TOKYO -- The A's went into Opening Series Japan 2008 knowing they were in for a host of unforgettable experiences, and they weren't disappointed in the slightest.
The introductory news conference gave a handful of players their first taste of working with -- and occasionally, with often hilarious results, against -- interpreters.
The pair of exhibition games against Nippon Baseball League opponents at Tokyo Dome gave them a look at the surreal scene that is batting practice in Japanese professional baseball; the use of two batting cages simultaneously and constant movement all over the diamond might best be described as straddling the line between precision and chaos.
"It's insane," said shortstop Bobby Crosby
The exhibition games also gave them a feel for the passion that Japanese fans bring to the yard; the brass bands, flags, songs and chants promoted catcher Rob Bowen to declare the scene "like the Super Bowl times a million."
Spending free time out on the town gave them a chance to truly soak in the buzzing culture of Tokyo, a trip to the U.S. Embassy gave some of them a brief glimpse at political prestige, and Tuesday's season opener against the Red Sox brought everything full circle -- but only after a wildly elaborate pregame ceremony, which featured roughly 200 people, on the field brought the A's onto the top step of their dugout, digital cameras in hand.
"It's been everything we expected it to be," said manager Bob Geren. "It's been incredible."
What the A's didn't necessarily figure they'd get, but did get as something of a bonus, was a jump-start on the kind of clubhouse bonding that sometimes takes teams a few months to forge.
The long flight, language barriers, body-clock battles and close quarters brought the A's, a young team with many new faces, together in a way that they hope will pay dividends back in the United States.
"I think it was a really good trip as far as that goes," said second baseman Mark Ellis, the longest-tenured Athletic who made the trek to Tokyo. "It kind of forces you to get close real quick, and that's great, especially for this team. We've got a lot of young guys and new guys, and I think everyone got to know each other a little better here."
First baseman Daric Barton, the most heralded of Oakland's four rookies and the youngest member of the team, wholeheartedy agreed.
"The camaraderie we got from being here, I don't think you get that at Spring Training or on a normal road trip," said Barton, 22. "At Spring Training, everyone kind of goes their own way at the end of the day, especially the guys with wives or girlfriends. There's some wives and girlfriends here, too, but here we all go back to the same place, the hotel.
Returning from Japan
"So you see each other a little more, and you start hanging out with different guys. Last year, when I got called up [in September], I didn't really talk to many people, except [third baseman Jack] Hannahan. Now I feel like I know everybody, and everybody seems to get along with each other."
Geren said he hadn't thought about the bonding benefit of the trip until it was mentioned to him.
"But now that I'm thinking about it, I have noticed a lot of [players] doing things in larger groups," he said, adding that he's seen 10-12 of his charges at the same restaurant. "A lot of teams use the first two months of the season to jell together, but an event like this ... kind of speeds that up a little."
Geren planned to give his team, which arrives in Oakland from Tokyo early Wednesday evening, a day off before the exhibition season resumes with a three-game series against the Giants. There's a day off after the Bay Bridge series, too, so the skipper's hoping everyone's body clock has adjusted back to life on West Coast time by the time the Red Sox roll into town for another two-game series, April 1-2 at McAfee Coliseum.
"The schedule is about as good as you can make it," Geren said. "It was done perfectly. ... Nothing's been left to chance."
Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.