Godzilla a hit
Matsui delivers RBI single in first major league at-batPosted: Monday March 31, 2003 10:59 PM
Updated: Tuesday April 01, 2003 12:19 AM
TORONTO (AP) -- Before Hideki Matsui could walk out of the New York Yankees' dugout and through a sea of cameras for batting practice, teammate Derek Jeter made an announcement.
"Here's Hideki Matsui!" Jeter called out.
Not that Matsui needed any introduction. The most famous player on the most famous team in Japan made his debut with the Yankees on Monday night against the Toronto Blue Jays.
He got off to an impressive start, hitting an RBI single in the first inning against Roy Halladay. Matsui finished 1-for-4 as the Yankees beat the Blue Jays 8-4.
"That was a big at-bat for him, especially with two outs to get a base hit," Yankees manager Joe Torre said.
Matsui has been the center of attention in Toronto, from the horde of Japanese, American and Canadian media asking him how he'll adjust to the majors to a controversial advertisement the Blue Jays took out in Sunday's newspapers.
The ad, which urged fans in Japanese and English to boo Matsui, was altered Monday. The Blue Jays dropped the "Boo Matsui" part, but the Yankees' cap was still depicted with bird droppings on it.
Toronto manager Carlos Tosca apologized to Torre for the ad. Torre said he had no ill feelings toward the Blue Jays and his only concern was if fans did more than boo.
"Booing is fine if it stops there," he said. "It scares me to think about throwing things. We've all seen that. If you start with a negative and create an anger type of thing, that's my concern. We've been booed as much as anyone. I understand that. It's all in fun."
Matsui got a mixed reaction in pregame introductions and before his first at-bat. He didn't wait to swing, hitting a hard grounder through the left side to drive in the Yankees' first run of the season.
The opposite-field hit was not what people expected from the power hitter. It was more like one from slap-hitting Ichiro Suzuki, who won the AL MVP with Seattle two years ago in his first season from Japan.
The Blue Jays were also concerned about the prospect that fans could boo the U.S. national anthem before the game and God Bless America in the seventh inning.
On March 20, the U.S. anthem was booed at a Montreal Canadiens game in protest of the U.S.-led war in Iraq. There haven't been any additional instances of booing, but the Blue Jays were concerned anyway.
Toronto Maple Leafs hockey player Tie Domi introduced the anthem that was performed by Shawn Desman. Lincoln Alexander, a popular former politician in Ontario, introduced God Bless America in the seventh inning.
"I wouldn't appreciate it if they did it," said Blue Jays shortstop Chris Woodward, a native of California. "Obviously now, it means a lot with our troops having died in Iraq. It makes it worse when you think about the people who have lost their life protecting you and then somebody boos you. That would affect us."
There was no need to worry. The fans started cheering during the anthem and gave a loud ovation at the end. They also cheered God Bless America, although one fan did hold up a sign that read: "All Bless Iraq."
Earlier Monday, a member of parliament said that a Canadian song should also be played in the seventh inning because that's where the game is played.
Matsui has done his best to tune out all the distractions. He got similar treatment in Japan, where he was a three-time MVP in the Central League. He hit 332 homers in 10 seasons, including 50 last year, earning the nickname Godzilla for his prodigious power.
"I'm used to it because in Japan it's the same way," he said through an interpreter. "It's not that I'm completely comfortable with it. But it's not to the point where it's bothersome. I'm used to it."
Matsui admitted being a bit nervous for the opener but said he didn't do anything special other than eat a good Japanese lunch. He said his family and friends back home would watch the game at 9:05 a.m. local time.
Many fans gathered to watch at the Baseball Cafe next to Matsui's old home, the Tokyo Dome. They were pleased with what they saw.
"He went with the pitch and it was clutch hitting," said Hideki Yasuoka, a restaurant worker who took a day off to watch the game. "My boss wasn't too happy but I really wanted to see this because it's a part of history."
Torre said he wouldn't seek out Matsui to give him any special advice before the game.
"I probably do him a favor by treating him like everyone else on the team," Torre said. "He seems to like that treatment. It would help everything if I don't single him out. There's enough attention on him already without his manager getting in the way."