NEW YORK – Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi threw the ceremonial first pitch Sunday before a game between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, with Yankee outfielder Hideki Matsui serving as catcher.
A crowd of more than 55,000 at Yankee Stadium cheered as Koizumi, sporting a Yankees jacket, delivered the first pitch in a near perfect fashion after briefly practicing near the dugout.
He later settled into a VIP box along with former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and other Japanese and American officials to watch the Bronx Bombers trounce the Red Sox 11-1.
Koizumi stood up and clapped vigorously after Matsui, the Yankees’ cleanup man, singled to right field in the third inning off Boston pitcher Pedro Martinez.
“It’s like a dream to hurl a first pitch,” Koizumi told reporters after the game. “My heart fluttered with excitement.”
The prime minister said Matsui gave him the Yankees jacket and the glove as a gift from U.S. President George W. Bush, who had received the mitt from former Baltimore Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken Jr.
“It is really unbelievable that a Japanese player serves as a cleanup man,” Koizumi said.
Asked about the first-ever work stoppage by Japanese players over the weekend, Koizumi said he hopes new teams will become part of the pro baseball scene to reinvigorate the game in Japan.
“There are about 30 teams in the major leagues, so I think we can have more locally rooted teams in Japan,” he said. “I want the Japanese baseball world to be supported by Japanese fans as enthusiastically as fans at Yankee Stadium.”
Koizumi, who arrived in New York on Saturday night, visited New York’s Ground Zero on Monday, where the twin towers of the World Trade Center stood before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
It was Koizumi’s third trip to the World Trade Center site. He first visited Ground Zero shortly after the attacks and attended a ceremony in September 2002 to mark the first anniversary.