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Tanaka charters Dreamliner for New York flight

TOKYO--Japanese baseball sensation Masahiro Tanaka chartered his own Boeing 787 Dreamliner to fly him to New York, with the entire plane taken up by his five-strong party and his pet dog.

The ace pitcher, who has just signed a seven-year deal worth US$155 million with the New York Yankees, is believed to have splashed out 20 million yen (US$195,000) of his own money on the one-way flight.

“It's a (chartered) private jet. It's not something the Yankees have prepared,” he told reporters at Narita Airport near Tokyo on Sunday.

Japan Airlines (JAL) confirmed he used one of its Boeing 787s but declined to disclose further details.

Jiji Press news agency said Tanaka booked out the whole plane — which usually has about 200 seats — for a group of five, including him and his wife. His pet dog — — a brown Toy Poodle — was also aboard, the Sports Nippon said.

JAL said the plane had been booked ahead of the heavy snow that hit Japan over the weekend, grounding all regular commercial flights to New York on Sunday and causing travel chaos around the Japanese capital.

Even with the luxury of his own airliner, Tanaka did not escape the weather-induced misery, with his journey from a Tokyo hotel to the airport by car taking eight-and-a-half hours.

Tanaka paid for the plane in order to take part in the team's camp “in the best of form,” a Japanese baseball official who accompanied him reportedly said.

He is to hold a press conference at Yankees Stadium on Tuesday before going to Florida for team training camp.

Tanaka, playing for the Sendai-based Rakuten Eagles, was unbeaten last season.

The right-hander went 24-0 with a 1.27 earned-run average and 183 strikeouts with only 32 walks in 212 innings for the Japan Series champion Eagles.

The Dreamliner has suffered a series of glitches since being rolled out by Boeing, most notably with the battery system, which last year saw the global fleet grounded for testing.

No problems were reported with Tanaka's flight.

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