Matsuzaka Arrives For First U.S. Spring Training

Tuesday, February 13th 2007, 7:17 am
By: News On 6


AP Sports Writer

TAMPA, Florida (AP) _ Dice-K arrived at Boston Red Sox spring training.

And so did crowds of reporters, photographers and television crews who flocked to Florida to chronicle the $100 million Japanese ace's landing. That didn't count the handful of puzzled passers-by who wondered what all the fuss was about at Tampa International Airport on Monday.

It's all about Daisuke Matsuzaka.

He arrived at the airport in the evening, then got in a car for the ride to Fort Myers, about 200 kilometers to the south, to settle in before his first workout at Boston's training camp.

``I have a few days left before camp officially starts,'' Matsuzaka said through an interpreter during a five-minute interview session in the baggage claim area. ``My excitement has not reached its peak, but I would love to meet my teammates.''

Moments earlier, his flight from Los Angeles touched down on schedule two months after bumpy negotiations led to a $52 million, six-year contract. That's on top of the $51.11 million the Red Sox paid the Seibu Lions for winning the bid to negotiate with him.

All that money bought a 26-year-old pitcher who was revered in Japan since he pitched a no-hitter in high school and has a catchy nickname that already has shown up on T-shirts around Boston.

But he has one spring training goal shared by all major leaguers.

``I would try not to get injured,'' he said.

Arriving in Florida, Matsuzaka strode briskly from the escalator to a waiting media horde _ 17 photographers, 10 TV cameras and about a dozen reporters _ nearly all from Japanese outlets. Some bystanders joined in, taking pictures with cell phones and digital point-and-shoot cameras.

With a serious expression, Matsuzaka politely answered a rapid-fire series of questions as cameras flashed throughout.

Is he concerned about a new spring training routine?

``I think my experience getting ready in Japan is not that significantly different,'' he said, standing beside a member of the marketing firm that represents him in Japan.

What was it like to train in Southern California for about the past month without a team coach's supervision?

``Compared to outfielders or hitters, I don't have to do the same thing,'' he said, ``basically just running and building my strength.''

The first official workout for pitchers and catchers is scheduled for Sunday. Matsuzaka plans to hold his first formal news conference in Fort Myers on Thursday.

By then he will have met teammates who also showed up early.

``I want to see what he brings to the table,'' Jonathan Papelbon, another newcomer to Boston's rotation, said on Monday, then broke into a smile. ``He's got a new acupuncture guy he's bringing in so I might try some acupuncture.

``If he needs something, obviously I'll be there. And, hopefully, if I need something, he'll be there for me.''

While Papelbon is making a transition from the closer's role, Matsuzaka's adjustment is more demanding _ a new team, a different culture and a load of expectations that come with his past success and present salary.

His new pitching coach, John Farrell, thinks he can handle that.

``The calmness and the mound presence he shows is outstanding,'' Farrell said recently.