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New York Yankees slugger Hideki Matsui drew praise for helping his team clinch the American League pennant and for his contribution, albeit in vain, toward their quest for a World Series victory.

The Yankees, who were down 3-2 in the best-of-seven series, lost 2-0 to the Florida Marlins in Game 6 on Saturday at Yankee Stadium.

Matsui’s outstanding debut season in the U.S. major leagues has reverberated in Japan, namely in increased sales of baseball equipment.

And its primary beneficiary is Mizuno Corp. The major sporting goods manufacturer has been selling baseball gloves, bats and other paraphernalia sporting Matsui’s name since May 15. Most of the products are modeled on those used by the popular slugger throughout the season.

Mizuno initially rolled out Matsui equipment with a goal of selling 1 billion yen worth by next May. To date, 500 million yen worth has been sold.

“Matsui-brand baseball goods have been attracting Japanese baseball fans just like (Seattle Mariners star) Ichiro-brand goods in his first season in the majors,” Mizuno spokesman Tadashi Matsuda said.

Matsui equipment sells particularly well in Japan when he has an outstanding performance in a game, Matsuda explained.

Mizuno has contracted to offer baseball equipment, including gloves and bats, with other Japanese players in the United States besides Matsui and Ichiro Suzuki. They include Seattle pitcher Shigetoshi Hasegawa, Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Kazuhisa Ishii and St. Louis Cardinals outfielder So Taguchi.

For example, 12,000 Ichiro-model bats were sold during his first major league season in 2001, more than double the sales in Japan of ordinary Mizuno bats, Matsuda said.

Matsuda declined to divulge Mizuno’s total sales of baseball goods in Japan, but he said the company has suffered a decline in demand for baseball equipment overall due to the fall in the number of children. The bright light has been those goods sporting the image of popular Japanese players in the U.S., he stressed.

Mizuno has meanwhile seen increased sales of baseball equipment, including softball items, in the U.S. Its U.S. subsidiary, which produces baseball goods at a plant in Atlanta, recorded $43 million in sales in 2002, more than double what it posted in 1997.

“Of our baseball goods, gloves are the most popular items attracting American baseball fans, as well as major league players themselves,” said Hiroaki Yakushiji, another spokesman for Mizuno.

Mizuno has dispatched craftsmen to American baseball teams to repair players’ gloves and other items during spring training every year since 1978. The company has also sent them to college squads and baseball equipment retailers to lecture about the features of the firm’s products since 1998.

The craftsmen also provide advice to players who use other brand gloves about how to maintain them and the quality of other baseball items, Yakushiji explained.

This has helped Mizuno gain the trust of major league players, resulting in about 160 of them using Mizuno’s baseball goods this year, he added.

In a bid to expand the baseball market in Japan, which has been supported by Japanese baseball players in the U.S., Mizuno has become an official baseball and softball equipment provider for the Athens Olympic Games in 2004, Matsuda said.

“We are now considering ways to help increase baseball fans in Japan,” Matsuda said. “This would result in expansion of the baseball goods market here.”

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