Everything you need to know about the Japan Opening Series
Masterpress / Getty Images Sport / Getty

The 2019 Major League Baseball regular season will officially kick off in Tokyo, Japan, on Wednesday when the Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics participate in the Japan Opening Series.

It's the first time that regular season games will be played in Japan since 2008, when the Boston Red Sox and Athletics opened the campaign at the Tokyo Dome.

Here's everything you need to know about the upcoming two-game set.

When and where?

Masterpress / Getty Images Sport / Getty
Date Time (ET) Mariners' SP Athletics' SP TV
March 20* 5:35 a.m. Marco Gonzales Mike Fiers ESPN/MLB.com
March 21 5:35 a.m. Yusei Kikuchi Marco Estrada ESPN/MLB.com

* Mariners beat Athletics 9-7. WP: Marco Gonzales, LP: Mike Fiers, SV: Hunter Strickland

Both games will take place at the Tokyo Dome, with Oakland officially serving as the home team.

That designation doesn't mean much, except that the Athletics will only get 79 true home games at the Coliseum this season. And it means even less when considering that the Tokyo crowd will almost certainly treat the Mariners like the home side during games.

Why? For starters, Seattle will run out Ichiro Suzuki for what could be the final games of his Hall of Fame career. Additionally, pitcher Yusei Kikuchi will make his first career major-league start after signing with Seattle from the Japan league (NPB) this offseason. It's somewhat unfortunate that the Seibu Lions - Kikuchi's old team - weren't included in the recent NPB vs. MLB exhibition games, but the Japan native will undoubtedly be given a hero's welcome during his start on March 21.

Yes, these games count

Masterpress / Getty Images Sport / Getty

The Mariners and A's traveled to Japan last week and took part in exhibition games against teams from NPB. Next, their head-to-head matchups in Tokyo will count toward the MLB regular-season standings.

After the Japan Series, the Athletics will resume their spring training schedule with three exhibition games against the San Francisco Giants. Then, they'll continue their regular season by hosting four contests against the Los Angeles Angels.

The Mariners will also travel back to the United States and play spring training games against the Cincinnati Reds, Los Angeles Angels, and San Diego Padres before resuming their regular season with a four-game set against the defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox.

Who are the players to watch?

Masterpress / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Ichiro Suzuki, Mariners: Though Japanese fans are holding out hope that Ichiro will return home for a final run in NPB, the Japan Series is likely to feature the 45-year-old icon's final playing appearances in his homeland. And despite musing that he wants to suit up until age 50, this is also likely the last time Ichiro will don a big-league uniform. He's gone just 2-for-25 in spring training this year, and he's unlikely to stick on the rebuilding Mariners roster after the Japan games. But while Ichiro is clearly a shell of his former self, the potential for one last big moment from the future Hall of Famer is reason alone to tune in.

Franklin Barreto, A's: The former top prospect is coming off a fantastic spring performance that saw him slash .375/.459/.594 in Cactus League play. The production earned Barreto a spot on the expanded roster for the Athletics' trip to Japan, but there's no guarantee he'll stick around when the team returns to Oakland. The 23-year-old has the misfortune of competing for a spot in a crowded A's infield, and since he's got minor-league options, Las Vegas is probably where he'll head next. Before that happens, the Tokyo games represent a big opportunity for Barreto to turn some heads.

Yusei Kikuchi, Mariners: When Ichiro isn't at bat, all eyes will be on another returning Japanese player in Kikuchi. The left-hander joined the Mariners as a free agent this winter after dominating with the NPB's Seibu Lions, and he'll become the first Japanese player to make an MLB debut on home soil when he starts Game 2 of the series. Kikuchi's already been given the rock-star treatment in Japan this week, and the Tokyo crowd will surely be in his corner.

Former players being honored

Atsushi Tomura / Getty Images Sport / Getty

The Japan Series will feature a number of former players throwing out first pitches, catching first pitches, and standing in the batter's box. The list includes Masanori Murakami, the first Japanese player in history to move to MLB, as well as Hall of Fame legends Rickey Henderson and Ken Griffey Jr.

Date First Pitch Catcher Batter
March 20 Kazuhiro Sasaki Kenji Johjima Rickey Henderson
March 21 Keiichi Yabu Akinori Iwamura Ken Griffey Jr.
Everything you need to know about the Japan Opening Series
  Got something to say? Leave a comment below!
Daily Newsletter
Get the latest trending sports news daily in your inbox