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Return to Japan leaves Matsuzaka a forgotten man

by Jack Gallagher

Former superstar Daisuke Matsuzaka, who returned to Japan after mixed results in eight seasons in the majors to sign with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks, has not appeared in a single game for the big club this season.

Softbank paid ¥400 million to bring Matsuzaka back to Japan and at the halfway mark of the season he is still on the farm team.

Wow.

The truth is that the former Seibu Lions ace has become an afterthought. It was sure hard to envision this when the Boston Red Sox paid over $103 million between the posting fee and contract to acquire Matsuzaka back in 2007.

It speaks to how fleeting fame can be. Matsuzaka joined the late Hideki Irabu and outfielder Kosuke Fukudome among the biggest Japanese busts ever to play stateside.

Irabu committed suicide four years ago this month at the age of 42, frustrated by his lot in life after being unable to land a job in pro baseball after his playing days were over.

Fukudome, now 38, is doing well with Hanshin this season. Signed by the Chicago Cubs as a free agent for the 2008 season to a four-year $48 million contract, he didn’t pan out in the States, but is hitting .275, with 15 homers and 45 RBIs for the Tigers.

Matsuzaka is only 34, but with the flame on his career flickering, I’m already wondering what he is going to do with the rest of his life.

I’ll bet he is, too.

Hard to believe: The NPB season has reached the All-Star break and not a single team in the Central League is over .500. The first-place Yokohama BayStars are the closest at 42-42-1.

Meanwhile, the Hawks lead the Pacific League with a 50-28-3 record at the midway point of the campaign.

Cheap entertainment: The press conference of Australia’s Bernard Tomic after losing to Novak Djokovic in the third round at Wimbledon recently was something else.

The 22-year-old ripped Tennis Australia and Davis Cup captain Pat Rafter, whom he called an “actor,” amongst other things. The federation responded by suspending Tomic, the second time it has done so, for this weekend’s Davis Cup quarterfinal against Kazakhstan in Darwin.

While most would say that Tomic’s remarks were out of line, there was something refreshing about an athlete speaking their mind and not sugar-coating their true feelings.

Then Tomic went out and got arrested in Miami on Wednesday for resisting arrest and trespassing.

Good grief.

Bad timing: It was tough luck for Kei Nishikori having to withdraw from Wimbledon after his first-round victory with a calf injury.

Coming off a loss in the quarterfinals of the French Open to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Nishikori’s Grand Slam hopes for this year are now down to the U.S. Open, where he made the final in 2014.

A bit unusual: It was a compelling Wimbledon final between Djokovic and Roger Federer. The 17-time Grand Slam champion put up a good battle before falling in four sets.

What I found most amazing was that almost the entire crowd at Centre Court was rooting against the world No. 1. The nostalgia for the seven-time Wimbledon champion was certainly understandable, but in the end I think it mostly served to motivate Djokovic even more to win.

Trying again: In a bid to give Japan a better shot at a medal in the figure skating team event at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics, Russia’s Alexandr Zaboev has become the new pairs partner of Narumi Takahashi.

The 25-year-old, who did not compete last season, will be eligible to skate in the world championships with Takahashi, but would have to become a Japanese citizen to compete with her in the Olympics.

The interesting note here is that Zaboev has already gone this route once before. He skated pairs with Estonia’s Natalja Zabijako for the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons and tried to become an Estonian citizen so they could compete at last year’s Sochi Olympics. Zaboev’s bid for citizenship was denied.

Reloading: The Japan women’s volleyball team has work to do it if hopes to medal at next month’s World Cup here.

Coach Masayoshi Manabe, who led the squad to the bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics, is working new players into the team during the ongoing World Grand Prix, but losses to Italy and China last weekend in Saitama mean it won’t be easy for Japan to make the medal stand.

The play of newcomer Airi Miyabe, the Japanese-Nigerian high school student from Osaka who made her senior debut in Saitama, was a bright spot.