Sox unveil Matsuzaka
Club introduces Japanese righty at Fenway press conference
BOSTON -- The month-long odyssey of wooing Daisuke Matsuzaka finally complete, the Red Sox proudly unveiled the Japanese right-hander late Thursday afternoon at a packed Fenway Park press conference like no other in the history of the fabled franchise.
With roughly 300 members of the media gathered in a glassed-in function room behind home plate, and enough camera flashes to blur the eyes of those on the podium, Matsuzaka formally addressed Red Sox Nation for the first time.
"You don't know what's going to happen, so I'm just going trying to do as well as possible," said Matsuzaka through an interpreter. "I'm very happy and excited to be a member of the Boston Red Sox."
It was a joyous event for the Red Sox, announcing the signing of the Most Valuable Player of last March's World Baseball Classic to a six-year contract worth $52 million with escalator clauses that could bring it to $60 million.
"Today, what we're really doing is announcing the signing of a national treasure," said Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein. "We've followed Daisuke since Koshien in 1998, throughout his entire professional career and all his accomplishments. We understand his importance in Japan. We know what he represents."
The Red Sox hope he will represent steady greatness on the mound. Matsuzaka, who posed with his new No. 18 Red Sox jersey, didn't try to hide the excitement of his new opportunity.
"Very many interesting things have happened in my life," Matsuzaka said. "Besides getting married and having a baby, this is the most exciting thing."
The Red Sox won exclusive negotiating rights to Matsuzaka when their blind -- and record-setting -- bid of $51.1 million was accepted by the Seibu Lions on Nov. 14. That was just the beginning of the process. Then there was the matter of striking a deal in the 30-day window, something the Red Sox were able to accomplish with one day to spare.
"There were certainly a lot of ups and downs as far as the negotiations," said Epstein. "But I think all the parties had a common goal -- just for Daisuke to join the Red Sox and start his Major League career."
"It was with a lot of hard work and cooperation that we were able to make it happen in the end," continued Epstein. "I think, as Daisuke referred to, perhaps the turning point was when he became comfortable with the fact that we were going to take care of his family through the transition process, and I think we built momentum after that."
For as gifted as Matsuzaka is as a pitcher, he is making a huge transition in culture.
As Red Sox president/CEO Larry Lucchino put it, Matsuzaka and the Red Sox should be a fitting match.
"I recognize that, as our general manager described, he is a national treasure," Lucchino said. "We have a national treasure here, as well. It's called Fenway Park."
The Monster -- as Matsuzaka was dubbed in Japan -- will now pitch amid the backdrop of the Green Monster, which he visited prior to his press conference. Matsuzaka got a full-blown tour of Fenway Park, and even threw an informal first pitch to owner John W. Henry, who fell down while trying to catch the lob.
"We got crossed up," quipped Henry.
Matsuzaka's thoughts on his new office?
"I've seen it several times on TV," said Matsuzaka. "Even with the construction, it's very beautiful and very impressive. When the season starts, I'm looking forward to that."
Yes, he's heard about the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry, likening it to the Hanshin Tigers-Yomiuri Giants matchups in Japan.
"I know it makes a normal game a special game; that's all I know," Matsuzaka said. "Everybody told me I should say I feel like I can beat the Yankees. I thought it was a joke, so I didn't say it."
Instead, his goals are more team-oriented.
"As a member of the Boston Red Sox, I'd like to contribute to [being] world champions," said Matsuzaka.
He hasn't met any of his teammates yet.
"I'd like to meet Curt Schilling," added Matsuzaka.
The Red Sox plan on having a stacked rotation, anchored by Schilling and Matsuzaka and rounded out by Josh Beckett, Jonathan Papelbon and Tim Wakefield. Also, with left-hander Jon Lester now cancer-free, he will enter the mix, too, though no timetable has been set for his return to the mound.
"We certainly hope it's one of the best in the league," said Epstein. "We try to stay away from making too many predictions or putting too much stock in how things look on paper, because baseball can humble you quickly when you do that. We'll just say that we're excited about our rotation for this year and our future with so many good young pitchers in the organization."
Matsuzaka has been the talk of Boston -- not to mention Japan -- over the last month, and he got his official coronation.
"This is definitely exciting," said Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell. "It is a move that can possibly put our rotation at another level. I am sure the local and international media will have a feeding frenzy in Spring Training."
Bringing Matsuzaka to Boston was something the Red Sox anchored their offseason around. For it is a move that was not designed just for 2007, but, ultimately, a commitment that should keep him in a Boston uniform through the 2012 season.
"I would classify it as unique and challenging, and I would say that it has the potential to impact the franchise positively for several years," Henry said of the process to ink the Japanese right-hander.
Now, all of Red Sox Nation braces for the arrival of a Japanese icon and wonders if his success will transfer to the hitting-heavy American League.
"Baseball-wise, I think we're going to find that Daisuke is a surgeon on the mound," said Boras. "It's almost like a surgeon with a chainsaw. Most control-type pitchers do not have his fastball, and the power that he has, and also the breaking pitch. He has exceptional abilities. The key thing is his concentration; his ability to focus is amazing. It's a major part of what he does in his performance."
Matsuzaka is not just good, but he is also still young. The 26-year-old posted a 108-60 record with a 2.95 ERA during an eight-year career with the Seibu Lions.
"Daisuke is unique as a pitcher," said Epstein. "He certainly has velocity on his fastball, and when he wants, he can reach back for more. He also has a sufficient slider, a tough changeup, a split finger, a curveball and cutter."
And for the next six years, Red Sox Nation -- not to mention all of Matsuzaka's followers back home -- will be chronicling every one of those pitches.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.