Yankees honor Matsui at Yankee Stadium

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NEW YORK (Kyodo) — Hideki Matsui formally ended his playing career as a New York Yankee on July 28, when the team honored him with a pre-game ceremony at Yankee Stadium.

Hours before the team’s afternoon game against the Tampa Bay Rays, the Yankees inked Matsui to a one-day minor league deal. Just prior to the game, he formally signed his retirement papers at home plate with his parents and younger brother behind him. He also threw out the ceremonial first pitch in a game the Yankees went on to win 6-5.

“I was on the verge of tears as I entered the stadium,” he said. “It was an emotion beyond words. It brought home once more what a joyful life I had in the game. This will be a day I’ll never forget.

“I retired last year, but I never dreamed I would have this honor, to sign a one-day deal and become once more a member of the Yankees and to retire as a Yankee.”

Matsui, who left Japan’s famed Yomiuri Giants on the heels of winning his third Central League Most Valuable Player Award in 2002, signed with New York as a free agent and hit a grand slam in his first game at old Yankee Stadium.

The 39-year-old played seven seasons in the Bronx, a string that climaxed with his being named the MVP of the 2009 World Series. He played in 2010 for the Anaheim Angels and in 2011 for the Oakland Athletics before finishing it out with 34 games last season for the Rays.

Matsui hit 332 home runs in his 10 seasons with the Giants, and 175 in the big leagues.

“I’ve always aspired to be a member of the New York Yankees and to have been able to do that for seven years, every day was just an absolute joy,” Matsui told a press conference. “I played every day with the sole goal of becoming a World Series champion, so to be able to do that in 2009 was amazing.

“I think there’s a lot of things I learned (playing for the Yankees), but of course the one thing that stands out is that you are here to win championships, and that’s what you play for every day.”

On a day when the first 18,000 fans were to receive Matsui bobblehead dolls, many of those in attendance held signs honoring him and wore Yankees shirts with Matsui’s No. 55.

“On my way to the park, I saw so many fans (wearing my shirts). I felt both nostalgic and happy,” he said. “I guess I’m grateful that many people hung on to those No. 55 shirts.

“This day is one I’ll never forget, to be in the place I most wanted to be, and to end my playing days here brings me the greatest joy.

“If the fans can see me as I am, I’m fine with that. But if they recall seeing me in my playing days, that would make me really happy.”

Matsui was driven to home plate from the center field gate in a golf cart, and after signing the end of his career he was presented with a framed No. 55 Yankees jersey by captain and former teammate Derek Jeter, who was activated July 28 after a long rehabilitation and homered the first pitch he saw.

A group of current Yankees joined him at home plate for a photo including compatriot Hiroki Kuroda, but not Ichiro Suzuki — Matsui’s contemporary from his playing days in Japan.

Yet while Suzuki, who went 4-for-4 with an RBI on the afternoon, passed on the photo opportunity, he was full of praise for Matsui after the game. “I caught him on the way to the dugout and it was like, ‘Hey, how are you?’” Suzuki said. “It’s incredible to see so many people turn out just for him.”

Added Kuroda, “Having worn the pinstripes, I know how difficult it is to play in New York. He produced for seven years here, which is amazing.”

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