Hideki Matsui thrills kids with HR at Play Ball event for those affected by Noto Peninsula earthquake

May 30th, 2024

Former Yankees slugger and Yomiuri Giants star Hideki Matsui hit 508 career home runs split between his time in the NPB and the Major Leagues. But a home run the now-49 year-old hit earlier this month may be one of the most meaningful of all: That's because he hit it in his original hometown, Nomi City in the Ishikawa Prefecture. Matsui, along with MLB Japan and his Matsui 55 Baseball Foundation, hosted a Play Ball event for 150 schoolchildren that had been affected by the Noto Peninsula earthquake on New Year's Day.

"When I was active as a player, I didn't play thinking that I absolutely had to hit a home run," Matsui recently told MLB.com. "On the other hand, I knew I absolutely had to hit a home run in front of the children that were there, so you could say I was feeling a little bit of that pressure."

The children came from the nearby areas -- Suzu, Wajima, Nanao, Noto, Anamizu and Shika -- that had been most affected by the New Year's Day earthquake, which claimed more than 200 lives and led to widespread devastation in the region.

"Absolutely," Matsui said when asked if this event felt personal to him. "Especially this time, as many children who were affected by the earthquake in January came to the event. It was nice to see their smiling faces and interact with them through the game of baseball. It was also an opportunity for me to remember what it was like when I was their age."

It's clear by Matsui's words and actions that the city and the children who call it home mean a lot to him.

"It is a place rich in nature where time flows peacefully," Matsui said about Nomi. "I grew up by the sea, but there are also mountains. There is a countryside landscape near my parents' house, from where you can see the beautiful white mountains. It is also the birthplace of Kutani ware, which is famous throughout Japan."

"Ishikawa is the prefecture where Hideki was born and raised," Taka Shirai, Executive Director for Hideki’s Matsui 55 Baseball Foundation said. "We were already thinking of how we could contribute to the prefecture that was devastated by the New Year's Day earthquake. Then MLB Japan reached out to us. We thought that collaborating with MLB Japan would make it more meaningful and impactful for the participants, their families and the prefecture. We were very pleased to see a lot of smiles at the Play Ball event on May 5."

During the day's events, players got to partake in pitching, hitting and running drills before watching Matsui show off his swing out on the field. On his 26th attempt of the day, the man known as "Godzilla" smashed a home run over the right-field fence to a delighted crowd.

When one of the children asked him how he learned to hit home runs, Matsui replied with a smile.

"You have to hit it hard and with accuracy," Matsui said. "Don't worry about failing. You just have to keep on practicing."

With the event over, but still plenty to be done in the region, MLB Japan will donate youth gloves, bats and balls to nurseries and kindergartens across the hardest struck regions in the prefecture.

“It was a pleasure to be able to work with Mr. Matsui in organizing this special event, and bringing a smile to youth affected by the disaster," MLB Japan managing director Sami Kawakami said. "Our hope is that all participants had a great day and went home with a brighter outlook towards the future.”

"There are many still experiencing difficulties following the earthquake," Matsui said after the day was finished. "Just like baseball, you have to keep your head and hopes up for a better future. I hope we can all keep this in our hearts and spend good time with our youth."