|Kyodo News International, Tokyo|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Oct. 4, 2004 - TOKYO -- Major Japanese tour operators are hoping there will be more demand next year for tours to the United States to watch major league baseball following the Seattle Mariners' outfielder Ichiro Suzuki's record-breaking performance this season.
"We are hoping it will stir demand for tours to go and watch (major league) baseball matches next season," an official of a major travel agent said after Suzuki set a single-season major league hits record Friday when he increased his season total to 259 hits.
JTB Corp. has been organizing tours to see major league baseball matches ever since Suzuki joined the Mariners after the 2000 season.
JTB's sales target for major league baseball tours this year was 8,000 tourists, 3,000 more than the actual figure for last year. JTB did not organize any special tours this year to see the Mariners' matches as it was difficult to predict when Suzuki would break the record, JTB officials said.
Kinki Nippon Tourist Co. has seen the number of its major league baseball tours top that of last year by around 20 percent, company officials said.
Eiko Sato, a spokeswoman at Kinki Nippon Tourist, said, "There is a possibility that tourists will increase next year with Japanese players making great performances." Meanwhile, major sporting goods maker Mizuno Corp., which has been selling "Ichiro-model" bats and gloves, said its goods are selling according to plan. Ichiro uses Mizuno equipment.
Even though sales of such goods did not surge in the lead-up to Friday, when Suzuki broke the record, a Mizuno official said, "Among Japanese major leaguers, the top two popular models are Ichiro and Hideki Matsui of the New York Yankees." Mizuno had also considered campaigns to commemorate Suzuki's hits record, but gave up the plan as only U.S. sports goods makers are allowed to hold campaigns linked to major league records, company officials said.
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