NEW YORK – Hideki Matsui ended his playing career as a member of the New York Yankees on Sunday, when the team honored him with a pregame ceremony at Yankee Stadium.
Hours before the Yankees’ afternoon game against the Tampa Bay Rays, the team inked Matsui to a one-day minor league deal. Just prior to the game, he formally signed his retirement papers at home plate with his parents and younger brother behind him. He also threw out the ceremonial first pitch in a game the Yankees went on to win 6-5.
“I was on the verge of tears as I entered the stadium,” Matsui said. “It was an emotion beyond words. It brought home once more what a joyful life I had in the game. This will be a day I’ll never forget.”
“I retired last year, but I never dreamed I would have this honor, to sign a one-day deal and become once more a member of the Yankees and to retire as a Yankee.”
Matsui, who left Japan’s famed Yomiuri Giants on the heels of winning his third Central League Most Valuable Player Award in 2002, signed with New York as a free agent and hit a grand slam in his first game at old Yankee Stadium.
He played seven seasons in the Bronx, a string that climaxed with his being named MVP of the 2009 World Series. He played for the Anaheim Angels in 2010 and for the Oakland Athletics in 2011 before finishing his career with 34 games for the Rays last season. Matsui hit 332 home runs in his 10 seasons with the Giants, and 175 in the majors.
“I’ve always aspired to be a member of the New York Yankees and to have been able to do that for seven years, every day was just an absolute joy,” Matsui told a pregame press conference.
“I played every day with the sole goal of becoming a World Series champion, so to be able to do that in 2009 was amazing.”
“I think there are a lot of things I learned (playing for the Yankees), but of course the one thing that stands out is that you are here to win championships, and that’s what you play for every day.”
On a day when the first 18,000 fans received Matsui bobblehead dolls, many of those in attendance held signs honoring him and wore Yankees jerseys with Matsui’s No. 55.
“On my way to the park, I saw so many fans (wearing my jersey). I felt both nostalgic and happy,” he said. “I guess I’m grateful that many people hung on to those No. 55 shirts.”
“This day is one I’ll never forget, to be in the place I most wanted to be, and to end my playing days here brings me the greatest joy.”
“If the fans can see me as I am, I’m fine with that. But if they recall seeing me in my playing days, that would make me really happy.”
Matsui was driven to home plate from the center field gate in a golf cart, and after signing the end of his career he was presented with a framed No. 55 Yankees jersey by captain and former teammate Derek Jeter, who was activated Sunday after a long rehabilitation. A group of current Yankees joined him at home plate for a photo including compatriot Hiroki Kuroda, but not Ichiro Suzuki — Matsui’s contemporary from his playing days in Japan.