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There are some 80 of them here, an odd lot of reporters, camera people and technical personnel, all from Japan and all gathered outside the visitors' dugout at Fenway Park. They are outfitted in the finest threads that globalized MallAmerica has to offer. Many of them are desperate for a smoke, and all of them are here to chronicle the life and times of a single man, albeit one whose face appears on teacups all over Japan. Above them, long boom microphones give the pack the look of one giant bedenimed insect.� They are beginning to wander, some of them. The famous Green Monster is attracting some attention, so Isao Hirooka, a former Tokyo sportswriter turned media wrangler for the New York Yankees, digs his heel into the reddish clay and draws a line in the dirt. "Here," he says. "We all stay behind this liner."� And they do.� All of them.
When the Yankees come out and Hideki Matsui joins his teammates in their stretching exercises on the grass, entangling himself in one of those long rubber bands that are now popular with athletic trainers (but that look for all the world like toys out of the specialty closets at the Mustang Ranch), the media blob billows outward to record every loosening hammy. But none of them ever crosses Hirooka's line—which is something that cannot be said of any other passel of reporters covering any other person at any other place in the country.
"I am very busy handling Japanese media," says Hirooka, who covered Matsui as he became a national icon with the Yomiuri Giants. "I have to make a good relationship between the [ New York] beat writers and the Japanese media. Hideki was worried about that—if he comes to the New York Yankees, then lots of Japanese media will come to the United States, and Hideki doesn't want [that] to bother his teammates or the Yankee people. He doesn't want that to bother the beat people."
It already has been an eventful day. Pedro Martinez has been scratched as the Boston starter with an injured back muscle. This, of course, affects not only the Red Sox but also the Yankees, the rest of the East Division and the entire American League. Here, though, inside the Matsuicentric bubble, it means only that tonight Matsui will not be facing the great Martinez for the first time as a major leaguer. In Japan, 13 hours ahead of Boston, several million readers are just now waking up and reading several hundred stories about a confrontation that will not take place.
None of the reporters is as disappointed as Yasushi Washida, a magazine writer who has flown in this morning specifically to write a long story about the Matsui-Martinez moment. Instead he will write about Matsui and Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra, who first played against each other in a high school all-star game in California. "I have come right here from the hotel," Washida says. "I will go home tomorrow." Nobody—not Mickey Mantle on his worst, whiskeyed morning—ever has come to the ballpark groggier than Washida.
Times change. Babe Ruth didn't have his sybaritic gymnastics dissected on the radio by Ralph from Queens. Whitey Ford could doctor a baseball into a cube and not be concerned about turning up on Nightline in the company of Jayson Blair, Martha Stewart and the boys from Enron. And Granny Rice never had to confront on his daily rounds nearly a hundred sports journalists from a sports-happy country dedicated solely to the coverage of a single player, especially one who was hitting .268 and carrying approximately the same power numbers as Todd Zeile. However, in the month of June, Matsui gave everyone an awful lot to write—and telecast—back home about. He hit .394 with 29 RBIs and a .673 slugging percentage as the Yankees began to take command of the East Division. He put a 4-for-5 game on the Cincinnati Reds on June 5 and, later in the month, tore up the New York Mets, batting .522 in six games of the bridge-and-tunnel set, with three home runs, including a grand slam. For this, in his 11th year of professional baseball, Matsui was named the American League's Rookie of the Month.
"There probably are too many of us," says Yusuke Kamata, a TV producer with Fujisankei Communications who's covered the major leagues for four years. "But he has never complained. When he is 0 for 5, when he makes two errors, when he hits a home run, he talks to us. That makes everyone's job so much easier. The most surprising thing is that he talks to us every day."
Their internal journalistic clocks are on Japanese time. Their deadlines make game stories irrelevant almost before they're written, and anyway the only story is Matsui. In Japan everything that happens to the Yankees—nay, everything that happens in the major leagues—is reported in the context of how it affects Matsui. When Yankees manager Joe Torre, improvising against a spate of injuries, moved Matsui up to the second spot in the batting order for a game in late May, the story was not that Bernie Williams had a bad knee or Derek Jeter a balky hamstring but that Matsui had never batted second in his...entire...career.
After every game they set themselves up in a place apart from their American colleagues—in an unused locker room in Yankee Stadium, outside the clubhouse in a damp brick corridor here in Fenway—and Matsui speaks to them for 10 minutes. (He talks with the U.S. media through an interpreter, a young Arizona grad named Roger Kahlon, who was born and raised in Tokyo.) Then he goes back into the clubhouse, and his attendant press corps seems to disappear right into the walls.
"They don't come into the clubhouse," says Yankees broadcaster Michael Kay. "They might come in one at a time, but they don't flood the place. They've made so little difference, except on the field before a game, when you see how many they are."