Matsui's star still shines brightly in Japan

'Godzilla' throws first pitch to begin All-Star tour in home country

November 9th, 2018

TOKYO -- Hideki Matsui was first approached to be a Japan All-Star Series coach for the MLB team by his former Yankees manager, Joe Torre, who now works for the Commissioner's Office.
"As first, I was going to decline the offer," Matsui said, "But he bought me a very good dinner, at a very nice restaurant, and I couldn't turn down the offer."
Matsui, of course, was kidding. He was honored to be asked to be a part of the Major League staff during the Japan All-Star tour, and he's been enjoying his time back in the spotlight as a marquee attraction of the current three-city, seven-game tour through his native country.
Matsui has been retired from the game for several years -- his last season in the big leagues was 2012 with the Rays, which capped a 10-year career that began with his rookie season with the Yankees in '03. But as long as he continues to appear in baseball venues in Japan, he'll continue to draw considerable attention. This was clear in the first couple of days the Major League team visited the Tokyo Dome.
• Matsui's career stats
Matsui was, after all, nicknamed "Godzilla," and he remains one of the best success stories to emerge from the many Japanese players who have also starred in the big leagues.
Matsui, who will serve during this series as manager Don Mattingly's first-base coach, threw out the ceremonial first pitch on Friday, officially kicking off the six-game tournament between MLB and Japanese All-Stars.
"It's such a great thing that I'm back in Japan with this Yankees uniform on," Matsui said. "Even though I've never been a first-base coach before, which makes me overanxious, I'll try not to hurt the team. I'll try to contribute."

Matsui's mere presence has already elevated the prestige of the MLB All-Star team. Dozens of cameras have followed his every move as he navigates around the Tokyo Dome, the venue that used to be home to him when he starred as an outfielder with the Yomiuri Giants.
Matsui seamlessly glided through the process, shaking hands and posing for photos with myriad well-wishers.
"When Hideki was in New York, the following he had, it always amazed me the number of people who followed him, and reporting on what he was doing, his every move," Mattingly said. "It's great to have him here on our side. It's just an honor for me to be around Hideki. I have so much respect for him and the way he played and the work and the kind of player he was."
Matsui has had a front-row view for several Major League visits to his country. In 1996, as a member of the Yomiuri Giants, he was named MVP of the Japan team by the MLB All-Stars. In 2004, he was the primary attraction when his Yankees played the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in a regular season-opening series at the Tokyo Dome.
In his first at-bat during an exhibition game against his former team, Matsui sent the sellout crowd of 55,000 into a frenzy with a solo homer to right-center field.

"My participation in this event [goes] back [to] 1996, 22 years ago," Matsui said. "Back then, I was really excited to see those players that I looked up to -- Pedro Martinez and Barry Bonds. Those super, superstars were here. That was a great joy and fun for all the Japanese players. I don't think it's ever changed. I believe the Japanese players are feeling the same way as well."
Matsui, who recorded more than 100 RBIs in four of his 10 Major League seasons, is more of a spectator this time around. But judging from the reaction he still receives when he shows up at the Tokyo Dome, his star hasn't dimmed.
"This time I'm a coach, and I'm trying to support the team as much as possible," he said. "We have a great opportunity, we're having a great experience this time."