March 20, 2005


Yankee Ingenuity, via Japan (TYLER KEPNER, 3/20/05, NY Times)

Hideki Matsui prepares his own snacks. He cooks rice and pats it into lumps. He stuffs the lumps with salmon, wraps them in seaweed and eats them just before games. The menu in the players' lounge does not include rice balls, so Matsui adapts. He always does.

As Matsui enters his third season with the Yankees, the striking thing is how seamless his transition has been. As much as any player, Matsui embodies the Yankee ideal, an identity that seems to fade with each mercenary who enters the clubhouse.

In many ways, Matsui is Derek Jeter with a two-digit uniform number. Even the Boston Red Sox have declared him a true Yankee. Matsui earned three championship wristwatches with the Yomiuri Giants and has no World Series rings with the Yankees. Yet he commands so much respect from opponents that it seems he has been here forever.

"He's earned every bit of it," Curt Schilling, the Red Sox ace, said. "It's everything about him. He's a damn good player."

Matsui is good, and only getting better. He is 30 years old, and he improved in almost every statistical category in his second season with the Yankees. His contract expires after this season, and he plans to wait until the winter to negotiate a new one. Given his career arc, that decision could make him much richer.

"I like the Yankees because it's a special environment, a special team and a great place to play baseball," Matsui said through his interpreter, Rogelio Kahlon. "But the way my feelings are, I just want to play as long as I can. Obviously, I would like to stay with the Yankees as long as I feel I'm needed by them and can be productive."

The Yankees would rather sign Matsui now, but if they have to wait, they will. For all the misfits they have imported the last few seasons, Matsui is an exception.

Only in America could the Yankee tradition be best embodied by the Japanese guy, as it was embodied previously by Germans, Irish, Italians, blacks, and Latinos in their turn.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 20, 2005 10:41 AM

...though, of course, if you're a Boston Red Sox fan, Kevin Brown is the kind of Yankee you hope George Steinbrenner will keep signing in perpetuity.

Posted by: John at March 20, 2005 11:07 AM

Matsui is a nearly flawless fundamental ballplayer. It is a joy to watch him play against pretty much anyone but the Red Sox. In his free agent year, a California or other West Coast team would have to be nuts not to offer him the sun, the moon and the stars.

Posted by: bart at March 20, 2005 11:48 AM

Contrast that to the spectacle of European crowds hurling racial epithets at non-white soccer players. Nice contrast Europe - America. Soccer - Baseball. No wonder they need to keep reminding themselves of their moral superiority and that soccer is the world's sport.

Posted by: Moe from NC at March 20, 2005 12:05 PM

What Bart says. Matsui is a selfless, fundamental ballplayer. I hope Steinbrenner has enough sense to re-sign him and I'm fairly certain he does. Matsui fills the Paul O'Neil role almost perfectly. I want guys like that on my team.

Posted by: Tom C., Stamford, Ct. at March 20, 2005 12:50 PM

Matsui is a great player, too bad he can't pitch. That is what wins ballgames.

Posted by: pchuck at March 20, 2005 4:32 PM

Matsui is Wade Boggs with pop and minus the creepy personality. It's fun to watch him hit.

Posted by: joe shropshire at March 20, 2005 6:16 PM