the food was incredible, got to meet the ambassador. Probably the highlight of my trip."
For Embree, simply hearing the translator for Schieffer and Selig was every bit as cool as the glove formerly owned by Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig that Schieffer, a former president of the Texas Rangers, proudly displayed.
"I don't know, just hearing the words in Japanese, it reminds you that you're in another place -- and that this is a big deal," Embree explained. "I thought that was really cool."
Schieffer hosted the event to commemorate the season opener, and the embassy residence has more than a few nods to his home country's national pastime.
While several guests roamed the opulent garden outside, snapping photos of the fountain and surrounding greenery, many others roamed the halls, which were affixed with black-and-white photos of past U.S. presidents such as Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy and Franklin D. Roosevelt throwing out ceremonial first pitches.
"On behalf of Major League Baseball, it is a privilege and an honor to be here," said Selig. "This is the third time we've opened a season here, and each time it's gotten better."
The Commissioner's Trophy that annually goes to the winner of the World Series also was on display inside, and then there was Gehrig's glove. Schieffer said the Iron Horse lost his own glove during a playing tour of Japan in 1934 and was given a replacement by Mizuno. Gehrig, who was joined on that tour and on a visit to the embassy residence by Babe Ruth, presented the glove to the U.S. Ambassador as a gift.
The A's on Tuesday presented Schieffer with a gift of their own: An A's jersey.
"I'll wear this in Tokyo," Schieffer said. "But when I go back to Texas ..."
Buck listed Gehrig's glove and meeting Schieffer as the favorite parts of the 90-minute visit.
"I was very impressed by the embassy itself, too," Buck said. "It was an unbelievable experience all the way around -- something we're all going to remember for the rest of our lives."
Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.