Matsuzaka shows his lighter side
Humble right-hander gives insight on what motivates him
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Without throwing a pitch, Daisuke Matsuzaka gave an entertaining performance at his City of Palms Park debut Thursday afternoon.
With about 150 reporters and photographers from around the United States and Japan seated along the third-base line, Matsuzaka sat next to interpreter Sachiyo Sekiguchi on top of the Red Sox dugout and answered questions for nearly 40 minutes.
However, it wasn't an answer but rather a request he made of the first batter he faces in the Major Leagues that prompted laughter and smiles all around.
"First of all, I will keep getting trained without getting injuries," Matsuzaka said of his Spring Training preparations, which begin Saturday. "If that is the case, I would like to pitch a fastball. That will be my first [pitch] to throw. I would like my first batter, if he is listening, please try and not hit the ball."
In his first formal Fort Myers briefing since arriving in Florida on Monday night, the Japanese pitching sensation gave the best glimpse yet into his personality, what drives him to succeed and how he feels about making his Major League debut.
"I've played in Japan for eight years, but it's my rookie year, my first year here in the United States and in the Major Leagues, so I would stay humble," he said.
It seemed ironic that the 26-year-old right-hander had to answer questions from the unprecedented media presence about his fame and its potential impact on his new teammates.
"If I see somebody in particular being disturbed or bothered because of the presence of the media, then I honestly apologize," he said.
Matsuzaka seemed unfazed by the masses or the pressure that a six-year, $53 million contract normally brings.
"The scale of the contract does not determine how I play baseball," he said. "I feel responsibility a little bit, but I am not pressured.
"I have received a lot of expectations all of my life and I always remember [that]. The most important thing for me is to play ball and have fun, and I have done so and will continue to do so, and by doing so I will meet everyone's expectations."
While showing a smile and laughing for most of the news conference, the right-hander also showed a serious and thoughtful side when asked about being a role model for a transitional generation in Japan. That group of young people, known in some circles as the 'Lost' generation, has struggled with setting professional and work-related goals in life.
"In fact, there are some friends of mine who may fall into that category of 'Lost generation,' and at least one of my friends told me that by watching me pitch, it made him feel that he should start working," Matsuzaka said. "As long as my play and the way I pitch will inspire some others, I would like to keep sending that message to my generation."
Matsuzaka did not have such struggles. He not only had a role model while growing up in Hideo Nomo, but enjoyed sitting down with Ichiro Suzuki during the past offseason.
"I talked to Ichiro in the offseason, and I had dinner with him and we talked about life in the United States," said Matsuzaka, who will likely face Ichiro as his first batter at Fenway Park on April 11.
"When Nomo started playing in the United States, I was in junior high school. For a person like me, who wanted to play in the big leagues someday, the first game he played, it was very shocking and it was very impressive. I still remember it very clearly. For that, I will play my best to show the young players in Japan who are dreaming of becoming professional, so they can look up to me."
For the time being, Matsuzaka will focus on using his time in Fort Myers to get a feel for his pitches and how they will work in the Majors.
"I know all my pitches will not work with every situation," he said. "So, during the preseason games, I will try to see what will work and what will not work."
To assure that as many pitches work as possible, Matsuzaka will have to spend a great deal of time this spring getting accustomed to communicating with manager Terry Francona and catcher Jason Varitek.
"In order to get along well with my teammates, communication is very important, and I would like to learn English -- and I am learning English as we speak," Matsuzaka said.
Once Matsuzaka gets the communication down pat, he joked he might seek out Tim Wakefield for advice.
"If I can keep my form and can still pitch a knuckleball, it would be very advantageous for me," he said. "I tried it in Los Angeles and it didn't work out so well. So for now, I will keep that on the side."
Of course, the pitch that created interest of legendary proportion is the so-called gyro ball. He was asked if it exists and if he really throws it.
"How should I answer?" he said to himself aloud. "I knew this question was coming today. And I was preparing some optional answers for this particular question. Should I say, 'I have that [pitch].' Or I could say, 'Which particular [pitch] are you referring to?' Overall, if I have the chance, I will pitch that ball."
As Red Sox vice president of media relations John Blake thanked everyone for coming, indicating the end of the 40-minute session, it was Matsuzaka who had the final question.
"Is that the proper way to end the press conference?" he asked with a smile that is becoming somewhat of a trademark.
Judging by the smiles and laughter of the media following his every move so far, that will do just fine.
Mike Petraglia is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.