Exclusive Story on Hideki Matsui – in July Issue of Yankees Magazine
June 21, 2013 – On June 14, I spent the afternoon with Hideki Matsui in New York City.
During my time with the Japanese slugger, I interviewed him for a feature story that will appear in the July Issue of Yankees Magazine.
That edition will be on sale throughout the month of July, which includes a very special day. On July 28, the Yankees will be honoring Matsui, who played for the team from 2003 through 2009, in a pre-game ceremony. The team will also be distributing Hideki Matsui bobbleheads to the first 18,000 fans in attendance, and there will be a commemorative cover on every copy of Yankees Magazine sold at the Stadium on the 28th.
My afternoon with Matsui began at Restaurant Nippon, which is New York’s City’s first Japanese restaurant to serve raw sushi.
Matsui, his long-time translator Roger Kahlon, Yankees team photographer James Petrozzello, Joe Flannino of the team’s security detail and I were seated in a private room in the restaurant. Minutes after we arrived, Matsui ordered an enormous platter of raw sushi that included eel, shrimp and tuna.
“If you went to a restaurant in Japan, this is what it would be like,” Matsui said through Kahlon during the first course of our meal. “This is as authentic of a Japanese restaurant as there can be.”
Then, Matsui paid me a compliment that I don’t think I deserved.
“You’re pretty good at eating with chopsticks,” Matsui said. “I remember taking Joe Torre to a Japanese restaurant. He couldn’t get any food into his mouth with chopsticks. I thought he was going to ask the waiter for a fork.”
Our second course included soba noodle bowls. Restaurant Nippon grows it’s own soba noodles — which are buckwheat noodles — on a farm in Canada. The noodle bowl that Matsui ordered included salmon and salmon roe, and the one I feasted on included shrimp. Without question, it was one of the best meals I’ve had.
During the interview, which took place over lunch, Matsui discussed how his life has changed since his recent retirement from the game.
Matsui is still one of the most famous people in Japan, but he is no longer under the media spotlight, which for several years shined brighter on him than it did on just about any other athlete in the world.
When Matsui signed with the Yankees in 2003, 400 Japanese journalists were at the press conference and about 100 members of Japan’s press corps followed his every move in pinstripes. clubhouse
“I’ve been able to live a more normal life these days,” Matsui said. “It’s quite a welcome change. That was a great time in my life, but I’m able to spend quality time with my family now, whether it’s at home or in public. Things are a lot more relaxed.”
Matsui also talked to me about some of his finest moments in pinstripes including the 2009 World Series. Matsui took home MVP honors in that Fall Classic after batting .615 with three home runs and eight RBI. Of course, his performance in Game 6 was one for the ages. In that deciding game, Matsui drove in six runs, two of which came on a longball off Pedro Martinez.
“I was behind in the count right away,” Matsui said about that second inning at-bat. “Then, I fouled off about eight pitches, and that helped me with my timing. After that, [Pedro] threw me a fastball in the middle of the plate, and I was able to hit it hard.”
At the end of the interview, I asked Matsui about his upcoming day of honor, during which he will sign a one-day minor league contract with the Yankees to allow for a proper send-off.
“When I made the decision to come to the United States, it wasn’t so I could play in the majors,” Matsui said. “It was so that I could play for the Yankees. To have the opportunity to retire as a Yankee, there’s no greater honor than that.”
After the meal, we headed to Yankee Stadium. When we got to the upper deck of the empty ballpark, Petrozzello took the photo that will grace the commemorative cover as well as the image that will appear in the opening spread of the career retrospective story on the former outfielder.
You’ll have to wait a few more days to see the cover photo. But, for now, enjoy the beautiful portrait below, which will be part of my exclusive story on Matsui.
–Alfred Santasiere III