The wait is over: Dice-K to make debut
Japanese righty will make spring start against Boston College
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- A moment that has been anticipated since December will finally become reality at roughly 6:05 p.m. ET on Friday night. That is when Daisuke Matsuzaka will peer in at catcher Jason Varitek and throw his first pitch for the Boston Red Sox.
For one night, it won't matter that it's actually an unofficial pitch, or that the game doesn't even count in the Grapefruit League standings.
With all the hype surrounding Matsuzaka over the past couple of months, the only thing that has been missing is an actual game. That event has finally arrived, and the opponent is Boston College. The place is City of Palms Park.
"I think that what they're trying to do is get us all out of the way so Daisuke can pitch," said Red Sox ace Curt Schilling. "We're all waiting for that. I know I am."
The wait can subside when Matsuzaka gives a two-inning sneak preview of his arsenal. It is such a big event that NESN, which wasn't scheduled to broadcast the game, will provide one-hour bonus coverage so that viewers all across the New England area can watch Matsuzaka's debut. The game will also be televised in Japan on NHK.
There aren't many exhibition games that have this type of buzz.
Interestingly, Matsuzaka will probably be the least-hyped person at City of Palms Park.
"If this were a regular-season game, I would [be more excited]," Matsuzaka told Japanese media members on Thursday. "I don't care as much about the hitters for this game. My purpose will be to recognize the strike zone."
There is intrigue among the other pitchers to see just how good Matsuzaka will be.
"I'm looking forward to it," said Red Sox right-hander Josh Beckett. "You watch him play catch and it's almost like the same thing as when I played catch last year with [Jonathan] Papelbon, and you notice that he's just got that little something different about the ball that comes out of his hand. Daisuke's got that also. He's got unbelievable backspin. That's going to help him be effective up in the zone and down in the zone as well."
For Red Sox manager Terry Francona, it will also be a chance for his team to test Matsuzaka's communication with Varitek, which is going to be so essential once the games begin for real.
"The growth of the development and the communication between him and [Varitek] would be huge," Francona said. "To watch how we handle circumstances in a game where there's communication necessary, to see how we can improve on it, things like that, will be important. We need to let it get to the point where we won't let that get in the way of us winning a game. That would be important.
"Things that come second nature to him or to us, how do we make the communication real quick? How do we get around that and get past it and not have it ever get in the way?"
As all these issues unfold, countless baseball fans will be watching.
"With Daisuke, there's an entire nation waiting to see that happen," said Schilling. "Japan and Red Sox Nation. It's going to be exciting. It's such a neat story, and it's so fun to watch it play out. Especially because he's such a good kid. You can tell he respects the game. He has a lot of focus. I don't think he's coming over here to try and pitch. I think he's coming over here to be great, and that's going to be fun to watch."
Finally, the waiting will end and the watching can begin.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.