Baseball / Japanese Baseball

Kazuo Matsui says career with Lions led by destiny

Kyodo

Former major leaguer Kazuo Matsui said Thursday he feels “destined” to end his storied career with the Seibu Lions, where he started his professional baseball journey 25 years ago.

In a news conference at MetLife Dome to announce his retirement, the 42-year-old player-coach said he will contribute in any way possible to help the team win its first Japan Series championship in 10 years.

“I was born here (as a professional player), I grew up here and I’m retiring here. It feels like destiny,” said Matsui, the oldest active position player in Nippon Professional Baseball and first Japanese infielder to be signed by a major league team.

“I started my career loving the game and I’m ending it feeling the same love. Now that I look back it has been a good baseball career.”

Though he was removed from the active roster for the first time this season on Sept. 15, Matsui, a seven-time All-Star and four-time Golden Glove winner as a star shortstop for the Lions, has been accompanying the team on road trips.

This year, he rejoined Seibu after seven seasons in the majors and another seven with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, but has appeared in just 23 games, hitting .129 with two RBIs.

“I’ve never won the Japan Series title with the Lions. I want to celebrate my retirement as Japan’s No. 1. I’ll fight till the very end,” he said.

Matsui said he has not thought about his post-sport career yet, saying he won’t feel complete without winning the league pennant, Climax Series and Japan Series with Seibu.

Entering Friday’s games, the Lions led the Pacific League pennant race with the magic number of wins to clinch the pennant at three.

Matsui first joined the Lions as their third-round draft pick from Osaka high school powerhouse PL Gakuen, and won many accolades during his career. He was named the PL single-season hits leader twice, stolen base leader three times, and MVP once, in 1998.

After nine seasons with the Lions, he was an infielder for the Mets from 2004-06. He hit his first major-league home run leading off on Opening Day.

In 2006, he was traded to the Rockies. He then had a three-year tenure with the Astros from 2008-10.

After Rakuten brought him back to Japan, he played for the national team at the 2013 World Baseball Classic during his seven seasons in Sendai.

In 1,906 NPB games, he’s batted .291 with 2,088 hits, including 201 homers, 837 RBIs and 363 stolen bases.

In the majors, he had a career .267 batting average with 615 hits, 32 homers, 211 RBIs, and 102 stolen bases in 630 games.