PHOENIX, Ariz. (AP) ― Hideki Matsui stood in his sparkling new white No. 55 Athletics jersey offering quite a contrast to the dark skies and pouring rain around him.
With a huge crowd gathered under a covered area at Papago Park, Godzilla took repeated slow-motion swings, then tossed a baseball into his glove over and over again — all part of a Japanese commercial shoot for a company that makes heavy machinery.
“My life has been like that,” Matsui said of the craziness of his schedule. “But it’s slowing down.”
Matsui arrived in the desert late Friday after being delayed and spent Saturday working on non-baseball activities, though he was eager to get started at spring training with the team he long admired as a kid. Oakland’s first full-squad workout is Monday, but the team’s new designated hitter planned to visit the clubhouse Sunday to say hello when position players were due to report.
“I’m looking forward to focusing on what I love, which is baseball,” Matsui said through fill-in interpreter Hiro Murakami. “I’m really excited to wear the uniform of the team I always dreamed of.”
White cleats and all.
“The whole uniform fits nicely,” said Matsui’s father, Masao, who held his own makeshift news conference Saturday. “He tells me he’s been more excited than ever to start the season.”
Matsui’s commercial shoot, for the company where his father worked for 23 years, will finish up Sunday because of the bad weather, then he will get going on the field. And, yes, he did bring his glove just in case manager Bob Geren lets him spend some time in the outfield.
“I hope so,” the slugger said.
He shouldn’t plan on it. The A’s are counting on the 36-year-old Matsui to deliver with his bat as a reliable middle-of-the order man to help them boost an offense that produced just 109 homers and scored 663 runs last season, the team’s second fewest in the last 28 non-strike seasons.
Matsui batted .274 with 21 home runs and 84 RBIs last season with the Los Angeles Angels, the A’s AL West rival. He spent his first seven major league seasons with the New York Yankees and was MVP of the 2009 World Series.
Matsui joined the A’s in December on a $4.25 million, one-year contract that includes an additional $100,000 in potential performance bonuses.
The A’s were Matsui’s favorite team as a boy back in Japan. He watched the games and his dad bought him Oakland gear so he could feel closer to the Bash Brothers he so loved to cheer: Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco.
And what a treat Matsui will have if Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson helps out at spring training again this year on baserunning and outfield work as a special instructor as he did in 2010.
“He’s a superstar. I look forward to seeing him,” Matsui said. “He has a great record for stealing.”
Matsui said his focus this spring will be on preparing himself on the field while also building relationships in the clubhouse, where he is expected to be a veteran leader despite the language barrier.
Taking care of his troublesome knees is a top priority, too.
“So far so good,” he said with a smile, speaking perfect English.
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