Saturday, March 31, 2012

Tar Heels Play the Tokyo Dome

I'm a huge fan of Japan, baseball, and the North Carolina Tar Heels. It's a rarity when I can combine all three, but that happened last week, when MLB officially kicked off the 2012 season in Tokyo. Fortunately, I was able to make the trip to Japan to see the Seattle Mariners and the Oakland Athletics play a two-game series as well as exhibition games against the Hanshin Tigers and the Yomiuri Giants.

The Seattle Mariners have two players who were stars during their college days at Carolina, Dustin Ackley and Kyle Seager.

Seattle's starting second baseman, Dustin Ackley is a native of Walnut Cove, North Carolina, and had a record-setting career in Chapel Hill. In Tokyo, the Mariners' first-round pick (second overall) in the 2009 MLB draft had a couple of good games. Ackley was 0-3 as the Mariners lost in an exhibition against the Hanshin Tigers on March 25, but the next day he connected for a solo home run and a triple in Seattle's 9-3 loss to the Yomiuri Giants.

Ackley began the 2012 MLB season in fine fashion, going 2 for 5 with a home run, 2 RBI, and 2 runs scored in the opener against the A's. Since he drove in the game-winning run in the top of the 11th, I'll overlook the throwing error he had in this game. In game two of the MLB series, Ackley's bat was a silent as his teammates', as he went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts.

Ackley rounds third after his home run against the A's

The Mariners selected Kyle Seager of Kannapolis, North Carolina, in the third round of the 2009 draft. Seager was 0 for 1 in a pinch-hit appearance against Hanshin, but he had an RBI single as a starter in Seattle's contest with the Giants. He didn't play in the Mariners' first game against the A's, but an injury to left fielder Mike Carp forced Seattle manager Eric Wedge to juggle the lineup, allowing Seager to get the start at third base. He was 0 for 3 with a strikeout.

Seager at third base

The Oakland A's also have a Tar Heel on their roster, relief pitcher Andrew Carignan. Carignan, a teammate of both Ackley and Seager at Carolina, took the loss in game one after giving up the game-winning hit to Ackley.

Ackley has a pregame chat with teammates Chone Figgins and the iconic Ichiro

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