Claiming “it’s no stretch to think half of Japan’s 127 million residents” will be watching Daisuke Matzusaka versus Ichiro on Opening Day (depsite a 4am start time), Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan considers MLB’s ambitious international expansion plans.

“We’d love the Yao Ming effect,” says Paul Archy, Major League Baseball’s VP for international operations.

Simply put, he’s hoping for one Chinese player who can change the sport’s landscape in that country. He’ll settle for a Nomo or Wang “ anything to give entree into the world’s largest marketplace, one baseball found itself shut out of for so long because of Mao Zedong’s distaste for the sport. Baseball plans a regular-season game in China as soon as 2008, and Archey said there will be games in Europe over the next five years.

“There’s nothing that excites a marketplace and energizes your business partners like having a game there,” he said. “We know that if you play the game you’re more likely to become a fan and more likely to watch television. We’ve seen in places we tried to grow it, when we get bats and balls in kids’ hands, they may not become major leaguers, but they enjoy the game and want to play it.”

Sometimes. In Europe and South Africa, where baseball has tried to catch on, the game remains a novelty, and the sport awaits its first Australian star. To believe baseball can infiltrate China “ and not only do that, but steal market share from the well-established basketball “ takes big, and perhaps excessive, hubris.

“I don’t know how you make it work in total,” said Maury Brown, who runs and is a writer for Baseball Prospectus. “Do you like NFL Europe? Shoot for a true World Series? There’s been a dropping off in interest among America’s youth, and instead of trying to get the country, we’ll go international.

“It certainly has appeal in Central and South America and the Caribbean. Whether it has the appeal in Europe, China “ it’s a tough sell.”

Closer to home, the Mets’ David Wright is said to be dropping $6.5 million on a 4100 square foot penthouse apartment in Manhattan’s Flatiron District.  Good news for Dr. Jaerock Lee, then, as David will surely have space for his close friend to crash after a late night of overindulgence.