Baseball All-Star Hideki Matsui joins the Tampa Bay Rays after a 13-game run with the Durham Bulls.
Matsui, the first Japanese-born player to be awarded the World Series MVP in 2009, joined the Durham Bulls as part of a minor league contract with the Rays April 30. After four weeks with the Bulls, where he hit a batting average of .170, he joined the Rays, the team’s parent club, Tuesday night against the Chicago White Sox. Matsui marked his return to the Major Leagues with a two-run home run.
“I was welcomed in a way that I have never experienced in my life before, let’s put it that way,” Matsui told the Tampa Bay Times through an interpreter.
Matsui, who missed spring training, played for the Bulls as he waited to be called up to the Rays. Scott Carter, director of marketing for the Durham Bulls Baseball Club, said Matsui’s time with the Bulls was a tremendous experience for the team and fans, both locally and nationally.
“Selfishly, we’d love to keep him because it’s been really fun, for the fans and the staff, to see such an accomplished player be a part of Bull’s history,” Carter said.
He added that there was no doubt Matsui would be assigned to the Bulls—the Ray’s highest affiliate in Triple-A—during the interim period, given his talent and legacy in baseball.
The 37-year-old baseball player is a veteran to the sport, having played for Japan’s Yomiuri Giants before coming to the United States where he played for the New York Yankees, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and the Oakland Athletics.
Despite his vast experience in the Major Leagues, Matsui worked well with the team, Carter said.
“It’s clear he just loves playing baseball,” he said. “You wouldn’t be able to tell he’s any different than the other guys on the team.”
Carter noted that the only factor distinguishing Matsui from the other players was the entourage of around 30 Japanese media members who followed him around.
During his time with the Bulls, the team experienced back-to-back sellouts and an increase in fan attendance at home games, Carter said. The rehabilitation assignments of Daisuke Matsuzaka and Kevin Youkilis of the Boston Red Sox, as well as a busy promotional calendar, also contributed to the strong attendance.
Sophomore Nick Strelke said although he has been unable to attend any of the Bulls’ games so far, he looks forward to watching the team progress in the upcoming years. He added that Matsui’s run with the Bulls was valuable both for the team’s fans and Matsui himself as it may have helped him mentally refocus.
Although Matsui’s time with the Bulls was short, he refueled the fans’ enthusiasm and provided the team with valuable insight on playing in the Major League, said Eric Russman, Trinity ’12, who served as vice president of the club baseball team this past year.
“His presence in the line-up definitely filled some empty spots in the stadium,” Russman said. “Fans are used to seeing players that are developing into stars, not players that are already famous.”