Ask New York Yankees outfielder Hideki Matsui the difference between major league baseball and Japanese professional baseball and he will tell you.
They are apples and oranges.
“It’s really hard to compare the two. I think of them as two different sports,” Matsui told some 300 reporters gathered at the Japan National Press Club on Tuesday.
Matsui, who had 106 RBIs and batted .287 with 16 homers to help lead the Yankees to the playoffs in the American League in his first year in the majors this past season, said the main difference between Japanese baseball and the version played in North America is in the pitching.
“If a pitcher throws you a fastball (in the majors) it might drop out right in front of you. Even if you try and predict the orbit of the ball, you’ll swing and pull it or ground out because you won’t hit the sweet part of the bat,” Matsui said.
Matsui went on to explain that not only are the games different for a player who, like himself, had 10 years experience in Japan, but vice-versa for former big league players trying to make it in the Far East, saying, “There are many major leaguers who come to Japan and end up doing nothing spectacular.”
One thing common in both games, however, is the desire to be a champion at all costs. This year, though Matsui became the first Japanese player to hit a home run in the World Series and had admirable postseason stats, it was not to be.
“I didn’t really have a goal for myself in terms of numbers. I don’t like to make numerical goals. I tried my best to contribute to the team but we didn’t win the World Series. My ultimate goal is to be a world champion,” he said.
Matsui, who invariably smiles and greets the umpire and catcher when entering the batter’s box and never has a disparaging word for his opponent, said this is no act. He just wants to please the fans.
“I think all people, no matter who they are, have good points. It doesn’t help to get angry and say something bad about another person. If I am able to perform well for the fans, not disappoint them and it makes them interested in baseball, this makes me happy,” he explained.
Of course, Matsui, who went through his share of hitting slumps during the season, could not always buoy his fans’ spirits. In such cases, he would focus on doing whatever else to help the team win.
“Baseball is not just about hitting. It is about performing in other areas, like on defense and getting on base to help the team,” he said.
For Matsui, his mild-mannered temperament and the adjustments he makes in his game, even when he is struggling at the plate, are the things he has firm control over.
Other things in life like when he will give up his bachelor’s life and get married what Matsui refers to as “a thing he can’t control.”
“I really enjoy my privacy now and I really don’t have the desire to marry now. Maybe, I’m just not that popular with the ladies,” he added.
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